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Make room for these next year

By Penny Stine

If you like to try unusual garden goodies, make room for these next year. This is a pineapple tomato, aka a ground cherry. They're a nightshade plant that's actually native to the Americas. 





This is the amount of fruit that I'm picking every other day from about three or four plants. Not a lot, but since that's what I pick in two days, it adds up. Rather, it would add up if I didn't eat them. Because they're so small, it's really easy to eat a few here and there, and next thing you know, they're all gone. 




I've got them planted in a front flower bed, where I also have a few sweet pepper plants, some melons and a couple of flowers. Yes, there's grass and a few weeds growing there, too.

I had them in the same spot last year and had read that they were notorious for self-seeding and returning year after year. I also took some of the fruits in to Bookcliff Gardens last year so they could taste them and perhaps start growing them for sale in the spring. When I didn't have any seedlings emerge by late May, I went to Bookcliff, where I bought two of the last three ground cherry/pineapple tomatillo plants they had.

After I brought them home, I discovered that a few had finally emerged in this bed. I dug a few up to give away and also transplanted a couple to another area (where all but one died).



So yes, they do return if you leave enough fruit on the ground to reseed, which isn't hard to do, given the way they grow and ripen. For the best flavor, I've learned to let them fully ripen on the plant. They'll fall to the ground when they're ready to eat.  

It can be difficult to find all of the fallen ground cherries, which is why they reseed themselves. Plus, the plants continue producing until it freezes, and when the frost finally comes, there are dozens of not-quite ripe enough to eat fruit that ends up falling to the ground. Each little fruit has dozens of seeds in it. 

They're really tasty to me and to plenty of other people with whom I have shared fruit. I don't think they taste like pineapples, but that's what plenty of people taste when they eat one, which is why they're called pineapple tomatillos (or ground cherries or cape gooseberries or even goldenberries).

I made a coffee cake with them last year that was really good, and they weren't bad in a pie, either. My husband, however, is not fond of them raw. That's OK. More for me!