Key Ingredient

In Season: Husk Cherries

By: The Local Palate

Ground Cover

Plucked from an invasive ground plant, husk cherries are a versatile treat 

With their papery husks, the muted-yellow ground, or husk, cherry closely resembles a tomatillo in texture, but surprisingly, tastes of pineapple. You’ll occasionally find the nightshade growing in the wild and some farmers grow them from seed—the broad, green, ground-covering leaves reveal the ripened fruit for a short window in August and September. When chef Victor King of The Essential in Birmingham, Alabama, received a bag from Scott Ireland of Ireland Farms in nearby Alpine, he started to experiment. “We really stick to local ingredients, so there’s a few things we adamantly won’t buy—ordering pineapples for cocktails, something coming from other side of planet, that’s not what we do. But since these taste like pineapple, we asked ‘how do we use these?’” Turns out, the opportunities are endless. 


If using the fruit right away, pinch off the husks from the root end of the fruit and reserve the husks for another use. They also store beautifully. Kept in their husks and set on a tray or plate, they’ll keep in the fridge for several weeks. 


King treats the husks like tea: He dehydrates the leaves then steeps them in hot water. The resulting liquid tastes similar to the fruit (pineapple-y) and can be used to flavor cocktails and mocktails. King also adds turmeric and ginger to make a vibrant steeped beverage. 


The ground cherry’s flavor pairs nicely with the sweetness of late-summer corn. Quickly sauté fresh corn kernels with chopped ground cherries and serve alongside roasted pork.


The Essential’s pastry chef Kristen Hall loves making pavlovas and will be experimenting with a ground cherry version this fall. “The fruits are not incredibly sweet so pairing them with something a little sweeter allows them to really shine,” King says. 


King’s team has been infusing liquors like vodka and rum with the fruit, but his favorite method of preservation is to pickle the cherries. The trick is to keep them at a low temperature so that the structure of the fruit’s skin doesn’t break down. To pickle them, King combines 1 pint hulled ground cherries with 1 cup white vinegar, 1½ cups water, 2 thin slices of ginger (peels intact), 1 star anise pod, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ½ cup raw sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a sealed plastic bag. Cook sous vide at 140 degrees for 1 hour. If you don’t have an at-home circulator machine, a simple pickling method will work by simmering the brine ingredients over medium heat; place the ground cherries in a jar and pour the brine liquid over top. The skins may break down slightly, but you’ll still get that glimmer of tropical fruit

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