For a few months now, I’ve had a strange obsession with ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa). It all started back in February, when I had a dream that I was foraging for ground cherries near Heritage Park here in Calgary on a warm, sunny summer day. For some people, that might not be so weird, but I have never gathered ground cherries before, and they certainly don’t grow wild here. Actually, they’re not terribly common in gardens here, either – it’s tricky to bring them to harvest when we only have about 105 frost-free days in a year. Ground cherries take at least 2 weeks just to germinate, then it’s about 70 days to reach maturity once the tranplants are old enough and hardened off enough to plop in the garden. As well, you should usually allow some time for the calyces (husks) surrouding the fruit to turn brown and fall off the stems. (The time-crunch is not going to stop me from trying, though! I failed miserably this year with my ‘Aunt Molly’ seeds, but this is a challenge I’m not backing down from!).
So, when I spotted a tiny tray of ground cherries at a booth at the farmers’ market last weekend, I was giddy with happiness. The growers were from British Columbia, where – in some locations, at least – ground cherries have enough time and pleasant climate to produce fruit.
One thing I had to laugh a little at, though, was the labelling of the ground cherries at the booth – “Gooseberries,” the sign announced boldly. Well, no, not quite…not gooseberries like I’m used to. True gooseberries are Ribes spp., and are related to currants. Gooseberries range from green to white to a beautiful jewel-like red in colour, depending on the variety, and they are borne on a spiny, seriously hardy shrub. They make unbelievably fabulous pie and jelly. But ground cherries, which are related to tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) and those pretty ornamental Chinese lanterns (P. alkekengi, syn P. franchetii), are also called Cape gooseberries or New Zealand gooseberries, so I guess I can let it go, this time. (It’s yet another example of confusing common names for plants!).
At any rate, I was inspired by my acquisition to make a cake, and I found a delightful starting point at The Kitchn. I had to tweak it due to my nut allergy and the fact that I had only a handful of ground cherries and not the amount stated in the original recipe (found here). Here’s my version:
Ground Cherry and Apple Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups white sugar
pinch of salt
10 tbsp soft butter or margarine
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup ground cherries, husks removed, washed (if you have more ground cherries, by all means, add them in. You really can’t have too much fruit in this recipe). And don’t worry, ground cherries don’t have pits, so you can just throw them in the recipe whole. No cutting or hulling required!
2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9″x12″ cake pan.
In a large bowl, mix flour, white sugar, and salt. Cut in butter and combine until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Remove 1 cup of flour and butter mixture into a second bowl and set aside. (This will become part of the topping!).
Back to the original mixture: add in baking soda and baking powder and combine. Add buttermilk and egg and stir thoroughly.
Pour mixture into prepared pan. Layer ground cherries and apples over the top.
Add brown sugar and cinnamon to your small bowl of flour that you set aside. Stir together and sprinkle this on top of the fruit and batter layers in the pan.
Bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and cool slightly. Cake is best served warm. Enjoy!
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