Earlier this year, my rooftop garden was absolutely ravaged by one of the worst hail storms in recent memory. I had chilis and tomatoes planted and for the most part, they were done. As the plants worked back, the chilis never got back to growing, but the tomatoes started flowering in late July and started to fruit in August – about a month after typical. With the late start, the tomato harvest was very limited and the plants were full of fruit with little to no chance of ripening with low September temperatures.
Instead of holding steady to family tradition of letting tomatoes rot on the vine, I combed through the vines and picked every last green tomato with my eyes set on my adopted Southern family. I had settled on making relish to be canned and asked around on how one would use the tomatoes when the choices were piccalilli or chow chow. The clear choice was piccalilli.
Piccalilli is a sweet/tart green tomato relish served in South Carolina’s Low Country, typically with rice, roasted meat, or vegetables. With the abundant, green tomatoes, a few other ingredients from market, and a surefire recipe from one of the classics in Southern cookbooks, Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking by John Martin Taylor, I got started on my first piccalilli.
Now, both the Taylor recipe as well as the recipe in Charleston Receipts featured ground vegetables, but I wanted to have a little more texture in the relish, so I used a rough chop. Next, I salted and left the vegetables to release water. Once there was a nice green, murky pool of tomato water under the strainer, I heated up the pickling liquid, added the vegetables, cooked it briefly and scooped into jars. From here, the jars were processed for storage until the piccalilli was ready for consumption.
The flavor was initially very sweet, but with a week to mellow out, the primary flavors were the mustard/celery seed spice along with the tartness of the green tomatoes. The photo at the top is the piccalilli topping the oven roasted whole cauliflower done by Ruhlman. A rich, delicious vegetable preparation that is perfectly balanced by the piccalilli. The piccalilli would be a great charcuterie garnish for the same reason and provides a great alternative use for end of season green tomatoes.
Adapted from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking by John Martin Taylor
- 25 ounces green tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 small onion
- 2 small hot chilis
- 2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds