Appalachia Appalachian Food Gardening

Ground Cherries

Growing ground cherries to eat
All my life I’ve heard Pap talk about ground cherries. He’s told me how they grew wild along side most everyones garden-how they made a tasty snack for children who were working in the garden or playing close by.

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

Tommy toe plant - ground cherries

The plant grows fairly low to the ground-and once you have a plant or 2-you’re bound to have more the following year. Ground cherries are self sowers.

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

I’ve read a variety of different descriptions when it comes to how they taste-everything from citrus to pineapple. All I can tell you is they taste very good-sweet-but not quite like a fruit taste to me.

Last summer, Jim Casada asked me if I had ever heard of ground cherries-I said “Yes-but I’ve never seen them or tasted them.” What did Jim do-he 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 these 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.

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 what it was? As soon as the first ground cherry rolled out of the box onto my hand-I had a flash of memory. It seems I was in the garden with Big Grandma (Pap’s grandmother-my great grandmother) and she handed me a little round yellow ball and encouraged me to eat it-but I wouldn’t-I don’t think. If the memory is real-and if it was Big Grandma-I would only have been 3 or 4 years old-maybe younger. She died before I started school.

Funny all these years I’ve listened to Pap’s memories of ground cherries-when I had my own all along and just didn’t know it.

Have you ever tasted ground cherries?

Tipper

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38 Comments

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 6, 2020 at 10:26 am

    Growing up I could hardly wait for the Ground Cherries to ripen, when the husk turns brown and the fruit turns a golden color they are wonderful, if you eat them before they turn golden they do not taste good, this may be the reason some folks do not like them.

  • Reply
    kay
    September 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I love ground cherries, they make good jam.they make me think of figs. Thanks for sharing this . Have a Blessed day. Kay

  • Reply
    Becky
    August 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Tipper, I have these things growing wild on my farm since I’ve been here. I have posted pictures on my blog and people have told me they are everything from chinese lantern plants to goose berries. I knew they weren’t chinese lanterns because they didn’t turn orange or red. And they didn’t look like goose berries either. I am glad to FINALLY know what they are. Maybe I’ll let them grow now and not pull them up thinking they are weeds. LOL

  • Reply
    Kris
    August 17, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Tipper, I feel I am rather late with this comment. In the part of Australia from whence I commeth we call them Gooseberry. Not goose but goo as in goo or glue. They are also called Cape Gooseberry or Physallis Peruvian. Anyway they look the same and taste great. Just another in season fruit or berry to be enjoyed….K
    PS My younger brother gave me the techno answer!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    August 16, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen ground cherries before.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I just noticed some in my garden this morning. I remember them growing around the garden as a child. I am going to try them for the first time, thanks for the post.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I LOVE ground cherries! It has probably been 20 years since I have had one, but my Grandma used to make jam all the time.
    Kimberly

  • Reply
    glynda
    August 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Well add me to the ” never heard of ground cherries “. I have seen what looks like what you have in your hand but I thought it was called Japanese Lantern and I did not know that what was inside was something I could eat. I also have what I call Tommy Toe Tomatoes but they are red when ripe and taste just like a large tomato. So, guess I learned something new today. Thanks, Tipper

  • Reply
    downthelanegirl
    August 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    That’s so weird! I was just thinking about ground cherries the other day and thinking it’s been years since I tasted one. I wanted to like them when I was a kid, but never really cared for the taste. Yet, it’s a good childhood memory that reminds me of my mother.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    August 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I’m confused(and not for the first time!). I thought tommy toe tomatoes-also called cherry tomatoes-were ripe when they turned red. Are ground cherries cousins or the same plant?

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    August 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    No, I’ve never eaten them; in fact I don’t know if we have them here. Without knowing if they were safe to eat I probably wouldn’t have tried them anyway.

  • Reply
    Mary
    August 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Tipper, its been years since I’ve eaten them. They are hard to find in this area. I loved your post today. This is my first visit to your blog so I decided to browse through your earlier posts while I was here. I’m so glad I did that. You’ve created a lovely spot for your readers to visit and I really enjoyed the time I spent here. I’ll definitely be back.I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary defini

  • Reply
    Journeys10.blogspot.com
    August 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I grew up in a culture that knew ground cherries well when I was a kid. People either liked them or they didn’t. I have fond memories of ground cherry pies though most of my siblings do not like it.

  • Reply
    Ken
    August 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Tipper,
    I’ve seen these little things all
    my life but until Don Casada came
    over to visit and had some for me,
    I don’t remember ever eating them.
    Thanks Don! There are some vines
    growing alongside my garden that
    I thought might be a wild cucumber
    maybe that’s what that is. I’ll
    check it out today.
    This is one of the reasons I like
    the Blind Pig: it sparks memories
    from childhood and floods us with
    informative things of nature about
    every day…Ken

  • Reply
    Mamabug
    August 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    This is a new one for me Tipper. Don’t think I’ve ever seen them before. I’d love to try growing some.

  • Reply
    Kristina in TN
    August 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve seen these in my wildflower guidebooks but have never seen one, let alone eaten one. One of these days I’ll come across a ground cherry and give it a try. I’m glad to know they are good eats!

