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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our type of Christmas in July is making jelly or jam that we give out as gifts to friends and neighbors. This year we made Wine Raspberry Jam for the first time and it is delicious. Another new jam for us this year is the Hot Pepper Jam we made with Jalapeño peppers from our garden.
If you’ve never had hot pepper jelly or jam, you might think it strange. Try it sometime if you like your food a little spicy. The first time I had it was on a wedge of cornbread and it was out of this world good!
For making jams and jellies prepare the jars and lids first. That way everything will be ready when it’s needed. We put 8 jelly jars in the dishwasher on a light “china” cycle and kept them in the washer so the glass jars would stay warm. The lids and bands were put together in a second large pot and two kettles of boiling water were poured on to cover them. A lid went on this pot to keep the lids hot and sterile. Photos taken 31 July 2011.
Paper towels for wiping the edges of the jars, tongs for pulling out a lid and bad pair from the hot water, a ladle and funnel for putting jam into the jars neatly, and a glass for resting the funnel in between uses were laid out in preparation for jar filling.
The recipe for hot pepper jam calls for only four ingredients:
4 c. finely diced peppers
1 c. apple cider vinegar
5 c. sugar
1 box pectin
We used two large red bell peppers, one medium-sized green bell pepper and six or seven jalapeño peppers to make the four cups of chopped peppers.
Latex gloves were worn during the seeding and cutting of the hot peppers. Jalapeños were cut in half and the stem removed. A spoon was used to scrape out the seeds and the meat was then finely diced. The peppers were chopped up so that a cup at a time was measured into a large cooking pot.
Five cups of sugar were measured into a separate bowl so the sugar could be added all at once.
One cup of apple cider vinegar was poured onto the diced peppers. A box of pectin was stirred gradually into the vinegar-pepper mixture.
The mixture was stirred constantly over high heat until it boiled rapidly. Then, the sugar was added all at one time and stirred in. The mixture was returned to a boil and then it looked quite foamy. After one minute of a full rolling boil, the cooking pot was taken off the heat. The foam subsided once the heat was off.
One jar was filled to within a quarter-inch of the top using the funnel and ladle. Damp paper towels were used to wipe around the top and threads of the jar top. Tongs were used to remove a lid and band pair from the hot water. Lids were tamped on a paper towel to remove excess water. A lid and band were screwed on and the jar inverted for at least one minute. After all jars were filled, one at a time, they were then placed upright and not disturbed for 24 hours. As the jars cooled you could hear them seal with a “pop”.
The next day the jars were checked for a proper seal by pushing down on the lids with a finger. None popped as all six 8 oz. jelly jars sealed. Jars were labeled with ‘Hot Pepper Jam’ and put in the pantry for safe keeping.
We made some elderberry jelly this year and this time we used a slightly different recipe. We’ll have a taste-test or two on the upcoming weekends, so we’ll comment back when the consensus is in. From the initial sampling, we can say that both recipes are delicious.
The elderberries ripen around the middle of August here in central Pennsylvania. Clusters were cut from four plants with scissors and dropped into a 5 gallon bucket. Other folks have commented that the hot weather hit some of the berries really hard this summer or that the birds beat them to the elderberries. We are lucky to know of a spot where the elders grow next to a small stream. Evidently, they weren’t bothered by the extremely hot summer weather.
The elderberries were twisted off their clusters into large bowl. A cup at a time was measured into metal bowl with a flat bottom and then crushed with a potato masher. To keep track of how many cups were processed so far, a single berry was placed on the counter in one spot each time a cup of berries was transferred to the mashing pot.
It was more of a curiosity to know how many cups of elderberries were processed. If we were a little shy of the quantity of juice needed for the recipe, we could make up the difference with whatever fruit juice was in the refrigerator at the time. It’s worked just fine in the past by using up to 1/2 cup apple-raspberry juice to get the total juice volume with no effect on taste, as far as we could tell. We had 12 cups of elderberries.
The mashed berries were poured into large cooking pot. The heat was turned on to bring it to a boil and then simmered for 10 minutes, covered.
The warm mash was taken off the heat and spooned onto dampened cheesecloth, three layers thick that had been laid cross-wise across the bottom of a large bowl. The ends of the cheesecloth were pulled up to retain the seeds and pulp and to allow juice to drip out into the large bowl. The ends were tied together and hung from the cupboard with a clothes hanger, rubber-band and clip. The juice was allowed to drip from the cheesecloth for a couple of hours, although most of the dripping was done in the first hour.
The elderberry seeds and pulp that were retained by the cheesecloth were spread in an area where it would be nice to have elders grow.
Elderberry juice was measured into a large cooking pot, 3 1/2 cups, and 1/4 cup lemon juice was added. The package of pectin was gradually stirred in and the mixture heated to a rapid boil. The measured sugar was added and brought back to a rapid boil for one minute. The jelly was taken off the heat and ladled into hot jelly jars using a funnel. We made six 8 oz. jelly jars full.
