I fell for the green tomatoes. Perched next to their red hothouse relations on a vendor's table, firm, somewhat tart, and close to the color of lime, they called out to me. Green tomatoes are often available in late spring or early summer in North Carolina, and again in late fall, when farmers and gardeners harvest the unripened fruit before it can be damaged by frost. At the height of summer, vine ripened beauties take over, so you buy green tomatoes when you see them, like I did at the farmer's market Sunday afternoon.
Driving home after a great evening with friends, I pulled into the Piedmont Triad Farmers' Market for a quick look around. Green tomatoes (and a few peaches) caught my eye, and I returned to Chapel Hill with visions of fried green tomatoes, green tomato relish, and green tomato pie. In the end, I made none of those. Instead I opted for pickled green tomatoes.
I'll pickle just about anything. Pickled turnips, pickled okra, pickled pumpkin — something is ready any time of year for pickling. I adore the crisp zing and complex flavor pickles provide. They can be sweet, sour, spicy, curried. Imagination takes over, and it's great fun to experiment. I went with a quick refrigerator pickle this time. Unlike their canned counterparts, quick pickles last only a couple of weeks chilled (there's no sterilizing of jars, no boiling-water processing), but it's easy to go through a small batch. They're terrific snacks and incredible counterparts to grilled meats. Give me a pickle platter any day.
I improvised this recipe. Feel free to adjust ingredients or add new ones to taste. Adding a hint of sugar, as I did, isn't required, but I think it evens out the flavor. If you don't like your pickles spicy, skip the hot red pepper flakes. Add celery seed or coriander — experiment.
If you don't have green tomatoes, try onions, young turnips or daikon this time of year. For a classic dill pickle flavor, use a handful of dill fronds and leave out the sugar, mustard seed and bay leaves.
Green Tomato Pickles
This makes enough brine for 2 pounds of vegetables
2 pounds green tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
6 cups water
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or 2 dried red chile peppers
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
several sprigs of fresh thyme
Cut the green tomatoes into 1/2-inch wedges and place in a heatproof container, like Pyrex.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over the prepared tomatoes in a heatproof container. Cool to room temperature (about 1 1/2 hours), cover, and refrigerate in a non-reactive container.
These pickles must be stored in the refrigerator and will last about 2 weeks.