Traditional Recipe: Green Tomato Pickles

When I was writing about Johnathan Kaser , one of my father’s uncles, I saw a newspaper article about his wife Amanda winning prizes at the county fair. The one that caught my eye was “tomato pickles.” She also made the best butter, but I’m not going so far as to buy a butter churn, sorry. I have only made anything close to this once before, when I tried my Grandma Vera’s Red Pepper Jam.

Tomato pickles usually means green tomato pickles, so I’m going out on a limb and doing a recipe for green tomato pickles that may or may not win a blue ribbon at the Coshocton County Fair. (And you know I like green tomatoes– I even made them into pie.)

Green Tomato Relish

Green Tomato Relish ingredients. The Farmer’s Market green tomatoes were small, but the red peppers were large.

The trusty Sonnenberg 150th Anniversary Cookbook did not have a recipe for tomato pickles. (But I did spot one for an easy rhubarb jam, which will probably show up here later.–See how easily diverted I am by a cookbook?) The Buffalo Evening News Cook Book had a few recipes, but the directions were sparse. However, when I turned to the Internet  recipes abounded. Too many. It was quite confusing.

There are two main variations in the recipes. One in the technique used–some use short cuts; and the other in the type of spices–some on the spicy side (dill, garlic, mustard seed) and some on the sweet (cinnamon, cloves, allspice.)  The older recipes call for soaking the vegetables in lime (sometimes called slaked lime or household lime).  Since that is not a technique that I’m familiar with, I went with the more modern version–using salt and a  vinegar and sugar syrup.

Salted Green Tomatoes for Relish

Green Tomatoes and Red Peppers, salted.

Note: most versions of green tomato relish use onion, sliced or diced. Since I cannot eat onions, I left them out. You can decide how important they are to your pickled green tomatoes.

Finally, after reading a dozen or more recipes, I combined two.  I liked the longer salting period in one and I wasn’t crazy about the cinnamon, cloves, allspice combo.  I wanted to use my own spices rather than result to canned pickling spices.  And I decided not to use dill, because although I love dill pickles, others in the household do not.

I also do not have a canner, so followed a refrigerator method. My pickles should last about two months.  The worst thing about making these (aside from the vinegar smell pervading the house) is that you can’t really get an idea what they taste like for a least a week. Torture! [UPDATE: They are great. As I mention in the note that comes with the recipe, I’d like to try them with a little less sugar and a bit more spice–maybe some red pepper flakes–but meanwhile I’m slathering them on eggs, in chicken salad, on meat of all kinds, and even plain on bread and butter.]

Green Tomato Pickles


  • 6 cups green tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons Kosher salt (or 3 Tblsp regular)
  • 1 Red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons celery seed
  • 3 teaspoons peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic or 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed


1. Wash tomatoes and cut out stem and any bad spots. Cut small tomatoes in halves or quarters. Make thick slices of large tomatoes. Wash, stem and remove seeds from red pepper and dice. Put non-reactive strainer in sink and layer tomatoes and peppers, salting each layer (I used 3 layers and divided the salt in thirds.) Let this sit for 6 hours or overnight.
2. Wash in hot soapy water the jars needed, and set aside. (I used one quart jar and one half-pint jar).
3. Take a square of cheesecloth and place the spices in it and tie the crosswise corners making a pouch (or a tea strainer would do). Set aside.
4. When ready to finish the tomato pickle, put a non reactive pan (I used Corning ware) on the stove and put the vinegar and sugar in it, stirring to dissolve sugar. Drop in the spice bag. Bring to boil over high heat and cook until reduced by about 1/3--to a thin syrup.
5. Lightly rinse the tomatoes and peppers in the strainer and shake off excess water. Add to the syrup and cook until the syrup is thick. Total cooking time for the syrup will be about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Allow to cool, and spoon into jars. Poke down with spoon to pack tightly. Pour syrup over, using a table knife or chopstick to get air bubbles released. Tighten lids and refrigerate. If processing, leave 1/4" head space.
7. Do not open for about a week. Tomatoes will keep in refrigerator for two months.


You do not need to peel the tomatoes for green tomato pickles. Some recipes call for dicing them. That depends on how you think you will use them.

The original instructions I took this from called for cooking the tomatoes in the syrup for the full 1 1/2 hours. I preferred to keep them a bit crispier, so didn't add them until later in the process.

If you use onions, they are layered with the tomatoes and peppers.

Another method is to divide the spices between the jars when you add the tomatoes.

If you want to process the tomato pickle relish for longer storage, instead of refrigerating, put in hot water canner and follow the instructions given by the manufacturer.

UPDATE: Now that I have waited a week and tasted them, I'm ready to enter these in the County Fair. They are a little sweet for my taste, but my husband likes them as they are. I'd add more spice, and cut back a bit on the sugar. But still--they are delicious on eggs, or meat, or just on bread and butter.

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