Sunday, October 6, 2013

What the heck is that? Husk cherries

Move over, tomatillo. You're not the only papery husked, kinda odd, kinda cool nightshade fruit in town.

Husk cherries, aka ground cherries, are little yellow fruit that are covered by what looks like a loose-fitting brown paper wrapper. They have a family resemblance not only to tomatillos, but also to Chinese Lanterns, the vividly orange flowers that are sometimes seen in dried arrangements.

I've heard that members of the Physalis family grow pretty easily, but I've never heard of casual gardeners growing husky cherries. If they cross your path, you're probably at your local farmers' market.

I was at Union Square when one stand decided to engage in some outreach efforts, handing out samples to shoppers lured by their heirloom tomatoes.

Once you remove or pull back their papery husks, husk cherries look like yellow cherry tomatoes. Their texture is the same, too.

Their taste is a little mysterious. My first impression was pineapple, albeit a weird kind of pineapple. The blog Catertots,  on the other hand, describes the husk cherry has having a "taste [that] is sweet and complex with hints of melon, tomato and strawberry," adding, "We kept on eating them trying to put a finger on what they reminded us of, and before we knew it we had burned though half of our stash."

What to do with these little gems? They'd be a welcome addition to any salad and a fine garnish. Catertots suggests salsa, a logical extension of the tomato-tomatillo connection.

That is, of course, assuming you have any husk cherries left in the container after you've fully explored the mystery of their odd but beguiling taste.

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