Oh happy day: after a long search, I FINALLY found a source for unripe tomatoes! Mad thanks to the lovely peeps at Jacob’s Farm (also the source of this summer’s jalapenos). Jesse and his crew pulled 5 lbs. of unripe tomatoes for me in early October – mostly unripe Early Girls, but with a smattering of unripe heirloom ‘matoes. It’s unreasonably difficult to source green tomatoes, I’ll have you know. There are two ways to procure them: grow ‘em yourself or beg them from a grower. Some of you might have them coming out of your ears, but for those of us who are less fortunate, the wait was well worth it. My fermented green tomato pickles turned out so well that I’ve requested another 10 lbs. We’ll see if the weather allows for one last batch…
If you have been graced with a few pounds of green tomatoes, here are some general steps to ferment them into pickles. First, wash the tomatoes well and take off the stems and caps. Check the tomatoes carefully and pull any that are already softening. One of my tomatoes was too close to being ripe, so I put it aside. In fact, I put it in our fruit bowl and forgot about it for a week, at which point it was ripe enough to eat. Now I know why vine-ripened tomatoes rot so quickly, if this is what happens to UNRIPE tomatoes! I quartered the smaller tomatoes, and cut the larger ones into wedges that were the approximate size of the quartered wedges. I aimed for wedge uniformity: this ain’t rock science, so there’s no need for precision here. Trim the cores from the wedges as best you can.
I brined the tomatoes in a 5% brine, which roughly translates to one quart of water to three tablespoons of sea salt. The lovely thing about using brine is that you don’t need to weigh your veggies – you just need to use enough brine to cover ‘em. Our water at the Houseproud homestead is very good (I heart you EBMUD), but I use filtered water for my brines these days. I fill up a gallon bottle with filtered water at my natural grocery store, and keep the bottle tucked away until I need it. As reported in other posts, basic brine can be held in the fridge for a week. (I feel comfortable holding unsealed water for up to a month and sealed for a year.) If you are holding a brine in the fridge, make sure that you use a piece of wax paper between the metal jar lid and the brine, or the lid will rust.
PLEASE NOTE: quart jars do not hold a quart of liquid; they officially hold 26 oz. (3 cups), although if you fill the jar to the brim it will hold about 29 or 30 oz. A quart is 32 oz., so if you add 3 tablespoons of salt to a volume of water that’s anywhere from 3 to 8 oz. short, you’re gonna have some damn salty brine, that’s fer sure. I didn’t learn this fun fact until I started making quart-sized amounts of brine – imagine my surprise.
Once my five pounds of unripe tomatoes had been cut into wedges and trimmed of cores, I had enough to fill one quart and three pint jars. To the bottom of each jar I added a teaspoon of black peppercorns, a 1/8 cup of garlic brine (blogged about here), and a scant teaspoon of celery seeds – a little more of each for the quart, of course – and gently squeezed the tomato wedges into the jars. Once each jar was full, I tamped the wedges firmly down, leaving about 2” of headroom. I then used the rough outer leaves of a green cabbage as followers, and topped each jar to the brim with basic brine. The pint jars had regular mouths, which meant that I could wedge the cabbage leaf followers neatly under their “shoulders” and therefore didn’t need a weight; I used a glass jar as a weight for the wide-mouth quart jar. In order to catch potential brine over-flow, the four jars sat in a small glass rectangular baking pan. I monitored the jars for mold and brine levels throughout the active fermentation process, adding basic brine when necessary.
After six days, the tomatoes had fermented into the most AMAZING pickles – perfectly sour with a delightful kick of garlic from the garlic brine. The pickles had slightly softened, but still retained a good crunch. They were so good that I ate four wedges, one after the other, as I was prepping the pickles for long-time storage. Bliss! Of course, with softening, the volume of the pickles had reduced: the quart-plus-three-pints became a quart, a pint, and a small taster jar (8 oz, perhaps). I also was left with a small jar of left-over pickle brine, from which I pour myself the occasional restorative 1 or 2 ounces. Given the scarcity of the pickles, I’ve restricted myself to two wedges a day. At this rate, the pickles might last a few more weeks. Might, I say.
And with that, thus closeth my final “end of season” report for this summer, a summer that was filled with gardening and kitchen projects. Unlike the mad scramble of previous years, it was a luxury to have such an abundance of time these last few months to work on projects and to share them with you, my pets. Now fall is here and I have a fridge full of wonderful things, and can look out at a garden that is tidy and ready for its cold-weather nap. I even managed to complete a few knitting and sewing projects this summer, more about which will follow in subsequent posts. Oh, and we should talk about fall décor projects before fall turns into winter, yes? Hmm – next time, next time… Until then and very fondly, yr little munakins