While searching (unsuccessfully) through my notebooks (for about two weeks) for a particular cherry tomato recipe that was requested by a friend of my penpal Bev, who lives in Oregon—it belatedly crossed my mind that I might have written something on my blog about the weeks spent making green cherry tomato pickles—and there it was.
I know people who can fruits and vegetables on a mammoth scale so my attempts may sound puny by comparison. Then the other day I found this introduction to Chapter 11 in the Arizona Highway Heritage Cookbook. It was titled PUTTING IT UP AND PUTTING IT DOWN:
“From the beginning, women sought to preserve food at its peak for a later date. They either put it up—in baskets, pots and jars—or put it down—in the ground, in the cellar, or layered with care, mostly in crocks.
Pickling goes back to folk medicine. Cleopatra persuaded Caesar that pickles were a health food. Captain Cook took sauerkraut to sea to prevent scurvy…”
Writes the author, Louise DeWald, “Coming from Pennsylvania seven-sweet and seven-sour territory, I grew up with canning and pickling and jamming. Some of our family recipes went back before Civil War days. What a delight to discover some of those in the old handwritten receipt books of many families who came West.
Prickly Pear Preserves and Pyracantha* Berry Jelly were not among those. Arizona’s sweets and sours are distinctively its own, adding a tiny hot yellow pepper here and a cactus pad there.
Preservation and cooling prior to the ice box was ingenious. Dorothy Hubbell, daughter in law of Indian Trader Lorenzo Hubbell, described “the non-powered cooler made for storage of milk, butter, and other supplies. It was a cabinet of three large rimmed tin shelves covered with strips of heavy material which were wet down, then kept damp. Meat was in a cool dry place, usually well salted…”
ARIZONA HIGHWAYS HERITAGE COOKBOOK, with text written by Louise DeWald, color photography by Richard Embry and Photographic Food Stylist Pam Rhodes is a beautiful hard-cover cookbook with hidden spiral binding, published in 1988 by the Arizona Department of Transportation. The text and inviting photographs reached out to me; I haven’t yet attempted Prickly Pear Jelly, but I have made Watermelon Pickles and Pickled First Crop Figs. When Bob and I lived in Arleta, we had 3 fig trees; you couldn’t keep up with the crop of figs although birds did their part to eat the figs on the top branches.
What I love most about ARIZONA HIGHWAYS HERITAGE COOKBOOK is the wealth of historic recipes accompanied by the history of Arizona. (Ever since I bought three books of fiction by Nancy E. Turner, with history of Arizona woven into the storyline, I have wanted to know more about Arizona.
And to be honest, I had to look up Pyracantha which is a thorny evergreen shrub. Pyracantha, or firethorn as it is also known, is a pretty shrub with attractive flowers and magnificent red, yellow or orange berries in autumn. More Google research revealed that:
“Pyracantha berries are not poisonous as many people think although they taste very bitter. They are edible when cooked and can be made into jelly. Pyracantha jelly is quite tasty, and is similar to apple jelly in both appearance and flavor with a little tang. As Pyracantha are quite common and do produce masses of berries it is quite easy to gather enough berries to make yourself a few jars of jelly, be sure to wear gloves to protect hands from thorns.
We recommend using red Pyracantha berries, off varieties such as ‘Red Column‘, pick berries when they are bright red (in late autumn) if the birds haven’t got there before you.
Pyracantha Jelly/Jam Recipe
There are a few recipes for making Pyracantha jelly but we have tried a few, and this one seems to be the best and works well.
What you need:
3½ lb Pyracantha berries
2½ pts water
4 fl oz lemon juice (Pro Rata)
3½ lb sugar (Pro rata)
Pyracantha ‘Red Edge’
First pick your berries and measure out 3½ lb of Pyracantha berries and then wash them in water. Get a large pan and fill with water and bring to the boil. Now add the Pyracantha berries and bring to the boil and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes.
Now remove the pulp and strain (cooked berries) through a muslin cloth.
Next, remove the berry juice and measure how much you have. Add the juice back into the pan and for every 1½ pints of juice you have, add 4oz of lemon juice and 3½ lb sugar. Now bring back to the boil again and when boiling add one full bottle of liquid pectin and keep stirring, keep boiling for around one minute and keep stirring. A thin layer of foam will start to form on top of the contents in the pan.
Any excess berry juice can be frozen and used to make jelly later if preferred.”
