Cape Gooseberry/Ground Cherry

San Marcos, TX(Zone 8b)

Cape Gooseberries.
These are not really Gooseberries but are Ground Cherries. There are two varities out there. The regular Ground Cherry is yellow fruited and has a bit of a Garlic after taste. This is a Cape Gooseberry variety. It is larger, orangish and better tasting. These have an okay taste but if you heat them up, a real smokey sweet flavor comes out that is good in pies and on ice cream.
The Ground Cherry loves the heat here in Texas while the Cape Gooseberry is a bit heat sensitive. I have both plants but these really large ones came from Central Market in Austin. They are probably imported from Chile. The fruit in the picture is about half the size of a ping pong ball.

Thumbnail by jujubetexas
Greensburg, PA

I found some Cape Gooseberries at a local supermarket a couple of weeks ago, marketed by "Melissa's", I think. I grow both types of ground cherries (Physallis species) most years.

I don't get any garlic-y taste with my ground cherries, so perhaps that a result of local conditions. Ground cherries are relatively common in PA. Cape Gooseberries require a longer growing season and can be perennial in climates that don't get hard frost. Ground Cherries (varieties such as Goldie, Aunt Mollies, Cossack...) are a shorter season crop and basically an annual. In PA we are lucky to ripen a few fruits of Cape Gooseberry before frost kills the plant. Cape Gooseberry produces a larger, woodier and more brittle plant than Ground Cherry. Regular ground cherries produce a lot of fruit here.

Both types are somewhat sensitive to soil moisture. Ground Cherries will drop fruit prematurely if not given enough water and may be sensitive to day length. Cape Gooseberry holds onto its fruit and can grow year around under the proper conditions.

Ground Cherries are very productive for the space and are very good tasting if properly ripened. The fruit will fall from the plant to the ground (thus the name) when it is ripe, but unripe fruit falls as well under non-ideal conditions for the plant. Only fruits completely golden in color should be eaten. Fruits not fully ripened (showing any hint of green) did not fully ripen and should be discarded. The plant itself is toxic, as well as green fruits. Fallen fruits may ripen a bit is kept in a cool, moist environment, but fruits showing significant green will never ripen if off of the plant.

There are many species of Physallis native to the US (and throughout most of the states) and all of them have toxic plants, most producing edible fruit, but of poorer quality. Because there are a few whose fruit may be toxic, be sure of what you have before consuming it.

A decorative relative of the edible ground cherries is Chinese Lantern, a perennial in temperate climates (zone 5 at least). The distinctive orange fruit covers are used as decorations. Its berry is reported as being edible, but I find them very unpleasant.

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