December 14, 2019

Inca Gold

Physalis peruviana L. - Husk cherry or pineapple tomatillo

Janine Pineo Photo | Physalis peruviana L. – Husk cherry or pineapple tomatillo

Like a chandelier of Chinese lanterns, so grows Physalis peruviana, a member of the nightshade family prized for its edible berrylike fruit. Also known as husk cherry or pineapple tomatillo, the plant is rarely cultivated outside the home garden. Its flavor has been compared to pineapple, but ask people who like it and you will often hear that there really isn’t a comparable flavor. The plant needs to be started from seed well before the last frost date since it requires a long growing season here in Maine.  It can withstand a light frost, unlike most of its tomato relatives. It doesn’t need a lot of water and prefers even less when the fruit is maturing. It dislikes fertile soil, which causes lower fruit production. It’s OK to shake the plant to pollinate the flowers and, when the fruit is ripe, you can shake the plant again to make the berry-filled husks drop to the ground for an easy harvest. As for the Inca connection, it seems they cultivated the fruit as part of their main diet, but whether that was from wild stands or planned ones is unclear.

Other than eating them fresh, they make a good jam, I’ve heard of using them as pie filling and they are mighty nice in this recipe for a muffin.