New year pickles and chutney

Green tomatoes in the garden

‘Tis the season for a glut of tomatoes, and at my place that means pickles and chutney.

I have to confess that I am a very poor vegetable gardener, because I hardly ever water. And then if anything survives, I forget to harvest it. Hopeless.

But I am quite good at growing cherry tomatoes, because as Peter Cundall Himself told my mum, tomatoes do best when they are not coddled and fed and watered abundantly, which just makes them put on lots of leafy growth. This year, my one little ‘Principe Borghese’ plant clearly felt in danger of imminent death by dehydration, because it fruited like crazy. This variety crops in one big hit, which is perfect for me because a) it’s bleedingly obvious when it’s time to harvest and b) I can make pickles and chutney with the bucketload of tomatoes I pick.

I love making pickles, chutneys and jams. I find it easy, relaxing and hard to stuff up. I love eating the results, and I enjoy being part of an informal trading community of friends and acquaintances who grow, pickle and bake yummy things.

My bible for old-favourite pickle-making is the 1970 edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook. My mum had this book when I was a kid growing up in the 70s. My siblings and I spent hours looking at the photos – with horror at the fish and prawns WITH EYES – yecchhh!!! (we only knew fish fingers) and with much drooling at the pizza, cakes, biscuits and sweets.

My favourite, favourite photo in the cookbook universe was the page of toffees:

Mum’s copy disintegrated after many years of loving perusal by us kids, but I looked in secondhand book shops for years until I found it. I highly recommend it for pickles, jams, pancakes, scones, classic cakes, roast lamb, corned beef and anything else likely to be eaten on a sheep station. I’d advise caution when approaching the International Cookery section (see exhibit A, Flamed Caramel Pineapple, a ‘delightfully informal dessert’), though the book is a retro-fabulous reference if you ever want to hold a fondue party.

Back to the pickles. First up is Green Tomato Pickle, a variation on your classic mustard pickles – you can also use this recipe with chokoes, cauliflower etc. I deliberately pick some tomatoes green ’cause I’m a fan of green tomato pickles. This is so quick and easy, even if you’ve never made pickles before.

Green tomato mustard pickles

2 lb (900 g) green tomatoes, chopped (you’re supposed to peel them, but who has time to peel cherry tomatoes? Not me.)

1/2 cauliflower, chopped into small florets

1.5 lbs (675g) onions (i.e. about 4 or 5), peeled and chopped
1/2 cup salt
2.5 pints (1.5 litres) brown malt vinegar
2.5 lb (1.1 kg) brown sugar
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 dessertspoon turmeric
1 dessertspoon dry mustard
1 dessertspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
(I reckon you could use white or apple vinegar and raw sugar; the resulting pickle would be a lighter colour.)

1. Put the veges and salt in a large bowl and cover with water. Stand overnight. Drain and rinse well.

2. Put aside a couple of cups of vinegar. Put the rest of the vinegar in a large pan with the brown sugar, and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

3. Bring to the boil, then add the veges and bring to boil again.

4. In a small bowl, blend the reserved vinegar with all the dry ingredients. Gradually add to the vegetable mixture and stir until the mixture boils and thickens.

5. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal. Makes 7 pints (4.2 litres).

If you’ve never made pickles or jam before, here’s how to sterilise, fill and seal your jars. Any jars with metal twist tops will do (pasta sauce, jam jars etc.).

Preheat oven to 110°C. Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse well and drain. (Some people boil the jars in a big pot of water at this stage – I don’t).

Put the jars in the oven (if you lie them with the opening facing out, they’re easier to grab with tongs when they’re hot). Don’t put the lids in the oven! Leave the jars in there for at least 15 minutes.

The jars will now be dry and very hot. Use tongs to take one out and put it on a heatproof surface. Use a ladle and wide-mouth funnel to fill the hot jar with boiling hot pickle or jam, almost to the top.

Cut-down milk bottle courtesy of Nigella Lawson’s forthcoming collection. (I really must buy a wide-mouth funnel one day).

Then, REMEMBERING THAT THE JAR IS STILL REALLY HOT!!!, use an oven mitt to hold the jar and while you tightly screw the lid on. Mental lapses at this point will result in burnt fingers. I speak from experience.<

When the lid is on tight, turn the jar upside down and place it on a clean tea towel. Turning it upside down has two functions – the hot contents sterilise the inside of the lid, and it allows you to check the seal – if the jar is not sealed, it will leak.

Leave the jars upside down till they cool, then turn over, wipe down if they’re sticky, and label. Voila!

Update: Stay tuned for Sweet Fruit Chutney (made from the ripe tomatoes), plus zucchini pickle and apricot jam, courtesy of a friend’s excess produce.