We’re having stellar days in the 70s but frosty nights in the 30s. It’s the end of the garden as we knew it. Onions, arugula, sage, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme—they’re fine, for now. But the tomato and pepper plants have shriveled and browned. I made a quick dash to pick every last tomato I could before a particularly chilly bout of weather blew in. What you see above is the tomato patch that covered the entire kitchen table for more than a week.
Many have since ripened into juicy, red Romas suitable for sauce and fresh salads. But I spent much of last weekend in the kitchen dicing, slicing, blending, simmering all those green tomatoes into pounds and pounds of green-tomato bacon sauce and green-tomato salsa (cooked and raw). Success all around. But the absolute best recipe, I think, comes courtesy of my mother-in-law. It first appeared in the 1974 Ball Blue Book, “the bible for canning and freezing for many decades,” as Ma Redfern says. “Mine is falling apart, held together by a rubber band, and still has its price sticker for 97 cents. If it were whole, it would be worth $3.50 on eBay.” (If you get your hands on this 1974 edition, check inside the back cover for amusing instructions on “How to Preserve a Husband.”)
I’m posting the original Blue Book recipe below. But first, I’ll tell you of the adaptations I made, based on the ingredients at hand (and preference, too). The original recipe is titled Green Tomato Mincemeat, though neither Ma Redfern nor I have used the necessary suet to make it mincemeat. Instead, we’ve created more of a spicy, fruity relish. The day I began cooking, our local apple farm was closed (!), so I had far more green tomatoes and far fewer apples than the recipe calls for. I used tangerine rather than orange; that worked just fine. I added a splash of red wine, which was heading toward sour. I cut the sugar in half but added more raisins. However, I didn’t can the relish (ate some, gave some away, froze the rest—with thoughts of hauling it out at Thanksgiving). You might want to maintain the sugar content if canning the recipe. I also made two double batches (yes, we had that many green tomatoes), one with minced Hatch green chile for a spicy twist. It’s delicious. Both batches are. And they simply smell of the holidays. Here goes:
Green Tomato Mincemeat
Adapted from the 1974 Ball Blue Book
2 quarts cored and chopped green tomatoes (about 20 small)*
1 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 quarts pared and chopped apples (about 12 medium)
1 pound seeded raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped suet (about 6 ounces)
3 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves (I used whole, pounded with mortar and pestle)
1/2 teaspoon ginger (the recipe means dried, but freshly grated is much better)
Sprinkle salt over tomatoes. Let stand 1 hour, then drain. Cover tomatoes with boiling water and let stand 5 minutes. Drain well. Grate rind and chop pulp of orange. Mix all ingredients together and cook until mixture is boiling hot. Pour boiling hot mixture into hot canning jars, leaving 1 inch head space. Adjust caps. Process pints and quarts 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. (Note: if you don’t put suet into this mixture, it should be sufficient to process the jars for 25 minutes in a boiling water kettle instead of a pressure cooker.) Yield: about 10 pints.
*Ma Redfern tries to remove as much as possible of the tomato seed gelatin. I was lazy. I’d already spent an afternoon in the kitchen and I wanted to get out before midnight. I used the whole tomato.