Husk Cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are related to the tomatillo and tomato. They share the same scientific family with tomatoes and the same genus as the tomatillo. The marble shaped fruits are sweet and earthy with a tropical note. Their flavor defies easy explanation. Each bite is equal parts sweet and citrusy. Imagine a sweet, ripe cherry tomato married with the citrus flavor of pineapple and mango. You really have to try one to understand how beautifully these seemingly unrelated flavors meld together.
The husk cherry isn’t just delicious. It’s also simple to grow and hits its stride just as the rest of our garden is wrapping up for the season. It sets beautiful lantern shaped husks on its low growing vines during the summer. Inside those husks, the little fruits ripen until they are ready to harvest. The husk provides a measure of protection from pests and I have found them to be vigorous even during years when pests are helping themselves to other plants in our garden.
When the fruit is ripe, the husk begins to change from its brilliant leaf green color to a straw, parchment color. It takes on a dry texture and will fall to the ground when ready to harvest. This habit of falling to the ground when ripe gives the husk cherry their other name, “ground cherry”.
The past few years, I have planted Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry, a variety that has a Polish heritage. This variety has produced a lovely harvest of beautiful gold fruits with an amazing flavor. This variety has a high pectin content, making it perfect for sweet or savory jams. I find that these little papery husks can be kept at room temperature for nearly a month before the fruit begins to suffer.
I remember the first time I tasted a husk cherry. It was nearly a decade ago. I was at one of our local farmer’s markets shopping for fresh produce. One of the farmers had a small basket of husk cherries. I asked if they were some sort of tomatillo given their papery husk. The farmer was happy to tell me all about this interesting little fruit. He even passed over a few for my small daughter and I to taste. One bite and I was hooked. The flavor was so unique, so completely original from anything I had ever tasted. He went on to tell me a bit about them and I purchased several ears of corn and heirloom tomatoes from him before moving on.
I remembered those little husk cherries and looked for them at our local community seedling sales. I never found them and worried that our painfully short growing season wouldn’t allow me the time needed to grow them from seed for our garden. A few years ago, I finally decided to try. I was overjoyed when I picked that first ripe fruit from our garden. I was even more excited when we had enough of them to make something with them in our farmhouse kitchen.
Of course, then I had to decide what I should make with them. I couldn’t seem to find a recipe that didn’t mask their distinct flavor. I was looking to highlight their unique flavor, not cover it up. So, I kept trying until this simple preparation was bubbling away on the stove. It may be the simplest option I tried. It was undoubtedly the most delicious. This savory jam celebrates the best of the husk cherry’s flavor and offers a wonderful balance of sweetness and acidity accented by rosemary fresh from the garden. It’s delicious served with a cheese course or as a spread on a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.
I hope that you will find husk cherries at your local farmer’s market and that you’ll join me in planting them in your garden. Trust me, one taste and you’ll be planting them along with me year after year.
Savory Husk Cherry and Rosemary Jam
makes about 4 ounces of jam
6 ounces husk cherries, papery husks removed
2 Tablespoons (24 grams) brown sugar
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4″ sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped finely
1 pinch sea salt
Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add all of the ingredients and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer before reducing the heat to low. Using the back of a large spoon or a potato masher, gently crushing the fruit to break the skins and release the juice. Continue to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. This savory jam can be stored in a Mason jar in the refrigerator for several weeks. Serve it chilled or at room temperature with a cheese and charcuterie course.
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