A couple of things were different this time compared to other years when we’ve made elderberry jelly. We hadn’t heated the mashed berries before straining out the seeds when making this jelly before. This extra step probably isn’t necessary, but we wanted to try it out. When the elderberry juice and pectin are cooked, and when the sugar is added and the mixture is continuing to cook, that is probably enough cooking to bring out the elderberry flavor.
The old elderberry jelly recipe used 3 3/4 c. unheated juice, a box of pectin, and 4 1/2 c sugar. Without pre-cooking the mash, 8 cups of berries made 3 cups of juice. For the last 1/2 to 3/4 cup the cheesecloth bag was pressed to expel the last bit of juice.
The new recipe used 3 1/2 c simmered juice, 1/4 c. lemon juice, a box of pectin, and 4 1/2 c sugar. So, simmering the mash before straining the seeds and adding lemon juice were the changes from the old recipe. Our 12 cups of berries made 3 3/4 cup juice and no pressing of the cheesecloth was necessary.
We’ll have to have a taste-test with the elderberry jelly we’ve made before. Good thing we made two batches last year – there’s still a few jars in the pantry.
Will the lemon juice make a difference? The acid of the lemon juice is supposed to help the gelling process. Each time we’ve made it, we’ve used a package of commercial pectin and had no problems with the jelly setting. Indeed, the elderberry jelly we’ve made has always turned out a little stiff compared to other jellies.
What effect will simmering the berry mash before the juice collection have? With the old recipe we mashed the elderberries and right away hung up the mash to collect the juice. The juice from this batch of jelly was cooked a lot more and may be stronger tasting because some water evaporated when the mash was still warm from simmering.
So far, we’re not sure if the new recipe or the old recipe will win the contest, but we’re looking forward to your input. Does everyone use lemon juice and pre-cook the elderberry mash?
Making jams and jellies is a summertime activity for us here in Pennsylvania. Actually, we’ll start in spring with our canning activities by making strawberry freezer jam or blueberry jam. By the time summer rolls around the raspberries ripen up for their turn under the potato masher. This year we made a new jam for the first time, Wine Raspberry Jam.
Wineberries are a delicious and slightly sour kind of red raspberry. They originated from Asia, but are now established in the eastern United States. They are also known as wine raspberries.
Since we ate berries all day and still came home with almost four quarts on the day we picked them in early July, we decided to make some jam. Like most berries these are probably the best when eaten fresh, but their fruiting season doesn’t last too long. Making jam is the best way to enjoy them all year long.
Wine Raspberry Jam Recipe
To make homemade jam, it’s pretty easy. This recipe should work for any berry. Consult the information sheet that comes with a box of pectin for ratios of fruit to sugar for the different fruits. Some are more watery than others, so adjustments to a generic recipe might be warranted. What follows worked great for our wine raspberries.
Wash a dozen jelly jars. We used the dishwasher on a light cycle just before making the jam. That way, the jars were hot just prior to filling with the cooked jam. Take out one jar at a time and let the others remain hot in the washer. Heated jars will seal better than cold ones.
Put lids and bands together and place in bottom of large pot. Cover with boiling water to sterilize the lids.
Measure out 7 cups of sugar into a large bowl.
Wash and pick through berries to remove any foreign material
Use a potato masher to smash about a cup of berries at one time.
Measure out five cups of crushed wineberries into a large (6 qt.) saucepan.
Gradually stir in one box of fruit pectin, any brand.
Heat over high heat – stirring constantly – to a full, rolling boil.
Add the sugar all at once. That’s why you measure it out in advance.
Heat the fruit and sugar mixture, while stirring, to a full boil. Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat. Use a ladle and funnel to fill one jar at a time. Leave a quarter-inch of headspace.
Wipe any drips from the rim or threads of the jar with a damp paper towel. This step might not be necessary when you can use a funnel to fill the jars. Rest the funnel in a glass in between filling jars.
Use tongs to remove a lid and band from the large pot and shake off excess water.
Screw top firmly on jar and invert jar onto its lid.
Ladle jam into the remaining jars and add lids. Fill one jar at a time. Makes eight or nine 8 oz. jars.
Turn all jars upright and leave undisturbed for 24 hours.
For quality assurance purposes eat some toast with jam from the cooking pot.
Listen for the ‘pop’ of the lids as the jam cools and the jars seal. Test the seal by pressing down on the lid with a finger. If the lid moves, it didn’t seal. Refrigerate any jars that did not seal.
Label the jars with “Wineberry Jam”.
Smile. It’s all good!
Wine raspberry jam is a new addition to our pantry. These jars will sit next to the blueberry jam, blackberry jelly and elderberry jelly until handed out as gifts or enjoyed on bread or toast.
We made an interesting discovery this year in our wooded acres on the mountain ridge. A lot of undergrowth is present near the wood’s edge. That’s not too surprising because the deer population has a lot of choice of what to eat around here in the country. We see them crossing our property as they go into or out of the crop field next door, so to speak.
