In a Pickle with Late Green Tomatoes?
by Joan B. Lehmann
Midsummer, my tomato plants turned brown from too much heat and too little water. I thought they were goners. Cooler fall temperatures gave them a fighting chance, and the drenching rains from Rita revived them. With the first frost just around the corner, my plants are vigorous and loaded with green tomatoes. I had best be getting my green tomatoes indoors.
What I’ll do with them then is a family tradition.
When I was a child, we picked our green tomatoes at the end of October. To kill any bacteria, we washed them with a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water.
Then we thoroughly dried them and wrapped them in brown paper or newspaper. We layered them loosely with straw or more paper in bushel baskets. Never shut them tight in plastic containers. The ethanol gas given off by the fruit makes them ripen too fast. Circulating air prevents them from rotting.
The green tomatoes were stored in the cellar, where they were cool, dry, out of the light and safe from insects. Cricket predators could destroy the whole parcel in a few days. As with apples, one rotten tomato can spoil the whole bunch. So we checked the baskets at least once a week for any sign of spoilage.
Out came the tomatoes two or three at a time to ripen in a sunny window for a winter salad.
Not all the tomatoes went straight to the cellar. We liked to fry up at least a couple batches of green tomatoes straight from the fall garden. In a couple of days on a windowsill, they turned just a little golden. They have to be firm to slice and fry, but a little color adds flavor.
The recipe is simple. Slice, lightly salt and pepper and flour both sides. Fry the slices in vegetable shortening until golden brown, and drain on paper towels. Our family sprinkled a little sugar on top while they were still hot to finish off the delectable side dish.
Still too many green tomatoes? My grandmother Susie made green tomato pickle from a recipe I imagine being created by a farmer’s wife who couldn’t stand to throw away good tomatoes at the end of the season. It was a concoction of green tomatoes, onion, sugar, vinegar, salt and whole pickling spice. It was sweet and sour and spicy and when you bit into a little onion, it bit you back.
I have only seen the relish grace tables in Southern Anne Arundel County. There is no better accompaniment to fried oysters in winter. The sassy taste of summer’s bounty pairs beautifully with the nutty flavor and crunchy texture of the region’s winter delicacy.
Lothian native Dr. Joan Lehmann works in the emergency room at Washington-Baltimore Hospital and lives in Pasadena. She last reflected on Smoking Blues on Sept. 22 (Vol. xiii, No. 38).
Mrs. Susie Nieman’s Green Tomato Pickle (Deale)
1 bushel green tomatoes, washed, cored and chopped
8 large yellow onions-peeled and chopped
Sprinkle with 1 cup salt, mix together and cure for 3-8 hours at room temperature.
Squeeze juice from mixture and discard brine.
Cook over low heat with 7 cups of sugar, 5 cups of yellow cider vinegar and 1 tin of whole pickling spice wrapped in cheesecloth. Boil until tender and preserve in sterile Mason jars according to canning instructions for pickles.
Makes about 10 pints.