It’s the tail of August and though we can look forward to a few more weeks of lusciously ripe tomatoes, the end is in sight. Squadrons of Canadian geese are flying overhead in V-shaped formations, honking loudly as they touch down in the pasture behind us. It’s a rest stop on their flight path to the Outer Banks and points south. The air is soupy, but the sun feels gentler on the skin.
Soon the tomato vines will begin to wither, leaving behind clusters of hard green fruit that will never blush even the faintest pink. This miserable state of affairs is enough to drive a tomato lover to despair. But Rick Field of Rick’s Picks, a Brooklyn-based pickle maker, has a solution.
I met Rick at the New York Fancy Food Show last month. He was wooing gourmet food buyers with jazzy jars of Windy City Wasabeans, green beans in a wasabi-spiked brine, and Bee n’ Buzz, a nouvelle bread and butter pickle with coconut, dried cherries and ginger. A former PBS producer for Bill Moyers and a Yale-Andover grad, Rick has re-invented himself as an upscale pickle maestro whose artisanal spears can be found at New York’s Union Square Greenmarket and on the shelves of fancy food shops across the country.
The urge to pickle started at the family home in Vermont, where Rick’s parents “spend most of their time from snow melt to the frost tending flower beds and looking after the garden.” His mother, Holly Field, traditionally put up dill pickles —and it was her simple recipe—Kirby cucumbers, dill heads, black peppercorns and garlic—that launched Rick on his new path.
His father, Dan Field, professor emeritus of Russian History at Syracuse University, created his own pickles at summer’s end when the cherry tomato vines were laden with fruit that would never ripen. “My Dad’s pickle evolved out of a desire to capture the late-bloomers whose very existence is threatened by early frost,” says Rick. “Pull them off the vine and pop them in the jar while they still have a brick hard exterior.”
Dan Field’s recipe calls for 6 pints of cherry tomatoes. My own garden is not quite so bountiful, so I called Elise at Elysian Field Farm, our favorite local CSA. Every Wednesday, Elise trucks in boxes of the most delectable organically grown vegetables: heirloom tomatoes, pale purple Asian eggplant, tiny red new potatoes (some the size of my thumbnail), freshly cured garlic, red, yellow and green peppers, slender leeks, a handful of fresh basil…and that’s just last week’s allotment. Luckily Elise had unripe cherry tomatoes—heirloom Black Cherries and Juliets–to spare and brought me a few pints.
The recipe is simple: Pack six pint jars with green cherry tomatoes (no tinge of pink or yellow allowed) into which you have already put bay leaves, dill heads, pickling spice, garlic and onion. Pour over them a boiling mixture of water, cider vinegar and kosher salt. Seal and let them sit for a couple of weeks. (The tomatoes are so acidic that you can skip the final boiling water bath.)
As we move toward the warm days of Indian Summer, we’ll be having our cocktails in the garden—martinis, extra dry, with a pickled cherry tomato or two instead of an olive. That’s one way to end summer: With a flourish and a grateful nod to the garden which has given us so much pleasure.
Dan Field’s Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes
(adapted from Rick Field of Ricks Picks)
Eat these cherry tomato pickles as soon as they are ready—2 weeks. Ours were slightly sweet, gently sour, very crunchy and tasted of fresh tomato. They are delicious in a martini—the alcohol brings out the salty side of the pickle—but they are also very good with grilled pork tenderloin.
Makes 6 pints.
For each pint jar:
2 cups (approximately) hard green cherry tomatoes, washed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon pickling spice (see note)
2 cloves garlic
1 dill head (or 3 sprigs fresh dill and 1 teaspoon dill seed)
1 slice onion
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
For the brine:
4 cups water
2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup Kosher salt
1. Sterilize jars and lids in a large pot of boiling water to cover for10 minutes. Using tongs, lift the jars and lids out of the hot water and place them on clean dishtowels on the kitchen counter.
2. Into each jar, as indicated above, place bay leaves, pickling spice, garlic, dill, onion and celery seed. Firmly pack tomatoes in each jar, to just below the fill line (the extruded line on the jar approximately 1/4-inch below the top of the glass). This can be tricky since the cherry tomatoes are so small. Don’t skimp on the tomatoes and try to wedge them tightly in the jar to prevent shifting.
3. Bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil. Pour the brine, still boiling, into the jars. The liquid should cover the solids–but only just cover them.
4. Wait 1-2 minutes to allow the brine to settle. If necessary, add a little more liquid to cover the tomatoes. Put on the tops and store for two weeks in the refrigerator or a cool, dark cupboard.
Note: The pickling spice I used came from Whole Foods and included mustard seed, cinnamon chips, allspice, dill seed, celery seed, bay leaf, mild chiles, cloves, caraway seed and ginger.