Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mrs. Schmidt's Pickled Green Tomatoes

Mom's pickled green tomatoes

For several years during my childhood, Mrs. Schmidt helped feed our family. She was a grandmotherly, widowed German lady who lived one suburb north of us in an old bungalow in an old section of town where her chicken-raising had been grandfathered into a rezoning several years before we met her.

She and my mom were friends. Mom made 1940's-style house dresses for her with her vintage patterns, and often bartered her sewing skills with Mrs. Schmidt for all sorts of goodies. My favorites were fresh, organic chicken and eggs, and Mrs. Schmidt's Pickled Dill Green Tomatoes.

Mrs. Schmidt raised slaughtered, and dressed her own chickens. There was no comparing her chickens and eggs with the inferior stuff that came from the grocery store. I feel lucky that as a child, thanks to my family's farming heritage, our home garden, the milkman who delivered our non-homogenized milk, and Mrs. Schmidt, I learned what real food is supposed to taste like.

Mrs. Schmidt was a thrifty woman, and nothing went to waste - not even the green tomatoes left on the vines in her bountiful, beautiful garden just before the first frost. She'd pick those tomatoes before they got hit by frost, and make jars and jars of pickled tomatoes. Every year she'd share several jars with my mom. I was glad not all my siblings enjoyed them, since that left more for me. Mrs. Schmidt's pickled tomatoes come in right up there with my grandma's chocolate milk and homemade apple butter as my favorite food memories besides the ones made at home by Mom.

I was always excited when Mom would ask me if I wanted to come along to visit Mrs. Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt loved children. She was always interested, sweet, patient, and kind. She made me feel welcome and special at her house. She always had a homemade sweet treat for us when we sat down for tea in her old-fashioned kitchen or in the cool shade of her beautiful garden on sunny summer afternoons.

Since my maternal grandparents lived out-of-state, we only got to visit them occasionally. I missed them alot, and always wished we lived closer to them. I envied my friends whose grandmothers lived down the street or close enough to visit more often. Mrs. Schmidt became a sort-of foster-grandmother that helped fill the gap. She's gone now, but my memories of her will last the rest of my life. If I close my eyes I can still see her plaited silver hair, her kind face, and those sparkling, mischevious, high-spirited eyes.

I never had Mrs. Schmidt's recipe for pickled green tomatoes, though I wish I did. On a mission a couple of years ago, I searched the web and found this one that has all the ingredients I remember in her awesome pickles.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
3-1/2 pounds firm green tomatoes, quartered
1 clove garlic per jar of pickles
1 hot or sweet red pepper - your preference
2 stalks celery thickly sliced
1 quartered, sliced white or large sweet yellow onion
3-5 sprigs fresh dill per jar of pickles
2 quarts water
1 quart vinegar
1/2 cup granulated pickling salt
3 tsp pickling spices

Wash about 3-1/2 pounds small, firm, green tomatoes (or larger ones, quartered). Drain and pack into quart jars. To each quart, add garlic, red pepper, onion, celery and dill.

Combine water, vinegar, spices, and pickling salt. This will be the brine.
Bring to a boil, boil five minutes; then immediately fill jars within 1/2 inch of the top. Seal lids. Note: You may want to process in hot water bath for 5 minutes, but not necessary. Makes about 4 quarts. Store for at least two weeks before opening to allow flavors to blend.


  1. I have this recipe saved and plan to try it this fall. I think I'll have a bunch of green tomatoes left over too. Such a nice story about thriftiness. Germans are known for this and I think we Americans could probably learn a thing from this way of life. Can't wait to try them! Why didn't all of your siblings like the pickled green tomatoes?

  2. I have never had this delightful sounding tomato; just Fried Green Tomatoes.

    Weren't you fortunate to have Mrs Schmidt be a surrogate grandparent. That makes this memory even more treasured. I love the image you have created of her silver plaited hair and sparkling high spirited eyes.

    You continue to be my favorite story teller!


  3. Anonymous10:03 AM

    I'm quite sure I was born a generation too late, as reading about this sort of neighborly barter (which hardly exists today) appeals to me so much. The recipe looks wonderful and thanks so much for sharing! I love dilled anything.

  4. Anonymous12:43 PM

    What an interesting recipe. Never had pickled green tomatoes in my life, let alone heard of them. Thanks for sharing a way of life that just doesn't exist nowadays.

  5. What a cool story, GardenGirl - and with a recipe included!
    I think Philo would like those pickles if we ever end the season with enough green tomatoes.
    What I remember about the cooking done by my mom's friends went in the opposite direction. No farm wives, they! After those city girls watched their mothers scrimp and make do in the kitchen during the Great Depression and World War II, they gladly embraced cake mixes, Kraft dinner and cocktail weenies on toothpicks with bottled BBQ sauce.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  6. That definitely sounds like an interesting recipe to try! I've never had pickled tomatoes. Just like Gail, I think I've only had the fried green tomatoes!

  7. Alas, there won't be any tomatoes left on my vines for this recipe. Sounds like a great idea for using up all those green tomatoes just before the frost hits.
    We used to have chickens when I was a young girl, but I especially remember my aunt raising lots of them and having to help "dress" them. You're right about the taste--today's chicken in the store seems tough and tasteless by comparison.

  8. Hi Tina, with the way our economy is going I think we'd all be smart to adopt a more thrifty lifestyle!

    Sometimes the pickles were hot, since she often used hot peppers. My siblings weren't keen on hot stuff, but I've always enjoyed hot and spicy foods. I think they also thought the idea of pickled tomatoes was wierd, and they weren't really very interested in trying them. They don't like olives either. I love them.

