When the great poet Alexander Pushkin lay dying after a duel, he begged for brined cloudberries—his last wish and last words. It was February, and even in his mortally wounded state, he knew that the berries wouldn’t be fresh but preserved, and perhaps, like many of his compatriots, he preferred them this way. No wonder. Preserving fruits and berries in brine gives them the slightly sour flavor that Russians love. Lingonberries taste good this way too and it’s fun to experiment with different fruits, such as watermelon and apples, the classic preparation. Tomatoes are also piquant when brined.
This recipe yields ever-so-slightly-sweet tomatoes. I like to use small ones, which absorb flavor faster, but as long as they’re firm, you can use any tomatoes on hand. And if you don’t have horseradish or currant leaves, just toss in some celery or extra dill. Serve these tomatoes as part of a zakuska spread, or as an accompaniment to roast meat. They’re so tasty that I often just pop one into my mouth for a snack.
Makes about 2 pounds
- 2 pounds firm Campari or cocktail tomatoes, each 1 1/2 inches in diameter
- 8 cups water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 whole cloves
- 5 horseradish leaves
- 6 black currant leaves
- 3 stalks of dill, including the flowering heads
Rinse the tomatoes and remove their stems.
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of the water to a boil with the salt, honey, garlic, allspice, peppercorns, bay leaves, and cloves. Simmer just long enough to dissolve the salt, then remove from the heat and allow the brine to cool.
Sterilize a 1-gallon jar. Mix the cooled brine with the remaining 6 cups water. Place a couple of horseradish leaves and black currant leaves on the bottom of the jar with a stalk of the dill, then add a layer of tomatoes. Continue layering the tomatoes, leaves, and herbs. Pour the brine over all. To keep the tomatoes submerged, fill a small resealable plastic bag with water and place it on top of them. Cover the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band and leave the tomatoes to ferment at room temperature for 3–4 days. Skim off any foam that forms. When the tomatoes have fermented to your liking, transfer them to the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for weeks.
Fermentation time depends on the ambient temperature. If you like a bit of effervescence, leave the tomatoes to ferment unrefrigerated even longer. Their skins will split, but they’ll still be irresistible.
Recipe reprinted with permission from “Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore” by Darra Goldstein, copyright 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.