Under the Husk: Discovering the mysterious ground cherry

ground cherries

I had to laugh knowingly last weekend at the Kingfield Farmers Market as I stood behind a woman in the Gardens of Eagan booth. In front of her was a bowl spilling over with these little papery beige spheres and a sign inviting shoppers to try one.


“Ground cherries?” she said, ducking away from them like they might possibly explode. “What are they? I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before. Are they cherries? No stems…Hmm. How do they grow? What do they taste like?”


A market pro, the gentleman working was not fazed by this barrage of questions. He deftly explained that, related to tomatillos, ground cherries grow on bushes and are often compared in flavor to strawberries, pineapple, and sometimes even butterscotch. 


My chuckle came from knowing that just a few seasons ago, I was the one hurling a question a minute at that extremely patient vendor, curious as to what these small orange globes were. Now I was waiting in line to stock up on as many of them as possible.


As with most fruits, ground cherries are delicious cleared of their husk and eaten naked, savored for their natural, often complex flavor. I also love them mixed with tart apples and baked into pies or preserved as jam. I’ve thrown them whole into sweet quick breads, too, with much success, and tossed them into salads, complemented by creamy cheeses and tart vinaigrettes. 


Since I think they most often have a strong pineapple-like flavor, my favorite thing to do is make a chunky, tangy sweet and sour sauce to use over grilled pork or chicken. Below is an easy recipe for just such a sauce, which can be adjusted to your preferred level of sweet versus tangy simply by adjusting the amounts of honey and vinegar.


Ground Cherry Sweet and Sour Sauce

Yield: About 3 cups


1 tablespoon olive oil (or oil of your choice)

1 medium green bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small white onion, peeled, cored and cut into a large dice

1 cup of husked ground cherries

6 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon coconut aminos (or soy sauce)

1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (optional)

1/3 cup water

1-2 tablespoons arrowroot powder (or preferred thickening agent)


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add your onions and sauté 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.


Add your peppers to the pan and sauté 3-4 minutes more. 


Meanwhile, whisk honey, vinegar, coconut aminos, tomato paste, red pepper flake, water and one tablespoon coconut aminos together in a small bowl. 


When the vegetables are softened, but not mushy, add the liquid ingredients to the pan with the vegetables and bring to a soft boil. Stir gently until the mixture starts to thicken. If needed, sprinkle in more arrowroot powder until the desired consistency is achieved. 


Reduce heat to medium and add the ground cherries to the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes more, until the fruit is just warmed through. Serve hot spooned over your favorite starch or protein. 


Christina Vanoverbeke is a Minneapolis transplant, by way of Youngstown, Ohio, and Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. She is a reformed newspaper reporter turned freelance Jill of all trades. She works in health and wellness fundraising by day and runs the cooking blog Cautiously Domestic by night. Look for her in your local farmer’s market – she’ll be the one talking some patient farmer’s ear off.