I was so excited learning about pyracantha berries and want to ask my son Kelly to go with me to the nursery nearby to see if the pyracantha shrub grows here in the Antelope Valley, considering that our climate is similar to the desert regions of Arizona. I remember learning about fruits and berries unfamiliar to me when we lived in Florida. My next-door-neighbor’s best friend had a Mango tree and brought me huge amounts of mangoes. If not quite ripe, they could be put on a low window sill in our Florida room. I learned a lot about Mangoes but I think mango jam and mango chutney were two of my favorite recipes. Sorry, I digressed!!
Canning fruits and vegetables has been a hobby of mine for well over 20 years. We had a lot of fruit trees and a Concord grape arbor in Arleta; my family is helping me plant fruit trees here in Quartz Hill—we’ve planted apple, apricot, cherry, pomegranate, and pear trees so far and they have begun to produce fruit My son and daughter in law have promised me a pecan tree for the back yard. I’d like to try planting Concord grape vines too; the grape vines I have right now are all sweet grapes. A friend has been bringing Asian pears to me to make jam or relish and another girlfriend I met at bowling has been giving me figs from her back yard—I’d like to plant a fig tree or two here as well.
All of which, I hope, will provide more jams and jellies, chutneys and juices to put up or put down. No, we don’t have cellars here in the high desert—but I HAVE made batches of sauerkraut when heads of cabbage is inexpensive in March and as long as it stays cool in the garage, the kraut will ferment for 6 weeks so that I can put it up in quart jars. My son has had bumper crops of different kinds of squash—we couldn’t give enough of it away last year but I noticed that, as long as the weather remains fairly cool, the squash will keep in the garage or a pantry.
And if you are interested in putting up (canning) green cherry tomatoes, here is that recipe:
What You Need:
(For 12 quarts of green cherry tomato pickles)
14 pounds of green cherry tomatoes
12 cups of white vinegar
12 cups of water
12 tbsp. of kosher salt
whole black peppercorns
red pepper flakes or whole small chili peppers—dried or fresh
Jars — either quart-sized jars or 6 pint-sized jars, as well as lids and rings, a hot water canner (if you’re planning on storing your pickles long term)
Prepping Your Tomatoes
(Note: If you’re planning to process your pickles in a hot water canner, you should fill the canner with water, add your jars, and turn the water on to sterilize and warm your jars. Just leave the jars in the water until you’re ready to use them. Place the lids and rings in another pan with simmering – not boiling- water until you’re ready to use them.)
Gather and wash 14 pounds of green tomatoes. I used green cherry tomatoes because they seemed to stay firmer after processing, but any green tomato will work. You can cut your tomatoes in half if they’re larger or cut them into quarters. (I left mine whole and used different sizes – large and small. The very small ones filled empty spaces in the jars.)
Now, make your brine. Add the vinegar, water, and salt to a pan, and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, it’s time to start filling your sterilized jars.
Remove the jars from the boiling water canner with your jar tongs. Set them on a towel on your counter (so they don’t crack when they come into contact with the cool surface) and add the following to each jar:
• 1 tsp. dill seeds
• 1 tsp. black peppercorns
• 1/4 tsp (or more if you want them spicier) of red pepper flakes–or small whole red chili peppers (fresh or dried)
Once your spices are in, start packing your tomatoes into the jars. Really pack them in. Once they’re packed, add brine to fill the spaces between tomatoes. Use a chopstick or knife to go around the inside of the jar and remove any air bubbles, then fill with more brine if you need to. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace, then wipe the rims of your jars to clean up any brine, add your lids and tighten your rings.
Put your jars in your hot water canner, and cover with a lid. Once the water comes up to a boil, start your timer — you’ll be processing your pickles for fifteen minutes.
Once time is up, remove your jars and place them on a towel on a kitchen counter. They’ll have to sit there for several hours to cool. When they are cool, you can label the pickles and put them in a dark place to “age” – 6 weeks should be about right. This is the length of time I age my hot Hawaiian pineapple pickles.
Making Refrigerator Pickled Green Tomatoes–You can also forget about the boiling water processing if you just want to make a few jars of pickles to be eaten within the next month or so. Prep your tomatoes, add your spices, tomatoes, and boiling brine to the jars, and place in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready to eat in about a week.
What to Do with Pickled Green cherry tomatoes? You can snack on them or slice or dice the pickles to go on top of hamburgers or hot dogs. They can be diced and added to tuna or chicken salad for sandwiches—or cut up to go into salads. The sky’s the limit.
ARIZONA HIGHWAYS HERITAGE COOKBOOK is available on Amazon.com new, at $4.99 and pre-owned starting at one cent. Remember that postage and handling on pre-owned books is $3.99 at Amazon.com. My copy was pre-owned and is in very good condition.
—Sandra Lee Smith