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#206 :: Husk Tomatoes

September 2, 2004

When I was 6 or 8 or 10, we used to travel to Long Island to visit family friends on Shelter Island. The flat green rush of trees and fields past our car window, beneath the unending blue field of cirrus and cumulus clouds formed the tranquil reaches of my personal geography, the promise of a beach or a sunset just beyond and out of reach. At some point, we drove past a field of squat, dusky green plants, and when I asked my dad what they were, he told me, potatoes. Little pain in the ass that I was, I averred, “potatoes don’t grow on Long Island,” a phrase that was then flung back in my face every single time I offered opinions on things about which I knew nothing – which was often. Potatoes do grow on Long Island. So do husk tomatoes. Sheathed in papery, bougainvillea-like envelopes, they are about half the size of grapes, and just as sweet.
I nodded to a few rows of potatoes the other morning, en route to the little painted-plywood farm stand there a few salty miles from the ferry slip where these were bought.

Filed under: Edible | Comments (8)


  1. Liz Ditz September 9, 2004 @ 10:31 am

    looks like tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) to me. I’m going to go look.

    This perennial is native to Mexico and was used by the Aztecs. Unlike other Physalis fruits (the Cape gooseberry and the ground cherry), the tomatillo completely fills the Chinese-lantern-looking husk that is characteristic of physalis–in this case filled with “little green tomatoes” (1-2″ diameter) with a tart flavor that develops once you cook them. It’s a key ingredient of Mexican salsa verde.

    But Perdue has a different take:

    The tomatillo or husk-tomato (Physalis philadelphica) is a solanaceous plant cultivated in Mexico and Guatemala and originating from Mesoamerica. Various archaeological findings show that its use in the diet of the Mexican population dates back to pre-Columbian times.

    Oh no, Florida has a third!

    Tomato, Husk — Physalis pruinosa L.1

    James M. Stephens2

    The husk tomato , which is also called ground cherry, strawberry tomato, Chinese lanterns, tomatillo, bladder cherry, aklekengi, and Cape gooseberry, is a member of the Solanaceae family. It is similar to but smaller than the tomatillo , P. ixocarpa Brot. ex Hornem.


  2. mack September 9, 2004 @ 10:56 am

    They’re quite tasty – more like a delicate little fruit than anything tomato-y – and the last description sounds best. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Thanks for the extra research!

  3. paul September 11, 2004 @ 9:00 am

    I have lived on the North Fork of Long Island all my life and have grown husk tomatoes for the past 20 years. Now a friend has shown me a plant growing in her yard I don’t know. It has bright red husks and a bright red fruit inside. Any idea what these are?

  4. mack September 11, 2004 @ 9:09 am

    Hmmmm. Variant breed? I can only guess.

  5. Twinks September 22, 2004 @ 6:43 am

    A little off-topic but just wanted to say I liked the layout of the site

  6. mack September 22, 2004 @ 10:48 am

    Thanks. Just dumb ol’ Moveable Type layout, with a stylesheet tweak or two.

  7. Chuck Lyons October 29, 2004 @ 3:01 am

    I would appericate any information on the best method of growing this delightfull tomatoe. Do you a source for seeds.

    Thanking you in advance;

    Chuck Lyons

  8. mack October 29, 2004 @ 3:04 am

    Sorry, I wish I did. It’s just something I had the extreme pleasure of eating.