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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.