One of the great frustrations of growing tomatoes in New England, particularly heirlooms such as Brandywine, is that the growing season is never quite long enough. You can’t plant until Memorial Day, and the big heirlooms take around 100 days to begin producing. Just as you’re starting to get fantastic tomatoes, the weather turns cold, production slows to a crawl, and when the first frost rolls around, you’ve got a garden full of green tomatoes. If you’re very lucky, the weather will hold until Thanksgiving week, but this year the first frost landed last Wednesday night.
I used to go to elaborate lengths to help these last few tomatoes ripen, swathing the plants in plastic or wrapping the green tomatoes in newspaper and storing them in a cold cellar to gradually ripen inside. Then, I discovered something amazing: green tomatoes are delicious.
Nearly everyone has heard of fried green tomatoes, but I found recipes for green tomato relish and green tomato chutney in one of my favorite cookbooks, the Gardeners’ Community Cookbook. Now I celebrate the first frost with glee. Green tomato relish may well be the origin of my belief in cooking magic. Putting it on a hamburger in January is like transporting your taste buds to July.
This year, I don’t have an enormous garden to supply me with green tomatoes, so last Tuesday, I asked my neighbors if they had any unpicked green tomatoes I could use. One intrepid neighbor, Suzanna Schell, contacted her CSA provider, and they showed up with fifteen pounds of green tomatoes, three of which ripened before we could process them Tuesday morning. We divided the greenies equally between the two recipes below. Result: an insane amount of relish and chutney, which we’ve shared with our community. Note: jelly jars full of relish and chutney make fantastic Christmas presents.
GREEN TOMATO RELISH
1 lb green tomatoes, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb onions, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb bell peppers, assorted colors if possible, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, stemmed and finely chopped (I substitute Hatch green chile)
2 tablespoons pickling salt (any non-iodized salt will do)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3/4 teaspoons turmeric
2 Tablespoons pickling spiced tied in cheesecloth (allspice berries, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, red chili peppers, etc. Use your favorites.)
Place the tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno, and salt in a large bowl. Add water to cover and set aside to soak overnight at room temperature. Next day, drain and rinse the vegetables. Set aside. Prepare 3 pint jars and lids for canning. Combine the sugar, vinegar, turmeric, and bag of pickling spices in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil. Remove from heat immediately and ladle into jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Will keep in the fridge for 6 months, one year if processed.
GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
2 lb green tomatoes, rinsed and quartered
2 lb tart green apples, peeled, cored, and quartered (I have some big Northern Spy apples)
1 lb shallots, peeled
2 heads of garlic, peeled (20-24 cloves each)
6 fresh red chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (In a pinch, use green chile)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped and tied in cheesecloth
1/2 lb golden raisins (I like to substitute some dried apricots)
1 lb Demerara or other crystal-form brown sugar
2-1/2 cups distilled white or cider vinegar (cider is better)
Put the tomatoes, apples, shallots, garlic, and chiles through a mincer or finely chop in a food processor, taking care not to overchop them into a mush. transfer to a nonreactive canning kettle or very large pot. Add the ginger, raisins, sugar, and vinegar and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour or until all the ingredients are soft and the mixture has thickened into a loose syrup.
Meanwhile, prepare 4 quart jars and lids for canning. Remove the ginger bag and ladle the chutney into the jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Let mature for 1 month before using. Will keep up to 6 months in the fridge, 1 year if processed.