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.