Ground Cherries Sweet Little Husk Tomatoes In A Paper Shell

An Amish man shared a new vegetable with us a few years ago. We were at a farmer’s market appreciating the colorful selection of peppers and tomatoes when we came across something we had never seen.

(Photos taken 31 August 2011. Click on any picture to see a larger image.)

Paper sheaths the husk tomatoes.
Paper sheaths the husk tomatoes.

This new fruit was like a small Chinese paper lantern with a very small yellow tomato inside. The little round fruit is like a tomato about the size of a large pea. Just pull back the edges of the papery shell and eat the fruit or pluck it off the stem. Put the paper sheath and stem in your compost bin.

Peel back the paper husk to reveal the tiny yellow tomato.
Peel back the paper husk to reveal the tiny yellow tomato. The yellow fruits on the left are ready to eat, but the greenish ones on the right should get a little riper first.

Ground cherry is the right name for these little fruits because the taste is surprisingly sweet. They’re sweet enough that the little yellow fruits are often used to make jams, jellies and pies.

Ground Cherries are also called Husk-Tomatoes. We bought a couple of plants a few years ago for the garden. They’ve dropped seeds every year since and come back to produce an abundance of fruit. It’s important to have more than one plant for fruit production, so make sure that you grow two or more plants. The individual plants don’t self-fertilize so with only one plant there is little hope of fruiting.

Husk tomatoes on the vine.
Husk tomatoes on the vine. Note the single flower, the outline of the leaves, and the green color of the paper shell.
Close-up showing the husk tomato paper sheath, light-colored bell-shaped flower with a dark center, and overall fuzziness of the plant.
Close-up showing the husk tomato paper sheath, light-colored bell-shaped flower with a dark center, and overall fuzziness of the plant.

Our variety is an Amish heirloom type that was simply labeled as ground cherry (husk tomato). There are over a dozen species of Physalis native to Northeast USA, so it’s hard to say exactly which species we have. It may be the Strawberry-Tomato, Physalis pruinosa, judging by the leaf shape with scalloped edges and a heart-shaped base, and mature fruit that is yellow. Other varieties include ones that have more or less downy or hairy stems and fruit that may be reddish or purple in color in addition to the yellow that ours gives. Take caution: the green unripe fruit is poisonous.

Leaves are scalloped with irregular teeth and often have a heart-shaped based, but not always.
Leaves are scalloped with irregular teeth and often have a heart-shaped based, but not always. Stem ribbing is purple and the leaves are a lighter green on the underside.

The plant will often drop fruit before it’s ripe, but the fruit will ripen on the ground inside its protective husk. The paper husk turns from green to yellow to tan as the fruit ripens. Sometimes you’ll see the paper of the husk getting thin, but the fruit will have been protected for many days and most likely still fine to eat. If left too long, the insects will find it or the seeds will re-emerge as next season’s plants.

In central Pennsylvania we get to enjoy the harvest of husk tomatoes from August through September and part of October until the frost comes.

If anyone wants some husk tomato seeds or ground cherry seeds, we have some to exchange or via paypal. Contact wilde at wildeherb dot com.

54 thoughts on “Ground Cherries Sweet Little Husk Tomatoes In A Paper Shell

  1. We planted some seeds last year and plants did reasonable well. However this year we have far more plants where they have reseeded themselves both in tunnel and out in garden. are there any recipes for using them.We find seeds are very small and you would not notice them at all. Thanks Marion.

  2. Hi Marion!

    We typically eat the ground cherries out of hand. Or pick up a bunch to bring in the kitchen, but they always get nibbled up too fast.

    Some people make jellies and pies with these sweet little guys, but I’m afraid I don’t have any tips in this area. Maybe some readers here can chime in on other ways they use ’em. Good luck on the search!

  3. Hi Scott,

    I don’t often seen transplants for sale – perhaps in an Amish area – so seeds are the best way to go to make sure you can grow some ground cherries next year.

    There are still some seeds available from a harvest we had the year before last and the seeds should store for a few years ok. Here’s the link:

    Buy Ground Cherry Seeds Here

    We’d love to know how your garden turns out so come on back and let us know! Great!

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