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The Ground cherry grows on an erect, somewhat vining plant approximately one meter tall. It has purplish spreading branches and slightly velvety leaves, similar to those on a tomatillo. The Ground cherry is wrapped in a thin, straw-colored, parchment-like husk. Inside, the berries are an orange-yellow hue and have a smooth, almost waxy sheen. Their inner juicy pulp contains numerous very small yellowish seeds which are entirely edible and offer a crunchy texture. The flavor of the Ground cherry is very tart, and reminiscent of a cherry tomato crossed with pineapple, mango and Meyer lemon.
Ground cherries are available year-round, with peak season in the late summer and fall.
The Ground cherry is also commonly referred to as, Cape gooseberry, Chinese Lantern, Goldenberry, Husk Cherry, Peruvian Ground Cherry, Poha and Poha Berry. Botanically classified as Physalis peruviana, it is a relative of the tomato in the Solanaceae, or Nightshade family. Ground cherries, considered a niche crop, are far less popular in America as they are in other countries. Some common cultivars found at specialty farmers’ markets are Giallo Groso and Long Aston, which is said to produce superior fruit.
Ground cherries are high in vitamins A and C, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. The ripe fruits also have a concentration of beta-carotene, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, bioflavonoids, protein, and fiber.
Ground cherries are appropriate for both sweet or savory applications. Discard the inedible outer husk, or partially peel it away, leaving it intact with the berry for a unique garnish. The fruits make an attractive sweet when dipped in chocolate or other glazes or pricked and rolled in sugar. Use them similarly to a tomatillo in a fresh green salsa. Slice them in half like a cherry tomato and pair them with Burrata cheese, basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. They may be treated like a stone fruit and baked in a tart, pie or upside down cake. The high pectin content makes the Ground cherry a good preserve and jam product that can be used as a dessert topping. The fruit also dries into tasty "raisins".
Ground cherries are said to have gotten their name because when they are perfectly ripe they fall to the ground.
Ground cherries are originally from Brazil but long ago became naturalized in the highlands of Peru and Chile, presumably where their species name originates. By 1774 they made their way to England and were later cultivated by early English settlers at the Cape of Good Hope. Soon after introduction to the Cape the plant was carried to Australia where it quickly spread into the wild. It later found a home in Hawaii in 1825 and the plant was soon naturalized on all the islands. Only in fairly recent times has the fruit received any attention in the continental U.S.