Chow, Chow, Chow*
*or, the fine art of maximizing excess produce and living frugally but well
Unless you live somewhere in or around Appalachia, Pennsylvania, or various Southern states (or have roots in these areas), chances are you think of Chow Chow as a dog breed of Chinese extraction rather than a delicious relish to slather on pinto beans or hot dogs.
Growing up in the foothills of Appalachia, Chow-Chow was a regular condiment on our family’s table. Mammaw Nannie, my paternal grandmother, used to give us a few jars every year, and my father prized it about as highly as he did banana pudding and my mother’s meatloaf. As a child, I was ambivalent about the brightly colored pickled concoction. But it grew on me the older I got, sort of like a taste for coffee grows on a person, and by the time my Mammaw passed on, it had become one of my favorites, too.
For most of my adult life, I’ve resorted to local or regionally produced varieties, an occasional purchase of a homemade batch sold at craft fairs and festivals, or (gulp) none at all. In fact, I’d gotten to the point that I didn’t really think about it–until my spouse and I started gardening again.
This year we had an over-abundance of green tomatoes, and as the first frost loomed ever closer, I started looking for ways to use the excess produce rather than letting it go to waste. (After all, one can only consume so many fried green tomatoes.) I posted a question to The Compact looking for Chow-Chow recipes and got a few responses and ideas, but nothing seemed to match exactly what I remembered from childhood.
My resourceful cousin Bev was able to figure out the basic process and ingredients from conversation with her mom and our aunt. Between that and a vintage cookbook my mother had given her for a wedding present, we came up with a workable recipe for “Green Tomato Relish.”
My spouse and I harvested the remaining tomatoes, and chopped them along with onions, red and green peppers. We cooked them down with a brew of vinegar, sugar, and spices, and water-processed 10 pints and three 1.5 pint jars. We even saved the excess seasoned vinegar for salad dressing and cooking.
Tomorrow we’ll open the first jar to serve with pintos, turnip greens, and cornbread–a Southern Appalachian feast. Better yet, we have plenty to share and made the best possible use out of virtually all the tomatoes in our garden. Mammaw Nannie and so many others of her generation knew how to stretch a dollar, feed a family, and make the most of everything–including each and every day of life. Thanks, Mammaw, for continuing to teach me how to live well and be a good steward of God’s many gifts!
What ideas do you have for making the most of your garden produce to live frugally but well?
Mom’s Green Tomato Relish (aka Chow-Chow)
1 gallon ground green tomatoes
6 green peppers
6 red peppers
4 stalks celery
2 T. salt
1 T mustard seed (white)
1 T celery seed
Onions to taste (optional, but I use four or five)
Grind (or mince) tomatoes. Put hot water over them. Drain and rinse in cold water. Boil three pints vinegar and three cups sugar along with the salt, mustard seed, and celery seed for 5-10 minutes. Add drained vegetables and simmer to consistency desired. Pack Chow-Chow into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Note: I processed them in a water bath for 15 minutes.
When I shared this story and recipe with the journaling and scrapbooking group at Trinity Lutheran Church, Sally B. brought me a photocopy of a couple of recipes from an old family cookbook (handwritten). Here they are:
1 peck tomatoes, green-ground
6 cup ground cabbage
6 sweet peppers ground
6 stalks celery
1/2 cup salt
Boil 20 minutes, strain, add vinegar enough to cover it well.
4 lbs sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons cloves
a little mustard
boil 15 to 20 minutes, makes 7 1/2 qts.
1 qt vinegar
3 cups sugar
2 ts celery seed
2 ts salt
Grind pepper and onions, scald with salted water 32 times, drain, add vinegar, sugar, and celery seed. Let boil 15 minutes and seal.
Sally also brought me a copy of a traditional Pennsylvania version of Chow-Chow that uses a wider variety of vegetables and makes about 12 pints.
1 pt green string beans
1 pt yellow string beans
1 pt sliced celery
1 pt kidney beans
1 pt yellow corn
1 pt carrots sliced
1 pt lima beans
1 pt Navy beans
1 pt cauliflower
1 pt small pickles
6 chopped red peppers
2 small onions chopped
Note: Anything that isn’t precooked…do it, but not until it’s mushy. Whenever possible I use frozen vegetables @ room temperature, or canned beans because they are already precooked.
Drain and rinse all vegetables. Make a syrup of:
1 1/2 pound sugar
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. celery seed
1 qt. white vinegar
1 qt. water
1 TBSP pickling spice in a cloth bag…..bring to a boil….remove spice bag….add vegetables to liquid….bring to a boil again and then pack in jars & seal.
Photos by sblezard and davidpbaxter.