Attack of the green tomatoes

It was time to get ready for fall crops at the neighborhood community garden, so the tomato plants had to

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

go. As we ripped out the drooping vines, I noticed dozens of green tomatoes. The voice of my mother – the person who saved, flattened out and reused aluminum foil – jumped into my head. “It seems a shame to waste all these tomatoes,” it said through my mouth.

We didn’t think that the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, where most of the garden’s produce goes as part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, would want green tomatoes. In a fit of optimism, I took them.

Even after becoming picky and only selecting the largest ones, I could barely drag my bulging bag the two blocks back to my house. There must have been at least 20 pounds of hard, green balls in there.

The green tomatoes led me to violate one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: Never serve to guests a recipe that you’re making for the first time. But I was surrounded by green things, and these were old and tolerant friends who would eat almost anything that wasn’t once hoofed or feathered. I found a green tomato pasta sauce recipe in “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook” by my friend Miriam Rubin. It was simple – garlic, parsley, some hot peppers and the tomatoes – and I added crabmeat.

It was a success (although linguini might have been a better pasta choice than rigatoni). But if it was followed by The Hub’s chocolate cake, even shredded paper would’ve been proclaimed gourmet, so I had dessert as back-up.

Then I wanted to make green tomato pickles. I had never made them, and had eaten them only once. I purchased a jar for the Thanksgiving relish tray many years ago, and remembered their interesting flavor and texture. I combed through canning books and cobbled the recipe at the end together from several ideas. Easy? Yes. But it will be another week or so before I can say how they taste, because all pickles must sit for a period of time to, well, pickle.

Last night, it was the classic fried green tomatoes with our Labor Day grilled burgers.

The bag is much lighter now, but 20 or so of the greenies still lurk in my kitchen…

Hot Green Tomato Pickles

15 cups cored and sliced 1/4-inch-thick green tomatoes

4 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 teaspoons celery seed

6-7 cloves garlic

In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, red pepper, mustard seed, sugar, peppercorns and celery seed. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling, remove from the heat.

Have clean, sanitized pint jars, lids and rims ready. Drop 1 clove garlic into each jar, then pack in the tomatoes. Pour the vinegar mixture over the tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Push a wooden skewer gently into the mixture and around the sides to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims and screw on the lids and rims.

Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and cool on folded towels or racks.

Makes 6-7 pints.