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Much as I love my tomatoes and always give them pride of place in my summer garden, their outlandish Mexican cousin has really grown on me in recent years. Tomatillos are easy to grow, bear heavily without the need for constant attention, and taste fantastic.
Tomatillo plants look a bit like a mildly rampant, yellow-flowered chilli bush. The fruit is about the size of a cherry tomato and covered in a papery calyx, just like a Cape gooseberry. Unlike tomatoes and Cape gooseberries, tomatillos aren’t very self-fertile so I always plant a few plants to ensure decent pollination. That aside, these are undemanding plants and need little more than a sunny spot, a patch of reasonably rich soil, and regular moisture through the growing season.
Tomatillo fruit is ready to harvest when the outer husk splits open. Ripe tomatillos are crisp and have a sweet/tangy flavour that’s delicious in salads or as the hero in an authentic Mexican salsa. The fruit will store for a couple of weeks out of the fridge. Make sure you keep a few aside at the end of the season to save seeds for next summer.
- The fruit is reasonably resistant to fruit fly thanks to the protective husk, but I’ve found that maggots can be a problem later in summer. The simplest solution is to cover bushes with VegeNet or old net curtains.
- Tomatillo stems are quite brittle. Wind protection helps prevent broken branches, and it doesn’t hurt to tie the main stem to a sturdy stake for support.
Two variations of the species Physalis ixocarpa are available in Australia - the green tomatillo (commonly sold as ‘Verde Puebla’ or ‘Toma Verde’) and the purple (sometimes sold as ‘De Milpa’). Seedlings are hard to come by, but seed is widely available from the various heirloom merchants.