Detroit Ground Cherry Jam

Posted by jdg | Thursday, September 09, 2010

We bought a quart of ground cherries from the Grown in Detroit collective last week and after scarfing them down we scouted around our friends' gardens for more until we found enough to make some jam.  One friend called them cape gooseberries and considered them an annoyance, particularly when he saw them return after he thought he eradicated them last year. A hardy perennial, they are relatives of the tomatillo and you do not pick the fruit from the plant, but instead harvest them as they lay in decaying husks on the ground. This is what they look like on the plant:

And here is what you look for under leaves and along the garden paths:

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We filled a nice bowl full of the fallen fruit, some of which were still too green to eat:

 Inside each brown, papery husk was a lovely yellow fruit the size of a small grape:

A ground cherry tastes tart with a refreshing citrus-like sweetness. I've heard the taste compared to pineapple and that's not inaccurate. Still, it's earthy and unique, with a slight tang that reminds you it's not that distant from a tomato. On the first afternoon that really felt like Fall we sat on our stoop, husking the fruit and chatting with neighbors, all of them curious about what we were doing. After eating our fill, we managed about nine cups worth of fruit which probably would have gone to the squirrels or rotted on the ground:

Once they were rinsed, I threw them into a pot and let then pop in the heat like cranberries, and after adding lemon juice and what I guessed was the right amount of sugar they eventually boiled down to a nice jam consistency. There were a lot of seeds but they're small and inoffensive. I was particularly happy with the orange color of the final jam, because my batches of both peach and apricot jams turned out yellow and I am foolishly obsessed with having a diverse array of colors on my shelf of accumulating self-canned goods. Sure I could make a marmalade, but I'm really only interested in preserving local fruit we pick ourselves. I managed to fill four jelly jars that I canned using the water bath method (and part of another that I just stuck in the refrigerator to taste). It's a pretty unusual-tasting jam, but it's sweet and delicious.

It's prime season for ground cherries, and they even grow wild in some places. If I can find enough, I want to make a ground cherry pie next. God, somebody shoot me. Please.

Previously: Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday; A Detroit Jam; Sour Cherry Jam; and Strawberry Jam