RECIPE: Green tomato piccalilli

RECIPE • BY BILL BROWN

Face it, those last-of-the-season green tomatoes are never going to ripen.

So, make some green tomato piccallily!

It’s a pickle relish that is unsurpassed as a condiment on cheese or meat sandwiches or hot-dogs. It adds a chutney-spice kick to tuna, chicken, ham or egg salad. And it makes the best deviled eggs you’ve ever tasted.

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This is a family recipe, handed down from my great-grandmother Effie Moncure (1856 – 1930). A family member entered it in the Shreveport, LA. St. Mark’s Church Cookbook c. 1910.

I can’t claim this is exactly the same recipe.

The first time I made it, I followed that church cookbook recipe to the letter. The results were . . . not quite the way my grandmother learned it from her mother Effie.

My mother rejected it after the first taste. “Oh, nobody told you about the error?” she said.

The church cookbook recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of white mustard seed. That was a mistake. It was supposed to be 3 1/2 tablespoons.

You’ll notice this recipe makes a very large batch of piccalilli, a year’s supply for great-grandmother Effie’s seven children, husband and extended family. My batch lasted much, much longer. I could not convince anyone that the excess of crunchy mustard seeds was a feature.

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“Anyway, your grandmother never followed the recipe,” my mother said, rubbing mustard seed in the wound.

So, she and her siblings helped reconstruct grandmother’s piccalilli the way we remembered it tasting.

My mother, using her librarian skills, researched similar old recipes. First, she discovered that our piccalilli resembles green tomato pickle recipes more than other piccalillis. Comparing it to those other recipes helped us fine tune ours. That was 20 years ago, and everyone agrees this is darn close.

This makes a LOT. If you make the whole thing, you’ll need big pots and bowls, and a lot of canning jars.

You’ll need:

1 peck (about 13 pounds) green tomatoes
6 large onions
4 green peppers
cheesecloth
cup of salt
2 qt. cider vinegar
2 pounds of brown sugar
3.5 tablespoons (NOT CUPS) of white mustard seeds (yellow can be substituted)
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 table spoon each: ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mustard, turmeric.
Canning jars and lids

The recipe:

• Slice very thin – 1/8th of an inch thick or less:
1 peck (about 13 pounds) of green tomatoes
6 large onions
4 green peppers

• Mix these in a bowl and sprinkle with a teacup-full of salt.

• Wrap in cheesecloth and suspend over sink or pot overnight. it’s a dramatic sight. You’ll feel like a living history reenactor.

• Rinse and drain a couple of times, then boil 20 minutes in 1 qt. cider vinegar mixed with 2 qt. water.

• Rinse and drain again.

• Add 1 qt. cider vinegar, 2 pounds of brown sugar, 3.5 tablespoons white mustard seed (or yellow), and 2 tablespoon celery seed.

• Also add 1 tablespoon each: ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and mustard.

• Mix all together, bring to a boil. When it starts boiling, add 1 tablespoon turmeric “that gives it a green color,” according to the old recipe.

• If not liquid enough, add cider vinegar before you bring to a boil. Liquid should come almost to the top of the ingredients.

• Simmer 15 minutes.

• Can by conventional method. Liquid should come almost to the top of ingredients in each jar.

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NOTE: When using it in tuna/chicken/egg salad, chop it up, and be sure to use some of the juice. For deviled eggs, chop finely and also add a little juice.

About the Author

Bill Brown
Bill Brown moved to Takoma Park in 1982. He has been involved in journalism in one way or another since he co-published an underground high-school newspaper in the late 1960s.