Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | | F.A.Q.
Down by the compost enclosure and Dick’s vegetable garden, there is a bed dedicated to Julie-favorite eats and I got caught there on my walk this morning. I must confess that I probably stopped for a full 10 minutes to graze on her ground cherries (Physalis sp.). Last year, Julie bought ground cherries (also known as husk tomatoes) at a farmers market, managed somehow to not eat them all and saved some seeds to plant along one edge of that bed.
We’ve all been (im)patiently waiting for the little green lanterns to ripen and now that they’ve begun, I seem to be willing to drop everything to catch them – as they drop everything. For any of you who have not become addicted to the miracle of ground cherries, they are tomato’s kissing cousin; little sister to the tomatillo and they taste, as Gail says, “like a whole fruit salad in one bite”. They are wrapped in brown paper packages like little Christmas presents and at their very ripest they fall off the plant and onto the ground – or into my greedy paws.
This is the first year that Julie has grown ground cherries and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. Even if I don’t make sure they’re sown next year, likelihood is they’ll sow themselves. I have them growing by my front stoop at home and no memory at all of planting them. I’m very glad I waited to see what the heck that weed was! I can only figure that sometime last year I must have sat on that stoop eating my own farmers market haul and allowed one or two to drop to the ground. Have you grown ground cherries? Are you hooked?
Another Julie-favorite ready for harvest are her citron melons (Citrullus lanatus). Every year Julie puts a label next to them that describes the flavor as tasteless so that no one will be tempted to liberate the handsome fruit from the vine. And they truly are tasteless watermelons at least until she works her chutney magic. They are the perfect vehicle for spices and pickling and I am so addicted to Julie’s secret recipe chutney that if I don’t have at least a jar and a half in the fridge, I start freaking out. One of Julie’s requests upon retirement was space to keep growing her melons. Fine by me!! They are an heirloom melon and she saves seed every year.
Blithewold’s figs (Ficus carica) are also planted in Julie’s bed. These are cuttings from the original figs that grew in the greenhouse floor before the restoration and had been planted there by the Van Wickle/McKees. They are probably Italian White figs and since they’ve been planted outside they have not ripened in time for frost. Others nearby – they’re abundant in Bristol – seem to have better luck with ripening perhaps by planting their figs in a hotter spot such as against a sunny south wall. We wintered them over last year by cutting them back to about 3 feet and hilling up the crown with compost and leaves. The year before that, when they were still fairly small plants, we bent the plants to the ground, pinned them down and buried them in shredded leaves.
Sungold tomatoes, a hybrid cherry, are also always given a spot along the compost fence. There they grow gangbusters, producing more bright orange sweet tastiness than any of us can keep up with. Please help yourself!
What are your traditional favorites?