I sort of wondered just what I was going to do with 10 heaping cups of green cherry tomatoes. From the last of September through the first of November, we’d carefully harvested every ripening cherry tomato in our volunteer patch, keeping summer on our plates just a little longer. But about two weeks ago the tomatoes gave in to autumn and stopped turning. What now?

Colander of green cherry tomatoes

Believe me, 10 cups is a conservative estimate.

I just couldn’t condemn them to the compost, so I started talking with friends about recipes for green tomatoes. Of course, ideas for fried green tomatoes abound, but these tiny cuties just weren’t the right size.

Then, my neighbor Carol told me how her mom and aunts put up “Chow Chow” every fall, using the green tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and cabbage–all those great vegetables that populate the garden at harvest time. She photocopied a couple of pages out of a well-worn, ring-bound, handed-down notebook that has contained her family recipes from the time she was a child. This got me going—searching my cookbooks and looking up leads on the web. I found all kinds of interesting ideas for chow chows, relishes and chutneys.

I found something else, too: In the copies Carol made for me, with side notes by “Sister Julia” and “Amelia”, I caught a glimpse of a time when a backyard garden wasn’t a hobby—it was a necessity. When “putting up” chow chow, canning tomatoes and carefully storing apples and squash weren’t just fun to do but matters of survival. I could see these women in a sunlit kitchen assembling ingredients, stirring steaming pots, discussing techniques used by their families for generations, slicing and dicing mounds of fresh-from-the-garden produce in order to ensure their families ate well in the cold winter months ahead.

Am I romanticizing? Well, yeah. But I do believe there must have been a certain satisfaction that came from being thrifty and creative with what the end of the harvest had to offer. There must have been a healthy respect for nature’s abundance and a beautiful sense of ritual and community in that kitchen. Frankly, I long for that.

So I made up my mind—with inspiration from Carol’s ancestors—to be more industrious next year, to study gardening and cooking more this winter, to plant more carefully next spring, maybe learn to can (Oh my!), and appreciate more fully every meal we are lucky enough have—beginning with my 10 cups of little green tomatoes. I decided on chutney in the end, combining a couple of recipe ideas that sounded promising.

Got some green tomatoes? Here’s how I made my chutney with help from Carol, favorite vegetarian chef Didi Emmons and Southern Living’s Little jars, Big Flavors cookbook:

 

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jars of chutney

My recipe yielded about six, four- to six-ounce jars.

Try the chutney with Indian-spiced foods, roast meats or potatoes, grilled fish or on burgers—veggie or beef. I’m serving some on the Thanksgiving dinner table—a new experience for the turkey lovers and something tangy for the grilled cod.

Still thinking you might want some of those fried green tomatoes? Check out the September issue of Delicious Living Magazine for a really easy recipe that bakes, rather than fries, the tomato slices.