History and Lore of the Tomatillo

History of a fruit or vegetable is always interesting and the Tomatillo is no exception.

Creative Commons License photo credit: randomduck

The Aztecs are credited with domesticating the tomatillo. The fruit, which is much like a tomato, dates back to at least 800 B.C.  The Aztec word tomatl means something “round and plump”.  The Europeans that came to the New World and documented the local foods often confuse food names.  According to Sophie Coe,  “we are never quite sure which tomato writers were referring to whether it be the tomato or the tomatillo.”

The Aztec word for tomato (as we know the fruit) is xitomatl and the husk tomato (tomatillo) was called miltomatl.  The Europeans frequently shortened both names to tomatl, which has caused the confusion over the years.  Ms. Coe suggests that in most cases references were in fact to the tomatillo not what we know today as a tomato

The confusion is still apparent today. In many areas of Mexico the domesticated tomatillo is called tomate and the wild version called miltomate and what we know as tomato is called jitomate.

The tomatillo never gained popularity with Europeans. It was the tomato that was taken to Italy where it grew well in the Mediterranean climate.  Today, the tomatillo is more common in the United States.

Tomatillos are used to make a spicy salsa or a jam. Below is a Jam recipe my family uses.

Tomatillo Jam

3 cups prepared tomatillos about 1-3/4 lb tomatillos)
½ cup fresh lemon juice
7-½ cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
½ tsp. butter or margarine
2 pouches CERTO Fruit Pectin

Bring a boiling-water canner that is half-full of water to a simmer. Wash the jars and screw bands in hot, soapy water and rinse with warm water.

Pour the boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

Finely chop or grind the tomatillos. Measure exactly three cups of prepared tomatillos into a six or eight quart saucepot. Add ½ lemon juice.

Stir 7-½ cups sugar into the prepared tomatillos in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming, if desired. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly.

Stir in the pectin quickly. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle quickly into the clean jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids and screw the bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner and lower rack into canner carefully. The water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; carefully add boiling water if needed.

Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.

The jam is very good and a favorite in my family. We add just a touch of cinnamon and clove to the mixture while it is cooking and before it is processed.

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