It's Called Ground Cherry.

Ground cherries actually are not cherries at all, but members of the nightshade family - closely related to the tomatillo. They are little and wrapped in a dusky paper husk; they are yellow or greenish, juicy and sweet at first but somehow tart and a little bitter at the same time. I have only experimented with them for a couple of years now, preferring them in hot sauces spiked with ample amounts of raw cider vinegar. This season, their paradox of flavor seemed to call me to the sweet side of things. I needed a lift on the wings of a really stellar preserve, and this one fit the bill.

ground cherries, chai spice

I often wonder how information on such singular, seasonal things as ground cherries proliferated prior to the Internet. I checked my first source for all things Jam and Preserves related - in my copy of Linda Ziedrich's Jam book. I googled around for ideas, and settled immediately on an infusion including both orange and chai flavors. As I read and considered, I could already taste the finished jam on my tongue, the breath of Fall in my nose, and the remembrance of all good things that bridge the gap between sweet and savory. Those fickle things most of all remind me of the grey areas in life, where there are no absolutes and hence no mistakes that can be made. Sometimes, I need something that is sweet and bittersweet and bitter and savory all at once, and I need the reminding of the patience to see (and taste) things for what they really are.

preserves set

This jam is soft set and translucent, like setting sun in September. The calender turned the day after this went into jars and on that last day of August, the humidity still lingered in the air, but it felt different, like the flocking geese knew something that I didn't: like Autumn is coming much more quickly this year because the Summer made me so weary that it knows I need a quick change.

For good or bad, when I look back over the season's worth of dates on jars, I feel every pang that went along with it. The taste of sweet-sour ground cherry picked me up and made me feel confident; this is a gem of a preserve, as easy going on a cheese topped cracker as in alongside a fat scoop of whole milk yogurt - or sucked straight off the spoon, trying to identify all of the satisfying flavors that make it up. It's a very small batch, but it will be worth every lingering mouthful.

citrus chai ground cherry preserves

Ordinarily, I prefer the flavor of raw sugar in preserves because the caramelly depth is usually more interesting. I chose to use the more refined white sugar in this because I wanted to be able to keep the integrity of the citrus flavors, and highlight the tea (which I also feared was so old that it may have dulled with age). I also brought the jam up to a boil, dissolved the sugar, and then let it sit at room temperature for about 16 hours. In part because I got busy, but also partly intentionally. It then took virtually no time to bring it up to jamming stage.

Citrus Chai Ground Cherry Preserves
(inspired by Linda Ziedrich, Cheese and Champagne, and Kitchen Therapy - also a nod to the Hip Girl Kate)
(my yield was 2 half pints and 1 quarter pint, and just enough run-over to enjoy now)
  • 5 pints ground cherries (1 lb. 9 oz.)
  • juice of 1 lemon, zest of half of the same lemon
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 heavy T. of chai tea (I would have liked a premium Rishi chai here, but settled for the year-old Frontier bulk tea I had in the cupboard)
  • 2 c. sugar
Combine everything in a heavy preserving pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Stir to make sure the sugar dissolves, then turn off the heat, put the lid on and let the pot sit at room temp overnight. (You can refrigerate if room temperature makes you nervous.)

The next day, ready some jars, lids and the like, and bring the jam up to a rapid boil. Stir constantly until desired consistency is reached, and jam gels when placed on a chilled plate. I mashed about half of the ground cherries with a potato masher when they were maybe halfway to the gel point, you can mash more or less or not at all if you prefer. (As I boiled and tasted, I also added a 1/4 t. of ground ginger, since the ginger component of the chai I used was lacking and missed.)

Ladle the preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, and process 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

citrus chai ground cherry preserves

Sometimes, things that aren't what they seem present new challenges. Sometimes challenges wear you out like a too-hot Summer. But also sometimes, they can turn a silver lining, and become something more wonderful than you can imagine. Ground cherries certainly have a sweet side, and when full of warm chai flavor, they comfort. Lemon and orange lift, the seeds are interesting and break up the monotony of a otherwise transparent gel. When I pluck a jar from the shelf in a few months, when the cold surrounds me and the trials of August and September have passed, I will be thankful for these facts: that things by other names can be loved the same if given the time, patience and grace to do so, and that sweet sour preserves are welcome on any table.

citrus chai ground cherry preserves