In a quest for a di­verse and pro­duc­tive fruit gar­den, an Illi­nois farmer turns to old-fash­ioned but re­li­able ground cher­ries.


Ground cher­ries lend sweet­ness to our en­tic­ing recipes, in­clud­ing muffins, a tart, and salsa. These na­tive fruits are as easy to grow as they are to eat—which is why a smart Illi­nois fruit grower in­cludes the old-fash­ioned plants among her crops.

Golden pearls of fruit hid­den in pleated pa­pery husks help Teresa Brock­man meet a sig­nif­i­cant goal for her cen­tral Illi­nois farm: to grow as many kinds of fruit as pos­si­ble in her Zone 5 climate. Ground cher­ries (Physalis pru­inosa), har­vested in late sum­mer and eaten fresh out of hand or cooked into jam, tarts, and other desserts, have be­come a cus­tomer fa­vorite. “I love bring­ing un­usual fruits and herbs to the mar­ket and in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to some­thing new,” Teresa says. “Ground cher­ries are one of our na­tive fruits, along with paw­paws and per­sim­mons, that al­most no one has heard of, let alone tasted.”

The shin­ing lit­tle fruits range in color from yel­low to am­ber, with home­spun va­ri­ety names such as Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry, Humphrey’s, and Loewen Fam­ily Heir­loom.

Ground cher­ries are re­lated to tomatil­los and look sim­i­lar, but they are smaller and have a sun­nier color. The husked fruits fall to the ground when they are ripe, and as long as they re­main in their pa­pery “wrap­pers” the sweet fruits keep re­mark­ably well. Ground cher­ries taste a bit like pineap­ple but with­out the acid­ity. Teresa’s cus­tomers have come up with all kinds of fla­vor de­scrip­tors: “pineap­ple-y and nutty be­ing the most com­mon,” she says, “but also peach, cit­rus, jack­fruit, and even corn!” Eas­ily grown from seed, ground cher­ries can be planted out­doors in spring, but to gain a longer har­vest pe­riod Teresa sows them in­doors or in her green­house about eight weeks be­fore plant­ing them out af­ter the dan­ger of frost is past. The plants love hot, hu­mid weather and grow quickly through mid­sum­mer, pro­duc­ing ripe fruit in Au­gust.

Aside from the fun of shar­ing un­usual fruits and fla­vors, Teresa has prac­ti­cal rea­sons to grow 80-plus va­ri­eties of more than 20 species of fruits on her farm of fewer than 2 acres. “Eco­log­i­cally, it is more sta­ble to mimic na­ture with her wide di­ver­sity,” she says, re­fer­ring to her ex­pe­ri­ences of lim­ited prob­lems with dis­eases, in­sects, and soil nu­tri­ents. Eco­nom­i­cally, a di­verse farm can also re­duce fi­nan­cial risks. “For ex­am­ple, last year we had our worst straw­berry sea­son ever. If I only grew straw­ber­ries, I would have made no money. If I had two bad years, I would be out of busi­ness. But since I have sev­eral other

fla­vor de­scrip­tors: “pineap­ple-y and nutty be­ing the most com­mon, but also peach, cit­rus, jack­fruit, and even corn!” – Teresa Brock­man

crops that did ex­tremely well, in­clud­ing blue­ber­ries, ap­ples, black­ber­ries, and ground cher­ries … we had one of our best years yet!”

Teresa grew up in a gar­den­ing fam­ily but didn’t be­come a farmer un­til mov­ing to Eureka, Illi­nois, in 2000. Her brother, Henry, farmed full-time and told her that his cus­tomers wanted lo­cally grown or­ganic fruit. Teresa thought grow­ing fruit would al­low her the flex­i­bil­ity in her sched­ule she needed to raise her daugh­ters. Farm­ing also an­swered an­other call. “I had al­ways had an al­most phys­i­cal need for an or­chard,” she says. Child­hood mem­o­ries of an el­derly neigh­bor’s yard filled with fruit trees and veg­etable beds and English­style flower plant­ings—com­plete with a path to a se­cluded bench among flow­er­ing shrubs—kept the dream of a di­verse and pro­duc­tive gar­den close to her heart. “I’ve al­ways thought that I’d like to be buried un­der an ap­ple tree, and the idea that my grand­chil­dren can walk through my or­chard and say ‘Grandma Teresa planted these trees’ makes me feel good,” she says. These days Teresa grows and har­vests fruits in a rain­bow of col­ors and fla­vors on her farm, such as ap­ples, pears, kiwi berries, grapes, black­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries, and so much more—in­clud­ing sweet, golden ground cher­ries. It’s all good.

1. Ground cher­ries love hot hu­mid weather, and if grown from trans­plants, they usu­ally flower and fruit be­gin­ning in late July. 2. Two of Teresa’s goats, Bambi and Bat­man, are happy to ac­cept ground cherry treats. 3. In late Au­gust, Teresa’s di­verse farm of­fer­ings in­clude grapes, aro­nia berries, ap­ples, Asian pears, and black­ber­ries, in ad­di­tion to ground cher­ries. 4. Ground cher­ries fall from the plant when ripe, so har­vest­ing is a mat­ter of pick­ing them up. The plants will pro­duce fruit con­tin­u­ously un­til the first frost of au­tumn.

3 1. Fla­vor­ful ground cher­ries grow inside an ined­i­ble pa­pery husk that is eas­ily re­moved. “They are the ideal snack or travel food be­cause they do not need to be re­frig­er­ated and they come in their own lit­tle pack­ages!” farmer Teresa Brock­man says. “They are great to take in your bag lunch or on a car or plane trip.” 2. Teresa Brock­man and Michael Haury live and farm on the out­skirts of Eureka, Illi­nois, near Peo­ria. 3. The plants read­ily re­seed them­selves, but Teresa con­trols seedlings by hoe­ing, and she sets out trans­plants in mid-may to gain an ear­lier har­vest. The rows are mulched with straw to make har­vest­ing easier.




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