Home canning of pickles is something of a novelty in America today. However, it was a common practice well into the 19th century and beyond, even after commercially canned foods began to appear on the market in the 1820s in America, and even earlier in Europe. The inspiration for creating a method for giving foods a long shelf-life was the Napoleonic Wars. In the late 18th century, the French government's Directory department wanted to promote ways to preserve food for the French troops during the Napoleonic wars. The prize was 12,000 francs. Frenchman, Nicholas Appert (1749-1841), was determined to win this prize. Appert experimented with ways in which to preserve foods in bottles and found success at it when he realized that foods hermetically sealed in bottles that had been sterilized by boiling would stay fresh for months. Ironically, in Appert's day there was no knowledge of why this worked as Louis Pasteur's discovery of bacteria did not happen for several more decades.
Appert worked on this project for years. He opened the first canning factory in the world in Massy, a small town south of Paris and wrote a book explaining his bottling method in 1810 called The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances for Several Years. The publication of this manual secured Appert the prize.
This is all well and good, and congratulations to Appert. However, home cooks and cookbook authors had already figured this out before Appert published his findings. For example the recipe, "To Keep Green Peas till Christmas" was published decades before Appert's experiments in 1747 by Hannah Glasse in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (London). In the recipe, Glasse instructs her readers to seal the empty space in the necks of the bottles with mutton fat, cork them, tie a bladder over the corks. Granted, there is no instruction to boil the bottles prior to filling them. It is possible that those who had a dairy on-site did boil the bottles first based on the knowledge they had of needing to keep everything excessively clean in the dairy to get a better result.
Canning Crosses the Pond
William Underwood came to America from Great Britain in 1817 and established a canning factory in Boston in 1822. Underwood's "Hermetically Sealed Tomatoes" were available by 1835 for $3.25 each per two-pound bottle. This sounds quite expensive to me which may account for the large number of recipes for pickles that can be found in 19th century American cookbooks.
About Pickled Green Tomatoes
Pickled green tomatoes can be made in a variety of ways depending on the pickling liquid, spices, additional vegetables added, and whether or not sugar is added. When sugar is added, the pickle is often called a piccalilli. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, piccalilli is defined as "a sweet mustard pickle of mixed vegetables." Here is an example of a green tomato piccalilli from The Woman Suffrage CookBook by Mrs. Hattie Burr (Boston, 1886):
|1845-The Housekeeper's Assistant by Ann Allen (Boston)|
|1847-The South Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge|
|1870-Jennie June's American Cookery Book by Jane C. Croly (New York)|
|1885-La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn (New Orleans)|
19th century Baltimore homemakers could have purchased their pickles already made or, if they preferred, they could purchase pickling supplies such as vinegar and mustard from a dealer such as Edwards & Cobb at 20 South Charles St.
|01 December 1841, American & Commercial Daily Advertiser|
|01 May 1851 American & Commercial Daily Advertiser|
- Wash and slice 6 pounds of green tomatoes (or a combination of green and more ripened tomatoes).
- Lay the tomatoes in layers in a large pan and sprinkle each layer with salt. You will use about 3/4 cup of salt in total.
- Cover the tomatoes and set them aside for two days to allow their juices to be extracted.
- 3 Large Onions, Sliced
- 2 Tablespoons Ground Mustard Powder
- 2 Tablespoons Whole Mustard Seed
- 1/4 Cup Whole Cloves
- 1/4 Cup Whole Allspice
- 2 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Quart Apple Cider Vinegar
- After two days of soaking in the salt brine, drain all of the salted water out of the tomatoes.
- Mix together the spices.
- In a large slow cooker, make several layers of the tomatoes, onions, and spices. Repeat making layers until everything is used up.
- Add the vinegar to the slow cooker.
- Set the temperature to high and set for five hours.
- You can use the hot water bath canning method to preserve the pickle.
|Pickled Green Tomatoes|
- Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, 2014)
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Smith, Andrew. "Canning and Bottling Tomatoes in Nineteenth Century America." Food History News (Vol. VI, No, 1, Summer 1994).