Snackcrafting: Maryland flag pickled cherry tomatoes

A lot of pickled tomato recipes call for green tomatoes, because pickling is a great way to preserve the last of your tomatoes that you know won't ripen before the plant is killed by frost. They're also tougher than their ripened sisters, so they stand up a little bit better to heat processing.

I decided to buck convention on this one. Not for any culinary higher purpose—I wanted to use cherry tomatoes in the colors of our bitchin' state flag. Because I thought it would look cool.

I almost immediately regretted the decision, worried I'd end up with jars of vinegary tomato mush. I put the jars up on a shelf and forgot about them. But a few days ago, I realized I had failed to plan adequate snacks for a get-together. This is pretty much the only reason I can pickles to start with. So I popped a jar, and guess what? Turns out these pickled ripe 'maters are pretty delicious.

They're definitely a little softer than a green one, but in a melt-in-your-mouth way rather than, "Eugh, how long has this been in the fridge?" They're great smushed on a cracker with chèvre or cheddar, as a garnish on a cold summer soup, or tossed on a salad (use the brine to make a vinaigrette). The flavors mesh really well with Old Bay pickled green beans if you want to make a perfect regional pickle platter. Just try not to snarf them all down immediately, and consider making a double batch—we all know the best time to pop a summery tomato in your mouth is in January.

You don't have to get multicolored tomatoes for this if you can't find them. They'd be just as good with any color of ripe tomato, I suppose. And the brown tomatoes, honestly, will fade a bit with processing and maybe look a little red anyway. But come on! Maryland flag!

As always, I recommend that folks new to canning read the general canning information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation to get an idea of how all this stuff works. It's generally OK to fool around with spices, but don't go substituting white vinegar (which has a standard 5 percent acidity) with fresh-squeezed kumquat juice or something like that. Be smart and cautious.

Maryland Flag Pickled Cherry Tomatoes
Adapted from Pickled Green Tomatoes by Food In Jars

Equipment:
4 pint canning jars, rings, and unused canning lids¿
Boiling-water canner with rack and lid
Jar-lifting tongs
Jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
Ladle
Ruler or headspace tool
Clean dishtowels

Ingredients:
4 pounds red, yellow, and brown cherry tomatoes (and white if you’re lucky enough to find them, but you’d probably have to grow those on your own)
2 cups white vinegar (5 percent acidity)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling salt*
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed (3/4 teaspoon per jar)
2 teaspoons celery seed (1/2 teaspoon per jar)
4 dried hot peppers
4 cloves garlic
4 bay leaves

*If you're too lazy to buy pickling salt, you can use fine kosher or sea salt if it doesn't have additives. And technically you can just use the Morton's, but it might make your brine cloudy—it's a cosmetic concern only.

Wash your jars, lids, and rings. Set aside the lids and rings, and put your jars in your canner. Fill with water until they are covered by 1 inch. Put a lid on the canner, and bring to a boil over high heat.

While your canner is coming to a boil, wash and dry your cherry tomatoes. Peel your garlic without smashing it (I recommend the metal bowls trick if you're making more than one batch).

If you're some fancy asshole with mise en place bowls from Williams-Sonoma, get those out. Otherwise just use your souvenir shot glasses from Ocean City. Fill each one with 3/4 teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of celery seeds, one clove of peeled garlic, one hot pepper, and one bay leaf, and set aside.

Combine vinegar, water, and pickling salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

By now, hopefully, your canner is boiling. Using a jar lifter, remove each jar, carefully pouring the water back out into the canner. Place on a folded kitchen towel on your counter—putting jars directly on the counter can cause them to shatter from the temperature differential.

Dump one bowl of spices into the bottom of each pint jar, then quickly pack with the cherry tomatoes. Be firm enough that there's not a bunch of leftover space, but gentle enough that you don't smush 'em.

Using a ladle and canning funnel, fill each jar with hot brine until you have 1/2 inch of headspace. A headspace tool is great for this. Use a nonmetallic utensil (wooden chopstick, or the aforementioned headspace tool) to poke around a bit and get rid of any air bubbles. Add more brine to bring it back up to 1/2 inch headspace as needed.

Use a damp cloth to wipe the rim of each jar, then center a lid on top. Twist the ring on until you just start to get resistance (that is what they mean when they say "fingertip tight").

Use the jar lifters to put all of your jars back in the canner, being careful to avoid tilting them all over the place.

Put the lid on the canner and then wait for the water to come back to a boil. Once it's back at a rolling boil, start your timer for 10 minutes.

Cut the heat and remove your jars from the canner with the jar lifter, again, being careful not to tilt. Place them back on the kitchen towel and don't touch them! For at least 12 hours. You'll hear the lids start to pop, which will feel really satisfying, but don't touch them. Just don't.

After they've fully cooled, test each jar to make sure it's sealed by pressing down on the button in the center. If it pops up and down, put that jar in the fridge and use it first. If it happened to a lot of jars, you may need to do a better job wiping the rim of your jar or reconsider what you think is "fingertip tight" on those rings.

Remove the rings from all sealed jars and gently rinse the outside in warm water to remove any residue. Let pickle for at least one week before eating. Store up to a year in the pantry but refrigerate after opening.

 

Variation: Fridge Pickles

If even four pints of tomatoes are too much of a commitment, you can also make these as fridge pickles. They'll also retain their structure and color a little bit better without being processed.

In a small pot, combine 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of pickling salt. Bring to a boil.

Wash and rinse your pint jar with hot water. Toss in a garlic clove, dried hot pepper, bay leaf, 3/4 teaspoon of yellow mustard seed, and 1/2 teaspoon celery seed, then tightly pack 1 pound of cherry tomatoes in the jar.

Put the jar on a folded dish towel, then pour hot brine into the jar until it covers the tomatoes.

Let cool, then top with a lid and ring—used lids are fine for fridge pickles. Once cool, refrigerate.

Let pickle for at least a week before eating. Store in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.

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