  • Reply
    Darel Meadows
    August 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I have ate ground cherys since I was a kid, more than 50 years. For a real treat, make jam out of them. Just make it like you would from berries. My mom learned me to make it years ago.

  • Reply
    Jen
    August 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Never heard of them, Tipper. Thanks for the introduction!

  • Reply
    bakingbarb
    August 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I’ve never seen them other then the one that grows wild in MI. I’ve not tasted them of course but I’ve always wanted to try growing them, I’ve read they make great pies.
    I love those fuzzy memories of families of past days, I have a few of those – grapes and tomatoes. I love my Grandma, she introduced me to so much.

  • Reply
    Tanya
    August 15, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I’ve never heard of ground cherries but now I want to try and find some! I have memories of playing in my grandparent’s yard. They had a big garden and grew rubarb and had orange trees, apple trees, apricot trees. I always loved just being able to eat while I was playing outside, just grabbing something from the garden! But my favorite memories from my grandparents are when my grandpa would make home made ice cream with the old wooden ice cream maker that you had to crank. Our whole family would sit around outside just waiting for the ice cream to finish!

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    August 15, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Well! I never heard of gound cherries either! Don’t remember ever even seeing them. I will have to keep an eye out for them now!

  • Reply
    Tipper
    August 15, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Georgie-I had a friend who grew those flowers too-and I do not think they were edible-but they were pretty : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    betsyfromtennessee
    August 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

    That is so interesting, Tipper. I grew up eating “tommytoe tomatoes”—but had no idea they were a wild cherry.. Haven’t had one in years—and never remember seeing them in their ‘shells'(husks)… Wow–that brought back memories… Thanks!
    Hugs,
    Betsy

  • Reply
    georgie
    August 15, 2011 at 10:33 am

    My Aunt gave me a start of a plant years ago. She calls Japanese Lantern. It grows really well in the garden now but I’d never eat the berries. The “lantern” turns a bright orange and the berry is red.

  • Reply
    Lisa @ Two Bears Farm
    August 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I’ve never heard of ground cherries. But they remind me of my tomatillos – only smaller of course. I’d love to try one sometime!

  • Reply
    Jackie @Syrup and Biscuits
    August 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for this informative post. The first mention of ground cherries brought to my mind cherries that had been ground up. I had never heard of ground cherries prior to reading this. I will have to be on the lookout for them!

  • Reply
    Laurie
    August 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

    What a wonderful post! My Grandpa Joe always kept a mess of them on hand when the grandkids came to visit. He called them Tommie Toe Tomatoes. The name probably came from a mountain man variation of the Mexican Tomatillo’s. I honestly can’t remember how they tasted – I was more fascinated by the paper lantern and remember thinking it was a mini pinata and the cherry was the prize.

  • Reply
    Cee
    August 15, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I have seen them but like most of the others I can’t remember eating them. If I ever see them again I will be sure to try one.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    August 15, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Tipper,
    I remember ground cherries growing in and around our gardens in their little lanterns…However, my Mother always warned us of eating any berries we absolutely were not sure about and then ask she said…..Like when in doubt throw it out!….I remember tasting them when a little girl…
    but the green ones will make you sick, my Dad said…My brother was a leaf chewer…and my folks were on constant watch as he always wanted to break off leaves of plants and chew..A member of the deadly Nightshade family like the tomato and others, consequences of chewing leaves or the green fruit of that plant family could be serious or worse.
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    dolores
    August 15, 2011 at 9:16 am

    That was really interesting. I will have to start looking for them. Wow!

  • Reply
    Tipper
    August 15, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Ed-7 feet wow! That must be one of the many varieties that are available-makes me wish I could see one that tall : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Carol
    August 15, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I’ve seen these but did not know what they were! Great post!

  • Reply
    Shirla
    August 15, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I remember eating ground cherries while helping in the garden 50 years ago. I recently went to a website that offered lots of heirloom seeds and was able to find them. They were planted with care. Talk about a disappointment when they didn’t come up! I just wanted to taste a fruit that could bring back so many memories and kept a little girl from going hungry many times.
    I have often wondered why the plant wasn’t destroyed in Mom’s weed-free garden. It seems like I remember them not being in the corn field one day, then they magically appeared over night.

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    August 15, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Wow! I have seen these all my life and had no idea they could be eaten. Now, I have to go look for some. Love your blogs!

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    August 15, 2011 at 8:19 am

    You know, I’ve read about them and had them in my garden for years, but have never tasted them. I will now.
    As for history, some also say they are directly related to Mexican tomatillos, with which they share the papery husk.
    Also, as to height, I’ve had them grow seven feet tall.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 15, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Never heard of ground cherries. Kind of hurts my feelings to know there is one more thing right under my nose that I never realized.
    If you have some growing bring me a couple Friday.
    Seems to me I’ve seen something like that growing. The little pod/shell looks familiar but I certainly never knew there was something in it!
    Never get too old to learn something new!

  • Reply
    B f
    August 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

    i really cant remember ever eating ground cherries but i think i,ve seen them a very long time ago.
    i really wish they would grow here on my place , i guess one cant buy seed, can they?
    they would be nice to get a start and watch them grow
    have a good day

  • Reply
    Sassy
    August 15, 2011 at 8:01 am

    That so cool, what a great story. Never had a ground cherry, not sure if they grow here, I’ll have to check.

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