"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Giant Cape Gooseberries?

Deep in the murky recesses of my mind I am forever calculating how much foodstuff we need to produce. Trying to figure out how often we eat a certain food item in order to determine what I need to grow, or gather, in order to meet our year end harvest goals. I always try to grow a little more than we should need in order to be assured of having enough. For example, we use tomatillo salsa approximately once every week and have to rely on frozen tomatillos for around 5 months out of the year. If we are lucky, the first new tomatillos ripen in July and the last ones are picked towards the end of September and can be stored fresh all the way until the first part of January. Each plant will provide us with around 2 gallons of tomatillos, often more sometimes less. So I grow at least 6 or 7 plants each year. Our objective being to freeze around 24 quarts to supplement those that are eaten fresh.

Tomatillos dehusked, washed, and ready to be made into salsa.

This year I inadvertently grew around 13 plants. "Why so many Mike?" you might ask. "That sure seems like and awful lot, do you sell tomatillos?" Well yes and no, we did sell quite a few plants this spring but had no intention of selling the fruits themselves. I accidentally grew 6 extra plants in our garden because I thought they were going to be Cape Gooseberries. You see, I thought that when I purchased Giant Cape Gooseberries from the reputable "Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds" they would produce a large orange form of ground cherry. But alas, my winter fantasies of beautiful orange gooseberries "New Acquaintances In The Garden" were realized in the form of big green tomatillos. As the seeds look so much alike I am not all that upset, well maybe a bit perturbed, but more amused than anything as I wonder how many other customers ended up with unusually large green Cape Gooseberries.:) Mistakes happen. Although, Mrs. H. is not as forgiving and has threatened to give them a piece of her mind. I desperately need all the pieces of my mind so I will leave that matter in her capable hands.

The first of a large crop of tomatillos.

That said, we are looking at quite a surplus of tomatillos...not a bad dilemma to have. We picked and froze around 1/3 of our tomatillos and are only a few quarts shy of our target amount. So if I appear a little on the green side this year it's not that my health is failing but that I have been a bit of a glutton with the salsa. Oink, oink.

Slightly sweeter Purple Coban tomatillos

Tomatillos will store in their husks for around 2 months at 35 - 45°, the smaller ones even longer. When overly ripe they will turn yellow and become very sweet. We are going to try slicing and drying a few of them in this stage for the first time this year...maybe they will be good that way. Faced with a overabundance I might as well perform a little experimentation, you know.

If you ever want to save the seed off a tomatillo or ground cherry, just toss a few really ripe ones in your blender (or mash them) with a little water. Give them a whirl and then dump the contents into a small bowl. The good seeds will sink to the bottom and the rest of the pulp can be carefully poured off leaving the seeds. I remove mine with a butter knife and spread onto a drying screen for a few days until they are ready to be put away for the next season. The most important part is to not get them mixed up with your gooseberry seeds.:)


el said...

I *hate* that company. For me, they have: sent the wrong variety multiple times, sent bad (nongerminating) seeds, sent moldy seeds. NOT WORTH IT even if they're cheap. This was years ago and I guess they STILL don't have their act together!

(sorry, will shut up now about them)

But yeah, 13 plants! I think I am crazy with 3!

Mr. H. said...


I did not even bother to mention that the "full" purple tomatillos we purchased were really purple coban and that the new variety of hot pepper they sent us for free didn't germinate at all.

My wife did write them a nasty email but I suspect we will get zero response. This is a prime example why we strive to save our own seeds. Yep, no more Baker Creek for me either.

KBO said...

None of my peppers from them germinated either, and I had three different varieties. Glad to know it wasn't just me.

I used them for the first time this year because I live here in Missouri, but I'll stick with Seed Savers from now on.

Silke Powers said...

Your tomatillos look wonderful! I had to laugh about planting those extra plants... We make a lot of roasted tomatillo salsa, which is so delicious. How do you make your salsa? You are having an amazing harvest this year, aren't you? We are still waiting for tomatoes... I think it's not going to happen. And I think it's the weather - our neighbors are having the same problem. Too bad! But, oh well. Next year, we might put them all in pots. We'll see... :) Silke

Stefaneener said...

I guess when you get lemons. . . Maybe you can investigate recipes that use lots and lots of green sauce? Eat lots of homemade nachos with salsa? Have fights with them around the chickens?

Too bad about the seeds, but good warning for the rest of us.

randi said...

this is my first year growing tomatillos and it's been a real kick watching the plants grow. I'm guessing yours look to be maybe 1 to 2 weeks ahead of mine but this being my first year who knows? I'm kind of glad El confirmed what I was fearing about Baker Creek as I too had dreadful germination on stuff I got from them but I was blaming most of it on me and the weather.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Wow that is a lot of salsa verde! You will definitely have to experiment with new and exciting uses for the humble tomatillo.

[in the voice of Bubba from Forest Gump] "Fried tomatillo's, stewed tomatillo's, baked tomatillo's, grilled tomatillo's....."

Also glad for the opportunity to hear how others feel about BC seeds. They have a beautiful catalog but never purchased from them yet, now I have doubts.

Ruth Trowbridge said...

I had my first one today, and will be growing them always now. Thanks for your tips as I knew nothing about them. I too have had nothing with problems with seed companies, growing most of my seed here like you do now. With the last one I got leeks in my onions, peppers in my tomatoes, and of course a variety of little plants I have yet to identify. Peace for all

Mr. H. said...


