Ground cherries have become one of our family’s favorite plants to grow. Come September, they are producing like crazy! But, what do you do with all of those ground cherries? There are so many surprising ways to incorporate ground cherries into recipes from oatmeal to salad to wine. In this post, we share a variety of ideas for using those ground cherries with many delicious ground cherry recipes!
Stumbling through the Seed Saver’s Exchange catalog several years back, we came across Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries. The description mentioned something about them being like a combination of a pineapple and a cherry tomato – we were sold.
They did not disappoint! Ground cherries have a tropical yet savory flavor and officially rank #1 as our kids’ favorite plant in the garden.
What are Ground Cherries?
Ground cherries are a lesser-known member of the nightshade family with papery wrappers and fuzzy green leaves. Once you bite into one, you won’t forget them. Their unique flavor is a cross between a tropical pineapple or mango and a tomato. The ground cherry has many names around the world: cape gooseberry, goldenberry, husk cherry, or husk tomato.
It is believed that the ground cherry originated in Brazil and quickly spread across South America. By the 18th century they were growing wildly in South Africa. Then ground cherries started spreading wildly in Australia and by the early 19th century were introduced to Hawaii. In the early 20th century, the plant showed up in the continental United States and has more recently been gaining popularity worldwide!
Growing Ground Cherries
Ground cherries are relatively easy to grow in a wide range of growing zones. They should be planted at the same time as tomatoes and spaced out around 4 feet.
We missed this important note about spacing the first year we grew ground cherries, not realizing how sprawling ground cherries are. They were right in a center garden row and quickly grew over everything around them. We have since learned our lesson and always try to place them at the edge of our garden so spread freely.
Ground cherries prefer full sun but can still grow in partial shade. By late summer, you will begin to notice the green husks on the plants begin to turn from a green to a light brown. This is when the fruit is ripe. Also, once ripe, ground cherries will often fall to the ground (hence the name, ground cherries).
Harvesting ground cherries can be an exercise in acrobatics. You’ll maneuver your body in all sorts of directions to hunt for these fallen treasures. They are also an extremely prolific growing plant. We’ve found that after the first year of growing ground cherries, because of scattered and dropped fruit from the previous year, they continue growing wildly wherever they please.
Ground Cherry Nutrition
Not only are these fruits delicious, they are nutritious as well. The orange color comes from phytochemicals called carotenoids making them immune boosting and anti-inflammatory. Ground cherries are also an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium and phosphorus.
Ground Cherry Recipes
When it comes to ground cherries, the sky is really the limit as to all of the ways they can be used. That being said, the most common way to enjoy them is to simply peel off those husks and enjoy the delicious golden fruits straight up. This has become our kids’ favorite snack!
However, if you find yourself overloaded in ground cherries when they begin to ripen, as we often do, there are so many delectable ground cherry recipes to try.
Preserving Ground Cherries
One of our family’s goals is to feed our family as much as possible all year round from the food that we have grown. So, the bulk of our extra ground cherries are preserved for later use. There are 2 main methods we do this.
Freezing Ground Cherries
Ground cherries are easily frozen. Simply peel off the husk and store them in a zip lock bag in the freezer. Like blueberries, because of the texture, they do not clump together when frozen. So, you can remove whatever amount you need from the freezer at any given time.
Canning Ground Cherries
The most common way to can ground cherries is by turning them into a jam or making ground cherry preserves and canning them that way.
Our favorite way to make a simple stovetop ground cherry jam for canning is to simply add ground cherries to a sauce pan with a couple tablespoons of water and a tablespoon or two of tapioca starch, arrowroot starch or cornstarch to act as a thickener. Stir the starch in so you can no longer see the white powder.
After a few minutes, the ground cherries will begin to soften and cook down. Let cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until the ground cherries are nice and cooked and the mixture has thickened. At this point, if it’s not as thick as you’d like it, simply add another tablespoon of the thickener that you used stirred into a few tablespoons of water and add it to your jam.