We did plant some goldenseal one year that didn’t flourish and I blamed their lack of growth and eventual disappearance on the local deer population. Perhaps so.
Anyway, I was surprised that we had these little low-growing shrubs flower this year. In overall appearance, these shrubs look similar to the deerberry that we’ve seen flower many times. This year was the most spectacular display of deerberry blooming so far!
I’m told by the local farmer that they call the plant “huckleberry”. It’s like a wild low-growing blueberry. Indeed, Newcomb’s description for the Early Low Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, fits it like a glove. Peterson’s Medicinal Plants Guide calls this species the Late Lowbush Blueberry with its blueberry fruit ripening in August or September. Our lowbush blueberry is probably the early variety as its fruit was already turning from light green to pink in late June before turning blue.
Flowers dangle in clusters at the tips of stems. Urn-shaped with five flaring tips, blueberry blossoms are typically white with shades of pink. The flowers of huckleberries and blueberries are very similar.
Leaves of the blueberries, Vaccinium spp., are soft to the touch and no where as near as leathery as the leaves of the Box Huckleberry, Gaylussacia brachycera.
Lowbush blueberries are about a foot tall, with green stems that terminate in oval-shaped, pointy-tipped leaves. Flower clusters are borne on the green stems between leafy side branches.
A week or more later, other huckleberries were seen blooming in the woods. Some of the flowers were more pink than white.
Fruits are small and ripen into the familiar blue berries in early to mid July. One can just see the remnants of the flower blossom’s five tips on the bottom of the berry.
I tasted the lowbush blueberries, but I didn’t think they had much flavor, at least not compared to the highbush blueberries we planted a few years back. We’ll leave the small berries for the birds and chipmunks in hopes that they’ll leave us our delicious blueberries.
As I look out onto the frozen land I see plenty of fruits dancing in my head. The plants look bare, but they’re not barren. The plain-looking sticks that we see will come to life shortly. The thermometer said it was ten degrees on the back porch this morning and it sure felt like it so the dog was fast doing his duty. A little coffee and we’re warm inside again.
The white raspberry canes that we planted a couple of years ago did nicely last summer. The canes were planted in three areas and the two areas that received the most sun provided the most fruit and cane growth. No surprise there.
These everlasting white raspberry canes are kind of stingy with the fruit though. They ripen slowly and only one or two fruits will ripen from a cluster at once. So, you won’t get a lot of fruit at one time – unless you had a great bunch of canes planted. It’s more like a nibble to be enjoyed while walking about outside.
The taste is really sweet, almost perfume-like. The aroma is quite strong unlike other raspberries or blackberries, which don’t seem to have much of a scent.
I can’t emphasize strongly enough how good these fruits taste when you pick them right off the vine, so to speak. I never really like blueberries before, but now I can’t wait to get out there in June to sample them again!
The everlasting white raspberries will ripen one or two berries in a cluster at a time, which spreads out the harvest. A second round of berries will ripen in the fall, but they’re not as plentiful as the summer harvest.
After the woodman was finished dumping off a truck load of firewood, I noticed that a few of the logs rolled away to the edge of the woods. Here, one lodged against the base of a couple of Smooth Solomon’s Seal plants, Polygonatum biflorum. I was delighted to see so many of the berries still intact.
Dark blue berries dangle from the arching single stem. Oval, linear leaves alternate from side to side, each being connected to the main stem directly. This type of stalkless leaf, one without a stem of its own, is called sessile.
The berries were about a half-inch in diameter. This surprised me for some reason. I thought they’d be small and delicate like their greenish-white flowers. See an earlier post on the Solomon’s Seals flowers.
The wild black raspberries were delicious and plentiful this year. They ripen before the wild blackberries, so look for the black raspberries in June. We ate them for about three weeks in June, from the 8th to the 24th. By the end of the month the black raspberries were getting pretty dried up.
Fruits of the two closely related berries are similar, but the raspberries have a hollow center while blackberries do not.
The black raspberry is more desirable as it has fewer and smaller seeds than blackberries do. The taste is similar, but the blackberry might be a little more tangy.
On 27 June 2010 I ate the first handful of large juicy wild blackberries for 2010. The particular cane that provided me with a snack had been mowed over so most of the berries on the cane were killed off early. The cane must have been able to put all its efforts into growing the few fruits that remained. Also, the ripe berries were right next to the ground, so they probably had a little help in the form of heat coming up from the gravel lane. Most of the canes hold their berries two or three feet off the ground.
Blackberry fruits retain their stem so they don’t have a hollow center like raspberries do. Photo above taken 29 June 2010.
Most blackberries don’t ripen much by the beginning of July. At first a few turn from bright green to green with a pale tinge of red. They turn a brighter red before darkening completely.
The heat of July brings on the ripening of the blackberries in earnest. This year has turned out to be quite dry, so the berries may be drying up before they ripen. If we don’t get some rain soon, our plans for making blackberry jelly may have to change.