Gardening Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Ever Ate a Ground Cherry?

Growing ground cherries

All my life I heard Pap talk about ground cherries. He told me they grew wild alongside most everyone’s garden and that they made a tasty snack for children who were working in the garden or playing close by.

There are several varieties of ground cherries, one of which is native to North America. Some folks call them husk tomatoes or tommy toe plants.

Ground cherries in western nc

The plant usually grows fairly low to the ground, but this year mine are taller than they’ve ever been before. Once you have a plant you’re bound to have more the following year. Ground cherries are self sowers and one plant turns into many many volunteers in the years to come.

Tommy toe plant - ground cherries
The cherries are covered with a husk. Once the husk has dried and turned a light brownish color they are ready to eat.

Growing ground cherries to eat
This is what they look like once you remove the husk. I’ve read a variety of different descriptions about how they taste-everything from citrus to pineapple. There’s a sweetness to ground cherries along with a note of acidity or tang.

A few summers ago, Jim Casada asked if I had ever heard of ground cherries. I said “Yes, but I’ve never seen them or tasted them.”

Jim packaged up a box full and mailed them to me. I was so excited to open the box and see what Pap had been talking about all those years. And after Jim explained to me I could grow my own the following summer by simply throwing a handful or two out in the garden I was doubly excited. Jim’s explanation was right and every year the ground cherries spread farther around my garden.

Have you ever had a flash of a memory that is so real yet so fuzzy you just can’t put your finger on exactly where or when it took place?

As soon as the first ground cherry rolled out of Jim’s box into my hand I had a flash of memory.

I was in the garden with Big Grandma (Pap’s grandmother Carrie-my great grandmother) and she handed me a little round yellow ball and encouraged me to eat it, but I refused, at least I think I did. I would only have been 3 or 4 years old. Big Grandma died before I started school.

Funny all those years I listened to Pap’s memories of ground cherries-when my own ground cherry memory was hiding somewhere deep down inside just waiting for Jim’s generosity to bring it to light.

Have you ever tasted ground cherries?



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  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    September 1, 2018 at 9:28 am

    My mum used to call them Chinese Gooseberriea here in Australia. Haven’t seen any for more than 45 years!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Good sliced in half and mixed with grated carrots and mayo.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette-Dean
    October 12, 2017 at 9:21 am

    I love ground cherries! I have not had one in years, but they used to grow all around the edges of our garden when I was growing up. Grandma used to make ground cherry jelly from them.

  • Reply
    barbara lunsford davis
    August 21, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for this article,I,ve heard of these all my life ,but never seen one.Suprised they are not red,probably why I,ve never seen one.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    Can’t believe I’ve seen two articles in two days about this plant.
    See link below from Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman blog:

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Barbara-thank you for the comment! Yes you can buy seed. Sow True Seed has them-go here to see:

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Sheila-Thank you for the comments! I wrote about Pawpaws a few years back-go here to see the post:

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Paul-Thanks for the comment! I think some folks do call ground cherries gooseberries. But the gooseberries I’m familiar with grow on a bush like blueberries. Hope you have a great day!

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    August 16, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    I have seen this plant many times, but had no idea that a little fruit was inside that Japanese Lantern. Thanks for this new tidbit of knowledge. I am always learning something from your blog, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    August 16, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    The little husk looks familiar, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them opened or eaten anything from them that I recall. I wonder if they’re called something different up North where I grew up.
    Love self-sowing plants. Thing is, where we live, almost everything we plant in the back gets wind-sprayed with whatever the farmer behind us is spraying, and sometimes it’s Roundup and kills everything we plant, so we’ve had to plant everything in the front yard to avoid that.
    Hope everyone’s having a great week, and a safe one too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    I have seen these before, but never noticed them in the garden until today! The leaves and husks look like yours, but the little fruit is still green. I’m trying to get up the nerve to taste them. My husband said growing up he always heard them called Japanese something because they looked like little lanterns. They always smashed them because they thought the fruit was poisonous.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I remember seeing these as a kid, but I didn’t know they were eatable. Haven’t seen any in years..

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 16, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I have eaten ground cherries and don’t particularly like them. They have a tropical fruit flavor to me which I find tolerable but given other choices I would as soon pass. There are some in my garden but they have a tendency to vine and fall over.
    Ground cherries are members of the nightshade family as are potatoes, tomatoes, tomatilloes eggplant and peppers. Have you ever seen potato seed pods? They look like ground cherries without the husk.
    When I was a kid on Wiggins Creek we have ground cherries aplenty. We also had a plant that looked like them but grew on a stalk and the fruit was bigger. Mommy warned us not to eat them. She called them nightshade and said they were poison.
    If you don’t want ground cherries, feeding them to the chickens are not a good idea. They are like tomatoes in that the seeds germinate best if they have passed through the digestive tract of an animal. Like tommytoes they also do well in a mulch pile. Even compost that didn’t get hot enough is a good medium for them.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    It has been years since I ate a ground cherry. Not a favorite here, plus the leaves have the shape of the deadly nightshade, maybe that is what turned me off years ago!
    I have never heard ground cherries called Tommie toes! I had a bunch of Tommie toes in my garden this year. The birds pecked them with joy during the driest days. I didn’t pick and eat but a few safe ones as the birds passed their business onto the little fruit leaving little runny white streaks…ewwww!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve never tried Ground Cherries, always thought they were poison. Maybe someone who told me this when I was small didn’t wait till they ripened. Anyway, I bet I’ve stomped many of them little puckered soft sleeves without seeing what’s inside. Someone once told me they tasted like a Crab Apple and I don’t eat those either…Ken

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    August 16, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Are they the same as gooseberries? They do resemble small tomatillos, but tomatillos don’t get sweet, and are used as a vegetable.

