Tomatillo, Physalis ixocarpa, and tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum, come from different branches of the same family tree. They are cousins, both part of the nightshade family, along with eggplant, peppers and potatoes. Despite a family resemblance, they do have some notable differences. Tomatillos, unlike tomatoes, are not self-pollinating. You need to have more than one plant in order to set fruit. You should plant only one variety, because they will cross-pollinate, but by planting multiples in close proximity, you will better guarantee a good harvest. Both tomatoes and tomatillos grow well in the desert, with plenty of sun, but ideally benefit from some mulching and consistent moisture levels. If you meet these minimal requirements you should be rolling in tomatillos, for they can be prodigious producers when their needs are met.
Tomatillos look like a green tomato, but they grow in a papery lantern-like husk, have a firmer texture, and a more citrusy taste. They are traditionally the key ingredient in salsas verdes, but can be used in myriad recipes. For a healthy twist on a favorite, guacamole, try substituting fresh, chopped tomatillos for half of the avocado. Delish!!
If you are successful and get a good harvest, saving seeds is relatively easy. Let some of your best fruit ripen on the counter for a few days, then remove the husks. Cut the tomatillos into quarters and blend them in a blender with 3/4 water to 1/4 fruit. The 'good' seeds will fall to the bottom of the container. You might want to stir the concoction a bit to get the seeds to separate and fall. Decant the pulp and clean the seeds in a colander or strainer, rinsing until clean. Lay the seeds on a glass or plastic surface to dry, or to speed things up, a paper coffee filter will wick away the moisture without sticking to the seeds. Once dry, you can store some in a dark, airtight container, for next year's garden, and if you'd like, bring some into the seed library to share with your community.~ Kelly
For more seed saving tips and tomatillo recipe ideas, check out these resources: