Chef Kelly Unger
Interesting Nightshades - Ground Cherries & Tomatillos
I would say the Nightshade family as a whole is interesting, kind of like the Addams Family of vegetables. Included in the Nightshade family are: belladonna (deadly nightshade or death cherries), datura (jimsonweed), eggplants, garden huckleberry, husk tomatoes (ground cherries), mandrake, pepino, peppers and chiles, petunias, potatoes, tomatillos, tomatoes and tobacco. Do you hear the theme song playing in your head - "They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky, they're all together ooky, the Addams family. Neat. Sweet. Petite."? Snap those fingers! Now I'm wondering what ooky means. You may vaguely recall hearing that some folks have "trouble with nightshades". What does that mean exactly and why is this family so controversial? Alkaloids is the answer. Alkaloids are naturally occurring and can cause people with gout, arthritis and other inflammation issues a real discomfort. For most of us, it's not an issue and the level of alkaloids in the nightshades we find at the farmers market is not troublesome at all. Some members of the nightshade family are poisonous and hallucinogenic or psychotropic. Obviously, we don't sell those. But the nightshades we sell and the small amount of alkaloids they contain can be very beneficial for most of us. Of the nightshades at our market, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers have the highest levels of alkaloids. Again, for most of us, they are super beneficial. Ground cherries, also called husk tomatoes, and tomatillos grow similarly - on a leggy leafy plant and have a papery husk protecting the fruit. They look like paper lanterns when they're growing. Ground cherries are the size of a very small cherry tomato versus tomatillos that can range in size from a golf ball to a baseball. Ground cherries are like a super sweet and fruity tomato and are excellent eaten raw or cooked in a pie (P.S. they pair perfectly with corn). Tomatillos are most commonly seen in salsas and found in the green variety, but also come in yellow and purple varieties. When tomatillos are ripe, they break through their papery husk to let you know they're ready! Ground cherries make excellent jam, salsa, and as I mentioned, pie. But don't let that limit your imagination. Use ground cherries as you would a berry or a tomato. They work equally well in sweet or savory recipes. I think they work well with corn and I've seen pie recipes paired with plums. This week I'm sharing the link for a Tomatillo Mary by Martha Stewart (instead of a Bloody Mary cocktail) and ground cherries can be used in place of tomatillos. Enjoy!