Physalis?

October 8th, 2009

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We called it a ground cherry, and grew it in the  sandy Minnesota soil of our vegetable garden when I was about ten.  Much more fun to pick than the green beans, the little paper husks could be pinched open to let the glow-in-the-dark orange fruit pop into my mouth.  Mom would make a light syrup and preserve them to perk up winter meals, as a simple sauce for dessert (sometimes over butter-pecan ice cream), or as a special Sunday jam. The ping of jar caps sealing was a sound of the season.  Now, every time the decorative physalis, as festive as a Chinese lantern, is plated on a restaurant dessert tray of chocolate cake or apricot mousse, I recall our harvests just before frost.  Recently I was tickled to find a tray of this globe-trotting native of Peru (Physalis peruviana in botanic terms) on a vendor’s stall in the Rouffignac Sunday market.  Our local Périgord markets seem to offer more interesting ingredients every year, and the physalis’ long season – one hundred days to maturity – is well suited to this temperate growing zone. The sprawling, handsome plant in the Solanaceae family is related to a tomatillo.  So, why not make a sweet physalis salsa to pair with a smooth panna cotta?  Or, why not stir them into an apple crumble for both color and a sweet-sharp edge? Maybe a few will find their way onto a cheese platter, but to be honest….they are so good just popped out of the husk, savored on the spot. Maybe it’s time to think about a physalis row in next year’s potager.

Planning a potager for 2010? See www.realseeds.co-uk/physalis.html for more on planting them at home – as local as your own back yard.

2 Comments »

  1. morgaine says

    This fruit in Italy has a very funny name: alchechengi (mind ch makes the k sound, while the g is pronounced like j), is found rarely in markets and supermarkets around Christmas time and is usually dipped in bitter chocolate, leaving the papery “leaves” outside the chocolate for grabbing. Try it and you’ll tell me

    October 21st, 2009 | #

  2. marolyn says

    Very interesting, Morgaine – I first encountered the chocolate-dipped physalis/alchechengi in the Piedmont after a memorable meal with a vista of the rolling Barbaresco hills. Must try this at home. And next time you find them in a market, dip physalis in a thin caramel syrup – but don’t wait until Christmas!

    October 22nd, 2009 | #

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