(Canning Safety Update Added)
Have I got a treat for you today! These lovely green tomato preserves are the perfect way to use up any tomatoes you may still have on the vine. I’ll probably be cooking up another batch soon as I doubt any of the remaining fruit on my plants will ripen any further.
So the first time I had green tomato preserves was in, surprise, Charleston. It was in a sneaky way, too! If you have ever had the pimiento cheese fritters at Poogan’s Porch, you may have noticed a bit of a deep green condiment on the plate they are served on. Yup, green tomato jelly, folks! Poogan’s is a more savory version, as I recall the tart green tomato flavor I love in my friend green tomatoes. Being a newbie on the canning/preserving front, though, I didn’t want to venture out too far.If you have ever made preserves yourself, you know what I’m talking about. Who wants to waste all that effort only to lead to a preventable disaster? Depressing!
A month of research led to a lot of disappointment, unfortunately. Almost every recipe I came across was exactly the same…and none were savory. Pooh! Sweet it was. In typical Ruth fashion, though, I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing.
I started with the basics: the green tomatoes and sugar. Since I was looking for an elegant preserve (verses something more rustic and chunky), I threw out all the seeds and cut the flesh into a tiny dice. I also decided to use a little bit of pectin, which none of the recipes called for, in hopes to preserve some of the pretty green color (I really, really did not want the dark, fig newton like brown that I kept seeing during my research!). Then for spices! If I was going to do something sweet, I needed a bit more depth of flavor than sugar! Ginger, vanilla bean, and cinnamon sticks were popular choices. Since vanilla beans are about $7-$10 apiece, vanilla was definitely off the table for the time being. I decided to go exotic and chose finely grated ginger and cardamom. Both lovely, warm spices to give the preserves a very cozy fall feeling.
And look at how beautiful the preserves came out! I even made a fresh batch of my whole wheat buttermilk biscuits just to eat them. Now, will I make changes to the next batch? Probably. I think I’ll go with half the ginger (it’s the predominant flavor in the below recipe) and definitely less sugar! Even without those changes, trust me,this stuff is addictive! Don’t be surprised if you end up with some for Christmas lol!
Ginger and Cardamom Spiced Green Tomato Preserves
makes appx 24 ounces of preserves
- 4 lbs green tomatoes
- Sugar, half the weight of the final diced and seeded tomatoes (mine came to 2 cups)
- 2 inch piece of ginger
- 6 cardamom pods
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
- 1 teaspoon powdered pectin (optional)
- Cut tomatoes, removing seeds and white core. Dice or roughly chop remaining flesh and place in a ceramic or plastic bowl.
- Remove outer skin of the ginger and shred using a zester or finely chop. Add to tomatoes.
- Crush cardamom pods with the side of your knife to release the seeds. Discard pods and add seeds to the bowl.
- Zest lemon over the bowl. When finished, cut lemon in half and squeeze juice into the tomato mixture.
- Pour sugar into bowl with the tomatoes and spices and toss to combine all ingredients well. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow to macerate in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.
- On cooking day, pour tomatoes and all the released juices into a large, heavy pot (I used my enameled Dutch oven) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Skim if necessary.
- Reduce heat, but maintain a gentle, bubbly simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Check consistency. Continue cooking for 10 minutes at time until reduced and thickened into a syrupy consistency. I simmered mine for about 50 minutes. After half an hour, I added the pectin when the mixture did not show signs of jelling.
- Pour into jars sterilized according to manufacturer’s directions. Store in refrigerator or freezer if not canning. See following Safety Update regarding canning.
I do not recommend canning these preserves in a water bath as I have no proof that the pH level (acidity) of the final recipe is below 4.6. Why? One word: BOTULISM. The heat of a water bath, to include recommended time in a water bath, kill nearly all those nasty organisms that spoil food and make us sick….except for one… Botulinum bacteria spores. These spores cause botulism and are found on the surfaces of fresh food. Since they grow only in the absence of air, they are harmless on fresh foods. However, once you give those pesky spores a moist, low acid, anaerobic (oxygen-less) environment, they thrive and form that very deadly toxin.
Whether food should be processed in a pressure canner or boiling-water canner to control botulinum bacteria highly depends on the acidity of the food being preserving. A pressure canner is the only way to safely protect low acid foods, like vegetables and meats, from this nasty toxin producing spore.
Tomatoes, I have come to learn, border on the pH level where they could be safe for water bath canning, which is 4.6 or lower. Green tomatoes are even more acidic than ripe tomatoes. However…there are tomato varieties that have higher pH levels ( in other words NOT SAFE for water bath canning) and there are more than just tomatoes in a recipe like this. All these factors contribute to the overall acidity of the canned environment. Although I did not succumb to botulism toxin myself, is it really worth the risk? I’ll answer that for you, NO!!!!
To maintain these preserves, then, I highly recommend the pressure canner route or the freezer method.
Now, if you have already canned these preserves in a water bath, I found the following information. Although we can not kill the spores, the toxin that causes botulism is easily neutralized and “killed”. According to the Center for Disease Control, the botulinum toxin is destroyed by high temperatures. They recommend boiling home canned food for 10 minutes before eating it to ensure safety. The World Health Organization is more specific and adds that the food should maintain an internal temperature of 85 Celcius for a minimum of five minutes.
Remember: When in doubt, throw it out!