Aunt Molly’s ground cherry

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

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27 Comments

Filed under food, urban farming

27 responses to “Aunt Molly’s ground cherry

  1. andrea

    oh i am so excited to try the ground cherries. and i didn’t know you could plant them in containers! that’s great news. now i have room for more.

  2. I would LOVE some ground cherry seeds. I have plenty of room on our farm and my 5 yr old grandson would love picking them with me. Free fruit! Yea!
    Let me know where to email my address.
    Pat
    P.S. I googled info on ground cherries and found you.

    • jess s

      Well, hello. You can e-mail me here: invertebratefriend (at) gmail dot com. I’m glad you’re willing to give them a shot. Your grandson will really enjoy them – little wrappers to peel off, and not so sweet that you can’t eat handfuls of them. :)

  3. Rosemary Busher

    These cherry tomatoes are totally awesome! I can’t wait to have these again this summer, we shared them with family and friends who are all asking us for more! Highly recommended. Here’s hoping our seedlings make it.

  4. Sandi Hankins

    Hey ladies! I have truly enjoyed reading your blog – especially setting up your bee hive. I’m allergic to bee stings – so it’s not something I could do – I wish I could though. I make my own mead and would love to be able to bottle a batch that would be truly of my own making (ok, the bees would do most of the work).

    Do you still have ground cherry seeds available? I had never heard of them before but after reading your blog I’ve been researching them – what a wonderful little fruit!

    Thank you and I look forward to your next blog post!

  5. A couple weeks ago I was visiting a friend in Ohio and she is growing these in her yard. I plan on growing them in my Maryland yard next year. Are seeds available again?

    BTW – googled Aunt Molly Ground Cherries and that is how I found you.

  6. I would also love some ground cherry seeds. I was recently introduced to them at work and they are wonderfully sweet. Perfect for salads, jellies, you name it. Please email me and I will provide my address to you. Thanks so much.

  7. shawni

    do you have any seeds left? i just recently read about ground cherries and found your site. if any seeds are available I’d love some seeds. lets get the ground cherry back in fashion! :-)

  8. Shirley Colosimo

    Hi – I found what I think is a ground cherry plant growing/hiding behind my agastache this fall. I’ve no idea how it got there. I saved the seed pods; they have been drying since October. After some research, I’m almost sure they are ground cherries, except the flower on mine was yellow, don’t remember it with a purple center. Do they always have the purple center?
    Also, after reading this site, I would like to plant my seeds; where are they, in the pod? Thanks for any info. Shirley Colosimo

  9. Brian and Amanda Williams

    Hello there, I read your fun page on the ground cherries. I grew one plant last year from a seed that someone gave me, but I feel that yours might be a better variety. Mine never really sweetened up to the level that I know they can. I am hoping that you have some seeds left, and can send me some. I would be glad to let you know how they come out. Thanks for letting me know. … Brian

  10. Dan

    Wow, tried a ground cherry for the first time with dessert.
    If seeds are still available, I’d love to grow a few plants in our Seattle yard.
    Thanks for the great blog.
    -Dan

  11. Lisa

    I grew up eating ground cherries in my grandparents garden. I miss them soooooo much. I would love to be able to get some seeds and try growing them. Thank you so much.

  12. I’m trying to grow ground cherry’s for the first time, its late to start but hope i can still harvest my plants to grow berry’s.

    • misterkrista

      I’m not sure what zone you’re in, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily too late. Once they get going, they will produce until they freeze to death! How many can you eat?

  13. I would LOVE to have some seeds! I ordered Cossack Pineapple from Southern Exposure, but all I’ve read says Aunt Molly’s is the one that tastes the best. I couldn’t find them anywhere, so I started checking blogs.
    I’ll take any seeds anyone sends and pass them down through my family.
    If anyone sends me seeds, I’ll send some interesting heirlooms back to them.
    Thanks! :)
    JD
    Box 222
    Rescue, CA 95672

    • I also read that Aunt Molly’s is better, and that’s why we grow it. I’m out of seeds for the year, but I originally ordered mine from Uprising Organics. The seeds were high-quality and I can’t recommend them enough.

      If we have a big ground cherry year, we might offer some more seeds, so keep watching the blog. Good luck in the garden!

  14. I’ve order a packet from Uprising Seeds.
    Now I have to give the Cossack Pineapple seeds to someone…who lives really, really far away. I want to make sure the seed stays true.
    Thanks for mentioning Aunt Molly’s. Google didn’t turn up any shopping results, so I might have had a hard time finding them without you.
    Happy Gardening!

  15. I spoke with one of the owners of Uprising Seeds today. She just happened to be in from the fields. She appreciated your appreciation and is very happy that you support her small business. She was so nice! I feel great about buying from her company in the future. They support school gardens, too. What a lovely woman and Thank You so much for pointing me in their direction. I’ve found varieties that aren’t available from anyone else I’ve found. Not even Seedsavers. Wow.

    • That makes me so happy! Thanks for calling & ordering from them. They are a great company, and I have always been impressed with the quality of seeds I have gotten from them. I don’t know where you are located, but I am in the Pacific Northwest and it is invaluable to me to find rare tomato varieties that grow well here. I can’t say enough good stuff. Happy gardening! May your ground cherries be fruitful!

  16. I’m in the Northern California region below South Tahoe. It’s a mix of super-hot and sunny, and cool micro-climates in my world. I’m right next to a creek that gets muddy in the summer and turns to a river sometimes in winter. If I direct-sow crops with long tap-roots, and mulch a lot, I don’t need to water much during the long, hot summer.
    I miss the green that I grew up with outside of Portland. I don’t miss the gray sky. I also don’t miss the years the determinate tomatoes weren’t determined to ripen.
    I miss the PNW, but I love where I am now. Long spring and fall for cool-weather crops. Heat to produce maters & peppers. Winters mild enough for Annuals to be Perennials, but with enough frost to bring good flavor to greens.
    I just wish Bagby Hot Springs (on weekdays) were still only an hour away. I really miss the beauty of ferns and salamanders.

  17. Pingback: chocolate-dipped ground cherries | krista and jess

  18. andrea

    I am soooo excited to try growing them this year. I also will be trying them in a container on my balcony….ordered my seeds today ;)

  19. Marina

    My 3yo is obsessed with ground cherries so I am also thinking of growing them for the first time in a container…but I am a newbie at this. What size container did you use and for how many plants? Thanks for your help!

  20. Diana

    I would also love some seeds. I’ve only tasted a single groundcherry so far (loved it), but they seem to be very popular here in Quebec so I should really start growing some! I’m glad that they are good companions with tomatoes.

  21. may foo

    If you have any seeds left, I would love to try to grow them. You are so sweet to share. I would be happy to mail you a stamped self addressed envelope. My address: May Foo, 205 Barefoot Beach Blvd, Bonita Springs FL 34134