Helsinki Granny’s Green Tomato Pickles

by Ciaran Burke

Yes, it is the end of the tomatoes, for this year. Cold nights have taken their toll. Limp leaves hang and slowly start to mould, soft under developed fruits drop to the ground and their is an air of melancholic resignation about the plants, their stems twisted around the twines. We plucked the last of the green fruit from the trusses, the last of the harvest, any chance of ripening far beyond hope. Ripening of the tomatoes was sporadic and slow through the summer, not until the shortening of the days were there red fruits visible. Perhaps we should grow tomatoes primarily for green fruits, leave a few red ones as a treat and cook the firm verdant fruit instead.

A couple of weeks ago my mother-in-law was visiting,  like my wife she is from Helsinki, Finland. Her mother was originally from Karelia, an area to the east of Finland which was invaded by Soviet troops during the second world war. The Soviets had many more times soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks.  After the winter war of 1939 – 1940  a truce was signed, the ski travelling army of the Finns had held off the tanks and planes of the neighbour, the troops of Uncle Joe, the wonder of the Winter War. Hostilities resumed in 1941. Unfortunately for the Finns, the Soviet army had become better equipped and the generals war hardened. The Finns were defeated and a new truce signed. The end result was that they had to give up large areas of their country. Although Finland maintained their sovereignty, almost half a million people had to leave their homes in Karelia, it was to be left empty for the Soviets. The mass exodus of the Eastern territories meant great stress not just for the evacuees, but also for all Finns with a spare room who by law has to house a family from Karelia.

Although this has little to do with the forthcoming recipe, historical events mean that I do not call it Karelia Granny’s recipe. Those were hard times, which makes my grumbling about the weather and poor ripening of tomatoes quite trivial. When Hanna’s mum was looking at our plentiful green tomatoes she remembered that she had the recipe from Helsinki granny and promised to e-mail it to us upon her return home, to Helsinki. This she did and it turned out to a wonderful pickle.

Green Tomato Pickle

Helsinki Granny’s Pickled Tomatoes


  • 1 Kg of small green tomatoes
  • 250ml malt vinegar
  • 3-4 dl sugar (300-400ml)
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 tsp mace
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 10 black pepper corns

Green tomatoes soaking in water


  1. Place the green tomatoes in a bowl of water and let stand for 2-3 hours then rinse the fruit in cold water.
  2. Heat up vinegar and spice until boiling and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Strain the vinegar through muslin cloth and return the vinegar to a pan.

    Prick each green plum tomato a couple of times with a fork

  4. Pierce each tomatoes a couple of times with a fork
  5. Put the tomatoes in the vinegar and cook for about 15 minutes until the fruit has softened.
  6. Place the fruit into sterilized jars and cover them with the vinegar.
  7. Seal immediately

The fruit should last all winter according to Hanna’s mum. Remember she speaks of a Finnish winter, that means they will last until at least May. Ours will be lucky to see halloween, they are delicious on toast, in salad or as an accompaniment to just about any savoury meal.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For information about sterilizing jars see this previous blog post 

One Trackback to “Helsinki Granny’s Green Tomato Pickles”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: