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Tomatillos: How To Grow The ‘Secret Ingredient’ Of Mexican Restaurants

Tomatillos: How To Grow The 'Secret Ingredient' Of Mexican Restaurants

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Want to try something a little more exotic in your garden this year? There is a yummy summer fruit that you may have tasted, but know little about. Tomatillos, also known as husk tomatoes, play a big role in some favorite and common dishes served often in Mexican restaurants – and they’re delicious.

Let’s take a look at this popular fruit that doesn’t get a lot of attention. They are a small, round and green (or greenish-purple) summer fruit, which can also ripen to a yellow, purple or red color if left long enough. Tomatillos originate from Mexico. They are part of the nightshade family and related to tomatoes, but that is where the similarities end.

Tomatillos have a paper-like skin and are usually about one to two inches wide. They are rich in vitamins C and K, as well as niacin, potassium, omega fatty acids and manganese. Their taste is rather tart, and they are often used for sauces and salsas. They can be eaten raw or used in salads as well. Other uses for this useful summer fruit – yes, some people call them vegetables — are in baking dishes, dressings, stews and guacamole. Some people even use tomatillos in omelettes, curry and chili. It seems that the sky is the limit for delectable uses.

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This remarkable little plant is great for beginning gardeners, since tomatillos have very few disease and pest issues. Tomatillos are known to be very decorative, as well.

Planting

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Tomatillos LOVE the sun and fertile soil. If you want, plant seeds indoors around six to eight weeks before the last frost. Make sure you grow them in a space that will get plenty of warm sunlight, and use compost to enrich the soil for the plants. If you buy seedlings, bury the plants until about two-thirds of the plant is covered, and each plant about three feet apart. A trellis would be helpful, as the tomatillo plants will require support as they grow. Supporting with a trellis also ensures there is a good amount of air circulation around the plants. Tomato cages work fine. The soil needs to be moist at all times. Mulch can be used to help keep moisture even in the soil and to prevent weeds. Soil also needs to have good drainage.

Growing

Plants will be three to four feet tall, and about the same for width. They fruit continuously through the season. Bees will come to the yellow blossoms of the tomatillo plant. You will need at least two plants, but often more, as tomatillos need cross-pollination. Each plant should produce around one pound of fruit for the season. Tomatillos are accustomed to a warm climate, so soggy ground will ruin them, but they still like moisture. Remember: Mulch works well with tomatillos. They can also live in drier conditions, but they are not drought-resistant. When using tomato cages for support, make sure there is at least two feet between each cage.

Timing

Within 75 to 100 days of transplanting, you should have enough tomatillos to make a salsa.

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Some varieties ripen around 60 days from transplanting, so be sure to read labels or do research on what type you are planting.

Harvesting

When the fruit has filled out the husk part of the plant, but is still green, you should harvest. The fruit will split the husk if it is allowed to ripen further. The flesh should be firm. It will not be as juicy or have bright colors like a tomato.

Storing and Freezing

You can pull the plants and store them in a cool, dry, dark place or in the refrigerator. Store-bought tomatillos will keep up to three weeks in the fridge if you wrap them in paper. When freezing, remove the dry husks and clean the fruit, which will have a sticky film on it. Place the tomatillos in sandwich bags and put them in the freezer. You can thaw as many as you need and leave the rest by using this method. Tomatillos also can be cleaned and cut up before freezing for further ease. Freeze right after picking to ensure the smallest loss of vitamins and nutrients.

If you are ready to try something new and different this year, tomatillos could be the fresh idea for you.

Have you grown tomatillos? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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One comment

  1. Tomatillos are one of those vegetables that you only have to plant once and then they seed themselves year after year. I move them after they have sprouted to my new rows for the current growing season. I have also have luck just storing them as is in the basement or just in the house, in a cloth container with an open top for over six months when picked just before frost just sort out the damaged ones and remove the ones that start to spoil as the months pass. This is true for “ground cherries” as well they reseed themselves and store well, I picked a stocking capful one fall and kept them in there till spring of the next year they dried on their own quite well, a little tip, when selection fruit to save seed from, choose a number of large ripe fruit that have not cracked as they ripened, it is fun to see how you can shift the mean weight of the fruit over time.

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