It’s the third post I’ve done for pickling, and for this installment I’m dong… Green Tomatoes!! Hell, I had to do SOMETHING with them… with the oncoming freeze of winter, we had to pick off all the fruit from our cherry tomato plant early, leaving us with a whole, piled bowl full of the under ripe bastards. And they’re not the easiest to immediately come up with a random dinner with (at least not with the small ones… and I’ve already made fried green tomato BLTs last year). Luckily for us, Pickled Green Tomatoes are quite a southern dish, and I couldn’t help but think of it immediately when I got the bowl.
As it turned out, the idea evolved into a great new post for the ongoing pickle recipe line-up that seems to be forming, as the various online recipes I’ve researched has led to my first foray into the purely unique, traditional, and separate technique of Jar Pickling (really though, I couldn’t find a single recipe that didn’t make me do this…). I’m talking true old school, full sanitization, sealing, and shoving into the basement.
What’s the difference from the basic quick-method I described in my first forays? Well, besides a fuller and more integrated infusion of the pickling base, what ends up in the jar, completely sanitized and separated from the world around it, is left to mature and develop purely among itself, almost like an aging/settling bottle of wine. The final result, though subtle, can yield to what is to be a more… “complete,” deeper flavor (if done right).
But less talk about theories which I have put absolutely NO time or effort in researching, let’s start the process!
We begin not with ingredients, but equipment. Everything you use needs to be sanitized, EVERYTHING; depending on the scale one goes to with this, it can be a complete pain in the ass, one of the reasons I haven’t actually done this until now. That and that minutia of worry I’ll always carry in the back of my head that “maybe something got in from the air or counter afterwards.”
So gather everything you’ll need: A glass pickling jar, the lid (which should separate into two part, the circular top and the rim), tongs, a pair of chopsticks, your knife (yep, even what you’re cutting the tomatoes with), a small empty can or plate or wire rack, and the largest (or at least highest) pan for boiling water you can find. You’ll also need to sanitize the cutting board, but with its size I’m guessing it won’t fit in the pan: I just ran mine under super-hot tap water for a couple minutes.
To set up, fill the giant pan as high with water as you can and bring to a simmer (not a boil, simmer). By this time, set some sort of spacer at the bottom; a metal rack works wonders if it can fit. This is to make sure none of the items rest against the pan, letting the heat fully circulate (and making sure you don’t scrape your cooking equipment, haha). Then submerge all the items as much as possible; which is why you need a huge pan, those pickling jars are tall, especially after being elevated. I had to turn mine to the side. Also, I only submerged the main metal parts, not the handles, of my tongs and knife, for easy removal and handling afterwards (how am I supposed to take the other stuff out if I can’t lift the tongs, right?). Simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
Set to dry on a very clean towel, or other area you trust to be as sanitized as possible, and more onto the pickle. Choosing whatever aromatics you want (recently read a recipe with 4 different options for spice flavors with the green tomatoes), instead of boiling them with the vinegar you can put them all into the bottom of the jar beforehand. Don’t worry, they’ll be getting just as much heated infusion later, so for now we can keep them underneath everything so we don’t have to deal with the annoying group of spices covering the top of our pickle. I stuck with a simple mix of peppercorns, bay leaves, dry rosemary, cloves, and a cinnamon stick (I also found a fun way to replace chili peppers in a recipe when you don’t have any).
Now, slice all tomatoes in half (if we were doing the large tomatoes, then wedges), along with any onions, garlic, or other veggie aromatic you wanted in the mix. Transfer these to the clean and mostly-empty pickling jar; I like to layer the onions and garlic I used, just to ensure thorough flavor mixing (plus it looks so pretty, AND you can eat them along with the tomatoes!). Do not fill all the way to the top, but leave at least the rim open for air and space come sealing.
Next, bring the base pickling liquid to a boil along with anything that needs dissolving (salt, sugar, etc). For the recipes I researched, I found a couple things to note: one, you’ll want to make half the volume of the pickling container/s, so for a single quart pickling container I used 2 cups, or a pint of liquid (it came PERFECTLY to the top, so awesome). And two, for the green tomatoes you’ll only want about 50% vinegar or less in it; I saw an iron chef’s recipe that used like 8 cups vin to 1 water, and that’s just way too psychotic. Green tomatoes are gonna have enough tartness and acidity to them as is, we only need the vinegar for flavor and general preserving at this point. Oh, and use Apple Cider Vinegar if you can, it’s really tasty with these guys!
I didn’t use any sugar in this one, and many recipes only call for a little bit of a sweetness factor anyways. What I DID use, however, was Hot Sauce! It was a fun little experiment, since I just picked this really yummy bottle up from a recent trip and I didn’t have any mustard seeds or hot peppers to add to my spice mix. So instead, I used what was a notably mustard-focused, habanero-made hot sauce. I only added a couple tablespoons, so it’s not noted in the final flavor, but I’m sure it added something. My one concern is that it doesn’t dissolve completely into the brine, but sorta floats around in little particles… not that attractive.
Once everything is mixed and boiled, pour directly (and carefully) into the pickle jar, completely submerging your desired produce. Here we use the chopsticks (bet you were wondering what the hell those were for weren’t you?), grasping the end and carefully pushing down to the bottom here and there. This helps get out all the extra tiny air bubbles trapped beneath the veggies, so make sure to be thorough about it.
And onto our final step: Boiling. Screw the top on, TIGHT, and place the whole thing back into the water bath, which now you have hopefully brought up to a full boil. It’s even more important here that it be completely submerged, but I just felt uncomfortable with turning it onto its side so I just got as much water in as I can and came up to the rim (hopefully the steaming water helped enough). Cover the pot, and leave to boil for 10-15 minutes.
This is definitely the point in my reading that I just had to stop and ask “Why the hell am I doing this?” None of the recipes said anything either, so one’s left reading a recipe with no justification for a very strange and annoying step. But after considering
things for a while, I think I can glean quite a few benefits from this process.
- Sterilization: a little idiotic, I mean who needs to sterilize the outside again? But I believe the boiling process assists in bringing a sterilized aspect to the vegetables and spices themselves, ensuring absolutely NOTHING brings in any interfering spores, bacteria, yeast, etc.
- Cooking: these ARE green tomatoes after all, very firm fellas, who certainly need a bit of heat in the pickling to soften them up for enjoyment. I could definitely see one using this method for very firm whole cucumber pickles as well.
- Sealing: probably the MAIN reason for this. Not only does it apply the whole “heated metal expands and then contracts when cool” thing, but as the insides boil (which they do), I think micro amounts of air escape from the tight barrier, with none being able to come back in. Thus, the jar will end up with its own little vacuum of sealed air and pickling mix, with an iron-tight lid that’s a bitch to get off (make sure you have a little fork or lever for the top part).
But yeah, that’s about it. There’s probably more to it, but I don’t really care too much, and I doubt I NEED to know for these purposes. My only needs now is to let it cool (probably in the water unless you have a way to safely remove it while still hot) and transfer to somewhere dark and chilly; a basement, or garage on my part.
Leave for at least a week to “settle and mature” and you have yourself some very traditional home-pickled green tomatoes! Free to use with breakfast, on sandwiches (I popped them on an openfaced with leftover trout and some horseradish-sour cream), or just munching on their own. They’re not too bad on top of late night nacho snacks either.
Thus ends the third installment in my little series, hopefully it was a fun addition to the other two. I almost wonder what hare-brained random experience is gonna force its way into #4… though I’m still waiting for more Napa Cabbage…