Grandmother’s Marinated Sweet and Sour Tomatoes

I was enchanted by the premise of “Grandmas Project” as soon as I read about it in the New York Times. It is a web series in which film directors document their grandmothers as they cook. The women also share their stories, dreams, aspirations and give advice, and these short 8-minute films are so tender and heartwarming that watching them makes me feel as if I’m cooking with my grandmother Valentina. Although my cooking lessons come from diverse sources, learning from Valentina gave me a deeper understanding of food as a way of connecting with others, and that’s exactly what makes “Grandmas Project” so compelling.

Valentina learned cooking a young woman married to an army officer and stationed in a military town in eastern Ukraine. Living in the shared housing, she met other “army wives,” who hailed from different parts of the Soviet Unions and whose lessons gave her cooking a multicultural flair. Some of Valentina’s signature dishes were Georgian spicy soups, Armenian stewed vegetables and Tatar meat pies. She also had a big collection of pickled vegetables, which in her recipe books were marked as “from Zulia, Dagestan” or “Natalya, Saratov.” When we prepared these pickles together, Valentina told me about her friends, and even though she had no news from these women for many years, it felt as if they were present.

Watching “Grandmas Project” reminded me how much I miss Valentina and our cooking together. My grandmother’s recipe books remain in her house in Bereh, but a few years before the war started, I digitalized the whole collection. Among my Ukrainian notes, I also found a few cards with her elegant handwriting and the recipe for marinated sweet and sour tomatoes caught my attention.

It was one of Valentina’s favorite ways to preserve her tomato harvest. I don’t know if she learned it from one of her friends or found it in a magazine, but I remember that she made a batch every year. The marinade is delightfully sweet and sour, with a lingering spice of black pepper and bay leaf. Serve with boiled potatoes and rye bread, these tomatoes are my idea of comfort food. Even though I can’t cook with Valentina, as I wash the tomatoes and measure the seasonings, I hear her voice, “Taste as you go. The recipe is only a blueprint. Embellish it as you see fit.”

Grandmother’s Marinated Sweet and Sour Tomatoes

The size of tomatoes will determine how many you can fit into a jar. I prefer to use small Roma tomatoes or cherry tomatoes. My grandmother’s proportions for the marinade are: for each 1L of water, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons vinegar, 1.5 Tablespoons salt. I converted it to grams for easier scaling.

One classical method to make the marinade is by pouring hot water over the tomatoes in the jar, pouring back out, measuring and then making the marinade based on the proportion I gave. This way, tomatoes can be stored for months even at room temperature. However, I usually make a small portion and store it in the fridge.

Also, my grandmother recommends adding either sliced onion or garlic. You can also add other herbs or favorite spices. Embellish the recipe as you see fit, as Valentina would say.

Enough tomatoes to fill a 750ml sealable jar
2 peeled garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
500ml (2 cups) water
15g (1 Tablespoon) sugar
15ml (1 Tablespoon) vinegar
12g (1/2 Tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon) regular salt, non-iodized

Wash the jar and the lid in hot water with baking soda and sterilize by leaving them in an oven preheated to 290F/145C for 20 minutes. Let the jar cool till it can be handled easily.
Poke a couple small holes into each cherry tomato with a toothpick. Place the spices and garlic into the jar. Place the tomatoes on top, fitting them in snuggly.

Bring water to boil. Dissolve sugar and salt in water and add the vinegar. Take it off the heat. (You can taste the marinade at this point and decide if you want more sugar or vinegar.) Pour the hot marinade slowly and very carefully over the tomatoes and cover tightly. Store in the refrigerator. The marinated tomatoes taste best after 2 weeks, but you can taste them earlier and decide what level of sourness you prefer.

If you enjoy the “Grandmas Project” films and can’t wait till the next season becomes available, I recommend visiting Pasta Grannies, a series about Italian grandmothers making traditional foods. Do you have other favorite channels or pages in the same genre?



  • Marsi: My heart leapt when I saw this “grandmother”post. After reading your beautiful book, I felt like I was reuniting with my friend Valentina. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

    I was relinquished for adoption as an infant, and though technically I had twice the usual number of grandmothers as a consequence, I never really knew any of them. Of my two adoptive grandmothers, the sweet one lived across the country and we saw her rarely; the other grandmother treated my brother and me like little bastards because we were adopted.

    Then as a very young woman, I searched for my birth parents. Both of my grandmothers from my birth mother and father were long deceased, and neither knew of my existence. Oddly, the grandmother I do feel the most connected to is my Irish great-granny, who died four years before I was born. My cousin has shared with me photos and stories about her, and I feel she and I could’ve been kindred spirits. She came from Ireland by herself as a young woman, and was scrappy, determined, and never took “no” for an answer.

    I’m living vicariously through your stories about your grandmothers, Victoria. Thank you for sharing them! July 21, 2023 at 9:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your moving story. The relationship with grandparents is often idealized, but as you know, it’s not necessarily the case. It took me some years to really understand my grandmother and to feel that she understood me. July 21, 2023 at 12:13pm Reply

      • Maya: I watched Spanish, Moroccan, and Austrian grandmothers. I will definitely binge on more when I have time. Which grandmother is the one you mentioned? It’s a bit hard to navigate. July 21, 2023 at 1:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: It was a Turkish grandmother. Yes, the site is a bit slow at times. July 24, 2023 at 3:54am Reply

  • Maya: Oh, Victoria, the cooking grandmothers videos are addictive! Thank you. It’s such a refreshing antidote to see these grandmothers -sarcastic remarks, unsavory personality traits, and all- in this age of constantly being subjected to the one-dimensional perfect and well polished. I miss my two imperfectly perfect grandmothers with all my heart.

    Your book has landed on my Kindle! I will begin reading it as soon as I finish The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick. I read her wonderful Fierce Attachments book last week and couldn’t let go. If you haven’t read them, I think you would love both. July 21, 2023 at 11:39am Reply

    • Victoria: You’ve pointed out the very reason why this project so attracted me. It’s especially touching, because the exchanges are so unvarnished. Which episodes were your favorites? Did you already see Şile? July 21, 2023 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Gunilla Gorman: The vinegar you’re using here is it diluted vinegar you would use for a salad dressing or 13 or 24%? July 21, 2023 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: A regular 9% vinegar is fine. You can use any vinegar you have, but adjust the amount based on its sharpness. This time I added white table vinegar, because that’s what my grandmother used. July 21, 2023 at 12:08pm Reply

  • Alityke: I shall be making these as a change from the confit tomatoes in oil I usually make.
    You have me wondering if whole chillies could be preserved like this too.
    As for grannies? My paternal grandma was a renowned cook but I have no memory of ever eating at her house. All her children, boys or girls enjoyed cooking in the meat & two veg English manner.
    My maternal nannan was far more present in my life & had never learnt to cook! It was a necessary task & showed in her food. My mum is a competent baker but cooking held no interest for her. July 21, 2023 at 11:59am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a simple recipe, but the tomatoes come out so well. I also like using them in tomato sauce to add a bright note. July 21, 2023 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Bregje: What a beautiful photograph! July 21, 2023 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Aurora: I love it when you post recipes from your grandmother! Those sweet and sour tomatoes sound very appealing, I think I’ll add a couple of shallots rather than garlic. July 21, 2023 at 3:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: Shallots would be a delicious addition. My pleasure to share. July 24, 2023 at 3:55am Reply

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