Monday, September 11, 2006

Ground Cherries

I just read about ground cherries only yesterday in Willa Cather's My Ántonia, and serendipitously here they are in this week’s CSA delivery. Each one comes in its own elegant little five-paneled papery lampshade. The spherical berries are deep yellow and very sweet. To my taste, they are entirely unlike either cherries or tomatoes. Their flavor is more like caramel, even a little butterscotchy, with some lavender and maybe just the teeniest bit of citrus. There are some lovely recipes out there, but I don’t see how anything could be more fun than just peeling and eating each one. I would suggest making a nice cup of tea.

Here’s the passage from My Ántonia:

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. . . . I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. . . . I was entirely happy.

The Yiddish word for ground cherry is vinterkarsh (physalis peruviana) or khinezish lamterl (physalis alkekengi).

I continue to marvel at the abundance of culinary gems and surprises I am finding in children's literature of the nineteenth century Midwest.

More unexpected gems at Sweetnicks.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous burekaboy said...

i've seen these "my whole life" here in Quebec and not once tried them. i guess they always reminded me of my childhood where we had the chinese jack o'lanterns plants taking over the garden to my mother's great dismay (boy did she regret planting those!). the fruit is almost the same. perhaps i associated them with weeds. hmmm...something new to try :) and i saw them in the store just the other day and walked right past them as i usually do.

did these grow in eastern europe, do you know? i wonder about their usage in jewish cuisine. i shall ask my friend's mother about them at rosh hashanah next week.

9:14 PM  
Blogger zp said...

lucky me, my mom thought my antonia was children's lit too. but is it, really?

10:47 PM  
Anonymous aleza said...

as a fellow new yorker: which csa do you belong to? as a member of the prospect heights (brooklyn) csa, i must say i've been a little disappointed this year... too much corn/potatoes/yellow squash, and not nearly enough of exciting surprises like ground cherries.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

zp-I do think My Antonia is adult literature suitable for children. But I find such a lot of good "children's literature" worthy adult reading. It's written by adults, after all, and if it's condescending, it's usually not so hot for either audience. But maybe I just need to justify my fondness for childrens' books.

4:37 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

burekaboy,
They seem to grow all over. I have not yet seen an account that describes them in pre-war Eastern Europe, but I will be looking around.

zp and lindy,
This is a tough one. I am one of camp that holds all literature is children's literature. When I was a child I read an essay by P. L. Travers on the subject that impressed me very much. She said one of her favorites when she was a child was a book of five death scenes. And speaking of death scenes, yeesh! I can see how several gruesome deaths and the narrator's odd longing for the next world might prompt some librarians and parents to put this book on one of the higher shelves. The sentence immediately following the ground-cherry quote in this post is about how death must be just like this.

aleza,
The CSA to which I will be returning next year is the McBurney West Village CSA with vegetables from Deb Kavakos at Stoneledge Farm. My current CSA has partly redeemed itself with the cherry tomatoes and pink poatoes, but I want out.

ps
I just found the citation for the Travers essay: "I never wrote for children" New York Times Magazine, 2 July, 1978. (and it was twelve deathbed scenes, not five)
Proquest takes away the pain!

12:15 AM  
Blogger esther said...

oh ground cherries is a very sweet name... we had these in the garden as kids but knew them as cape gooseberries. i dunno why - they're not really in little capes but in nets or shades. i remember them often being quite sour but maybe i just ate them underripe. they are a little tomato like yes?

10:49 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

On "childrens' books": Hmm. I certainly helped myself to my parents' books without interference, as my daughter did to ours. There was maybe some stuff that it would have been better to wait on, in retrospect, but I never felt confident censoring her reading (or even her tv viewing)..it seemed more potentially dangerous to me than anything she could find...at least at home.But then again, she wasn't all that interested in tv, really.
And of course, there was quite a bit that was confusing, and had to be read again later.I do remember myself being mightily puzzled by Freud's Interpretation of Dreams when I was around nine years old.

6:02 AM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

esther,

It would be very cool if they were called cape gooseberries because of their little paper capes, but it is because they took off as a cultivated crop in South Africa (They are native to the Americas). I guess you could say they are a *little* like tomatoes, especially when they are still sour, but they are really not like anything else I've eaten.

lindy,

Too right! I read Freud at nine too, but it was outline of psychanalysis--much easier than interpretation of dreams.

2:54 AM  

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