I was finishing up my Saturday shopping at the Matthews Community Farmers Market the other day when manager Pauline Wood ran up and said, "You've got to taste this."
The name of the blog is I'll Bite, after all.
What she had found were tiny yellow fruits covered in a light green husk. They looked like very small tomatillos. But they didn't taste anything like them. Pauline described the flavor as crispy pear. I'd say sweet with a hint of pineapple.
What we had stumbled on were the first ground cherries I've seen in markets around here. Our confusion is understandable: They hide under a lot of names -- strawberry tomatoes, husk tomatoes, dwarf cape gooseberries. They are a member of the nightshade family, so they are distantly related to tomatoes, but nightshade is a mighty big family. The genus is Physalis in the solanaceae family. Apparently, green ones can make you sick, so don't try to forage for them unless you really know what you're getting.
Technically, a tomatillo is a cultivated ground cherry, so my first guess wasn't too far off. But ground cherries are much sweeter.
Latin and family matters aside, they are tasty little things, with a haunting, sweet flavor and crispy texture. Besides eating them raw or in a salad, you can make them into jam, bake them into little tarts, or dry them with a dehydrator. In a 2007 issue of Edible Boston, I found a suggestion from chef Anna Sortun to toss them in a pan with warm olive oil and use them in a stuffing with Serrano ham.
Whichever you do, you'll have to do it quickly. The vendor only brought them to let people sample them, and he expects to only have enough to sell them next Saturday. They're so rare in this market, he's s not even sure what to charge for them. If he has them, they'll be in the second tent from the entrance by the parking lot, next to the Community House.