Monday, December 20, 2010

Tomatillo and Wild Tomatillos

 I've talked before on this blog about things my mom grew some 40 odd years ago that I JUST DIDN'T LIKE!!

Tomatillos were right up there on the list.

Back in those days there wasn't a whole lot of talk about them.  I rather suspect my mom found the seed for them, grew them and then wondered what the heck to do with them.

Of course this was pre-"everything at your fingertips" days.  No computers and no easy access to library information.

Which explains why my mom did some of the things she did with them, and perhaps why actually none of us were too excited to see them on the supper table.

She would throw them into unsuspecting soups or stews, stir fries or salads.  They weren't always the best fit.

Of course tomatillos are a bit more well known now, and known to most as one of those essential Mexican staples.

And I grow them, whether I want to or not.

 I say the whether I want to or not because if you have had them in your garden one year, and not picked them all, heaven forbid, they'll come back one hundredfold from self seeding the next season!

But I would grow them anyways, they have kind of grown on me. And when used as they should be used, they really are irreplaceable.

Tomatillos (physalis ixocarpa) are in the nightshade family and closely related to tomatoes.  I find the physalis really one of the most interesting families to grow and am always looking for new physalis family members to grow.

I do grow several varieties of tomatillos in purples, yellows and greens.  My favourite is one I don't actually know the name of.  I bought the original fruits from a vendor of Mexican decent at a farmers market in Salinas, California, popped the seeds out and have been growing it since that time. It is an extremely large fruited variety, and I am selecting these larger fruits when I save the seed beause there is a bit of inconsistency in the size.  I'm calling it Salinas tomatillo as, well....I don't know any different!

Tomatillos are native to Mexico, having been grown there for many , many years.  Salsa verde  or green salsa is a Mexican essential and is made with tomatillo fruit.  Often mexican recipes will call for green tomatoes, but are actually calling for tomatillos to add to the confusion.

Tomatillos are not as well known or loved in other parts of the world.  I find I always have people who are excited to find them and purchase either the fruit or the plants from me, but those numbers are limited.  An acquired taste?  Maybe.  But sure worth a try!

I was super excited last winter too to finally find seeds for physalis philadelphica, or wild tomatillo.  This smaller fruited variety is often preferred to the larger fruited tomatillo in Mexico, for it's finer flavour and the period of time it will hold, which is months.

Both are prolific producers and very easy to grow.  I start them early April here in Southern Ontario (Zone 6b where I am) , and set them out in later May.  I don't find they are fussy growers at all, and they always do well on my amended clay soil.  I may throw a scoop of compost in their planting holes, and that is more than enough to hold them for the season. Give each plant a good square yard.  they really will branch out and spread.  If you are container planting, go big! A tomato cage can be used to contain them to some degree. As well, I water until I know they are established, then they are on their own.

When the papery husks of the tomatillos are filled out, even split a bit , then they are picked.
Last year was my first year growing the wild tomatillos and I found that they tasted best when I allowed them to drop off the plants.

An interesting lemon-sour-sweet flavour awaits you. And if your plants produce as much as mine, take off the husks, give them a rinse, washing off the stickiness on the fruit, dry them and put them in the freezer for a nice winter treat.

Now... what to do with them!

Salsa Verde recipe


  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 serrano chile peppers, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 cups water


  1. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chile pepper into a saucepan. Season with cilantro, oregano, cumin, and salt; pour in water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatillos are soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Using a blender, carefully puree the tomatillos and water in batches until smooth.

No comments: