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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7 responses to “History and Lore of the Tomatillo”

  1. Julie

    Great history lesson! Very interesting…I will definitely have to try the recipe!

  2. admin

    This is one of my favorite jams I make and a salsa made out of tomatillo’s is fantastic. Denise http://www.thegardenrsrake.com

  3. dee

    I am not familiar with the tomatillo. But I do LOVE tomatoes. Does it taste similar to the tomato? And, where do you find one? Is it in the local grocery store’s produce aisle or do you have to go to an ethnic market to get it? What does it look like–I mean how would I be able to distinguish it from the tomator I’m more familiar with?
    Have you thought about talking about this in a live teleseminar? I think it would be a great topic for gardeners and aspiring gardners, alike.

  4. admin

    The tomatillo has a sweet taste, not quite as sharp of a tomato taste but you know they are related. Its what makes it stand out as a salsa, it takes on seasonings very well.

    In specialty markets, farmers markets or larger grocery stores you can find them, They stand out by the thin paper husk they are covered with. They are green when just ripe and will turn a light yellow when very ripe. Denise http://www.thegardenersrake.com

  5. Sue

    I am thinking about making the tomatillo jam you have posted. Can you also provided ways/recipes you use this jam in?



  6. Denise

    I usually just use it as a jelly spread but I bet it would be good used on meat as a glaze. It could also be used in cookie recipes where you place jelly in or one the cookie.

    Anyone else have any ideas? Denise

  7. Diana

    Tomatillos are the main ingredient in salsa verde (green sauce). I make a salsa verde with our Mexican food, a salsa verde with chicken broth for green enchillada sauce, etc. I wash, stem and boil 3 lbs of tomatillos, and 3 green chilies (serrano, anaheim and banana fresh from the garden with seeds removed)then drain & puree. Add juice of 1/2 lime, 1 diced white onion, 1 cup cilantro some sugar and salt to taste. Awesome and versatile. The other day I made homemade tex-mex flour tortillas used for tostadas and topped with salsa verde. All yummy, healthy and budget wise!

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