Don’t let a single homegrown tomato go to waste – even the green ones! Green Tomato Pickles with a sweet dill brine are crunchy and slightly tart, like the best pickle you’ve ever had. No pressure canning required – these are refrigerator pickles! (Post updated August 2019)
I first started making pickled green tomatoes a few years ago, when a beautifully warm and sunny summer stretched into fall, and my tomatoes, rather than looking droopy and pathetic, took off and produced an entire crop of green tomatoes, far too late in the season to fully ripen.
At the time, I wasn’t even sure if green tomato pickles were actually a thing, but, I was determined to give it a try — the investment was small, afterall, for a potentially huge reward.
So, I set about gathering all the green tomatoes. I picked cherry tomatoes; I picked standard tomatoes. They were perfect and beautiful, and I took lots of photos of everything because I’m obsessed with photographing my garden, lol.
I had tons of green tomatoes – from bite-sized cherries to the big slicers. It was pickle time!
You’re not likely to find unripe green tomatoes at the store, but, if you don’t grow your own tomatoes, no worries. Just visit your local farmers’ market and ask your favorite tomato grower if they would bring you some green tomatoes. I bet they’d be very happy to have an outlet for all the green tomatoes in their fields!
I’ve tweaked and perfected the seasoning blend since I began pickling tomatoes, and the Green Tomato Pickles recipe you’ll find below is the result of testing literally dozens of jars of pickled tomatoes. (It’s a tough job, but I’m on it!)
I started with dill, of course, and added fennel (both bulb and seed) and mustard and marjoram, plus other herbs and spices to create a completely unique and delish batch of Green Tomato Pickles.
Can you eat unripe green tomatoes?
Yes, green tomatoes are edible, even raw. They’re very astringent, very firm, and not particularly tasty. Until you pickle them, that is!
If you have a known sensitivity to the alkaloids of the nightshade family, you probably already know what to avoid. Food science writer, Harold McGee, says there’s very little evidence of serious tomato toxicity, but if tomatoes give you headaches, nausea, or other unpleasantries, this concoction probably isn’t for you.
How to select green tomatoes for green tomato pickles
If you’ve ever tasted an under-ripe tomato, then you know that they’re astringent and slightly bitter-tart. IOW, not particular great for fresh eating, lol.
But this quality is exactly what makes a green tomato the perfect pickling medium: it’s native tartness complements the sweet, vinegary bite of the salty pickle brine.
Note that when I say “green tomatoes,” I mean under-ripe tomatoes. There are amazing heirloom tomatoes that are green when ripe, such as the Green Zebra tomato (which you can see in the video in this post – I made a batch of green tomato pickle slices using under-ripe Green Zebras). A slight blush on the tomato is okay, but for maximum pickle crunch, avoid ripe tomatoes.
Tomatoes for pickling should be very firm and flawless. Reject tomatoes that have cracks at the stem end or soft spots elsewhere. Don’t just cut the out spot – it’s usually a sign of rot or disease – it will impact how long your green tomato pickles will last in the jar.
Refrigerator pickles are not shelf-stable, but they’re so easy to make, and they’ll still last a long time in the fridge because of its acid environment. And because you don’t have to worry about maintaining a correct pH balance for room temperature food safety, you have complete flexibility in flavoring and seasoning your pickle brine.
Also, you don’t have to worry about filling a jar to the top – if your harvest of green tomatoes falls short of a whole pint, no problem! With refrigerated green tomato pickles, you can make as large or small a batch as you need.
Another advantage of refrigerator pickles over water bath canning: since you’re not heating the tomatoes, they won’t go soft like they would in the sustained heat of the canning environment.
Crunchy tomato pickles for the win!
What do you eat pickled green tomatoes with?
Oh my gosh, so many things! I make green tomato pickles every summer — sometimes multiple times throughout the summer, if I get impatient for their puckery goodness — and I just can’t keep jars in the house. They disappear like that [snap!].
Here are a few ideas to use up your first jar of these green beauties:
- Charcuterie and cheese boards: tangy, vinegary bites are the perfect complement to the rich components of a meat and cheese board, and these pickles fit the bill. They’re beautiful on the board, and attractively unusual – they’ll be surprise hit of the party!
- Salads: Think of them as olive substitutes — wherever olives go, so do green tomato pickles. They’re amazing in cold pasta salads, such as an Italian Pasta Salad and Mediterranean Salad.
- Sandwiches: from burgers to cold subs, replace cucumber pickles with tomato pickles, and enjoy the unique twist of summer on your favorite sandwiches.
- Snacking right out of the jar: I have to come clean and admit that I always make a jar that’s just for me to nibble from. In the batch made for this post, it’s the tall jar in the photos with the top two inches of green tomato pickles missing, lol.
Your first batch of green tomato pickles will be ready for tasting in just 5 days, although you can sneak a test at any time. I love the slicers for late summer veggie burgers on the grill, but I really love the pickled cherry tomatoes sliced into quarters: they’re delightful bites on a cheese board any time of year (holiday parties, anyone?).
And since I love vinegary things, green tomato pickles are the perfect afternoon snack, along with some almonds and a few cheese cubes.
More homemade refrigerator pickles:
Green Tomato Pickles
- Green tomatoes
- 1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon mustard seed
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
- black peppercorns
for the brine
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 2 pint canning jars or approximate equivalent
- For extra safety, briefly boil the canning jars and their lids and rings, and set upside down on a clean towel to dry.
- Prepare the tomatoes and seasonings
- Remove any green stems from the tomatoes, then clean and dry them thoroughly.
- For cherry tomatoes, slice them into halves or quarters. For "hamburger pickle slices" using small standard tomatoes, slice off the stem end, them slice them into 1/8" thick slices horizontally (i.e., between the stem and blossom ends). For medium standard tomatoes, slice off the stem end, then slice the tomato in half vertically. Slice each half horizontally in 1/8" thick slices. (Alternatively, you can slice standard tomatoes into small wedges.)
- Divide the fennel slices and garlic among the jars more or less evenly.
- Optional: crush the mustard, dill, and fennel seeds lightly in a mortar and pestle.
- Divide the herbs and spices among jars, pouring them over the fennel and garlic. Add 6 to 8 black peppercorns to each jar.
- Pack the sliced tomatoes in to the jar, leaving about 3/4" head room.
Prepare the brine
- In a 2 quart pot, bring the brine ingredients to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
- Carefully pour the brine over the tomatoes, leaving 1/2" space at the top.
- Wipe the rims and affix the lids, tightening to fingertip tightness. For the first minute or so, check the lids, and tighten again if they're loose.
- Let the jars rest on the counter until cool. It's very likely that the lids will self-seal with a loud *pop*.
- Label jars with the date and place in the refrigerator.
- Tomato pickles will likely last as long in the fridge as regular pickles, thanks to the vinegar/salt/sugar solution. Keep an eye out for any sign of mold or off smells and discard the batch if you find any.
- Even if the jars self-seal, the technique described here is *not* sufficient for unrefrigerated storage. This recipe has not been tested for its suitably and safety in water-bath canning, and should not be used as such.
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