Autumn in the Ohio Valley is usually pretty mild. If there are temperature spikes, it’s usually in the direction of heat, not cold. With the exception of October 19, 1989 — exactly 26 years ago today — when we had an earliest-snowfall-on-record event, with 5″ of heavy, wet snow that brought down trees and wires and killed the electricity for most of the area. With all of those fall leaves still strongly attached to their limbs, acting like thousands of little snow receptacles, it was a *mess*.
But normally, temperatures decline slowly and steadily, and my tomato plants produce and ripen right until the day I decide to tear them down, mid- to late-October.
This year, however, we had a long string of late summer/early fall dry heat — along with the most gorgeous gardening weather I’ve ever seen in autumn — and my plants continued to flower as though it were August, producing an impressive bumper crop of young tomatoes as the calendar kicked over to October.
For the first time, I had many, many more green tomatoes than I could possibly fry up, plus loads of green cherry tomatoes that I didn’t want to go to waste, but which would not ripen before our first sub-freezing cold snap (which occurred this past weekend).
And so I did what any heirloom-tomato-lovin’ girl would do: I started making green tomato pickles. The timing was perfect: I had run through my entire stash of summer cucumber pickles in August (because: eating them straight out of the jar all the time), so I was happy to have another shot at pickled goodness before the growing season ended.
I love most pickled things, but there’s nothing quite like pickled green tomatoes. The firmness and bitter edge that makes them unappetizing fresh is what makes them the perfect vehicle in a pickle brine: crunchiness that puts even the best cucumber to shame, and a flavor contribution that goes so well with pickling spices.
Some quick research revealed that for maximum crunch without resorting to pickling lime (which I didn’t want to mess with and probably wouldn’t be able to find locally anyway), it’s best to create refrigerator pickles, rather than processing them in a water-bath canner for shelf storage. All that cooking causes them to go soft in the jar.
I’m a sucker for crunch, so refrigerator pickling = thumbs-up.
Since I didn’t have to worry about proper pH levels then, I completely improvised the spice mix, leaning more heavily on fennel flavors than you typically do with pickles, and adding dried marjoram and tarragon (processed earlier from my herb garden). The result is a uniquely seasoned, slightly sweet dill pickle, that’s crunchy and savory, and goes so well on a cheese or charcuterie platter.
It’s not too late to get your hands on some green tomatoes if you don’t grow your own. Stop by your local farmers’ market and ask a tomato farmer if they’d be willing to bring you some. I made several batches of both green cherry tomato wedges for snacking, and slices for burgers and sandwiches. Good stuff!
- Green tomatoes
- 1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon mustard seed
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
- black peppercorns
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 2 pint canning jars or approximate equivalent
- For extra safety, briefly boil the canning jars and their lids and rings, and set upside down on a clean towel to dry.
- Remove any green stems from the tomatoes, then clean and dry them thoroughly.
- For cherry tomatoes, slice them into halves or quarters. For "hamburger pickle slices" using small standard tomatoes, slice off the stem end, them slice them into 1/8" thick slices horizontally (i.e., between the stem and blossom ends). For medium standard tomatoes, slice off the stem end, then slice the tomato in half vertically. Slice each half horizontally in 1/8" thick slices. (Alternatively, you can slice standard tomatoes into small wedges.)
- Divide the fennel slices and garlic among the jars more or less evenly.
- Optional: crush the mustard, dill, and fennel seeds lightly in a mortar and pestle.
- Divide the herbs and spices among jars, pouring them over the fennel and garlic. Add 6 to 8 black peppercorns to each jar.
- Pack the sliced tomatoes in to the jar, leaving about 3/4" head room.
- In a 2 quart pot, bring the brine ingredients to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
- Carefully pour the brine over the tomatoes, leaving 1/2" space at the top.
- Wipe the rims and affix the lids, tightening to fingertip tightness. For the first minute or so, check the lids, and tighten again if they're loose.
- Let the jars rest on the counter until cool. It's very likely that the lids will self-seal with a loud *pop*.
- Label jars with the date and place in the refrigerator.
- Tomato pickles will likely last as long in the fridge as regular pickles, thanks to the vinegar/salt/sugar solution. Keep an eye out for any sign of mold or off smells and discard the batch if you find any.
- Even if the jars self-seal, the technique described here is *not* sufficient for unrefrigerated storage. This recipe has not been tested for its suitably and safety in water-bath canning, and should not be used as such.