Our tomato plants here in the District of Columbia are still producing as we head into October. In fact, some of our plants are loaded with green tomatoes. It's an excellent time to be making things like sweet pickled green tomatoes and our famous green tomato and apple chutney. Once we've put these in canning jars and processed them, they'll keep for a year at least.
The process for pickling green tomatoes is a bit long to finish in one session with the kids in my "food appreciation" classes. So what we did was study the recipe, cut up some tomatoes, and set them to soaking in a lime solution to maintain the green tomato crunch.
These are good lessons to teach science and math. Lime, for instance, is something most kids (or most adults, for that matter) have never heard of. It calls for a bit of explanation of the pH scale, where lime falls on the "base" or alkaline end. Using lime is a bit old-fashioned, but I can attest to its ability maintain crispness. Culinary lime is not so easy to find in the city. I get mine at a farm supply in Annapolis that has lots of canning equipment. You can also find it on-line. But since canned foods like to be acid, it's very important to rinse all the lime out of the tomatoes before cooking them.
The kids used their plastic knives to cut the tomatoes into wedges. Then we mixed our lime solution and poured it over the tomatoes. They soak 24 hours before being cooked with onions, vinegar, sugar and lots of spices. This particular recipe results in one of our all-time favorite pickles. It will easily make six pints.
4 pounds completely green tomatoes (do not use any that are showing even the slightest hint of ripening)
4 quarts water
1 cup pickling lime
1 1/2 pounds onion
5 cups cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup pickling or other non-iodized salt
3 tablespoons mustard seed
3 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Cut the tomatoes into moderately thin wedges and place in a large, non-reactive bowl (do not use aluminum, for instance). Mix the pickling lime and water and pour this over the tomatoes. Stir gently to coat all of the tomatoes with lime solution. Cover and let the tomatoes soak 24 hours, stirring occasionally to mix up the lime.
Following the soaking period, use a colander to rinse the tomatoes thoroughly in cold water three or four times to remove all the lime. Some of the tomato seeds with rinse out and collect in the sink. Again, do not be concerned. Peel the onions and cut them into thin strips, a bit thinner than the tomatoes.
Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seed, celery seed, peppercorns, allspice, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves in a processing pan or large heavy pot. Bring mixture to a boil and cook, uncovered for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and onions, bring to a boil again and continue cooking over moderate heat, pushing the vegetables down under the surface occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to look translucent, about 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them.
Ladle the hot pickles into clean, hot, pint-sized canning jars leaving 1/4 inch of headspace and dividing the spices among the jars (there will be lots of leftover mustard seeds). Use a dowel or the thin handle of a wooden spoon to remove any air bubbles that may be lurking among the pickles. Seal the canning jars with two-piece lids according to the manufacturer's instructions and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath (I use a pasta pot with built-in strainer for this, but there are special canning devices made especially for this purpose).
Allow the jars to cool, then label them. Let the pickles mellow for a month before consuming.