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Editorial: A small box of husk cherries: what in the world?!

In this, the season of farmstand bounty, have you discovered the husk cherries?

It’s not often you get to try a weird new fruit without traveling halfway around the world. But there were husk cherries at Dimond Hill Farm in Concord over the weekend, and what a happy dinner-time adventure they provided.

They were sitting in a humble blue carton, the type generally filled with more recognizable things – blueberries, small tomatoes, even green beans. But this particular carton seemed to be jammed with party favors: tiny, sepia-toned paper lanterns that weighed next to nothing. Pinch a lantern gently, and a single, humble berry pops from the bottom. It’s not cherry red, but orangey yellow. There’s no large pit in the middle, and the taste – well, how strange!

Cherry is a peculiar name for this fruit, also called a ground cherry or a husk tomato, because it actually tastes sort of like a mild vanilla pineapple. With maybe a hint of pear. Or, wait, was that a whiff of cinnamon?

However, it strikes you, it’s definitely a quiet taste, not much like a true cherry at all.

Husk cherries are planted in the ground (or, alternatively, in pots), rather than growing from trees.

There are scads of varieties – clammy ground cherries, dwarf ground cherries, Walter’s ground cherries, star-haired ground cherries and even, confusingly, grape ground cherries.

This is a “new” fruit only in the sense that it was new to us. In Chinese medicine, it’s thought to help sore throats and fevers. One particular variety is considered a hallucinogenic and outlawed in Louisiana.

The type we spotted in Concord turned out to be good in a salad with farmers market goat cheese. Cookbooks advise that they’re good for baking, though the taste is easily overwhelmed by more assertive fruits. They can be made into tarts, jams, even dried into something akin to a raisin.

School is starting, autumn is on its way. This unusual taste of summer is worth seeking out.

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