Pickling summer for the long winter months

"Build your sled in the summer and your wagon in the winter," an old Russian saying advises. In the days when wagons and sleds were a part of everyday life, this was wise counsel: it was a good idea to plan ahead for summer since it came and went in the blink of an eye, while those who didn't plan for the six months of freezing hell known as the Russian winter would find themselves in a lot of trouble.

This was especially true when it came to food. Peasants had to find a way to make cucumbers, cabbage and mushrooms - the staples of the Russian table - last the winter. Pickling was the answer, as it had been for many cultures around the world. But like so many things in Russia, it had to be done in a completely different way: while most of Europe used some form of acidic liquid, usually vinegar, as the key agent in the pickling process, here they used salt.

The idea caught on and, pretty soon, Russians began pickling everything from garlic to watermelon. And the pickling goes on to this day. Some still do it out of necessity, others as a hobby or out of habit. Nearly everyone agrees that there's something about products pickled at home that you can't get on a supermarket shelf.

Below is a recipe for pickled tomatoes, a favourite at any time of year. An old wives' tale says that anything pickled during a full moon will come out soft and spoil quickly, so you might want to consult your calendar before beginning. What's not an old wives' tale are the wondrous effects of pickle juice as a hangover cure: loaded with sodium, it is perfect for restoring lost salts and electrolytes, which is one of the reasons you feel so rough the morning after.

Ingredients

Tomatoes of varying ripeness (red or green) o Dill umbrellas with seeds o Horseradish leaves o Cherry leaves o Blackcurrant leaves o Garlic cloves o Tarragono Summer savoury o Coarse grain salt o Water o Sterilised jars

Preparation

1. Sort tomatoes by size and ripeness, remove stems, wash in cool water.

2. For every 5kg of tomatoes use 75g dill, 30g horseradish greens, cherry leaves and blackcurrant leaves (don't worry if you can't find all of these leaves: while all are desirable, any one of three will do fine), 6-7 garlic cloves (peeled), as well as a half sprig each of tarragon and savory.

3. The amount of salt required for pickling depends on the ripeness of the tomatoes. Green or brown tomatoes need 70-80g of salt per litre of water. Red tomatoes need 100g of salt per litre.

4. Line the bottom of a sterilised jar with one third of the spice/herb/garlic mixture, with dill at the bottom.

5. Place tomatoes neatly on top of the spices until the jar is half full.

6. Place another layer of spice mixture on top of tomatoes, and then add one more layer of tomatoes. Place remaining spice mixture on top.

7. Add salted water, making sure tomatoes are completely covered, and seal jar.

8. Store for 2-3 months at 5 ºC. (Check periodically. If mould has started to form, open the jar, drain tomatoes and wash off mould in cold water. Make another batch of salted water, using 15-20pc more salt, and store once again.)

9. Open and enjoy. Remember, you should use a fork to extract the tomatoes.

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