21 September 2009

Fruits: a celebration

The peak harvests from our tomato crop are inevitably post-frost, but the tomatoes do ripen in a hurry after the plants begin to die back this time of year. So with my first 20lb pail of ripe tomatoes, I've finally got enough to start canning! After working with a pressure canner to put up the winter's green beans and peas, the gentle and quick boiling water bath, used to safely can acid foods, feels like a snap. A good supply of tomatoes really does perk up the winter root cellar diet.

This first harvest of tomatoes went into a chutney, with some of the small tart apples, gleaned in an abandoned homestead apple orchard, abundant this year but not yet sweetened with enough frosts. The tart apples married well with the sweet ripe tomatoes, spiced with red, green and yellow peppers, curry, dates and a touch of raw sugar and homemade apple cider vinegar. Three dozen pints should keep us happy.

I enjoy looking ahead this time of year, and providing us with small gifts and celebrations of summer, for the slow cold days of winter. Perhaps this act is the more genuine origin of the holiday tradition of buying up summer's sale items, storing them in closets and other dark places to bring them out adorned with festive wrapping to generate a feeling of celebration and giving. Although I have long abandoned the malls and consumate culture of consumer-mania, I still feel drawn to practice this art of adorning our harvests into creative and stimulating combinations, package them up and put them in a dark cupboard, until they are called upon, one by one, to generate that true feeling of celebration and camaraderie.

Another crop just coming into it's peak are the Ground Cherries. These are indeed a strange fruit, quaint in their paper wrapping, and odd flavor combination of tomato and pineapple. But they are a prolific annual fruit that can be grown by gypsies and renters alike. Harvesting them is a unique process as well because as the name implies, the fruit falls to the ground when it is nearly ripe, and finishes ripening in the dappled shade of the bushes. Their paper husks make them resistant to rot, with a good mulch underneath, and dry weather, the fruits will ripen conveniently on the ground, and can be gathered once a week. Which is a relief because lifting and weaving through the tangled, ground-hugging branches to gather the fruits is a bit of a chore, not at all like harvesting other fruits that ripen at more convenient heights.

But they have a few winning qualities... They are not a watery fruit, making them easy to dry, they make perfect little raisins, with a pineapple twist. And they will continue ripening indoors, much like tomatoes, lengthening the season for fresh fruit, and making for convenient sized harvests for ease of preserving, instead of the all-at-once nature of more delicate berries. Also, I have never once seen a bird or other animal or insect (besides the occasional slug) attracted by the fruit, so I have no competition for the harvest, unlike true cherries and tree fruits.

To dry the ground cherries, I simply string the ripe fruits into long chains and hang them behind the wood stove. Depending on the weather, and how often I am using the wood stove for canning, they will take a week or so to dry into raisins. I store the dried fruit in glass jars, opening the lids often in the first month to check for moisture on the lid, or a moldy fruit. If they are still moist they can be spread out on a cookie sheet and placed in a warm (100F) oven for an hour or so, cooled and returned to an airtight container in a dark, cool place.


Anonymous said...

Nice! I'd love to try some dried ground cherries. Well, maybe next year...

Tammy said...

I have a friend in Texas that raves about these. You're probably closer to my New England climate than she is, though. How are you using them? Some part of me feels like they'd be awesome in a chutney.

Which variety are you planting?

Sheesh, full of questions tonight, aren't I? LOL. The idea of planting something that most animals seem to avoid is appealing to me especially as today I dug up my first ever planting of potatoes (kennebunks) to discover that moles or voles have gleaned a bigger harvest than I will!

June said...

Tomato chutney is always the first thing I do when fruit finally begins ripening. It just seems like a gift we give ourselves in the middle of winter, jewel-like and rich with summer flavor.

I am intrigued by the ground cherries.

randi said...

glad you wrote about the ground cherries as this was the first year I've ever grown them, just a single plant, and boy, am i mad about them. A new favorite for me. At the moment my small haul is drying in the shed but I was wondering,(until you provided me with the stringing method), how to keep them. I plan to grow a ton of these next year. I don't know how I made it this far in life NOT growing them!

Anonymous said...

Are the ground cherries related to the tomatillo? We grow tomatillos, and they look alot alike, and have the same paper wrapping, but are a larger fruit. Great for salsa verde!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

slowcoast, thank goodness there's always next year!

Tammy, actually yes, ground cherries are fabulous in chutneys. I've got a variety called Aunt Molly's, although I have seen a shorter season variety, I think it was from Johnny's seeds. Too bad about those voles, they sometimes get into my squash and carrots.

June, I love your description of chutney!

randi, aren't ground cherries just the strangest little fruits?! If you have a smallish haul, you can dry them quickly in the oven, even on cookie sheets and pie plates. Keep the temp around 100-120 (you will probably have to turn it on for a bit and off again, since there's usually no setting that low). They will be raisins in like 8-12 hours. You can leave them overnight and finish them the next day, pretty flexible. And if you want to know if they are done, examine a raisin, feel the texture and squisibility and aim for that. I usually remove the quicker-to-dry individuals a few times during the process. Enjoy!!!

simplesuburb, the tomatillo would be the ground cherry's closest garden relative, they have similar flowers and leaves, but the ground cherry has a light fuzz on the leaves, and the fruits do not burst out of their husks when ripe like the tomatillos do. I do love tomatillo salsa verde, ground cherries can be added for a bit of a sweet salsa.

Christopher said...

The ground cherries are called Cape Gooseberries here in Aotearoa NZ.

They grow really well here. It's a climber so it's often grown over decks, frames etc. The fruit is delish isn't it? Ours are ready in autumn - March/April.

Hadn't thought about drying them though... although have seen them used in lots and lots of chutneys.