I first discovered this intriguing fruit when I was in university. I studied in Montreal, which is about as far away as you can get from California and still be on the same continent, both geographically and also culturally.
People wear fur coats! That's one big cultural difference. Also, French. It's a different language, and a different mindset. On the whole, I absolutely loved living in Montreal. It's a city that has a zest for life, and an energy that even -40 degree days can't quite chill. Plus, I just love being anywhere that's different. Makes me happy.
One of the things I found that was different was these ground cherries. I was in a little fruit and vegetable shop, just outside of one of the metro stations, and there were baskets of this strange looking fruit that came with its own brown paper wrappers! Pretty cool. So I bought some, and enjoyed the mild, vanilla-y taste they gave off, and then I didn't think that much more of them.
Until this past week when my uncle handed me a whole grocery bag full of them that he had grown in his garden and invited me to try my hand at turning them into jam.
As you probably know, I've made jam before. Peach, plum, rhubarb, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, no fruit is safe from me! But ground cherries, or pohas as they're called in Hawaii, or cape gooseberries as they're also known, seemed like a whole different kettle of fish.
First off, there are those adorable papery wrappers that they come in. Adorable, yes. Practical? Probably. I do think they help the fruit stay fresher longer. But. oh. my. word. They take a bit of time to take off. I spent somewhere in the vicinity of three hours separating wrapper from berry, and I consider it a true testament to my powers of self control that I didn't throw in the towel or run out on the street and commit a berry-induced murder. So if you make this jam, I highly recommend recruiting a friend to help you 'shell' the berries. It will go much faster, and then you also won't have as much risk of having a psychotic break caused by small repetitive seemingly meaningless small movements.
Once they're unwrapped though, it's pretty much a cinch to make the jam. I rinsed them and put them in a covered pot on low heat with a bit of water for a few minutes. Then once they started juicing up I uncovered the pot, brought them to a simmer, added two split vanilla beans, and started the process of cooking them down.
Along the way as I tasted I was a little dubious. The flavor is so subtle that it's hard to know what you might want to add. Do they need extra sugar? Actually mine were already pretty sweet. Lemon or lime juice? I was afraid of overpowering the delicate taste (and worried that I had already done so in adding the vanilla). Some online recipes included chamomile, but I didn't have any on hand.
In the end my ingredient list looked something like this:
-One paper grocery store bag half-full of ground cherries/pohas/cap gooseberries (sorry I can't be more precise with that measurement!)
-1/2 cup of water, added at the beginning to prevent scorching
-2 vanilla beans, split and tossed in
-3 to 4 tablespoons of lime juice, to taste (or lemon juice, I only had lime on hand)
-4 tablespoons of honey
-1/2 cup of sugar (which I added because Evan tasted the jam and said, "It's good! It's not supposed to be sweet, right?")
I simmered the jam for probably 90 minutes, give or take, until it passed the cold plate test. (Put a dollop on a cold plate. If a circle of water appears around the jam, it's not ready. No water circle? You're good!) Generally I don't add pectin to my jams, but ground cherries already have a pretty high pectin content, so in this case it's really not necessary. Also, I usually hold off on adding any sugar or honey until the jam is the consistency I like, as this helps with pectin formation.
Then I fished out the vanilla pods, licked them clean (mmm!), poured the jam into clean jars and boiled them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes to seal them. Then I left them out on the counter overnight to let the seals set.
Sadly, one little jar exploded in the hot water bath (I think because I let the jars cool for a few minutes - you should really boil them immediately so there's no temperature differential). Still, from half a grocery store bag of ground cherries, I ended up with 4 pints of jam. Not bad! Now I just have to think of lots of delicious things to eat it on!
(Pictures of the finished jam are coming. I ran out of daylight because it took me so long to unwrap the little suckers!)
Posted by Jessica Mironov | Labels: food
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