This is not just any green tomato relish. It’s Mrs. Dorsey Brown’s Green Tomato Pickle, as recounted in Kevin West’s Saving the Season, a recipe from the St. Thomas Church cookbook, produced somewhere outside of Baltimore a long time ago. It was one of those condiments of years past, sold at country or church fairs, and served aside roast beef or possibly ham. These little sparks of flavor are making a rebound, probably thanks to the movement to preserve well-grown harvests. This is the time of year when I put up many jars of sweet hot red pepper jam in time for the holidays, and I’ve been looking for new ideas. Green tomato chutney got me started, along with the tomato bounty of my pre-frost garden.
The recipe’s base, with apple cider vinegar, sugar (and molasses!), celery seeds and mustard seeds, and hot chili peppers is reminiscent of the sweet-hot “bread and butter” cucumber pickles that I make every summer. The recipe calls for sliced green tomatoes, which would tend to have a similar consistency. However, I had a whole lot of green cherry tomatoes the size of small plum tomatoes. A disappointing crop when red, these have been great while still green. Because of the varying size, I diced instead of sliced the tomatoes, along with the onions, and red and green peppers called for in the recipe. This produced “relish” versus what I would deem “pickle.”
Because of the high proportion of skin to flesh in cherry tomatoes, the relish retained a sturdier texture than it would have otherwise. After curing for two weeks, it was delectable, and will now find a place next to the cranberry sauce at our Thanksgiving table, and I hope will still be around for spring barbecues.
A Version of Mrs. Dorsey Brown’s Green Tomato Pickle, adapted from Kevin West, Saving the Season
2 lbs green tomatoes (I used large cherry tomatoes)
½ green bell pepper, seeded and cored
½ red bell pepper, seeded and cored
½ lb white onion
1-2 dried hot chili pepper (I used a fresh piquin pepper)
¼ c kosher salt
1 c plus 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 c organic sugar
2 tbsp molasses
½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
Cut the green tomatoes, bell peppers and onion in ½-inch dice. Mince the hot pepper, with our without the seeds depending on your taste for hotness. Toss with the salt and set aside for 6 hours.
Pour off the salty liquid and cover the vegetables with fresh water for 15 minutes. Drain again.
Place the vegetables with all of the remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Taste the mixture partway through cooking and add more chilis if necessary. (West’s recipe says that it should have a slight “burn.”) Do not over-stir while cooking to keep the vegetables from breaking down. (This was less of an issue for me since I was using cherry tomatoes with a higher proportion of skin to flesh than either slicing or plum tomatoes.)
Meanwhile, prepare jars for water bath canning. (This makes 3-4 half-pint jars). Ladle the hot relish into the jars with a slotted spoon and then pour hot liquid on top, leaving 1/2- inch headspace. Run a chopstick or skewer through the mixture to release air pockets.
Seal the jars with a two-part lid and process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let stand for 5 minutes before removing the jars to a counter to cool. Cure for at least two weeks before using.
Makes 3-4 half-pint jars.