Tangy tomatillos

Grow the main ingredient in <i>salsa verde</i>
Sharon Cohoon

Tomatillos―those fruits that look like green cherry tomatoes wrapped in parchment―may be the most trouble-free summer crop to grow in this whole hemisphere. Renee Shepherd, owner of Renee's Garden Seeds, has been growing them in Northern California for more than 20 years. She has never seen a tomatillo plant suffer from fusarium or verticillium wilt, two soil-borne fungus diseases that affect tomatoes and other members of the Solanaceae family. Nor are tomatillos bothered by insect pests.

The most common use for tomatillos is in Mexican-style salsa verde. Try Shepherd's Roasted Tomatillo Salsa over tacos, enchiladas, and huevos rancheros, or try it with grilled chicken or fish.

Planting and care

Tomatillos will grow in any climate. The plants set flowers earlier than tomatoes, and the fruits can be harvested sooner (they are usually picked while still green and tart). If you live in a mild climate, sow tomatillo seeds directly in the ground once all danger of frost is past. If you live in an area with a short growing season, start seeds indoors, then set out transplants at the same time you would set out tomato seedlings. Cage or stake plants or train them on a trellis if garden space is scarce. Initially, tomatillos look like little green paper lanterns. Harvest them when the fruit fills the husk but is still firm and green. Don't remove the husks until you're ready to use the fruits. Tomatillos can be stored in the refrigerator up to a month. They also freeze well.

Seed sources

Tomatillo seeds packaged by Renee's Garden Seeds (888/880-7228 or www.reneesgarden.com) are sold at many nurseries and online. You can also order seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery (800/422-3985 or www.nicholsgardennursery.com).