I may have been the only person left at the Mohawk Valley Produce Auction yesterday who knew what was in this half-bushel box. They are, of course, tomatillos. The second cool auction find in a week to be wrapped in a paper husk.
“Tomato-tilly-o’s,” called out my friend Tom, who announces what items are up for bid. “Tomato whats?” asked Ben, the auctioneer.
I corrected the pronunciation, a few times, in fact, though to no avail. Ben asked what they were, and I told them to think about a tomato crossed with a pepper. On further review, I should have said it was a tomato meets an enormous berry meets a green chili meets a lime. Tomatillos are wonderfully complex.
“Trust the chef, he knows,” Ben said about me, before turning to the puzzled crowd. “What do you want to do here?” he asked them.
I raised five fingers. “Five, do I hear six?” Ben called? “Sold, five dollars, 231,” he said, giving my auction number to the clerk. I have a feeling I could have bid $1 and won.
I wondered how often the customers here see tomatillos and quickly found out. The grower sought me out after the auction to thank me for bidding at a fair price.
He said he has never brought tomatillos and was curious what they’d bring. He said he’d previously sold at a Pennsylvania auction for as low as $2 a box, which has generally discouraged him from trying to sell them wholesale. I hope this sale changed his mind.
By the way, what are we doing with them? I roasted them today and froze them. They’ll ultimately be cooked with tomatoes and chicken in a southwest-style chicken entree.