Husk cherries go by a lot of names, so don't be bothered if you aren't exactly sure what you should call them. Sometimes they're cape gooseberries, ground cherries, husk tomatoes, Physalis (the genus that they belong to). They are part of the nightshade family, also home to tomatillos and other friendly, and not lethal, fruits like tomatoes, eggplants, and hot peppers.
You'll often find these little guys at the farmers market as they can be a little obscure for the grocery store—our editor Lindsay-Jean Hard refers to them as "weird little buggers", but in a good way! She points out that the flavor is hard to categorize—she says they can taste like "tomato, strawberry, mango, pineapple, vanilla, fig, grape, and more." Our Test Kitchen Chef Josh Cohen likens the flavor sweet but also a little savory, like a tomato.
Husk cherries are often eaten or used raw in cocktails or desserts, and are even more ubiquitous in jams, pies, or sauces/puddings. Just the right kind of balancing act for their harvest season. They ripen up in mid to late summer, right in time to savor them raw before the weather turns, and just late enough to feel like you want to toss them all into a warming, cozy pie.
But, if you want to keep them around for longer, we suggest preserving a few pints, by way of pickling. And who knew you could use a sous vide machine to do so? (You can!)
Our test kitchen hulled a heck of a bunch of them and then started dreaming. With sous vide, food is placed in a plastic bag or glass jar, set in a pot of water, and cooked with a machine that constantly circulates the water at a low temperature. It's very useful for consistent, precise temperature control (important with pickling), and it's hands free (important in life)! Using a sous vide machine for pickling also, in general, keeps a fruit or vegetable's crisp and crunch intact, instead of resulting in something mushy.
When we popped the cherries into the prepared brine (hardly different than an average pickling brine) and then into a sealed plastic bag to take a dip in the water, we found that they sank nicely and didn't float. After finished in with the sous vide machine, the cherries definitely need time to hang out in the brine to absorb all the good flavors like cloves, fennel seeds, and thyme. Once it's all cooled, you can strain out the brine or not—it's your preference. And yes, you can eat them just after they've sat overnight, but a few days is even better.
Give it that time and you'll be happy you did. Our test kitchen found that just after a few days of sitting in the fridge, they pop with bright acidity, are slightly sweet, and overall their originally tart flavor is amplified but, well, pickled.
"The pickled husk cherries taste really interesting! I would use them to garnish a salad, or to accompany some savory, roasted protein like pork tenderloin, or duck breast, or even chicken," he suggests.
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 whole cloves
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 pint husk cherries, hulled
What are your adventures in sous vide? Tell us your tales in the comments below.
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