This year was the first year we successfully grew tomatoes. In the high mountains I call home, frost usually makes its last appearance in June and its first appearance in early September, leaving me only a short window in which to successfully tend a garden. While we managed a few ripe Sungold tomatoes, when the frost threatened only green tomatoes hung on my carefully tended vines. I usually dredge my green tomatoes in cornmeal, and fry them in home-rendered lard, but this year we had baskets of green tomatoes, an overabundance of hot peppers and very little time. So I pulled out my favorite fermentation crock, and set to work making Green Tomato and Hot Pepper Pickles the old-fashioned way: with nothing more than salt and time to aid their pickling.
Fermenting Green Tomatoes and Hot Peppers
Fermentation is my favorite way to preserve the bounty of summer and autumn for use in the dark days of winter. As spring rolls to summer, and summer to autumn, the boxes of produce we receive from our local farm grow larger and larger. And, for a time, the farm delivers far more produce than my little family of three can eat in a single week. I hate to let it go to waste, so I preserve what I can. I dry fruit in our dehydrator. I make Super Green Veggie Powder and Spiced Peach Butter. And I make mountains of Apple Pear Sauce. But fermentation is my favorite way to preserve the harvest, and I work my way through mountains of cabbage for sauerkraut, gallons of cucumbers for sour pickles and, this year, pounds of hot peppers and green tomatoes for these pickles.
Like Sour Pickles and Pickled Peperoncini, I rely on a saltwater brine and a good old-fashioned fermentation crock to pickle green tomatoes and hot peppers. Unlike preparing vinegar pickles, fermentation requires no heat, no canning, just a simple brine and time. This combination creates the opportune environment for beneficial bacteria to take root, populate the crock and to eat away at the sugars in the vegetables. As they consume the carbohydrates found in these vegetables, they also produce vitamins, particularly B vitamins, as well as lactic acid which accounts for the sour flavor of naturally fermented foods. As a result, these fermented food not only retain the heat-sensitive vitamins and food enzymes found in raw foods, but also they see an increase in vitamins and they become an excellent source of probiotics – just like yogurt, kefir or other traditionally fermented foods.
Why Your Fermentation Jar or Crock Matters
Fermentation is an anaerobic process, though beneficial bacteria can grow in both oxygen-rich and oxygen-deprived atmospheres. Using a crock designed for fermentation helps to ensure that you create the optimal environment for the proliferation of beneficial bacteria, while also limiting chances of contamination by stray microbes like molds. These crocks as well as other jars that are designed to keep an airtight environment can help prevent the contamination of your ferment by stray microbes; however, if money’s tight, keep in mind that you can still successfully ferment your foods in mason jars or other open crocks that do not keep an airtight seal. You will need to watch them for signs of contamination which can include the build up of mold on top of the ferment, stray colors or slimy texture. The other trick is to always make sure that the vegetables you are fermenting remain completely submerged in brine – either a brine made of salt and water as used in this recipe for Fermented Green Tomatoes, or a brine made of salt and vegetable juices released by the vegetables themselves as in Sauerkraut.
- 2 quarts water
- ¼ cup unrefined sea salt (I buy this kind)
- 3 pounds green tomatoes
- 2 pounds hot peppers, such as jalapenos or serrano peppers
- 3 heads garlic
- Warm 2 quarts of water on the stove until it reaches about 100 F, whisk in the salt and allow it to dissolve in the warm water to create a brine Set the saltwater brine aside, and allow it to cool until it reaches room temperature.
- While the saltwater brine cools, take a sharp utility knife (this is my set) and quarter the green tomatoes. Place them into a 5 liter fermentation crock (this is the one I use). Next, add drop the hot peppers into the crock, trimming away the stems if they're hard or dried out. Peel the cloves from the heads of garlic, and drop them in the crock. Take a wooden spoon and gently stir the vegetables in the pot so that they're more uniformly dispersed in the crock. Pour the brine into the crock so that it covers the vegetables. If it doesn't, simply add more water until the vegetables are completely submerged. Weigh the pickles down with stoneware weights (these fit 5-liter crocks), place the lid on the crock and fill the well with water to create a seal.
- Allow the green tomatoes and hot peppers to ferment for 14 days, checking the well of the crock periodically to ensure it remains full of water and the seal remains intact. After 14 days, open the crock and taste the pickles. If you prefer a more pronounced sour flavor, continue to allow the vegetables to ferment, tasting them once a week until they achieve a level of sourness you prefer. Transfer the fermented green tomatoes to jars and store them in a cool, but not freezing, place such as a refrigerator, root cellar, exterior closet or garage. Fermented green tomato pickles will keep for at least 9 months and up to 1 year, that is if you don't eat them up sooner.
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