People are so mobile these days that the waiting period for most fruits to bear is just too long. If you have ever managed to get a plot going and then had to leave it because of a job transfer, you understand.
Thus, there is a trend now to rely on some of the fruits the early settlers knew -- things that yield more rapidly. Most of these are delectable, once you acquire a taste for them. That can happen fast with the price of groceries on the steady increase.
Ground cherries, or husk tomatoes, are tiny yellow, cherry-size fruits, borne inside a paper-thin husk. These are actually very tiny, sweet tomatoes. The seeds must be sown indoors in February or March, about three months before the frost-free date in your area.
The seedlings are stronger if they are reset when they have the fourth leaf, with the plants set deep enough to bury the first two leaves. Once you transplant them into the garden, in the same manner as tomatoes, they require only cultivating or mulching, the same as tomatoes.
The fruits are harvested when they drop from the plant.If you have many plants, you may lift the vines and gather up the ground cherries with a garden rake. They will keep for a few weeks in the husk and may ripen still more. Then the husk is removed and the fruit is used for pies, jam, or sauce. Canning books and pectin boxes contain recipes for using ground cherries.
Closely related and similarly cultivated are garden huckleberries, which yield a purple, almost-black fruit without a husk. The flavor is somewhat like huckle- berries.
Some seed packets have recipes on them. Other recipes can be found in canning books. They may be used like blueberries, but must be entirely ripe before using; otherwise, they are a bit bitter. If you have few plants, you may freeze the berries until you have enough for a pie or jam.
Garden huckleberries and ground cherries, which belong to the tomato family, may be frozen without cooking, to be used later. Do not add sugar when freezing.
A once-popular annual fruit is citron. This green solid melon grows like water- melon, but is used while still green. The flesh is cut into cubes and cooked in a syrup until clear.
Canning books have recipes for using citron. When growing it, the same precautions that are taken with squash and melons apply.The squash bug will attack unless you use dust on the leaves or your garden is occupied by the praying mantis.
Other melons now come in varieties to suit almost anu soil and growing season. There are far-north melons and far-south. No matter where you live you can grow cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew melon. The far-north varieties yield very small fruits that are unbelievably sweet.
Winter melons, new on the market, will store in a cool place into the winter.
If you haven't tried the annual strawberries that are grown from seed, you'd better give them a try. They closely resemble wild strawberries and have a far richer taste than the more conventional ones, which take longer to establish.
Annual strawberries do not spread, so you don't have to worry about weeding the runners and trying to control the various weeds that seem to take over a conventional strawberry bed if the gardener isn't wise and ambitious.
Pumpkin nut, a new variety of pumpkin that yields more and larger seeds, is a good annual to raise for a treat. More emphasis is being placed on eating seeds and nuts rather than on many sweets. These seeds are excellent for roasting.
Don't forget peanuts, which can be grown in the home garden and roasted in the oven. Peanuts grow underground, a lot like potatoes. When the plant is mature and shows signs of drying up, the peanuts are pulled up and hung to dry. When dry they are removed.Then they can be shelled or roasted in the shell in a moderate oven until they are crunchy and have a toasted flavor.
Sunflowers will grow anywhere. If you have a fence row you can drop a few seeds along the fence, cover them with a half-inch of soil, and watch the huge, beautiful flowers grow.In the fall, when the flowers dry up, the center of the flower contains an abundance of plump seeds that are delicious roasted. The birds like them, too.
Sunflowers also come in dwarf varieties, which yield surprisingly large numbers of seeds to roast for dessert or snacks.
It you live where you have four to seven months of warm growing season, you may consider a root crop called jicama. While it looks more like a potato, it is eaten as a dessert or snack food. The sweet, water-chestnut flavor makes it ideal for sticks or chips in lunch boxes or on snack trays.
Lemon cucumber, often called the garden lemon, is an annual. It grows like any other cucumber but has a distinctly sweet, mildly flavored fruit that makes delicious salads. While it won't give you a lemon cream pie, you will like it served alongside fish. It also makes excellent sweet pickles.
The early settlers could not buy imported fruits from a supermarket. They relied heavily on annuals from their gardens to fill the need for fruits. They also had ways of turning ordinary vegetables into a sweet treat or a snack. They candied carrots, citron, and sweet potatoes, squash pie and green- tomato mincemeat.
All of these things are easy to do. Your library is full of cookbooks that give detailed directions if you don't have them.
Meanwhile, the need for annual fruits has risen again as people become more mo