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Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry

Ground cherries are the sweeter, smaller and golden cousin to a tomatillo. Their small fruits are like tiny packages wrapped in a papery husk. When ripe they become a deep golden-yellow in color and their flavor is pineapple-meets-vanilla. Roadside stands still sell the fruit, but the variety of Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry itself is considered an endangered heirloom. Once a very common fruit for backyard gardens, they’ve become more difficult to find in part because they are difficult to harvest and transport. Today they’re found in homegardens and small farms throughout North America and Europe, but the sprawling nature of the plant and its tendency to drop off the branch when they’re ripe makes picking them difficult for large-scale industrial agriculture. Territorial Seed company came across the seeds for this particular variety without a name, and gave it the name of their owner’s old ice cream shop, Aunt Molly’s Ice Cream Treats. 

While ground cherries are in fact native to North America, and related to the golden berries narive to the South American andes, this variety made its way to the US from Poland. Aunt Molly’s is a polish variety, but was first mentioned in horticultural literature as early as 1837 in Pennsylvania. How the fruit itself first came to Pennsylvania is not known, but perhaps it came over with the influx of Polish immigrants in the latter half of the 19th century. Many of them were farmers, and while they mostly went to work in the coal mines of the region, they may have brought over some seeds. Today they are popular amongst the Pennsylvania Dutch communities, who frequently use them to make jams and preserves. Their naturally high pectin count makes them excellent for making preserves and pies, but they’re also tasty in fruit salads or on top of ice cream. 

Written by Malia Guyer-Stevens, Slow Food USA Editorial Intern

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Learn how to start seeds indoors with Slow Food USA School Garden committee chairs — in different ways and different places! The exact timing and practices for planting your seeds will depend on your growing zone and frost dates in your region. More information can be found in the Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar – just enter in your zip code to find helpful notes on starting your seeds and planting your starts! 

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