Notes from Windward: #70


Dealing with Green Tomatoes


     As suggested by the recent posts regarding the creating and utilizing of cold storage space, one of the challenges of living in a temperate climate is preserving the abundance of one season for the scarcity in another. This season we had cool weather late into the spring and early summer and relatively cool weather for parts of August and September.

     While I was thankful for not having a summer of record-breaking heat, these weather patterns combined to leave us with tomato vines full of green tomatoes by mid October when we experienced a rather on-time first significant frost. For much of September and the first part of October we much enjoyed the abundance of fresh heirloom tomatoes in the kitchen, but by mid October the plants still had more to give even though the weather forecast had other plans.

green tomato

     So, we harvested green tomatoes, and lots of them. We stored them in cardboard boxes, no more than three tomatoes deep, in a dry storage building that is protected from freezing temperatures. Since then, some of the tomatoes have ripened slowly and I bring them into the kitchen to be used in meals as appropriate. However, there have also been a small but frustrating percentage of the crop that has rotted before fully ripening. So, rather than risking having cardboard boxes full of half ripe yet rotten tomatoes, we have been using green tomatoes in a variety of delicious ways which I will outline below.

     Of course there are the traditional fried green tomatoes, which like most fried things, are quite satisfying. Online recipes for fried green tomatoes abound, and as usual I ended up combining a few ideas. I cut the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick (recipes suggested 1/2 inch but these took, in my opinion, too long to cook), dipped the slices in Windward harvested eggs, then dipped them into a mixture made up of about 1/2 cornmeal, half corn flour and a dash or three of salt. (Most recipes call for wheat flour, but I opted for the corn flour to make it gluten free.) Then its just a matter of frying the slices until done. While a great addition to a meal, the process is rather labor intensive and doesn't utilize very many tomatoes for the amount of time put in.

     Then there were the green tomato pies. Green tomatoes have the rather strange property of acting just like apples when baked. So, if combined with cinnamon and sugar, they can be used as a filling for an apple pie instead of the name-sake ingredient, and its hard to tell the difference. But again, unless you bake alot of pies, this won't put a big dent into the green tomatoes stock-piled away.

     Green tomatoes have also been added to many a soup over the past few weeks. They seem to blend together well with many different ingredients and more or less take on the flavor of whatever seasonings the cook is using.

     However, to really make use of the green tomatoes (and as I write this, there still are boxes of green tomatoes that call to me every time I pass the dry storage area), I had to put together something that could be canned and stored away for months/years. Inspired by a conversation with my sister who too was processing green tomatoes from her city garden plot in early November, albeit a small fraction of what I have had on my hands, I looked into green tomato relish recipes.

     I always seem to have an affinity for the sweet and tangy flavor of relishes and chutneys, so I figured I would try it out. I used online recipes for guidance but modified according to what I had on hand. I was quite pleased with the end results, and am relieved to have found a method to process large quantities of green tomatoes.

     The recipe that I used as a baseline was the following:
  • 24 large green tomatoes
  • 3 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
  • 3 green bell peppers, halved and seeded
  • 12 large onions
  • 3 tablespoons celery seed
  • 3 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups cider vinegar

     (makes 12 pints)

     Only for the first batch did I include peppers and they were dried banana peppers from the garden. So using dried peppers, or leaving them out entirely isn't a problem, its just a little less colorful. My ratio of tomatoes to onions was higher than 2:1; to make 6 quarts (which is equivalent to 12 pints) I used 4 large onions.

     I used a pickling spice mixture rather than the suggested celery and mustard seeds. I used half as much sugar and the suggested amount of apple cider vinegar and salt. The recipe suggested to shred everything in a food processor, but I didn't want to deal with the added equipment and don't mind chunky relish, so I just left all the ingredients chopped.

      Once everything is in the pot, then its just a matter of following appropriate canning procedures with sterilized equipment and a boiling water bath.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70