  • Reply
    Bobby Title
    August 16, 2016 at 11:43 am

    We know the here in California as tomatillos. Here’s a snippit from “Food Facts” by Mercola:
    “Botanical name: Physalis philadelphica
    It’s ironic that even though the Aztecs probably used them as one of their staple crops, it may have been Spanish conquistadors who introduced tomatillos (which translates to “little tomatoes” in Spanish) to the New World, after first carrying them back to Spain.
    Sometimes called husk cherries or tomato verde, tomatillos are a small, green Mexican fruit with a Japanese lantern-type shell surrounding it. While they’re from the tomato family, and in fact do resemble small, green tomatoes inside the papery covering, tomatillos appear more like cape gooseberries. When removing the covering, don’t be surprised when the fruit seems a little sticky – this can be easily washed off. The fruit contains a pectin-like substance that thickens as it cools.
    Tomatillos have a faintly tart, lemon-like essence, which is tastier when picked green than if the fruit is allowed to darken to yellow, red, or even purple. They’re about the size of a large walnut or a small lemon.
    Blended with garlic, onions, and herbs like cumin and cilantro, tomatillos lend themselves well to lively Mexican recipes such as enchiladas, tacos, and burritos. They’re also excellent in soups, sandwiches, and salads. Salsa verde is a favorite using tomatillos as the main ingredient, but they also can be a great base for any type of salsa.”
    My thinking: I am always surprised that the same thing can be called by so many differnt names. Or that in England, Squash is a soft drink, while in the US it is a vegetable. As my mom always used to say, the world would be a boring place if everything was the same!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 16, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Tipper–For Sheila’s benefit, both May apples and pawpaws are edible and fairly abundant in the Appalachians and beyond. You have to hustle to beat the critters to them (deer love both, as do other species of wildlife), but one good thing about pawpaws is that you can pick them from the bushes a week or two before they fall and they’ll ripen quite nicely. As a sort of historical sidelight, pawpaw custard was one of George Washington’s favorite desserts.
    It’s difficult to describe the taste of a pawpaw but they are rich, creamy, have something of a banana and something of a mango flavor, and contain a lot of seeds. The plant also has a lovely purple bloom in the spring.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    August 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I have not tried them but would like to. I have heard my Dad speak of Tommie Toes.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I have never heard of ground cherries nor eaten them. I wouldn’t mind trying them, though.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 10:08 am

    I ate them as a kid and enjoyed them. My wife says I’ll eat anything. I eat a lot of things my parents and grandparents taught me about. I guess the only thing I turn down is my shirt collar.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 16, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I’ve eaten many a one. My Grandma had them in her garden and would keep volunteers scattered throughout it. So we could go snacking through the rows. She also had some that were much bigger and turned purple. I didn’t like them as much because they had a brassy taste. Those big ones may actually have been the grocery store tomatillos I suppose. If not, I expect the grocery store tomatillos are a close relation.
    I have volunteer epazote, also called Mexican tea, come up in my garden. It is used as an herb in authentic Mexican cooking but at least one source I read said the taste was ‘kerosene-like’!
    Thanks for the memory.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 16, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I’ve eaten Ground Cherries for as long as I can remember, I love them after they have ripened but in my young rush I have eaten some while they were still green and hard, They are not tasty then so make sure the husks are dry and the “Cherries” have turned a golden color and they are a sweet treat.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 9:45 am

    A memory “so real yet so fuzzy” is something very familiar to me since following The Blind Pig. All those memories back in there buried deep among the cobwebs. Oddly enough once I am aware of the memory many details will become apparent as if yesterday. I seem to easily recall walking with parents as my dad reaches down to pluck these ground cherries from alongside a field. The may apple memory is not so vivid, but seems a gang of us cousins picked them. I was impressed by neither at the time, but the findings were a pleasant memory of childhood. Exploration and discovery when we are children is magic.

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    August 16, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Must be kin to tomatillos, often used in Mexican food. The husks and fruit are shaped the same, but the plants are a bigger version of the little wild one.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I’ve grown them and enjoyed them, but a year or two ago I bit into one that was either not ripe or past ripe or just plain wrong somehow – it wasn’t acidic but the taste was so bitter and awful I haven’t been able to bring myself to try another! Any volunteers that show up are cut in half and offered to the chickens, who are not afraid 😉
    By the way, if you have a lot of them I’ve been told they make very good salsa.
    p.s. In case you missed it, I blogged about your cucumber salad yesterday.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Good Morning Tipper,
    The tomatillo plant has pods that start out looking just like that, but the fruit gets bigger, stays green and is on the tart side. It is used frequently in Mexican cuisine. Love them in green sauces and salsas 🙂

  • Reply
    August 16, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Never heard of them, but the little fruit with husks looks familiar. We called cherry tomatoes “tommy toes” , but they don’t have husks.

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    August 16, 2016 at 8:48 am

    I’M not familiar with them, only through this blog. I do remember Mama talking about may apples and paw paws Are you familiar with those ?

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    August 16, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Ive never seen one. My Dad talked about TommieToes when he was growing up. Can you buy seeds for them? It would be fun to try them. Barbara

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 16, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Memories are a funny thing some are born small and grow and some arrive full grown. Sometimes I wonder why some come back and so many never do.
    I ate ground cherries last summer for the first time, I got them at the til gate market. They are a curious little thing but I’m afraid I put them in the category of more trouble than their worth. LOL!

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