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Hawaiians use it for jam ... poha. You can order seeds now.

A strange fruit with some better-known relatives, poha is edible like tomatillo and has the papery husk of Chinese lantern. If you'd like to grow poha (Physalis peruviana, also called Cape gooseberry or husk cherry), you can order seeds now.

Poha has a tart, mildly sweet flavor reminiscent of tomatillo (P. ixocarpa), used in Mexican dishes; Hawaii residents often use poha to make jam. If you know ornamental Chinese lantern (P. alkekengi), poha may look familiar, but instead of bright orange-red husks, it has tan ones.

Like small indeterminate tomatoes, poha vines are sprawlers that reach 2-1/i to 3 feet tall. Soft stems have pairs of smooth, heart-shaped leaves. Small yellow flowers with blue markings appear in midsummer, followed in fall by husk-enclosed berries. These are usually between 1/2 and 1 inch in diameter, with thin, waxy skin; pulp contains many small seeds.

Seeds of a selected variety called Golden Berry are available from Thompson and Morgan (Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527) and Exotica Seed Company (1742 Laurel

Canyon Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. 90046; catalog $2). Gurney's Seed & Nursery Co. (Yankton, S.D. 57079) offers poha seeds, calling its selection Pineapple Berry. Park Seed (Greenwood, S.C. 29647) calls it Cape Gooseberry.

How to grow. Grow pohas just as you would tomatoes; half a dozen plants should give enough berries for preserving and eating raw.

A long, warm growing season is best, so start seeds indoors six to eight weks before last frost, or wait until soil warms in spring, then sow directly in the ground and cover with about 1/4 inch soil. Any good garden soil is fine; allow about 3 feet between plants for spreading growth. Water when soil dries an inch below the surface.

Mature plants take some frost and will overwinter in mild climates. To keep them within bounds, trim them in spring. In cold-winter areas, treat as an annual. You may need to plant poha only once; it reseeds easily.

Harvesting and use. Pick when husks turn tan. Inside, ripe berries are golden yellow (let green berries ripen after picking). Remove husk, nip stem end, and fruit is ready for jam or pie. Or combine fresh with pineapple, banana, and citrus. To enahnce poha's flavor, add lemon juice or finely chopped candied ginger.

Berries keep three to four weeks after picking and then readily dry in the husks to very palatable raisins.
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Date:Feb 1, 1985
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