Iowa Writes

Ground Cherry Jam

     These are my grandmother's recipes from Northwest Iowa. We lived on a farm when I was a boy. Grandmother grew onions and mustard and celery seed. Eggs were from the chicken coop. We didn't buy much when I was a kid, just flour and sugar and stuff. My mom and I lived with my grandparents because my
dad was going to Drake University in Des Moines.
     On the farm, we raised cattle, hogs, and chickens. We had an apple tree and a pear tree; we grew wild grapes. We picked wild gooseberries and ground cherries. Grandma grew lettuce, tomatoes, watermelons, and cucumbers. It was a huge garden. If we wanted to eat, we had to work on the farm.
     We sold everything we grew and raised. Our family got indoor plumbing in 1947. We had one main sink. It wasn't until 1959 that we got two indoor bathrooms and a water heater.
     I would get up in the morning, harvest eggs, go to school, come home, do homework, and then do more chores. We milked the cows in the morning and night. We had a machine that separated the buttermilk from the cream to make butter. Buttermilk went to the hogs. We ate well.
     My grandmother's potato salad and apple pie were my favorites. She used lard from the animals that we slaughtered for the pie crust. We smoked the ham from the pig. We canned hamburgers. To can a hamburger, you put it in a jar, pour the fat on top and put it in the refrigerator. It would keep for weeks.
     Grandma made sour cream and cottage cheese. Something that city people don't see: she would make watermelon rind pickles. They taste like bread and butter pickles, but instead of cucumbers, she would use watermelon rind. The kind you buy in the store is very expensive and it doesn't taste nearly as good as my grandmother's did. Next time you are in the pickle aisle, look around for them in tall skinny jars. She used the white part of the rind, not the green skin. They were very crunchy and delicious.
     My grandmother saved the seeds from our plants in the fall and then planted them in the spring. Seeds for watermelon, cucumbers, everything...Nothing went to waste. Grandmother made ground cherry jam too. Ground cherries look like a Japanese lantern. If you pop it open, it looks like a green cherry inside. If you eat the ground cherries, they are very sour. But my grandmother would sweeten the jam. To help my grandmother, I peeled the apples and sliced them for apple pie making. I brought water in from the well. That is why I learned to cook. I helped grandmother, I did whatever she needed, and I watched her cook.

3 cups ripe ground cherries
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
1 package Sure-Jell

•  Place all the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil until the ground cherries burst open.
•  Mash the cherries well so that they will absorb the sugar better.
•  Continue cooking as directed on Sure-Jell package.
•  Jar and seal (see note). Recipe makes three medium jars of jam.

Note: Always follow USDA guidelines, available on their website, for preparing and processing all canned goods. Sterilize your jars, use new, self-sealing, two- piece lids, and boil for the time recommended for your recipe and altitude.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


Eric's story and recipe were included in Food Roots, a cookbook published in 2010 by Local Foods Connection (LFC) in collaboration with an Art and Ecology class at the University of Iowa. Clients and farmers interviewed for this book come from Illinois, Iowa, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Republic of the Sudan, The Togolese Republic, El Salvador, and Thailand.

Local Foods Connection ( enrolls low-income families and the agencies that serve them in CSA programs. CSAs provide a season's worth of fresh produce to consumers while paying local earth-friendly farmers fair prices for the food they grow, raise, and produce. Clients have the opportunity to visit a farm, as well as to learn healthy cooking methods. These opportunities are part of LFC's larger educational program, which covers nutrition, cooking, and environmental issues.

This page was first displayed
on July 08, 2011

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