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Search on the internet for ground-cherry and your likely to come across 50 references to “weed control” for every mention that this large ripe berry is also a delicious fruit. Ground-cherries are cherry sized but they look like miniature tomatoes (to which they are related) covered with a papery husk.

The technical term is Chamaesaracha coronopus and because of their unusual wrapping they are part of a group of plants known as the Chinese lantern family. Here they are known as cerises-de-terre.

Ground-cherries grow from low spreading perennials. The berry can be green or purple but is most commonly yellow. It gives off a sweet slightly musky smell that sometimes tastes plummy or even slightly appleish. The plant grows easily along roads and cultivated land in many parts of North America. In Quebec, however, it is usually grown indoors and transplanted because it rarely survives our winters.

Because they grow so easily on farmland, they are frequently treated as a pest, particularly in the American south west, where they are pernicious in cornfields. Most farmers treat them as a weed and control them with a combination of mechanical tillage and chemical herbicides.

This is unfortunate because the ripe fruit is delicious. It can be eaten fresh (peel off the papery covering), or made into compotes, preserves and jams like other berries. When not yet ripe (if the stem end is still green) ground-cherries taste bland and look like tomatillos, a standard ingredient in Mexican salsas.

If you want to pick your own, Ken and Lorraine Taylor still have ground-cherries available at two loonies for a pint at Windmill Point Farm & Nursery, 2103 Perrot, on Ile Perrot. Ken has recently grown ground-cherries from a native-to-Quebec plant that he found on Mount St-Hillaire. He says the fruit has a citrus flavour and the skin is orange. He calls the plant “Arctic Orange.” The farm is open to the public today and for the next couple of Saturdays only, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The season should last until the first serious frost.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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