By Benjamin Daniells
These fun little veg are related to the tomato fruit yet are definitely more of a savoury veg. Commonly used in salsa verde, we have instead elevated them from garden to glass status. After we’ve harvested the ripe ones, they head to the kitchen to be juiced before ending up in a mighty cocktail.
Tomatillos, also known as the Mexican Husk Tomatoes, have a real personality to them. They’re hustlers. They grow with a desire to be eaten. Nothing stands in their way of producing prodigious amounts of tasty treats. Naturally for such dedicated hustlers, Tomatillos couldn’t care less about water or blight or shade or heat, they work with what they get, take anything we throw at them and come out on top every time.
We get the seeds started in a propagator early in the year as the one thing they do require is a cosy start to life. From there though they grow and grow until they hit around 75cm tall, sometimes a few taller ones will max out at a metre.
Once on their way, tomatillos are more cold tolerant than expected, thriving in our Northern location. They grow wrapped up in their own papery husks, hidden for the first few weeks of their life inside their own Chinese lanterns. Yet as soon as they begin to ripen up, tomatillos puff out their chests and don their capes. By September they are ready to be eaten, producing on and on right through to the end of October and even sometimes November as we have discovered this year.
When these capes begin to dry they are ready to be picked. They’ll still be green and firm, yet depending on the variety some will start to blush purple. If they are left to ripen fully, their skin often cracks. With as much passion to be eaten as a duck does for water, this weakness doesn’t stop them and the cracks have no affect beyond the superficial. Even after harvest they stay strong, and can be stored for ages due to their low water content.
In fact, unlike tomatoes, tomatillos are so tough they prefer to be outside and set more fruit in the garden than in the tunnel, even up here on the edge of the North York Moors. They grow so well in our garden, and are so prolific, that just a few plants will provide all we need. Pretty cool really, to say they hail from central America.
Unsurprisingly for such a hustler, they have adapted so well to our garden that merely producing tasty food is now not enough. You get the impression some feel the need to show off and occasionally, we catch a few rogues that are so proud of their heritage they forgo the cloak to go full sombrero.
Good thing too, for when Seamus, part of the formidable drinks team at the Black Swan, was busy creating a seasonal soft drink he decided to just throw in some tequila (you thought I had a dream job!) to see how it tasted. The soft drink I hasten to add was already delicious. Yet with the addition of tequila it was transformed to the sublime.
‘The Sprightly Goblin’
(Named by Tommy, who decided it’s green colour and taste, that’s a little reminiscent of Sprite, made it a perfect fit!)
Mexican Husk Tomatoes, Mexican Marigold and Tequila all coming together at the Black Swan, dare we say this new cocktail has some serious terroir?
Follow Ben over on Instagram @theblackswangarden to see what else he is growing and foraging here at The Black Swan at Oldstead.
Follow Seb and Seamus on Instagram too @drinksattheblackswan_oldstead to see the experiments that lead to the creations on the drinks list here at The Black Swan Oldstead.