Our gardens in many lights

lundi 29 août 2011

Of groundcherries, these sweet munchies

 Cet article en français. 
Este artículo en español.

Or how you can prolong the berry harvest with groundcherries!

Louise :   Are you acquainted with this flower? It's a tiny jewel that we generally don't notice at first glance. This flower will soon transform into a cute paper lantern look-alike, one that will shelter a beautiful and sweet-tasting pearl...

Here, the sweetest fruit is the one in the translucent envelope.
   The green envelope contains a fruit still too
green to be eaten.
You may know this small round fruit, firm et shiny, the size of a marble, gold or orange, depending on the variety, and that grows inside an envelope closed with 5 sepals, enwith that tiny paper lantern look.
Their unique taste combines that of the cherry tomato, citrus and pineapple. If some don't like it, the others tend to love it!
Personally, I'm always wrestling with the desire to eat them there, right away, Or to put some aside to make an exquisite jam, althought it's not thick enough to suit everybody's taste. When it comes to those shiny golden globes, my husband and grandson are as gaga as me, complicating the situation even more!

That big tuft of greenery by the sidewalk, is actually a multitude of ground cherry plants. I think it's not ugly at all and it stays pretty until the first frosts.  The flowers you see around attract pollinators, thus helping the ground cherries produce a very good harvest.
I planted groundcherries for the first time three summers ago, and frankly I'm wondering why I didn't do it sooner, since they have so many perks :

* The plants produce a great quantity of very nutritious berries, which are  excellent for your health. It doesn't take a lot of space, and they fruit for an extended period : from the middle of summer till the first light frosts. Here, I gave them 24 square feet (2 square meters, if you prefer) in full sun. But they can be grown in containers - As long as they are in a sunny spot and they have enough water.

* They're not really ornemental plants, but they do keep a good appearance throughout the season - which is not the case for every food plant. That's why I am not ashamed to put this plant in the front yard, where everyone can see it.

The berries really don't show that much.
You have to get close and lift the leaves to see them...
* Another big bonus, the plants don't need any staking since their stalks are strong and only grow as high as 50 to 90 cm. They do tend to grow in width so be careful.

The berries on the ground are ready to harvest.
We can also take them inside on a sunny window
to let them mature, a bit like tomatoes.

* The plants are annual here, but they do manage quite well on their own to reseed themselves (you just need to forget a couple of berries on the ground). They are also easy to produce in Québec and can fruit as soon as two months after plantation.

* They make a good amount of shadow on the ground so weeds are not generally a problem. However a good mulch under them will keep the berries that fall down clean and dry.
And since these plants prefer dry soil, no need to water them unless they're in containers or unless you have a severe drought.
As soon as August arrives, my plants give me 2 ou 3 cups
of berries, about every  2 to 4 days.
It's a bit of magic to be able to collect fruits like this
in september and even sometimes in october.

* It's easy to know when to harvest your berries : When they're mature, they drop on the ground all by themselves. All that's left to do is for you to pick them up, but you do have to be careful to not bruise the plants while harvesting.

The berries keep also very well : 4 à 6 weeks at room temperature in a dry spot, if their envelop is intact and dry.

* The berries behave like tomatoes : a fruit that started to mature but fell from the plant (a shade of green closer to yellow) will generally be able to complete it's maturation inside your home. The really green berries however won't.

I wiped the frost with my thumb here,
to make a small window for you to see
those beautiful pearls full of flavor.
What to do with all this abondance?

. We can eat them just like that, of course, maybe dipped in chocolate or caramel, used to decorate pancakes, or in fruit salads, chocolate fondues, or even as a garnish on a plate of cake or a bowl of ice cream, like some restaurants do.

. A purée, a jelly (add pectin), or a delicious jam (again add pectin if you prefer thicker jam). Pies can also be made out of them, or just dry them so they can replace raisins. Finally, there is also the possibility of just freezing them, without the need to cook them beforehand. Personnally, I wash them, wipe them up and then I put them in a clean glass jar (an old jam jar for example).

Watch out, however, not to eat the green berries, since they can give you serious belly aches and diarrhea, since these contain solanine, you know that same thing we are warned about regarding green potatoes.

Short list of information for those who want to know more... 

There is about a hundred species of groundcherries, (Physalis, in latin), annuals or long-lived, and many of them produce edible fruits. We find them on many continents. They are known under the names groundcherries, goldenberries or cape gooseberries, but in french they share these names : coquerets, amours en cage (love in a cage) or groseilles du Cap (Cape gooseberries, as previously mentionned).

The prominent species in Québec is Physalis Pruinosa, an annual. At the grocery store, in winter, it's also possible to buy Physalis Peruviana, the fruit of that one is bigger, orange instead of gold and it's wrap is sturdier and more opaque and dark. Personally, I don't really like this variety, because it has a light bitterness.
You may also know Physalis Alkekengi, also called Chinese Lantern which is used as an ornemental in Québec. It's a long-lived plant that can become very invasive, but its berries have a beautiful orange wrap. They are supposed to be edible, but I've never taste any. Opinions on this? Because I wouldn't have it here, considering its reputation as an aggressive and invasive plant, and since it's also been told that once you have some, it's very hard to get rid of it.

Well, that's all for now folks, have a great harvest!

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