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April McGreger really is a farmer's daughter. She first learned the art of preserving at the elbow of her mother and grandmother in a small Mississippi farming town. Her wanderlust led her to a master's thesis on a volcano in Italy, but the call of kitchen could not be ignored. She worked her way into a pastry chef position at the Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC, where she honed her skills and her palate. She lives with her husband and son in Hillsborough, NC.
When the first frost threatens, I grab my largest harvest basket and head out to the garden to collect all of the green tomatoes. I bring them into the kitchen and pull out these recipes, which are my favorite ways to use up those end-of-summer tomatoes that hang on the vine, refusing to ripen. Tart and firm, green tomatoes hold up well in long-cooked relishes and chutneys. Additionally, they make fabulous sour pickles.
For me, the aroma of sweet spices and warm vinegar simmering on the stove is a harbinger of fall. After you try these recipes, I hope you'll look forward to green tomatoes as much as the red ones.
In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar and the sugar. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to a steady simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
In a piece of cheesecloth, wrap the ginger root, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Tie the packet with kitchen twine and submerge it in the simmering vinegar syrup. Add the green tomatoes, onion, salt, chili currants, mustard seed, and celery seed and simmer, stirring often to avoid scorching, until the tomatoes are tender and the chutney is thick and glossy, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the spice packet.
Ladle hot chutney into clean jars and leave 1/4 –inch of headspace and the top. Close the jars with hot, two-piece canning lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Detailed instructions on canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Store in a cool, dark, dry place for up to 1 year.
Green Tomato Chutney
Makes 2 quarts
Traditional cultures all over the world practiced the ancient art of preserving vegetables by brining. Sauerkraut, kimchi, grape leaves, cucumbers, turnips, green tomatoes, peppers, corn, and many other vegetables were commonly preserved through this process. In its simplest form, it is just vegetables and salt. This provides the right conditions for fermentation. The salt slows the decomposition of the vegetables briefly until the sugars in the vegetables are broken down and converted into acids. These acids then preserve the vegetables for many months.
To hold your pickles, you will need a 1-gallon stoneware crock, a food-grade plastic bucket, or some other nonreactive container, such as a large glass jar. To cover the pickling container, use a plate that fits snugly inside the rim of the container or two plastic zip-top bags that are large enough to cover the surface.
As an added benefit, these brined pickles are a probiotic food. The flavors are part Jewish deli, part Southern: They're sour like a kosher dill, but the pickling spices give them an, old-fashioned spiced flavor that reminds me of my grandmother's pickles. They are wonderful on their own, served with burgers or on a meat-and-cheese platter.
For crunchier pickles: a handful of grape, sour cherry or oak leaves
In a clean crock or other pickling vessel, layer your vegetables and spices. Leave about 4 inches at the top of your crock.
Prepare your brine with cold, filtered water. Whisk well to completely dissolve the salt and pour the brine over your vegetables. The brine should just cover your vegetables. Next, you need to add a weight that keeps the tomatoes submerged in the brine. You can use specially made pickling weights or make your own with a plate that just fits inside the container. Weigh the plate down with a well-scrubbed rock or several quart jars that have been filled with water and covered. Cover all of that with a clean dishtowel or cheesecloth.
Another way to seal the pickling container
I often use this technique, in which a brine-filled plastic bag works as both weight and seal. Fit a heavy 1-gallon plastic freezer bag inside another. If the pickling container is larger than 2 gallons, use 2 1/2 gallon bags). Fill the inner bag with a salt brine of 3 tablespoons salt to 1 quart of water and tightly close both bags to prevent leaks.
Place on top of the pickles, making sure it fits tightly around the inner edge of the crock. It acts as an airtight weight on top of the vegetables, which will discourage the growth of yeast and scum.
Store the crock in a cool place (60 to 70 degrees F). Liquid may bubble up and seep from the pickles as they ferment, so place the crock on a tray to contain any overflow. Check your pickles every day and skim off any scum, yeast, or mold that forms. At temperatures above 70 degrees F, yeast and mold are more aggressive, so fermenting in a cooler environment requires less maintenance. Your pickles will take four to 10 days to ferment, depending on the temperature. Cooler temperatures retard fermentation.
You will know that fermentation is complete when bubbles are no longer rising to the surface of your pickles and they have a fresh, tart smell. Taste the brine. If the saltiness is not balanced with sourness, you can let your pickles continue to ferment another day or two.
Store your finished pickles in the refrigerator, where they will keep for up to a year — as long as you keep them under brine. If you fermented in a stoneware crock, you may transfer your pickles to sterilized jars for storage. You may also process your pickles in a water bath for shelf storage, but that will damage the probiotic nature of naturally fermented pickles.
Chow-chow, piccalilli or relish?
There has been much debate over the difference between chow-chow, another relish known as piccalilli, and just plain relish. It seems to be primarily a difference in language or vernacular. There are several different origin stories for chow-chow. One suggests that the name comes from Chinese origins while others suggest it is derived from the French word, chou (cabbage).
Combine all ingredients in a large, nonreactive saucepan Stir well and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Simmer until the mixture thickens into a relish, about 2 hours.
Ladle hot relish into clean jars and leave 1/4" of headspace. Close the jars with hot two-piece canning lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Detailed instructions on canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Last updated: 8/8/19
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