Circa 1970s: The old metal grinder is firmly mounted to my mom’s kitchen table, the abundance of our summer garden stacked in bowls and baskets around us. As often as I could, I’d take a turn at the grinder, cranking the handle despite my stinging, watering eyes. I watched as onions, bell peppers, and green tomatoes were pulled into the turning screw, a crunching sound coming to my ears over the noise of the squeaky handle turning. Mom hovered, sure that with every turn of the handle one of my tender young fingers might join the mix in the pot that was catching the crushed green vegetables. Clear juices, tinted green, dripped from every point of the old grinder, running down to my elbow and then to the floor where a large towel was ready to catch the overflow. The bright green pulp from the unripe remains of a bountiful harvest would be transformed into a relish with the funny name, “chow chow.”
Circa twenty-first century: As times have changed, so too have my methods. Nowadays, an electric food processor makes quick work of the unripe tomatoes, peppers, and onions. But while I am feeling nostalgic about the days I spent hand cranking the grinder in my mom’s kitchen, I share the details with my boys. I want them to know that this is a family recipe, one that my grandmother and theirs made, salvaging the last of the fruit from the vine before winter relegated them to the compost heap. Thirty-some years later, the chow chow tastes the same and my eyes still water, though as I think back to my childhood I’m not sure if it’s the pungent ingredients or the memories that cause the tears.
CHOW CHOW RECIPE
12 pounds green tomatoes
8 large onions
10 green bell peppers
3 Tablespoons salt
6 hot peppers
1 quart cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons dry mustard
1 3/4 cups sugar (one and three-fourths)
In a food processor, chop tomatoes, onions, and peppers in batches, using the pulse mechanism. Stir together in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and refrigerate overnight. Drain off liquid and stir in vinegar, mustard and sugar. Bring to a slow boil; continue boiling until tender (about 15 minutes). Pack into canning jars and refrigerate, or process according to safe canning methods. Makes about 10 quarts.
**Adapted from the Ball Blue Book.
**For more information about safe canning, contact your local cooperative extension office.
Article by Kris Bordessa [http://krisbordessa.com/], an author and features writer, lives on an island and dislikes depending on a barge for her needs. She strives daily toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle, writing about her successes (and failures) at Attainable Sustainable [http://www.attainable-sustainable.net/]. She posts “Oh my gosh, what bug is THIS?” pictures on Facebook [http://www.facebook.com/attainablesustainable] and is grateful for all of the smart people there. (Because really, who knew there was such a thing as a pickleworm?)