    Hi Gail, they're so good!

    My oldest daughter K always enjoyed cooking and baking, from when she was a tot. Not long after watching the movie, she wanted to make fried green tomatoes, but decided to come up with a healthier version. She sliced, then sauteed them in a little olive oil, and topped them with garlic and freshly-grated parmesan cheese. I thought her recipe was simple, creative, and delicious, and I've made them like that many times since then.

    Mrs. Schmidt was a sweetheart. She was a little girl at heart - high-spirited, curious, and full of fun and mischief. I'm so glad she was part of my life.

    Aw, thank you! I'm glad you enjoy the stories. It's fun to remember them, and I like having them written down somewhere.

    I know exactly what you mean Nancy! I often feel I was born (at least) a generation too late! So many things about simpler, more neighborly, more self-sufficient lifestyles appeal to me.

    I'm happy to share this recipe - this seemed like a good time of year for it!

    Hi Racquel, I'd never heard of them until Mrs. Schmidt's either. A couple of years ago, our little local family-owned grocery store had some, but they weren't nearly as good. That's the one and only time I've ever seen pickled green tomatoes in a store.

    Hey Annie, glad you enjoyed the story. I should ask my Mom if she has any pictures of Mrs. Schmidt. I suspect she may not - we didn't take as many pictures back in those days.

    We were definitely the oddballs of the neighborhood. I was envious of the frozen pizza and hamburger helper I had for dinner at my friends' houses, and mostly I was jealous of their school lunch snacks - they had ding dongs and ho ho's, while we had homemade treats and sometimes even got teased - homemade bread, OMG, how embarrassing! Funny thing is, I did like our fresh and homemade stuff better. It just wasn't cool, though. Of course now I'm very glad for the way we grew up!

    Hi Dave, you haven't really lived until you've tried pickled tomatoes! ;~)

    Hey Rose, it's a good recipe to try if you ever do end up with some green tomatoes at the end of the season. They're really easy to make. I really like them with hot peppers. All the other veggies in the jar are really good too.

  9. OH Yum and thanks for sharing the recipe and story. Those passed down recipes are the best.

  10. Linda: what a great story. My grandma grew her own veggies and canned so many things. Sad to say, I didn't learn any of it from her. Now it is too late to learn. She made the best pickles but never pickled green tomatoes... that I can remember.

    That whole bartering thing really appeals to me, too. Seems so logical doesn't it?

  11. Hello Garden Girl;

    Glad you enjoyed the fall foliage pictures I sent from Vermont. Two days of rain have dampened the colors but it's still been a great year for us.

    Want you to know that I enjoyed your description of Mrs. Schmidt. I learned to cook beginning at age five from two farm ladies down the road. One was named Fidelia and her sister was Lilian. They were great cooks and bakers. Saturday mornings would include loaves of bread, pies or cakes, rolls, and then donuts and/or filled cookies for the large farm family.

    There's something special about good recipes and the memories of those who share them.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener
    Vermont Gardens
    Vermont Flower Farm

  12. I love fried green tomatoes but never had pickled maters before. Hum, I was in Germany for 6 years yet I dont recall them...

  13. Sounds like a good 'tuck away' recipe ... thanks for sharing ;)

  14. A lovely tribute.

    I wish my tomatoes would stop flowering and start reddening.

    (They've got their priorities mixed.)

    (Perhaps I'll print your recipe, pick the tomatoes, give both to someone who likes pickles!)


  15. Have to try those! I have loads of green tomatoes, thank you Garden girl. LOL Tyra

  16. Hi Anna, glad you enjoyed it! My favorite recipes are the ones handed down from family and friends!

    Thanks Meems! With the economy the way it is, I think we're going to see more people returning to some of those old, but still good thrifty ways of our grandparents. My mom and her husband freeze, dry, and can their surplus produce. They grow enough to last them through the harvest the following year. It's a lot of work, but worth it. Not only do they save money, but their home grown organic produce is delicious and healthful with no weird chemicals in their produce or their preservation methods.

    Bartering is a great way to share resources - I suspect we're going to see more of it during these tough economic times.

    Hi George, I was in New England in the fall quite a few years ago. The fall colors were gorgeous.

    How lucky you are to have learned to cook from those two fine ladies! There's nothing like down-home country cooking!

    Hi Skeeter, I'm not sure where Mrs. Schmidt learned to make those pickled tomatoes. They don't seem to be very common, but I think it's great that there are some delicious ways to use green tomatoes. I'd never hear of or tried fried green tomatoes until the movie came out, but have enjoyed them many times since then.

    Hi Joey, yep, it's a good one to hold onto. Around here there always seem to be green tomatoes left on the vines when the first frost hits.

    Thanks Esther, glad you enjoyed the story. I hope your tomatoes ripen before it gets too cold. A banana in a paper bag with some tomatoes will help ripen them, as the banana emits some sort of gasses that help the ripening process. I've tried it in the past and it works.

    Hi Tyra, I hope you get to try pickling some of your green tomatoes. They are yummy!

  17. This is the second pickled green tomato recipe I've seen this morning! must be a sign :D. An old German recipe must be wonderful! I guess because I am German ;). Thank you for sharing the recipe!

    Have a wonderful Munday!
    Kathi :)

  18. Noted down! In the days that lay ahead of us, you can't but feel quite privileged for having the opportunity, at some point in your life, of tasting and indulging in REAL, exquisite food. Thanks for sharing such an amazing story with us.

  19. Hi Kathi, this seemed like a good time of year to share the recipe. Great minds think alike! ;~)

    Hi Violet, glad you enjoyed the story and the recipe!


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