Tomatoes in December?
Why not? These tomatoes may not have the juicy essence straight from the vine, but they do have just the right tang and tartness to it that every time you open the jar, your salivary glands will start acting up. This recipe is great for when you are trying to save those tomatoes from frost late in the season and you are bored of the classical fried green tomatoes. It’s popular pickling red, ripened tomatoes but the green tomatoes are just as tasty.
For years, I enjoyed this fermented side dish served by my mom-in-law and I always assumed it was a different variety of tomato. Kind of like a tomatillo. But even more different than that. Little did I know that it was just a regular tomato but only not fully ripe. You know, the few that are stranded in a bowl with all the red ones. Or the one that is on the ground sitting at the foot of your 6′ Beefsteak tomato plant. Or those that you are desperately trying to save from their horrific hypothermia death. They are your regular tomatoes: Brandywine, Roma, Moskvich, etc.. I bought green tomatoes from my local farmer’s market for this batch as my tomato plants were infected with blight and we had to pull them out before they infected my other nightshade vegetables. But of course, those grown in your garden are always superior.
And just as you would add tannin-containing ingredients such as grape leaves to lacto-fermented pickles, so would you do that in this recipe. The tannins helps slow the enzymes that break down the cell walls of the tomatoes, making them more crunchy longer. These green tomatoes don’t necessarily need the crunch but tannins do keep them firm longer. If you don’t have access to any of the above mentioned leaves, I have heard of people using black tea as a substitute as it is rich in tannins. We enjoy our blackcurrant bushes in our yard, and it is just now starting to grow leaves – so I was able to pick a few. You may simply omit the leaves if you are having trouble sourcing them.
For best pickling, choose nice firm green tomatoes and be sure they are all ripened equally (similar shade of green). Prepare your fermentation crock or a glass jar by cleaning it and sanitizing it with boiling water. Prepare your brine solution by dissolving 5 tablespoons of sea salt with 5 cups of filtered water. It is important to use non-iodized salt and filtered water as chlorine, iodine, or other impurities will hinder natural lacto-fermentation. And don’t scrimp on the salt, when fermenting vegetables, you want to err of the side of adding too much than not enough. For centuries, salt has been used as a preservative – if you don’t add enough of it – you simply cannot ‘preserve’ your veggies. On the other hand, if you add too much, your end product will be too salty – which can actually be remedied by rinsing under cold filtered water. In the battle of spoiled contents vs. super salty contents, the latter wins because there’s at least something that can be done to fix the situation. Lacto-fermentation is gamble. But so worth it.
To the bottom of your fermenting container, place peeled garlic, fresh dill, and pickling spice.
Wash your tomatoes and place them in your fermenting container, alternating blackcurrant or grape leaves.
Pour the chilled brine over the tomatoes and place another blackcurrant or grape leaf over the tomatoes and take care that everything is submerged in the brine.
Put a heavy weight to keep the contents submerged until after one week. If you keep a close watch on this, you may avoid using the weight – just check your jar daily and push the contents down if necessary.
Allow to sit at room temperature for approximately 7-10 days or until desired taste is reached. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. If it develops white film on top, simply discard the white substance, the tomatoes should be fine to consume, but of course, use your better judgment. According to this article, the white filmy mold is simply the yeast collecting on the surface of the fermenting vegetables. If it smells okay, it is most likely safe to eat.