An American weed (Physalis viscosa and other species), having an inflated calyx or seed pod. — Webster, 1882
Ma’s wild ground-cherry preserves shone golden in a glass bowl. — The Long Winter, Chapter 14, “One Bright Day”
Considered a weed by many, the ground cherry is a member of the nightshade family; all parts of the plant except the fruit are poisonous. Physalis pruniosa and other species of Physalis can be easily grown in the United States. Check seed catalogs for availability; the plant seeds freely from fruit left on the ground. Perhaps the plants grown by the Ingalls family were from seed shared by Ella Boast?
Grow ground cherries as you would tomatoes. The yellow-orange fruit is enclosed in a papery (non-edible) husk and is delicious right from the garden. Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t mention eating the fruit, but she does say that Ma made delicious ground cherry preserves. Several recipes are below.
Ground Cherry Preserves. Make syrup of one cup sugar, one-half cup water for every pound of husked ground cherries. Flavor syrup strongly with lemon juice and grated rind, also ground ginger. Heat to boiling point and skim, then add ground cherries and cook until clear; skim out cherries and put in jars; boil syrup until thick, fill jars and seal at once. Very nice for cream sauce. — The Council of Jewish Women, The Neighborhood Cook Book (Portland, Oregon: Press of Bushong & Co., 1914),274.
Ground Cherry. Seed sown at the same time as tomatoes. Fruit 5/8 of an inch in diameter; yellow, round and covered with an inflated husk; sweet and pleasant to eat out of the land. Very popular for preserves, and if picked before injured by frost, can be kept in a dry room until the middle of January or even later. Many people grow this in the home garden where it will generally volunteer after the first year. — Vegetables in South Dakota, in Connection with the Department of Horticulture, South Dakota Agricultural College, Brookings (Sioux Falls: Will A. Beach, Printer, 1900), 114.
Ground Cherry Preserves. The ground cherry or husk tomato is similar to the tomato in culture. Planting should be four feet each way, but unlike the tomato, the vines do not need the pruning, they are self seeders and when once raised will always come up in the spring. They fall off the vines when ripe and can lay on the ground for a week without injury to the fruit. The husks are dry when ripe, and the fruit is a bright yellow. They have a flavor all their own and make one of the finest preserves that come from the garden. Remove the husks, wash and drain, then take pound for pound of granulated sugar, adding just water enough to melt, then add the fruit and set back on the stove and boil slowly for two hours, then boil hard for ten minutes, skim and can. They are nice for sauce pie. — Report of the South Dakota Horticultural Society (Pierre: Hipple Printing Company, 1907), 165.
Physalis pubescens button photo by Christopher Bailey; used with permission. Photo above right shows ground cherries growing in the garden on Ingalls Homestead, De Smet, South Dakota.
ground-cherry (LTP 8, 12)
preserves (TLW 14; LTP 12)