This season I’ll be joining forces with local urban farmers, Green City Growers. Each month, Green City Growers will feature a new fruit or vegetable on their site, along with tips for growing and caring for it. I’ll bring that same fruit or vegetable into my kitchen and show you how to turn it into something delicious!
Peaking out from this oat and almond crumble is a small heap of husk cherries. You may have seen them before at a Farmers Market or farm stand, where they are slowly making a comeback, thanks to a growing interest in local and urban farming.
Husk cherries (also called ground cherries) are a unique crop whose appearance, texture and flavor are completely misleading. They look like a cross between a tomatillo and a cherry tomato—and taste like a cross between a cherry tomato, Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berries, and the faintest hint of pineapple.
I tasted husk cherries for the first time last summer at Blooming Hill Farm in New York, where I mistook them for small tomatillos. It was an odd sensation to peel off its husk, pop a husk cherry into my mouth, and expect to taste something sour and tangy. Instead, I tasted a sweetness that both confused and delighted my taste buds, driving my husband and me to polish off an entire half pint before we could even find the words to describe their flavor. I heard a similar story from the team at Green City Growers, who grows husk cherries at various urban and rooftop farms in Massachusetts. Identifying the unusually delicious flavor of husk cherries is an ongoing conversation at their headquarters, particularly because they have access to them right in their garden plot.
Part of the reason we don’t often get to enjoy the quirky flavor of husk cherries is that they don’t travel very well. This rules them out at many grocery stores who often source their produce from far away. The good news is that since there’s a growing interest in buying local produce at farms and Farmers Markets, farmers who grow husk cherries have an outlet to look toward the future and keep them from going extinct.
I suspect that in the next couple of years, we’re going to see husk cherries popping up in more places. But in the meantime, their availability is still fairly low, with half pints being the most commonly sold container size.
Husk cherries’ harvest period is almost as fleeting as their quantity, falling within the sliver of time that spans late summer and early fall. It’s a beautiful time of year where the bounty of fresh produce overlaps nicely with our desire to turn our ovens back on. I’m feeling it now as we toggle between 90-degree days and 70-degree days.
With limited amounts of both husk cherries and warm summer weather at our disposal, I decided on Mini Husk Cherry Crumbles for this year’s summer-to-fall recipe. They’re small, because husk cherries are not easy to find; delicately sweet and neutral, because it’s still summer and those husk cherries deserve to shine; and crunchy and toasty, because it’s also fall, and we’ve earned the hearty crunch of oats and almonds in our dessert.
Baking the husk cherries tames their lightly acidic bite and deepens their perplexingly delicious sweetness. They’re worth trying both cooked and raw, so if you plan on making these crumbles, save a few husk cherries on the side for snacking—and guessing. Their flavor is unlike any other fruit I know, so plan for a game of “What Does this Taste like?” before the season is over.
Visit Green City Growers for more information on innovation in urban farming.
These crumbles are a delicious, uncomplicated way to enjoy the uniquely sweet flavor of husk cherries—especially during this transition from summer to fall. The husk cherries burst while baking, rendering a soft jam-like filling that welcomes the buttery crunch of oats and almonds. These are a great standalone dessert both warm and at room temperature, but if you’re feeling luxurious, treat yourself to a small scoop of freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Mini Husk Cherry Crumbles
makes (4) 4-oz crumbles
1 recipe Oat & Almond Crumble Topping (see below)
12 ounces husk cherries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 pinches Kosher salt
(4) 4-oz ramekins or glass baking cups
rimmed baking sheet
Oat & Almond Crumble Topping
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter
3 tbsp rolled oats
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsp raw slivered almonds
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350° with a rack positioned at the center.
- Pour the slivered almonds into a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes, or until they have a pale golden color. Set aside and cool completely before using.
- Peel the husks off of the husk cherries and give them a quick rinse in a colander. You should have about 2 1/4 cups to work with.
- Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the husked and rinsed husk cherries into the ramekins, dividing them up as evenly as you can.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 pinch of Kosher salt per ramekin. The husk cherries will bubble, burst and mix with the sugar and salt during baking, so there’s no need to stir them around. Set the ramekins aside as you prepare the crumble topping.
- Whisk the flour, oats, sugar, toasted almonds and salt in a medium bowl.
- Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and toss them in the bowl with the flour mixture.
- Using your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture by gently pinching and sliding your thumbs across your index, middle and ring fingers (think of it as snapping your fingers). Do this until the crumble begins to clump together into a coarse, damp mixture.
- Pile the crumble over each of the ramekins, dividing it up as evenly as you can.
- Bake the crumbles for 22-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through for even browning. The crumbles are ready when the tops are browned and the filling is thick and bubbling.
- Cool the crumbles for at least 15 minutes before serving.