Silly Dilly Piccalilli

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.

Nothing wasted

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.

If the green tomatoes have a bit of color on them, they will ripen quickly on the windowsill.

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

This recipe uses up the green tomatoes, and makes lovely gifts for the holidays.
  • 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.

Of course, you can always sprinkle them with brown sugar, batter them with cornmeal, and make fried green tomatoes!

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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  1. Ally Bean says:

    I’ve never had piccalilli. As a child our green tomatoes were fried. Or wrapped in newspaper, stored in the cold dark basement, then used on salads at the holidays.

    1. Those were the best, weren’t they? Unwrapping a big tomato that was picked in October but beautiful on the thanksgiving table!

  2. The close-ups made me wish I had a fork. 😋🌿

    1. Ah thanks! Too close up, and you’d really smell the vinegar!

  3. Delicious condiment! 🙂

    1. Thank you! It really is!

  4. Another delicacy 😋 My grandma used to do something similar 😋
    I love the name though 😉 super funny 😃

    1. I think that’s why my mom loved to make it, so we could use that word!

  5. I heard piccalilli mentioned in an old Lucille Ball movie and always wondered what the heck it was. Thanks for filling in the blanks! As a Girl Raised In the South, we always fried our green tomatoes, which also is delicious.

    1. I’ve had those fried green tomatoes in the south, and they are really good! Glad I filled in the blank for you!

  6. Once again, I wish you were my neighbor! What a lovely gift idea!

    1. Thank you Jenna! I’d love to be YOUR neighbor as well (I think I can hear Mr. Rogers in the background…).

  7. CarolCooks2 says:

    I make mustard piccalilli for my hubby which I don’t really like but this sounds more like one I would like and good to use up green tomatoes 🙂

    1. Well, the next time you have a bunch of green tomatoes, give it a try!

  8. The name and the dish are both so good. Lovely!

    1. Thank you! A little silliness is needed right now.

  9. Julia says:

    What fun! Since I’ve moved to Colorado, I’ve come up with a new way to use green tomato’s. I roast them with onions are garlic and puree them to make a green chili.

    1. Yum! Sounds absolutely delicious!!!!

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