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Originally published Friday, September 6, 2013 at 12:26 PM

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Nancy Leson has sweet plans for tart green tomatoes

In the Pacific Northwest — where the September sun too often sets on tomatoes that have failed to ripen — Nancy’s grown to appreciate other ways to preserve this abundance.

Seattle Times food writer

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I GREW UP eating green tomatoes. No. Not those.

Unlike folks who wax rhapsodic about the green tomatoes of their childhood, culled from the vines of their grandmother’s garden, these were not sliced, dipped in cornmeal and fried.

Eaten at my ancestral home (and by “home” I mean the Jewish deli-restaurants where green tomatoes were served whole by the bowlful), my unripe tomato ideal came to the table as a sour pickle, side to a honkin’ hot-pastrami sandwich.

But now that I’m at home in the Pacific Northwest — where the September sun too often sets on tomatoes that have failed to ripen to a Revlon red — I’ve grown to appreciate other ways to preserve this abundance.

The late Miss Edna Lewis and her friend and cookbook collaborator, Scott Peacock, turned me on to the idea of turning the tart tomatoes into sweet preserves, either put up or refrigerated immediately to be spread on warm biscuits (or grilled chicken!).

Their easy method: Take 4 pounds of green tomatoes (about 8 cups), cored and cut into ½-inch pieces and marinate in a heavy, nonreactive pot overnight with 2 thinly sliced lemons, 4 cups of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. While sipping your morning coffee, stir the mixture well, then heat slowly until the sugar dissolves, simmering uncovered while the preserves thicken — about 20 minutes.

I’ve also turned to Kevin West, whose new book, “Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving” (Knopf, $35), offers a variety of ways to save, and savor, the season of the green tomato.

Molasses and mustard seeds, bell pepper and chilies are among the mix in his recipe for Mrs. Dorsey Brown’s Green Tomato Pickle. He even offers a plain-Jane version of my deli favorite, requiring little more than salt and bottled lemon juice (for controlled acidity).

Relish that classic romp-through-the-late-summer-garden to pick green tomatoes for chowchow? He does. And allow me to give a (green) thumbs up to his sweet, tart Green Tomato Chutney, a deep brown condiment that lends excitement to a meatloaf sandwich, says West, and makes a fine accompaniment to pork tenderloin, grilled lamb chops and more, says me.

Green Tomato Chutney

Makes approximately 4 pints

4 pounds green tomatoes

2½ tablespoons kosher salt, divided

1 pound green apples

½ pound shallots or red onions

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

1½ cups red-wine vinegar

1½ cups brown sugar

2 to 4 dried or fresh chili peppers, thinly sliced

5 cloves

10 black peppercorns, crushed

Fat pinch of ground mace or nutmeg

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1 cup raisins or dried currants

1. Peel the tomatoes and chop into ¾-inch pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the salt and drain in a colander for an hour. Rinse.

2. Peel and core the apples, and chop into ½-inch cubes. Thinly slice the shallots or onions. Peel and mince the garlic.

3. Combine all the ingredients except for the dried fruit in a large, nonreactive pot, and bring to a boil. Cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the dried fruit, and simmer for another 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. At the end of the cooking time, the liquid in the pot should be thickened and somewhat glossy. If your chutney seems too watery, turn up the heat and reduce for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring to prevent scorching.

4. Ladle the hot chutney into four prepared pint jars, leaving ½ inch head space. Seal, and process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. For best flavor, allow to cure for a month before using.

— From “Saving the Season”

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8838. On Twitter: @nancyleson. Mike Siegel is a Times staff photographer.

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