Green tomatoes carry the promise of ripened fruit if one is patient, but with a lot of them to use up, a few traditional recipes are called into action.
Piccalilli is a sweet relish we make in the fall when frosts force us to strip the tomato plants and there are lots of green fruits to be used up. This relish is perfect on hamburgers (vegan burgers too) hotdogs (tofu pups), and any other protein where a little spicy, sweet, sour note is needed. You can process them for long-keeping in a hot water bath, or take a simpler route and just make a small batch for your refrigerator.
After the frost scare, all those green lovelies have to find a new life. My mom used to choose the biggest and best and wrap them in newspapers. She’d tuck them in an old breadbox (one I never saw actually used for bread!) and check them every week. Slowly they would ripen, and they tasted just like they were picked from the vine. Some years, we even had them on Thanksgiving.
We also used green tomatoes in our obligatory batch of mincemeat for pies and filled cookies during the holidays. The making of the mincemeat was not so much about having mincemeat but rather the making of it together.
Silly names aside
Some years, she also made piccalilli with the green tomatoes, often for giving away, along with her less-sweet dill pickles.
We always laughed about the name, and one of my twists on her recipe was to add dill seeds to this relish too, making the name even sillier.
I used a purple onion and a yellow, and substituted poblanos for the green peppers she used. I also add fennel seed and tuck a little star anise in each jar. Mom used white vinegar, but I prefer the flavor of the cider vinegar.
Turn up the heat
If you like, you can also add a serrano or jalapeno pepper for a little more heat.
Piccalilli travelled a long way to get to our Vermont kitchens. The original version of this relish came from India and made its way to England, where a variety of other vegetables have been traditionally used. In the United States northeast, green tomatoes and colorful peppers of the season are present, while other areas of the country use vegetables such as cauliflower, corn, and beans.
Whatever you like to use is fine here, so pack your jars with what you like and mix up the colors and spices as well.
Silly Dilly Piccalilli
Makes 5 pints or 10 cup jelly jars
- 1 quart diced green tomatoes, about 3 lbs.
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
- 1 large purple onion, small dice
- ½ cup Kosher salt
- 2 sweet red peppers, small dice
- 2 poblano peppers, small dice
- 2 carrots, small dice
- 1 tbsp. dill seeds
- 1 tsp. mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ¼ tsp. ground allspice
- ¾ tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. ground mustard
- 1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ cup water
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
Prep the vegetables. Slice the tomatoes and remove any pulpy, seedy areas. Dice. Cut the yellow onion in half at the equator, then slice thinly. Dice the purple onion.
Place the tomatoes and onions in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over, then mix it up. Let it set for 3 to 5 hours so that the vegetables give up their excess moisture so they will stay crisp, it doesn’t take long. In the photos below the vegetables had only set for an hour! When the time is up, place in a colander and rinse, rinse, rinse, squeezing out any excess liquid, then rinse again.
While the onions and tomatoes process, assemble the rest of your ingredients. Dice the peppers and carrots and set aside. In a large stock pot, place the seeds and spices over medium high heat and keep the pan moving until the spices become fragrant. Immediately remove from the burner and add the water. Set aside.
Once the tomatoes and onions have been thoroughly drained, place them in the pot along with the peppers and carrots and everything else. Mix well, and place over medium high heat until it comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, until everything is tender.
Place in canning jars you have scrubbed in hot sudsy water and rinsed well. Wipe the rims clean and add the lids and rings. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes, remove from the pot, and let set overnight. The next day, make sure the jars have sealed.
A little less work:
If you want to make a smaller batch and skip the water processing, simply halve the recipe and after sealing the jars, store them in the refrigerator for up to three months (think Christmas and Thanksgiving gifts).
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