tomatillos

Hope in the Garden

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Bright red tomatoes are startling among dead leaves. A cluster of green tomatoes is tucked away on the right.
Little jewels among the plants that died.

At the beginning of September, we had what newscasters predicted to be a hard freeze in our area (featured in Rushed Harvest) abnormally early. Local newscasters urged gardeners to harvest what they could or cover their plant ahead of the freeze. I did as suggested because the temperature was expected to plunge to 27◦F, and the plants would die at that range. My husband and I discussed covering the plants because we would typically have hot summer weather into October—another six weeks of the growing season. The chore of covering them looked to be more than we were up to, so I harvested. I still am pulling beautiful red tomatoes off my windowsills, as the green ones I picked ahead of the freeze are ripening.

Three tomatillos, covered in light green husks, dangle from a branch of the tomatillo bush.
Three happy little tomatillos, and our dog River in the background.

The tomatillos are late in maturing, and they were all small as September rolled around, so I sadly harvested the larger ones. I left the smallest ones on the vines and mourned for the unfulfilled life represented by the yellow blossoms, knowing that they would never get to become fruit. (Botanically, tomatillos are fruit, but gastronomically, they are a vegetable.)

Three light green tomatillo husks dangle from a vine in a straight line.
Young, happy tomatillos

Several readers commented to Rushed Harvest that they did not know what a tomatillo is. The fruit is similar to a tomato, as they are also in the nightshade family with fruit the size of a small- to medium-sized tomato. Their green skin is similar in texture to a tomato, but a husk that looks like a Chinese lantern covers the fruit until the fruit grows large enough to fill the husk. To prepare tomatillos for eating, you remove and discard the lantern-like husk. They have a subtle spicy taste and are often used in salsas and Mexican cooking. Tomatillos grow well in our hot summers, and the September freeze caught many of them relatively small.  

Six tiny white petals circle a light green stigma with tiny white stamens. There are stalks of flowers, in various stages of growth, radiating out from the head at the end of a slender stalk.
These chives survived the freeze and blossomed.

As I looked out my kitchen window this week at the garden, it confused me. Some plants had withered and died in the cold snap. Some, however, seemed to be still green. As I looked more closely, I spotted bits of red. Red? There were some tomatoes I either missed or left on the vine because they were too small to harvest. They have matured and ripened! I saw some other signs of hope as I examined my garden this morning.

green tomatoes on the vine
These green tomatoes were growing hale and hearty this morning!

I found loads of happy tomatillos—some of those blossoms fulfilled their destinies by becoming fruit! There were green tomatoes all over the place. It looks like the weeds and peppers died off in the cold snap, but most of my vegetable plants survived. 

There's a cluster of three light green tomatoes on the left and a small tomato nestled in the bush on the right.
Here are more green tomatoes growing this morning, a cluster of large ones on the left and a tiny one on the right. Many more are scattered among the bushes.

I was glad to see that the forecasters and news people don’t know everything. Although there was death for some of my plants (RIP peppers), many survived and thrived. My garden demonstrates that some news isn’t as bad as expected. The challenge, of course, is being discerning enough to figure out which is, and which isn’t. Still, there is hope in the garden, and maybe 2021 will be a better year.

A scruffy tan and black dog lays on her back with her legs splayed out. She's comfy and relaxed.
Discernment tells me that our dog, Tribble, wants a belly rub. If I see my cat like this, I know a belly rub will result in violence against my hand!

38 comments

  1. We don’t have tomatillos in New Zealand. I thought they looked like cape gooseberries, in fact they might be the same thing. Cape gooseberries are like little yellow tomatoes encased in their own papery package and taste like a pop of tart fruitiness. They’re delicious.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds similar to a tomatillo, but they are a bit spicy; not as much as a pepper, but close. My husband eats them raw, but I use them in my cooking. Tomatillos can grow to about 3″ in diameter; is that true of the cape gooseberries? A berry sounds small.

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    1. We normally get our first big snow before Halloween, so I don’t expect it will go much longer. We’re expecting another reds Sunday night. 😕 still, we have plenty to pick!

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  2. Our vegetable and herb gardening is in pots. We didn’t get a chance to buy many plants or seeds last spring, so no ‘maters or peppers for us. I like your photos and make me long for spring planting season already. Next year, we will have the vegetable bounty again.

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      1. Ha. I guess you haven’t been to my blog. Ha! I am lucky if I even remember to take a picture. So, if you aren’t going to show us . . . what do you make with them. Just salsa? I’ve always seen them in the store, but have never purchased them. Figure I could just use tomatoes.

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        1. Oh, they don’t taste like tomatoes; there’s just a similarity in appearance (except for the husk). We do make green salsa, but also add it to soups and casseroles for a clean, spicy taste.

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  3. I am planning on planting some tomatoes this weekend but our two rampaging hounds might be a bit of a threat to their safety as they chase each other around the yard. Your tomatoes look fantastic despite the cold snap and I didn’t know what a tomatillo was but now I know.

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    1. We had to it a wire fence around my garden because the dogs loved the loose earth and would dig up everything right after I planted it. I don’t like the fence, but it serves a purpose. As the plants grow big, they lean on the fence and it helps them grow taller.

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  4. Tribble iss so fluffy an cute Miss Krel….
    An yore rite just ’cause a kitty showss a Hu’man their tummy it iss NOT ackshully an innvite fore tummy rubss inn sum casess 😉
    Thanx fore xplanin what Tomatilloss are…wee had NO idea!Wee are sad ’bout yore peppurss but happy you did get more Tomatoess from yore garden!
    **purrss** BellaDharma an ))huggiess)) LadyMew

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    1. My peppers had a good run before the frost. I came to tomatillos late in life, but I found that I really like them! They aren’t just for salsa, either. Yum!

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    1. We live near Denver, at the base of the Rocky Mountains – high altitude, but low humidity and rainfall. Technically, it’s a high desert. Luckily the snow keeps us from getting too parched. We live off the winter snow all year long; the spring melt-off is a big deal.

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    1. We finally had weather below 90 degrees this weekend. The garden has had great hot weather for everything to grow in the intervening month. I’m kind of lazy and leave my plants in place all winter to hold the soil together. Then, in the spring, my husband clears it all away once the new plants are ready. And here you are, all spunky and cleared your garden early. I suspect your cold weather is on the way, so there is no great loss. Good for you for keeping your garden tidy!

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