For a taste of Mexico this summer, sow tangy tomatillos this spring

<span>Photograph: BA E Inc./Alamy</span>
Photograph: BA E Inc./Alamy

Last summer, I had a text from a friend who was visiting Oaxaca in Mexico. “Can you get these in the UK?” she asked, with a link to a vegetable she’d just tasted. I enthusiastically responded with a photograph of the green orbs that were piled high in the crate in front of me. “Yes! You can get tomatillos here!”

They weren’t imported from Latin America but growing on the farm in East Sussex where I work. This golf ball-sized fruit with light-green skin, encased in papery jackets has a tart, refreshing flavour and succulent texture. By that point (mid August), we were busy producing more than we could keep up with. I did my best to eat as many as I could and am fairly certain that I’ll be coveting their tangy flavour every summer from now on.

Tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) can be started as early as March and sown until early May. Nurture their seedlings as you would tomato ones, potting them on as they grow until you’re as certain as possible that the last frost has passed. They can be grown outdoors in the UK but do need a lot of sun and a sheltered spot to do well.

Although tomatillos are a little hardier than their tomato cousins, the plants themselves aren’t especially sturdy, so an exposed, windy spot would be disruptive for them. They thrive when grown with the added warmth and protection of a polytunnel or greenhouse (and this is likely the best approach if you’re in a colder part of the country).

I love them raw – diced with a little chilli, pink pickled onions, fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime

Treat your tomatillo plants like a determinate (or bush) tomato, and allow them to ramble freely. There’s no need to prune them – though given how fragile their branches can be, you may need to put some stakes or a structure in place – to support the plant as it grows and to keep the fruit off the ground. They will fruit abundantly as long as there are pollinating insects visiting their little yellow flowers, so two plants will provide you with as many fruits as one household can consume. Like all solanaceae family members, tomatillos appreciate an occasional feed (such as comfrey or liquid seaweed) to support their growth and fruiting.

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Their pollinated flowers will, at first, transform into a papery husk encasing a tiny fruit – much like a physalis, to which tomatillos are related. They are ready to harvest when the fruit has swelled to fill the husk or, better still, when it is pushing its way out and the husk has started to yellow. They can be stored for quite a few weeks, although split fruit are best kept in the fridge.

Remove the papery husk and rinse off any sticky sap before preparing your tomatillos. While they’re often eaten cooked, I love them raw – diced with a little chilli, pink pickled onions, fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime to create something akin to a salsa which I greedily shovel into my face with tortilla chips.