At Wattles Farm, the community garden in Hollywood, Gina Thomas pointed out a cluster of tiny, husk-enclosed ground cherries hidden among the foliage. Some were no bigger than marbles.
"It comes from South America," she said, adding that one Wattles gardener from Poland makes pies out of the cherries. "They look like tomatillos but are sweet and tart at the same time -- the crunchiness of a tomato with the sweetness of a cherry. The very yellow ones are the sweetest."
But be warned: The leaves and unripened fruit are toxic. Ground cherries (Physalis peruviana) are nightshade plants, after all.
Like tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), ground cherries sprawl as they grow, sending out fruit enclosed within a protective papery husk, an enclosing cape. (Another common name for ground cherries is cape gooseberry, although it's not at all related to the better-known gooseberry that grows on a shrub.)
Once ripe, the ground cherries drop on the ground -- sometimes as many as 300 from a single plant. Gardeners sometimes place tarps or blankets under plants to catch the harvest.
Left in the husk, ground cherries keep for several months. Most people wait a week or so before taking off the husk. The "cherry" will shift from pale yellow to yellow-orange, at which point it’s ready to eat. With husks removed, ground cherries freeze well.