If you enjoy growing tomatoes, but want to grow something even easier and more relentless, tomatoes have a few cousins you might enjoy growing! I’m growing their two more “fruity” cousins this year (sunberries and ground cherries) and have tried a tomatillo in the past but made a very stupid mistake with it. This post is part 2 of 3 cousins – ground cherries!
You’ve definitely seen ground cherries before, but maybe call them something different. Cape gooseberries and husk cherries are other common names. They are often sold in grocery stores as “golden berries” and sometimes advertised as a superfood. My main interaction with them before growing was as a dessert garnish at slightly upscale restaurants, with the husk pulled back.
About 5 years ago my favourite local vegetable producer, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, grew and sold ground cherries and I bought some to garnish a butternut squash pie I made for family Thanksgiving. I remember my dad describing the taste as “like a strawberry” – while I didn’t agree, I’ve seen the taste similarly described online, or also compared to a pineapple. They do taste a bit citrusy to me, but I don’t think they have a similar taste to any other fruit I know.
I’ve wanted to grow them for a while myself but never found a plant to buy, and didn’t have luck with germinating some seeds I had saved. This year Kaleidoscope was selling seedlings so I bought one, and it’s growing like crazy and producing a lot of fruit.
While a ground cherry seedling should be planted deep like a tomato to send out more roots, it seems to grow more like a canopy than up into a bush like a tomato. My plant is mostly spreading out horizontally; if it was not in a pot it would be spreading on the ground, hence the name I suppose!
The fruits drop to the ground when they are close to ripe. I have eaten them right away after they fall, and they taste quite sweet already, but apparently they can use another week or so of ripening after they fall. After that they can supposedly be stored in their husks for quite a long time in a cool spot.
Like sunberries, these tomato cousins are apparently relentless reseeders. I’ll have to test this out by burying a couple in a pot over the winter, and if all goes well I’ll likely have several seedlings to share next summer!
The taste of the fruits is fairly pleasing to most people, but having to unwrap each one from its husk may not be ideal if you’re trying to make jam or something with them. They seem to grow quite well in a pot, and I plan to keep growing them if I can in future summers.
Some greenhouses sell these as seedlings, or you can get seeds from Early’s/a friend who grows them.