Pickled tomatoes

At this time of year, tomatoes always remind me of the few months I spent working in Russia; Siberia to be exact. There, summer is short and it’s spent growing enough vegetables to see folk through the long, very cold winter. Having been brought up in Africa, I remember looking at the town thermometer bleeping minus 30C, and thinking that it couldn’t get any colder– but it did.

Potatoes were stored in specially constructed cellars – holes dug into the roadside verges, with drainpipes poking up through the soil to keep the spuds aerated. But most of the vegetables were pickled. Pickling was so popular, supermarkets stocked concentrated acetic acid for people to dilute into vinegar.

This picture is of pickled tomatoes, bottled by my friend Tatiana and her mother. They carefully stuff each fruit with a slither of garlic before packing them into sterilised jars with whole dill heads (including the seeds) and filled with vinegar. The sealed jars are then placed under a blanket in the sun to cook a little, before being stored in a cool place. They should be left for a couple of months before being eaten. They’re delicious, a treat borne out of necessity, and this picture reminds me to be grateful for Italy’s year round abundance. Which they bottle too, of course!

Down in southern Italy their version is the following: they halve and salt tomatoes, and leave them to dry in the sun. In the UK, there isn’t the right kind of sun – so you could put them on a baking try in a very low oven for two to three hours for a not very similar but it’ll do effect. Next soak them in some white wine vinegar for 30 minutes or so, then stuff them into sterilised jars with a couple of garlic cloves and herbs of your choice – mint or basil, for example – before adding sufficient extra virgin olive oil to ensure the tomatoes are sott’olio, under oil. Tap the jar to make sure all the air bubbles have escaped before sealing it. They can be eaten immediately, but last a couple of months.