Once your stovetop ground cherry jam has reached the right consistency, remove from heat. Then, you can either leave as is if you are going for more of a chunky sauce, or puree your ground cherry jam with an immersion blender.
If the jam isn’t as sweet as you’d like it, feel free to add honey, maple syrup, or sugar to taste. Otherwise, you are all ready to can your ground cherry jam/sauce.
*If we have some available in the garden, we also love to add chopped rhubarb to our ground cherry jam when cooking.
There are several ways to incorporate ground cherries in your breakfast. Here are some of our favorite ground cherry recipes for breakfast:
Ground Cherry Baked Oatmeal – Our soaked baked oatmeal is probably the most requested breakfast dish in our house. Loaded with protein and healthy fats, it really is a great recipe to start off your day. Using ground cherries as a mix in just takes it to the next level!
Ground Cherry Coffee Cake – A perfect option for brunch or a weekend breakfast, ground cherries add the perfect flair, often wowing guests who have never tried them before.
Ground Cherry Muffins – We love to make large batches of muffins for freezing and having on hand when you need a quick breakfast option. Made with standard pantry items, this would be a great one to try!
Ground Cherry Desserts
Pies, cobblers, and tarts, oh my! The unique tropical flavors of ground cherries really make them a perfect addition to any fruity dessert recipe.
Ground Cherry Pie – Use your favorite pie crust recipe and add a ground cherry filling for a pie that always receives cheers. Maybe this one could be a new addition to the Thanksgiving day table?
Ground Cherry Crisp – When I need a quick and easy dessert that I can whip up in no time flat, a fruit crisp is my go to. Simply replace the blackberries in this recipe for ground cherries and you are good to go!
Ground Cherry Upside Down Cake – This ground cherry recipe is perfect for impressing guests! This cake whips together easily yet results in a stunning and tasty treat.
Savory Ground Cherry Recipes
Ground Cherry Tomato Sauce – Ground cherries ripen right around the same time as tomatoes. So, adding ground cherries to your tomato sauce is a perfect way to put these garden favorites to use when they are producing abundantly.
Our favorite recipe if for a roasted ground cherry tomato sauce.
To make, simply roast your tomatoes (sliced with the cut side down) on a baking sheet with ground cherries at 425 degrees for 45 minutes. Then blend together in a high-speed blender like an Vitamix or a food processor to make sure the skins are completely chopped. The result is a smooth and creamy sauce.
I’m telling you – the addition of roasted ground cherries will add a sweet twist to your tomato sauce unlike anything you’ve ever had! Our favorite use for ground cherry tomato sauce is to top our deep dish sourdough pizza.
Ground Cherry Salsa – Another great way to combine the fruit of the late summer garden. The addition of ground cherries makes this salsa reminiscent of a mango salsa – yum!
Ground Cherry Salad – If you need a unique side dish, this ground cherry salad is a great way to use up ground cherries and try something different. Since ground cherries are the perfect combination of sweet and savory, they go perfectly in this salad paired with a balsamic dressing.
The sweetness of ground cherries can make a popular addition to any beverage but are most commonly seen as an addition to various cocktails like this ground cherry syrup or a ground cherry daiquiri. While we have yet to try it, I’ve also heard that fermenting ground cherries can result in an amazing ground cherry wine.
Ground Cherries and Living Seasonally on the Homestead
Late summer/early fall can often feel like a blur on the homestead. All of the sudden everything is ripe and there is so much harvesting and preserving to be done as we share about in this video.
Ground cherries are always a sweet spot in the midst of the fall harvest season. After all of the summer berries are done, the addition of ground cherries to a garden really fills that gap for something sweet, fruity, and almost berry like amongst the harvesting of root veggies, greens, and tomatoes.
We would love to hear from you – have you grown ground cherries before? What are your favorite ways to use them and ground cherry recipes?