Saving Green Grace

By Carol Ann Sayle

While a fresh, juicy, sun-ripened red tomato is the “gold standard” of taste for that particular fruit, around tomato-time each year, folks inquire at our farm stand as to the availability of green tomatoes. Not the heirloom Green Zebra, which is green and yellow-striped at full term, but regular tomatoes like Early Girls or Celebrities, in the immature, green state.

We generally pick our tomatoes in the ripening and dead-ripe stages. Maturity initiates when the fruit gets a white to light-pink bottom, and intensifies through all shades of pink to the final red. A blemish-free, light-pink tomato will turn red naturally, and deliciously, on your kitchen counter, and to guard against losses by predators, this is the surest way to pick them. Of course there are those folks who prefer the taste of a tomato that is not too ripe, yielding a bit of tartness, while delivering a good tomato flavor, and, for frying, pickling or making green tomato salsas, a totally green tomato is the ticket.

Sometimes, though, it’s not easy being green. One year we waited and waited for the fall tomato crop to ripen, but by November, with a blackening freeze scheduled, we gave up. The plants groaned with a stunning quantity of hard, green fruits. What to do? Let them freeze? Disc them in? Oh, we couldn’t bear it. When faced with tragedy, the only thing to do is save what you can. Finally, Larry succumbed to our mutual angst, and decided to pickle them.

In his commercial kitchen at our Gause farm, he cut the green orphans into bites, mixed them with pickling vinegar brine, seasoned them with our herbs—lemon thyme in particular—onions and jalapeños and heated them in the steam kettle. He poured the concoction into sterilized pint jars, where the heat of the contents sealed the one-piece lid. They were wonderful—tart, tangy with reasonable tomato flavor—and very popular, as, by November, it’s hard to find good tomatoes anywhere, in any form. A successful rescue for sure.

Larry’s pickling recipe is useful for cucumbers, baby carrots, baby leeks, onions, and beets. Note: Fresh dill, the most popular fresh pickling herb, doesn’t do well in the heat of summer, so substitute fresh thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, oregano, garlic chives or dill/fennel/coriander seeds to give some verve to your summer pickled veggies!