Recipe: Ground cherry and apple cake.

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, egg, and vanilla, 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!

I’m taking part in the Eat Make Grow blog hop this week!  Just click on the Eat Make Grow badge on the right hand side of my page to check out the fantastic contributions of all of the participating bloggers!


  1. I’ve heard them called Cape gooseberries too. I can grow the inedible Chinese Lanterns (very invasive!) but have also had no luck with the edible ones – even with a much longer growing season I got one berry once! Maybe sowing earlier and keeping indoors till they germinate would give them a bit more time… The cake sounds lovely – I like using buttermilk in baking. 😀

    • I tried starting my ground cherries indoors this year, but I think I didn’t allow enough time to bring the seedlings to a large enough size. It was the end of June by the time I actually got them outside and they perished from the heat and transplant shock. Next year I will do things differently! 🙂 The cake is indeed delicious, and the recipe is adaptable – if you don’t have ground cherries you could use more apples, or maybe peaches or sweet cherries. Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. I had a friendly argument with my Mom over this very name issue! We were at the Fine Diner in Inglewood and I commented on the Cape gooseberry on top of the Banana Bread French Toast and she said that no, it was a ground cherry. I guess we were both right. : )

    • That’s funny! It’s definitely confusing to try to figure out all these various names for the same plant!
      (And, wow, that Banana Bread French Toast sounds fabulous, I’m going to have to head over there and try that out someday).
      Have a fantastic weekend!

  3. Just a little note on the recipe, the ingredient list contains vanilla but nowhere in the steps does it say to use it. I figure it goes in the cake batter but only noticed once I had poured it the pan luckily I was able to take the batter out and mix in the vanilla.

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