Market Share: autumn in the tiniest of packages

It was not until a few years ago, when I bought into a farm and received a weekly vegetable basket, that I first discovered ground cherries

AUTUMN IN A BASKET: Tis the season for cranberries and ground cherries
Photos by Stacey DeWolfe

Sometimes when I go to the market, I feel compelled to buy things simply because they’re so darn pretty. I felt that on Sunday when I stood in front of a stand full of wild cranberries and golden ground cherries — fruits that inspire no great culinary inspiration in me, but are nonetheless charming in their nostalgia-inducing “autumn-ness,” and epitomize long-held notions about Thanksgiving in Quebec.

It was not until a few years ago, when I bought into a farm and received a weekly vegetable basket, that I first discovered ground cherries — those tiny paper-wrapped globes with their earthy sweetness described by a seed company’s website as pineapple-like (though that comparison has never occurred to me).

They came to us that first September like novelty fruits; we had not seen them before and knew not what to do with them, so simply popped them from their shells and into our mouths. Later, when they turned up as garnishes on fancy restaurant desserts and were found in gourmet food stores with expensive price tags attached, I saw them as something more exotic, more rare. My mom wrote of eating them in a little Newfoundland restaurant overlooking the ocean. She too had never seen them before, and marvelled at their perfect, natural design and “rightness” for the occasion.

But the truth of the matter is that ground cherries grow like weeds in Quebec, a fact I learned recently when I heard my neighbour cursing as she pulled heaps of them from her flower beds. They had appeared from nowhere and invaded all of the garden plots up and down our street. Like morning glories, they had taken over, strangling other plants and spilling their fruit onto the sidewalk and into the gutter.

At the market, I bought a small basket of the ground cherries and a tub of the cranberries, then walked down to Birri to grab some shallots. My plan: to make a kind of jammy compote that I would serve with some smoked pork chops — a guilty pleasure — and later, with a variation of the ploughman’s lunch: some 100 per cent rye bread, a hunk of sharp cheddar and the aforementioned autumn compote in place of pickle.

This compote is the perfect thing to make at this time of year, as it requires the oven to be on low for about 90 minutes, which allows you to a) roast other vegetables at the same time, perhaps for freezing or soup, and b) gently warm up the house without having to admit that summer is over by turning on the heat. The process is so simple that it requires little effort and absolutely no anxiety.

Simply slice up four or five large shallots and put them in a roasting dish with a little olive oil. Put them in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. When 30 minutes is up, give them a gentle stir and then put them back in for another 30 minutes. Do not stir in between, or they will not have a chance to caramelize. You could also use regular onions if shallots are out of reach. I would use about one cup, thinly sliced.

While the shallots are in the oven, pop the ground cherries out of their shells. This is a wee bit time-consuming and can be frustrating if left to the last minute, but is actually quite pleasurable if done while sipping coffee and listening to something good on the radio. Wash and sort through the cranberries.

When the shallots have been in the oven for an hour, add the ground cherries (about one cup) and cranberries (about 1/2 cup) and mix them together. If needed, add a little more olive oil, plus about a tablespoon each of apple cider vinegar and maple syrup. Return to oven for another 30 minutes.

It isn’t a bad idea to make this the day before you are planning to eat it to give the flavours a chance to blend overnight in the fridge. Before consuming, remove from fridge and bring to room temperature. Taste, and if necessary, season with a little salt and pepper. The compote is the perfect blend of sweet, tart and sour, and so works wonderfully with smoked meats and sharp cheeses. 

Read more about Stacey’s culinary and other adventures on her website, or follow her on Twitter @staceydewolfe




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