In Quite A Pickle

Why Waste Them?
For what follows, I hope my readers take no offense. I am merely pointing out the realities of the seasons and as painful as it may be to bid adieu to the warm days of summer, we nevertheless have to look forward to the process of pulling out long-sleeved shirts, preparing gloves and mittens and looking towards the chilly slide into winter.

Besides what I hope are happy memories of the summer season left behind, the gardens which we tended and which supplied us for mounds of greens, bushels of beans and fat juicy tomatoes are soon to be likewise just a memory of the summer past.

As we leave those garden memories behind, we are inevitably faced with the bounty of our labors. We are forced to give some of it away, or worse, leave it to rot. So too, there is the late arriving fruit which will never have the opportunity to fully ripen for our enjoyment. We waste a good deal of what we grow, both ripened and unripened.
It wasn't always so. There was a time, not so very long ago, that we sought to use all that our gardens produced. The methods varied, and included drying and root cellar storage. But, still shelf-life was a problem and still a great deal went to waste. Enter Nicholas Appert, a French Chef, who, in 1809 won a ten thousand franc challenge from Napoleon to develop a better method of preserving food for his conquering armies. Appert's discovery was the invention of the hermetic seal, essentially vacuum packing and what is today known as canning.

Early canning was clumsy, and cumbersome. The necessary vessels and seals, crockery, tin, handmade glass with corks and plugs, or soldered tops were at best unreliable. It was, therefore, not a method of food preservation largely used in households. It was not until the discoveries of Louis Pasteur that people finally understood that the process of boiling needed for canning had the unsuspected benefit of sterilization. By then, reliable vessels and seals had been invented and ready for market. John L. Mason patented the mason jar with its thread cap, zinc lid and rubber sealing ring in 1858. Other improvements followed, some by way of industrial mass production of the glass jars, others by way of further experimentation, so that by 1903, Alexander Kerr was able to market what is essentially the canning or mason jar, as we now know it: a glass jar with threaded top, a disposable lid with a permanently attached gasket, and a threaded ring to hold the assembly together.

The process is simple and straight-forward. Clean jars are filled with the produce to be canned and then filled with hot liquid, perhaps salted water or a salt and vinegar pickling mixture. The lid is placed on top, the ring loosely screwed down and then the jars are immediately immersed in a boiling water bath. While under water, the heat forces air out of the jars, further sterilizes the contents and when the jars are removed, the change in temperature causes a vacuum seal which precludes air from entering the canning jar.

Once cooled, it is simply a matter of labeling the product, finding a cool and dark space in the cellar pantry and then retrieving the preserved bounty of the garden as need required. It was now possible for farmers and household gardeners to save the bounty of their harvest with relative ease. And until the late 1940's almost every household did. But, a war caused shortage of materials, coupled with refrigeration technologies, supermarkets importing out of season produce and the acceptance of Clarence Birdseye's frozen foods which had started in the 30's, led to the downfall of home canning as a means of preserving our harvests. Now, the fear of botulism from home canned fruits, vegetables and preserves as well as the deep freezer and prepackaged produce have all but eliminated home canning.

It really is a shame that we no longer see households canning their produce. It goes beyond the fond memories of working in your grandmother's kitchen as she made strawberry preserves, hulling veritable bushels of strawberries, cooking them with sugar to a fine bubbling mash and ladling the boiling hot pulp into jelly jars. It goes beyond memories of watching the block of paraffin melt and seeing it poured in to make a seal; of waiting to take a loop of string and place it at the edge in the hardening wax to make a crude pull tab. It really becomes more a matter of knowing what is in the food you eat, from field to plate, and controlling unwanted pesticides, unneeded additives and a sense of ownership in providing the sustenance. But beyond those concerns, I turn back to those poor unripened fruits that inevitably seemed destined for the compost pile.
It seems unnecessarily wasteful to simply toss those glistening green orbs into the garbage simply because they arrived too late to fully develop and, in fact, there are a good many uses to which those green tomatoes can be put which not only eliminates the waste, but can provide you with culinary delight and satisfaction throughout the year.

Anyone attempting home canning needs to be meticulously clean, select produce which is unblemished and assure that the jars are properly sealed. It is not a difficult process or one which should be approached with any huge sense of trepidation. This is especially true when canning with acid-based liquids such as those used in making pickles and the like. As that acid-based liquid provides yet another safety measure prohibiting offensive bacterial growth, for that reason I would advocate to any person who wishes to attempt for the first time canning the bounty of their garden to limit their initial experimentation to high acid product such as pickles and tomato-based sauces.

And so, we return to those green tomatoes. There is nothing better, pickle-wise, than dilled green tomato pickles. You won't normally find them at the grocery, except in certain specialty areas of the deli. But, they are easy to make, better than any commercial pickle, and make good use of the unripened fruit that would otherwise go to waste. Granted, you'll need a hot water bath canning kettle, usually available at places like Marc's, and some Mason jars, but the results are a real pleasure. Who knows, you may find yourself a fervent home canner, putting up all manner of delicious produce from your garden, ready to share with family and friends.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

(I like to use Roma tomatoes, as they have more flesh, and less water, but any variety will work)
30 medium sized green tomatoes, washed and quartered
½ cup sugar
¾ cup pickling salt (NOT regular iodized table salt)
1 quart white vinegar
1 quart water
14 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. peppercorns
14 bay leaves
7 heads fresh dill

Add sugar, salt, vinegar and water together, bring to a boil, and dissolve all dry ingredients. Heat can be turned down, however, liquid should be returned to a full boil before filling jars.

Pack 7 hot, washed pint jars with tomato wedges. They should be firmly packed, leaving ½ headspace. Place 2 cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, 1 head of dill and 1 tsp. of peppercorns in each jar. Immediately pour in water/vinegar mixture, leaving ½ inch headspace. Put on sterile (boiled) lids, and loosely screw on the bands. Process in hot water bath (185 degree) 10 minutes. Remove, tighten seal, and allow to cool. Best if allowed to cure 3 weeks.


Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 19, Posted 12:12 PM, 09.08.06