Best. Pickles. Ever. Period.

So right before it got too cold for the tomatoes to ripen I pulled all the green ones off the plant and made green tomato pickles. I had an idea in my head of how I wanted them to taste but I just couldn't seem to find a very good recipe anywhere on the net, so I just made it up as I went along.

First, I made my own pickling spice blend. I have an extensive spice rack and I wanted to do a flavorful, spicy mix, and in a large batch so I would have some left over for another batch of pickles. Maybe pickled eggs? I dunno... Anywho, here's my pickling spice recipe. It makes enough for 2-3 small batches (about 5-6 little jars) or one really big one.

Pickling Spice Blend

2 tbsp dried dill
1 1/2 tbsp dried whole coriander
1/2 tbsp dried whole fennel seed
1/2 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp dried whole cumin seed
1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp dried crushed red chilies

Put everything together in a mason jar and shake it up! You can double or triple this recipe if you want to have a lot on hand.

Now, on to the pickles themselves. I have never made pickles before and I was basically flying by the seat of my pants. I wasn't worried if they didn't turn out good because it was a small batch of otherwise not-very tasty unripe fruit, so what the heck? Turns out that pickles must be hard to mess up because these came out so freaking good!

Green Tomato Pickles

1 1/2 lbs green tomatoes, halved
1 12-oz bottle of white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup (1/4 medium bulb) fennel, thinly sliced
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves per jar
2 tbsp of pickling spice mixture
2 tbsp salt

1. I chose small wide-mouth jars for my pickles and sterilized them according to the instructions in a book I have on preserves. The basic idea is to put all pieces, including the lids and bands, into a large pot of boiling water and let it boil while you prepare your ingredients, or at least 10 minutes. I like to leave the ends of a pair of tongs in there to sterilize too.
2. In a large saucepan over high heat add the water, vinegar, salt, and pickling spices and bring to a boil.
3. Use the tongs to lift out the jars from the water bath and place them on a very clean plate and then pack the jar. (Just leave the stove on and allow the pot of water to keep boiling.) Put a layer of tomato halves at the bottom, then a layer of fennel, onion, and garlic, then another layer of tomatoes. Be sure to pack them as tightly as possible without damaging the fruit, leaving a little room at the top.
4. Remove the liquid mixture from the stove and carefully pour it over the tomatoes. Be sure to tap out air bubbles, then put the lids on the jar and tightly screw on the bands. Careful, they will be hot! Use a very clean tea towel to help protect your hands.
5. Using the tongs, carefully lift the jars back into the pot of boiling water and let them boil for at least 10 minutes. Take the jars out and let them cool completely on the counter until you hear all the lids popping. That means they're sealed, and when they are cold you can remove the bands and the lids should not come off easily.

These are great sliced on sandwiches or julienned on hot dogs instead of relish or sauerkraut. Or just eat them straight from the jar like I do!

Oh, one more thing: I made pasta sauce from the ripe tomatoes from the garden, and I used the old boiling water trick to peel them. But I saved the skins and dried them in a low oven as per Martha's instructions and then ground them up for seasoning. The result is amazing! Smoky, sweet tomato flakes reminiscent of sun-dried tomatoes that you can sprinkle on anything - deviled eggs, tuna sandwiches, pasta, etc. Try it!

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