What's in Season

Tomatoes Get the Olive Treatment

Transform a bright summertime snack into a briny and versatile bite

Illustration: John Burgoyne

On a trip to California in the nineties, chef John Fleer plucked and ate an olive right off the tree. “Bad idea!” says Fleer, the executive chef and owner of Rhubarb in Asheville. “It was astringent, bitter, and overly firm. I couldn’t believe anyone had ever been able to figure out how to make olives delicious.” That moment came back to him several years ago when his go-to farmer at Gaining Ground Farm, just outside of Asheville, was picking the last remaining red cherry tomatoes at the end of summer before ripping out the sun-spent plants to make room for fall crops. “It struck me that there would be a lot of unripe tomatoes still on those plants,” Fleer says. Rather than let them go to waste, he decided to give them the olive treatment by brining them. “While green tomatoes aren’t quite as disgusting, they have similar characteristics.” He loved the result so much that green tomato olives are now a regular on charcuterie boards and in cocktails at Rhubarb. While simple, the process requires some patience—you soak the tomatoes in water for a week to pull out the bitterness, then bathe them in brine with spices for a week more. Acidic and bright, the resulting olives will keep for several weeks in the fridge and are worth the wait. “They can also be used in salads and pastas as a flavorful and briny garnish,” Fleer says. “They’re really just as versatile as regular olives.” Not to mention a beautiful way to enjoy a last bite of summer.

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  • Green Tomato Olives (Yield: 4 cups)

    • 4 cups green (unripe) cherry tomatoes, washed

    • 4 cups water for boiling (plus more for soaking)

    • ¼ cup kosher salt

    • 1½ tsp. fenugreek seeds

    • 1½ tsp. celery seeds

    • 2 lemons, diced

    • 11 oz. champagne vinegar

    • 6 oz. olive oil

    • 4 cloves garlic, halved

    • 4 sprigs oregano


  1. With a sharp knife, score a small X shape on each green cherry tomato at the non-stem end. In a large container with a lid, cover the tomatoes in water and place in the refrigerator. Change the water daily for 7 days. For the brine, in a pot bring water and salt to a simmer. Stir until salt has dissolved, then remove from heat. In a small dry pan, toast fenugreek and celery seeds until fragrant, just a few minutes. Stir the toasted seeds into the brine, then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Drain the tomatoes, then add to the brine. Transfer brine and tomatoes to a large mason jar with lemons, champagne vinegar, olive oil, garlic cloves, and oregano. Cover with cheesecloth and leave on the counter overnight. Replace cheesecloth with a lid and let sit in the refrigerator for another week before enjoying. Will keep in the fridge for several weeks.