Sorry about your peppers. It's to bad they seem to be having so many problems selling quality seed. Perhaps they are getting a little to big for their britches as my father was often fond of saying.

Mr. H. said...


I wrote a little diddy about salsa back in February called "Let's Salsa." The basic recipe we use is:

Thaw 1 1/2 quarts frozen tomatillos in a saucepan over low heat, draining water a couple times. Once thawed, break them up with a potato masher and add the following.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
A few cloves of chopped garlic
A couple small chopped onions
1/2 cup lightly diced cilantro
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds slightly crushed
Salt & pepper to taste

Serves 4

This simple, sugar free recipe is for whole frozen tomatillos, fresh ones don't need to be drained. My wife thinks your roasted tomatillo salsa sounds really good. Any advice on making it that way?

Mr. H. said...


We all had an apple fight once...that was a painful experience.:) We have an old tree down in our field full of the worst tasting apples. So, every fall we knock them to the ground so that at least the deer can enjoy them. Last year the grandson and wife decided that I would make a good target, the kid throws pretty hard.

We make home tortillas/quesadilla every week, and this year I think I may have to be more inventive with the green sauce. Although we have recently come up with a fairly good tomatillo salad dressing...still working out the kinks but it does have promise.

Mr. H. said...


Aren't tomatillos just the neatest plant to watch develop. We are always trying new crops out in the garden and sometimes we come across a plant that we just know we will never be able to live without again. Two of those plants were tomatillos and ground cherries about four years ago.

Hmm, I wonder what a Giant Cape Gooseberry will taste like. I guess I will find out next year. I'm pretty sure it will just be a glorified ground cherry anyways.

Mr. H. said...


Bubba has some good ideas, and the nice thing about the versatile tomatillo is that it cooks up faster than you can say "life is like a box of chocolates."

Yes BC does have a nice catalog but I think that I will be ordering out of Fedco's boring conservative version next year. Everything we ordered from them germinated quite well.

Mr. H. said...


We immediately fell in love with tomatillos and have never looked back. I'm glad you were able to experience them as well.

It seems as though many of the seed companies are getting sloppy with their product...perhaps they have always been that way. Like you said, it's best to just save your own.

Naomi said...

I've been lucky to have relatively few problems with the seed company I usually get my seeds from, but even so, we are moving towards saving our own seed too - there is something special about growing from your own collection :)

I had a question about your drying racks - are they fine flymesh? They look perfect for drying seed as well as lots of other things!

cheers, Naomi

Mr. H. said...

Hi Naomi,

I agree, it is an invaluable learning experience to save your own seeds. We dis order a few seeds from Territorial, Fedco, and Ed Hume. There were no germination issues with any of those seeds.

We are simply using old window door screens to dry seeds on, and they are a very fine mesh. I make other screens out of larger meshed wire for sifting soil and drying bigger items like fava beans.

LynnS said...

My golly, what a motherlode you grew!!

I'm adding tomatillos to my list for next year. The purples are really pretty -- I suppose there is a tinge of purplish green when mashed/chopped? I've never tried to grow them before but we sure eat salsa foods.

Never ordered from Baker Creek and reading through the comments, I am pretty surprised to hear so many seed problems. I hope I remember to put them on my no-no list. What I don't save, I order through Johnny's or sometimes Victory, or through a local seed company not far from here. All the more reason to save even more -- I just hate the idea of saving so many beans or peas when I could be eating them!

Mr. H. said...


Some of them are really purple inside some are only mottled. The purple ones are much smaller than the green tomatillos but add a slightly sweeter flavor to the mix. If you like salsa, you will probably like tomatillos.

Johnny's is a good company to buy cold hearty vegetables from and I may take another look at them next year. I have been happy with them in the past and can't remember why (perhaps price) I did not use them this season.

Naomi said...

thanks for that info about the drying screens - I'll be keeping my eye out for the mesh :)

cheers, Naomi

Silke Powers said...

Hi, Mike,

Thanks for the recipe - we'll be trying that!

here's the recipe for one cup salsa (you can calculate it for bigger amounts):

8 oz (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 to 3 fresh serrano chiles to taste (last time I used poblanos - very good)
1 large garlic clove unpeeled
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 roughly chopped cilantro

Roast tomatillos under a hot broiler until black and blistered on all sides. Cool.
Roast the chiles and garlic on an ungreased griddle over medium heat, turning occasionally until black in spots and soft, 5 to 10 minutes for chiles and about 15 minutes for garlic. Cool, then pull the stems from the chiles (I also seed them so they are not so spicy) and peel the garlic.
Combine tomatillos, chiles and garlic in food processor or blender. Process to a course puree. Transfer to medium size bowl, scoop the onion into a strainer, rinse under cold water, shake off excess and stir into the tomatillo mixture along with the cilantro.

Makes a great guacamole if mixed with fresh avocado.

From Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen!

Enjoy!! :) Silke

Mr. H. said...


Thanks so much!

Knit Witch said...

Huh. Interesting. I have been trying to figure out an efficient way to keep tomato seeds! We haven't tried any tomatillos yet but we definitely will next year. I need to search your blog for an entry on making tortillas. If there isn't one you will have to share that information with us - yum!!!

Anonymous said...

Did you actually investigate what the gooseberries look like? You could easily mistake them for tomatillos, except they turn yellow.

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