Sunday, September 9, 2012
Today I come before you with my head hung in gardening shame. Remember my bountiful crop of Chinese Lanterns? Well, yesterday I went out there having made up my mind: though they are pretty, they needed to be pulled out. They were beginning to sprawl all over the place and were choking out my brussels sprouts. I decided to pull up the plants and take the "flowers" inside to dry and use for decoration. I yanked out the first two huge plants without much trouble, then reached down to pick up one of the pretty green flowers that had fallen off during the yanking. To my surprise, I found that inside the "flower" was a golf-ball-sized fruit, nothing like the "Chinese Lantern Berries" I had read about. This looked and felt rather like a hard unripe green tomato... almost exactly like a... TOMATILLO.
Still in dumb-dumb land, I stood there wondering if maybe Chinese Lantern Berries are really really big and somehow in the same family as tomatillos? I picked all the mysterious green, um, things off of the plants I had uprooted (I later discovered that I had harvested 2 pounds of them), took them inside and hit the internet. I believe my search was: Chinese Lanterns or Tomatillos? And what did I discover? Well, first of all, and probably the most obvious flaw in my original and hasty diagnosis is that Chinese Lanterns are ORANGE. Sheesh, how did I miss that? What I had accidentally grown, and then blogged about incorrectly like an idiot, were TOMATILLOS. The only bit of information I found to make me feel less stupid is the fact that Chinese Lanterns and Tomatillos are in the same family, the husks of the tomatillo closely resembling the Chinese lantern in all but color and size.
This actually makes a lot more sense, because I do have tomatillo seeds, which could have easily gotten mixed in with my brussels sprouts seeds. (My seed storage system consists of all seed packets stuffed happily into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and jammed into the linen closet.) I tried sprouting my tomatillo seeds in February, at the same time I started all my tomato seeds. They did not do well. All you need to do, apparently, to grow tomatillos, is toss them in some good dirt around August and wait to see what happens. Now I know.
Possibly the worst part of this whole thing is that I KILLED two tomatillo bushes! I would never in a million years do that on purpose, even if I was worried that they were shading my brussels sprouts. Maybe I could have pruned them back or something. Fortunately, there are still 2 bushes left in the bed, both of which are covered with tomatillos. I think the ones I accidentally harvested are a tad under ripe, but from what I read that won't make too much of a difference in the salsa verde I plan to make with them. The ones left on the bushes to ripen are destined for this Chicken Tomatillo stew, which looks divine. My excitement about having a bumper crop of surprise tomatillos almost overshadows my embarrassment over telling you all they were Chinese Lanterns. I'm sure some of you were suspicious ... you are much too nice. :)