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Bounty Part 1: Green tomatoes

It’s cold. This is not an unexpected development, as it’s now the end of April and we are therefore two-thirds through autumn, but it’s worth mentioning for context. It’s cold and the days are shorter; tomato time is over. The fat fists on the plants, which are still optimistically flowering, are not ripening, but swelling up and staying green. Far be it from me to judge them: if you want to be a big green tomato, manifest destiny! But every time I go near those plants, I’m throwing a bit of a disapproving rabbit look in your direction. A combination of chill and impatience has lead me both to attribute autonomy and ambition to the tomatoes and to disapprove of it.

I brought as many as I could carry in to ripen on the windowsill, and many did: but now the days are shorter, it’s just not happening. Not really interesting in crumbing and frying them, which is the first thing everyone suggests, I did some googling and confirmed my suspicions: you can totally make relish with green tomatoes. Side note: red tomato relish has a long and noble history in my family, and a batch of my Dadini’s Hot Stuff results in family-wide embarrassing (and totally worth it) grovelling. Side note two: whenever I google for recipes for things that you bottle and store (pickles, relish, chutney, lemon butter, jam, that kind of thing) I always get results from the ABC’s Tasmania pages. Must be something about the climate. Anyway, M picked out this one and away we went.

First you finely chop all your tomatoes and onions. Didn’t need to peel the tomatoes, interestingly. Or not, if you’re not interested in that sort of thing, in which case this probably isn’t the blog post for you.

Greenery overload

Chuck the tomatoes and onions in a bowl and coat with salt: the salt draws the water out of both the onions and tomatoes, which you then strain off before cooking. It makes a huge difference, because otherwise all that water dribbles out of the vegetables during cooking, diluting the spices, sugar and vinegar and has to be boiled off, which takes for-freaking-ever. We had many many many tomatoes to chop. It’s that time of year: every second person I see is trying to give away jars of jam, relish, chutney or pickles. We’re getting to the end of the growing season and everyone wants to make use of the abundance they have.

I love it because it speaks to some of my deepest values. Our culture — okay, I’m speaking about what I know, so I really mean middle-class, Australian culture — is incredibly wasteful. We see the benefits of recycling but we are really, really fucking lazy about it. I’m a bit of a crank about this: the amount of recyclable, compostable or even reuseable stuff that people put in their landfill garbage instead of in their recycling or compost makes me sick. The amount of new shit people buy because they claim to need a new phone, TV, shoes, car, whatever, without thinking about where the old one is going to end up makes me furious. (Deep breaths, bethini, this is a cooking post.) So it cheers me up enormously when, presented with abundance of fresh produce, people look for ways to make use of it, limiting how much they throw out. I’d like to think this is an attitude that can be fostered and extend to other things, but I’m just happy to see this small step first.

Salty salty soak soak

After leaving the mix in the fridge overnight, M spent an hour or so turning a big bowl of salty, inedible green tomatoes into lush, tangy relish. Relish recipes are pretty interchangeable: boil your fruit/vegetables in vinegar; add sugar and reboil; add spices and heat through; shove in jars. Sometimes you combine one or more steps, but it all comes down to boiling fruit/vegetables in sugar, vinegar and spices. When it’s good and thick — hell, when it’s turned into relish, you know what relish looks like — you put it in jars that you conscientiously sterilised. You certainly don’t pour it into a jar that you’ve just rinsed in steaming water, no sir, nobody around here would do that.

Makes the house smell good, too

There’s a genetic quirk in my family (on both sides, which could give rise to questions about genetic diversity but we shan’t discuss that now) that compels me to wash and store every single jar that comes my way. Which turns out to be exceptionally useful in these times of abundance. This beautiful, dark olive-green relish is tangy, thick, spreadable and juicy.

Extreme close up!

I will confidently assert that a small square of home-made rye bread, with a blob of this tangy green tomato relish, is the absolute tits. Add some crumbly, sharp cheddar and you will never want to do anything in your entire life except sit and snack, and then you’ll run out of bread and start spooning it straight from the jar, and then you’ll have to call in sick for work because you don’t want to waste the time driving in when you could be relish-eating. So make it in small batches, or you’ll take too many days off and probably lose your job. But make it anyway. That is all.

Next time, I think it would be worth throwing in a huge handful of finely chopped green chillies at the salt-soak stage, and maybe some finely-grated fresh ginger at the boiling-in-sugar-and-vinegar stage.

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