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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pickled Green Tomatoes

I've had the privilege to become a homeowner within the last couple of years, and as such I've gained a small allotment of land as a backyard. On this five-thousand square feet of my own personal kingdom, I'm the caretaker of three glorious trees: a silver maple, a Chinese elm, and a sycamore. These trees, while beautiful, cause a lot of shade...but that didn't stop me from growing a garden.

I've posted garden-related blogs and 'what to do with produce' type blogs before. Gardening is an integral part of my life and is a huge contributor to my diet. I was so happy to be  able to have one that I could maintain for years and years without having to move and start over from scratch, so you'd better believe I started an asparagus patch! But more on that later... Meet Gloria!

Gloria, the Heirloom Tomato Plant that just won't quit

Gloria was a seedling that I found sprouting in the asparagus patch that I'd transferred from my old house. She was sprouting in late September, likely thinking that it was springtime! I felt bad for the poor thing, so I brought her inside to grow over winter.

Instead of dying, I planted her in the garden that next spring and she grew, and grew, and grew into a 7' x 8' x 4' giant of a tomato bush, producing more tomatoes that year than necessary, I can assure you. I mean, it was pretty obscene.

I mean, look at this nonsense!

I mean, look at that nonsense! Just look at how big she was when we pulled her out!

And Howl, of course, had to get into the action for some kisses...

To explain: tomato plants are tropical and last only two years in X conditions. I didn't want to just let her die horribly and slowly in the frost, so I figured I'd be kind and yank her out on Samhain, the last harvest holiday. We laid her out and she was taller than me! But not before harvesting the last of her green tomatoes...

I harvested quite a few tomatoes from her before I pulled her out to make room for my winter crops, and most of them were green. I had a few that were turning orange, so I left them out for a salad or a marinara. The rest, however? All destined for the pickle jar...

Pickling is one of those cherished traditions shared by grandmothers and hipsters across the nation. I love that we're adopting it as a trend because it's not only thrifty(good news for us Millenials) but it's satisfying to have a tactile validation of what you did, which is save something that would have otherwise been wasted. Here's my basic pickle recipe, for your using pleasure:

Basic Pickle Brine

  • 1 cup white vinegar(5% acidity)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
To create the brine, all you have to do is combine all of the ingredients and boil them together in a saucepot. When the mixture has come to a boil, turn off the flame and pour the hot brine over your soon-to-be pickles. Now, here's how you make the tomatoes...

My tomatoes were extremely plentiful, so I packed them as tightly as I could into seven pint jars quite nicely. I put the tinier ones in whole, but I cut the larger ones in half so I could fit more and make sure everything pickles the same way. A basic rule of cooking is that everything needs to be generally the same size when doing preparations like this.

As far as spices and other flavors, this is the stage that you add it. For these pickles, I put in, per jar:

  • A single peeled coin of ginger
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 allspice berries
You can change these around by adding any spices you like. To make a more Asian-inspired pickle, for example, try, per jar:

  • 1/2 tsp schezuan peppercorn
  • 2 ginger coins
  • 1/4 tsp orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
Either way, put your choice spices in the bottom of the jars before you add in your produce, so that way they won't all float to the top when you add the brine. Pack your jars as tightly as possible, while still leaving some head room to breathe...this means that the threads on the jar's lip should be free of liquid and that little half-inch from the top is where you stop filling.

Process your jars accordingly. If you're using the old-fashioned boiling method, like I do, I let them boil for 15 minutes straight, evacuate, and then allow to hang out overnight on the nice wood butcher's block, undisturbed. Pressure canning takes 12 minutes, but please be careful when operating a pressure cooker, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Once your jars are dry, your seals are assuredly tight, and everything looks hunky-dory, label your jars. You can use a dry-erase marker on the top of the lid or print out labels for yourself. I've go these great labels that I use for my apple butter, and you can find the template on most word processing programs if you buy the printer paper at an electronics store...or, of course, online. Even if you simply hand write your label and tie it around the jar's top, make sure you have the date on it. These will hang out just fine for up to six months on your shelf...but please refrigerate once you've opened them.

Happy canning, happy cooking, and happy eating!

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