Simanaitis Says

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AND I SAY “Physalis philadelphica.” Yet how this relative of the tomato got associated with the city of brotherly love is a mystery to me. There’s news related to it, though, in a recent posting at the Science Online website, run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Image from Science Online

The title reads “Tomato Ancestor Evolved Years Ago Near Antarctica.” The article offers several tidbits about the world at that time. The two tomatillo-like fossils were compressed in 52.2-million-year-old Patagonian stone in Laguna del Hunco, Argentina. Today, it is a dry, desolate region, more than 600 miles from the nearest point to Antarctica.

However, in the Eocene Epoch, 56 million to 40 million years ago, the supercontinent of Gondwana was in its final stages of separating into Australia, South America and Antarctica. (Look at the bottom of a globe and you’ll see remnants of this split). Also, the Laguna del Hunco area, near the shore of a lake formed by a volcanic caldera, would have had a tropical climate.


Two fossilized plants. This and the following image from Science Online.

The fossils resemble two modern members of the nightshade family, the ground cherry and the tomatillo. Others of the Solanceae family include the bell pepper, eggplant, tobacco and tomato. This newly discovered ancient tomato kin has been christened Physalis infinemundi.


The modern tomatillo, aka Physalis philadelphica.


Both variants have a characteristic veined, papery husk. It’s thought that the husks may have had an evolutionary benefit of floatation, enhancing dispersion of the plant. The ancient plants also displayed bits of coal, thought to be their fossilized berries.

I pass this news along with celebrating one of its modern kin’s culinary achievements, Salsa Verde. This green salsa made with tomatillos makes for a nice green contrast to ordinary tomato-based salsa.


Salsa Verde. Image from

Making Salsa Verde is easy-peasy: a half-pound of tomatillos, husked and rinsed; a 4-oz. can of diced green chiles (mild or hot, depending on family preference); 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion, chopped garlic (let’s say three large cloves; we’re all family); juice of half a lime; a tablespoon of cumin; and a dash of salt. Zap everything up to a coarse puree in a blender or food processor.

Purists may prefer roasting the tomatillos with fresh chiles first. The result is smoky and rich, though I’m a raw kinda guy.

Buen apetito. ds

c Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

One comment on “YOU SAY “TOMATILLO”…

  1. Bill Urban
    January 14, 2017

    What culinary impact could be more profound? (from Charles Mann’s captivating “1493”):
    “In a small way the plant had a cultural impact everywhere it moved. Sometimes not so small – one can scarcely imagine southern Italy without tomato sauce.”

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