Just about the time that tomatoes are ripening in northwest Ohio so are tomatillos. The tomatillo is native to Mexico where it has been grown as a food crop for hundreds of years. As a traditional part of Mexican cooking, tomatillos are found in stews, moles, and salsas. They are the main ingredient in green salsa, also known as salsa verde.
Tomatillos are green, rounded, tomato-like fruit enclosed in thin, papery husks. They are firmer than tomatoes and their flavor is similar to a tangy lemon. They are a very good source of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, fiber, and iron.
Tomatillos grow on bushy, spreading plants that can reach a height and width of three to four feet. Grown in full sun and moist, fertile soils, they are a warm-season plant that is transplanted in the middle of May after the danger of frost has passed.
The transplants could have been started as seeds indoors or purchased as seedlings to plant in the garden. As with any successful transplant, they are placed in a hole in the soil large enough to place the root portion of the plant underground. The hole is refilled with the rest of the soil and watered thoroughly. Tomatillo plants grow best when placed 18 to 24 inches apart in the row. Many gardeners use tomato cages or stakes to support the plants.
Tomatillos, like most vegetables, fruits, and herbs need an inch of water per week, either from rain or watering. Watering early in the day, at the base of the plant, will keep the leaves dry.
They are ready to harvest in 75 to 100 days after transplanting and the plants will keep producing fruit until a hard frost. For best flavor, harvest the fruit when the husk changes from green to tan while the fruit is still green. Before use, remove the husk and wash the sticky residue from the fruit's surface.
Fresh tomatillos in their husks keep in the refrigerator in a paper bag for about two weeks. For longer home storage, they can be frozen or canned. Please remember to use up-to-date, researched recipes for home food preservation.
The following books can be found at your local library, So Easy to Preserve by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service or the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning. The recipes from So Easy to Preserve also can be accessed from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu.
For canning, the researched recipes need to be followed exactly as they are written. The following recipe is designed to be eaten fresh and it allows for adaptations to your taste.
Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Chopped chili pepper
1/2 medium white or red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Place all ingredients into blender and puree until smooth. For mild salsa, use one or two peppers with the stem and seeds removed. For hotter salsa, try leaving the seeds in. One jalapeno with the seeds in gives it a nice kick. However, one jalapeno with the seeds removed was only very mild. If you don't like cilantro try fresh parsley as a substitute.
Source: Ohio State University Extension's Buckeye Yard and Garden Line
Lee Richter is a program assistant in urban horticulture, Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County.