There’s a funny scene in the movie Time Bandits, in which Michael Palin of Monty Python and travel book fame, has a relapse of his “problem,” and yells, “Oh, Pansy, I must have fruit!” When my daughters were younger, this was a much-quoted line in our house, in part because we all like fruit. I like to grow fruit, too, but for a northern gardener, the options are limited. We have two apple trees, raspberries and strawberries, and a tiny sour cherry tree that the birds cleaned out in a day last summer. I also grew a watermelon last year (just one.) I’ve given up on blueberries, having spent far too much money on plants that die the minute they hit my garden.
This year, I’ve decided to try to expand my home-grown fruit lineup. I ordered seeds for a cantaloupe called Minnesota Midget. It was developed at the University of Minnesota, apparently in the 1940s, and is a small, very sweet melon that grows on a petite vine. It should be perfect for my relatively compact vegetable area.
When I placed my order for seeds, I also ordered ground cherries and wonderberries. Ground cherries look like a tiny tomatillo and the flavor is often described as a cross between a tomato and a pineapple or strawberry. They grow rapidly and drop their fruit (hence, the ground in their name) before it is ripe. According to gardening sites I’ve visited, gardeners should pick the cherries up and let them ripen in a safe spot, because the cherries are favorites of animals and because they are not safe to eat until they are ripe. (Ground cherries are a member of the nightshade family.) I’ve bought ripe ground cherries at the farmers’ market in the past and eaten them raw. I like the flavor but apparently they make a terrific pie. The other fruit I bought is called wonderberry and was developed in the early 20th century by Luther Burbank. They are quite prolific, producing a tart blue berry, that tastes best cooked.
Clearly, neither of these fruits will be as luscious as a home-grown peach or pear might be, but both are easy to grow, and I’m looking forward to giving them a try.