update: all the seeds have found new homes, but I’ll do my best to produce more during the next growing season. thanks for all the interest!
Since all i can think about is seeds, lately, I wanted to share one of my favorite seeds with you. The Slow Food movement has identified a group of foods that they consider in danger of extinction. These foods are, collectively, called the Ark of Taste. The Ark of Taste is defined by foods that are:
- culturally or historically significant
- outstanding in terms of taste—as defined in the context of local traditions & uses
- at risk biologically or as culinary traditions
- sustainably produced in limited qualities.
These foods are threatened by industrialization, environmental damage, and large-scale food distribution. We live in a world where every tomato in every grocery store across the country looks the same or customers won’t buy them. I prefer a variety of tomatoes, all looking and tasting different. I think it’s important to grow old foods, old plants with old stories and old genes. These are the kinds of flavors that are lost after a generation or two of hothouse-grown romas in the winter and bell peppers trucked in from Mexico.
One of my favorite seed companies, Uprising Organics, carries several Ark varieties. The one I had the most fun and success with last year was Aunt Molly’s ground cherry.
This remarkable little thing is related to the tomatillo, so it grows fruit in a little paper husk. It tastes something like a vanilla pineapple and a tomato had a baby, which is as close as we get to tropical fruit in a PNW garden.
The ground cherries grew quite well in the container we put them in. They also grew well squished between our tomato giants. They were obscenely prolific. The plants in containers were moved to our new house in September. They continued to produce until there was a really hard freeze in late October. Look at this ground cherry in the uhaul on moving day:
They didn’t ask for much water in our uncharacteristically hot sunny summer, but when they wanted water, they got dramatically wilted. They are not shy about their needs. The fruit has high levels of pectin, so they apparently make good preserves, but quite honestly, our harvests were all eaten directly, mostly in the garden. Very few ground cherries even made it to the house.
Ground cherries were recorded in horticultural literature as early as 1837 in Pennsylvania. Your great grandma may have baked dozens of ground cherry pies, and you may have never eaten a single one. It’s weird how foods falls out of fashion. You can buy them sometimes from farmers or at roadside stands, but they don’t hold up to shipping well, so you will never find them at a supermarket. These are fruits that should be eaten where they grow. You can google for ground cherry recipes to use up this delicious little morsel. Harvest them when they fall to the ground to keep critters from stealing them — they are not always ripe enough to eat when they fall. They are good to eat when fully golden-yellow, soft and sweet.
I learned last year they need warm temperatures to sprout; they started later than everything else. I gave up on them entirely, forgot about them, and then voila, just like a watched pot, they boiled over. We used some glass cloches I found at the thrift store to warm things up for them.
We had a tremendous harvest, so I saved a few handfuls for seed. It was incredibly quick and easy to save the seeds – just a quick whirl in the blender with a little water, the pulp floated off the top and the seeds sank to the bottom. Here’s the thing, though. They make a lot of seeds. And three or four full-grown ground cherry plants is more than enough for one family. Maybe you should grow 5 if you wanted to put up enough preserves for the nuclear winter (I do, actually, so I’ll be growing 6 plants this year if I can manage it).
So I’m going to share. I’ll send you some seeds, and hopefully some will sprout. You, too, can have too many ground cherries and the extraordinary feeling of growing a food on the brink of extinction. Leave a comment here, or send me an email me with your mailing address, and as long as I have seeds, I’ll mail them out. XOXO