I am drowning in tomatoes. Crunchy, tart, green cherry tomatoes.
Correction, I was.
By the time you read this, I’m well on my way to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, via a 10-day-ish road trip through Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
But this road trip was the impetus for the mad harvest last week of my rogue tomato plants, which have been exploding with fruit all summer long.
When you’re away for 10 days, things on the home front can feel a little stressful.
Who will water the garden, who will weed the beds, who will check for pests and trim off the dead stuff and pluck all the ripe veggies so they don’t waste away?
When I saw the hundreds of green tomatoes hanging off the vines, just days away from ripening, my other thought was — who will eat all of that?!
And so, just three days before I was set to leave, I spent a sweaty afternoon picking as many green cherry tomatoes off my plants as I could, hoping to preserve them so I wouldn’t come home to a mass of over-ripened, rotting fruit.
The final tally came to 55 pounds.
When you’re talking about cherry tomatoes, 55 pounds is a lot of tomatoes. I nearly tweaked my back hauling the harvest from the garden up to the house. (I know, I know — cue the violins.)
Since I didn’t have time to get creative and whip up some relish or chutney, I decided to pickle all of them, thinking I can always turn those preserved tomatoes into relish later on.
And because I was canning up a storm (32 quarts in all), I pickled them four different ways so I wouldn’t get too sick of them come next summer.
Guess what everybody’s getting for Christmas this year?
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4 Ways to Pickled Green Tomatoes
Makes 1 quart
1 pound green slicing tomatoes (or 1 1/2 pounds green cherry tomatoes)
For the Brine
1 cup white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Basic Pickling Spice Mix
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
Dilly Garlicky Pickling Spice Mix
2 teaspoons dill seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Hot ‘n Spicy Pickling Spice Mix
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns *
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Curried Pickling Spice Mix **
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
3/4 inch fresh ginger, sliced into thin coins
Cut larger (slicing) tomatoes into 1/2-inch wedges, and cut smaller (cherry or grape) tomatoes in half.
In a small saucepan, bring all of the brine ingredients to a boil and stir until the salt is dissolved. Remove the brine from heat.
Fill a hot, clean quart jar with the pickling spice mix of your choice. Pack the jar tightly with the tomatoes.
Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes, covering them completely and leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
Stick a chopstick or “bubbling” tool into the jar and move it around to release any trapped air bubbles.
Wipe the rim clean, seal with a lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes (adjusting the time for altitude as needed).
Quick tip: Due to limited space on my stovetop, I now use this electric water bath canner and I wish I’d found it sooner!
Canning often takes up all the space in my kitchen so no one else can cook while I’m in there. The electric canner makes it possible for me to move the water bath process to the end of a kitchen counter, dining table, patio, or anywhere I have access to a plug.
In the summer, I like to set up my canning station outside so I can also enjoy some fresh air while keeping the house cooler.
There’s a drain spout on the side so you don’t have to lift a huge, heavy pot to pour it out, but this spout is also great for dispensing drinks.
If you need to make a large batch of a hot beverage (spiced apple cider, for instance), you can heat it up in the canner and use it as a convenient, mess-free serving station (no more ladles going in and out of a slow cooker). Such a plus in my party book!
Store the jar in a cool, dark place. The green tomatoes will be perfectly pickled in about two weeks.
Add them to sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, steaks, potatoes, or anywhere you would normally use relish. For a unique kick, you can even top off a Bloody Mary or dirty martini with a pickled green tomato garnish!
* Szechuan peppercorns can be found at well-stocked Chinese or Vietnamese supermarkets in the spice aisle.
** When making curried and pickled green tomatoes, bring the brine ingredients, brown sugar, and curry powder to a boil. Stir until the spices dissolve completely. Fill a hot, clean quart jar with cumin seeds, whole allspice, and ginger coins; pack the jar with tomatoes; then pour the hot brine mixture over the tomatoes.
Common questions about green tomatoes
Is it safe to eat green tomatoes raw?
Absolutely! Green tomatoes (as well as tomato leaves) are edible, raw or cooked. They’re completely safe to eat and — contrary to popular belief — no part of a tomato plant is poisonous.
As with any vegetable, the key is consuming green tomatoes in moderation (especially if you’re sensitive to acidic foods).
What do green tomatoes taste like?
Green unripe tomatoes are tart, acidic, and slightly astringent, depending on how young the tomatoes are. They have a firm, crunchy texture, and lack the juiciness of mature tomatoes.
While green tomatoes can be eaten raw, their astringency mellows out when cooked or canned.
What’s the difference between a green tomato and an unripe tomato?
Certain heirloom varieties of tomatoes (such as Green Zebras) start out green on the vine, and stay green when fully ripe. As they mature, their flavor sweetens, their pulp softens, and they become juicier inside, all while remaining green outside.
Unripe tomatoes (across all varieties) start out green as well, but turn any shade of pink, red, yellow, orange, purple, or black as they develop.
Pickled green tomato recipes use green unripe tomatoes, as their natural tartness complements the punchy flavors in pickling spices.
How can I get my pickled green tomatoes to stay crunchy after canning?
If these pickled green tomatoes are too soft for your liking after going through a boiling water bath, try skipping the boiling water bath and making them as quick pickles instead. Simply pour the hot brine over the tomatoes and spices, let the jar cool at room temperature, and store in the fridge.
Or, you can add Pickle Crisp (food-grade calcium chloride) to your jar, following the recommended package amounts.
If your pickled green tomatoes are mushy, the problem may be in the quality of green tomatoes used. Always start with firm, fresh, unripe tomatoes that were harvested before the first frost. (A freeze will turn tomatoes mushy, even if they appear fine on the outside.)
Unripe tomatoes left on the counter for a few days will also begin the process of ripening (and softening), so it’s best to use them as soon as you pick them.
What do you do with pickled green tomatoes?
Here are some of my favorite ways to use pickled green tomatoes in my everyday cooking: charcuterie and appetizer boards, potato salads, macaroni salads, green salads, salad dressings, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and wraps, tacos, rice and noodle bowls, bloody mary cocktails, and dirty martinis.
I also have lots of suggestions for using the leftover pickle brine here!
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This post updated from an article that originally appeared on August 29, 2011.