Tag Archives: gardening

Chow, Chow, Chow*

*or, the fine art of maximizing excess produce and living frugally but well

Spatchy Cat checks out the Chow-Chow

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.

Mammaw Nannie shelling beans for canning.

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:

Chow Chow

1 peck tomatoes, green-ground

6 cup ground cabbage

6 onions

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.

Pepper Hash

24 peppers

16 onions

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.

The Gift of Connection & Community

No man (sic) is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. — John Donne, from Meditation XVII

Jacobean poet John Donne’s powerful words still ring true today, although humankind still strives for distinction and personal space. However, for the one who practices the art of “thanks-living,”the joy and the meaning of life are found in the connections forged among us. The meaning of life is expressed in community and communion rather than the glories of individualism and singular achievement.

“I did this” or “I made that” the human mind is apt to proclaim. The truth is that nothing is completely original, and we all build upon the lives, creativity, and experiences of others. We, too, will leave a legacy for good or ill upon which our successors must build.

Yes, that’s correct–“we.” Because we do not live in isolation. Even Thoreau in his Walden woods cabin could not completely separate the individual and his efforts from the joys and delights of a shared creation. The same sun and moon and stars that shone on Walden Pond still shine on all of us today. The same life-giving rain and nurturing soil belongs to all creation, not to you or me alone. Nothing can truly be held only by the individual, despite our illusions to the contrary.

We may build fences and wall and fortresses, but they will crumble and fall eventually. Robert Frost knew this when he wrote the poem “Mending Wall,” and said “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”

We are created to be our best in various constructs of community. We form family units, schools, churches, clubs, cooperatives, and any number of other groups that gather around shared purpose and goals. Together we are stronger than the isolation of our individual parts. When we break down walls and remove barriers, amazing things happen. Life and love flourish if given the most minute of opportunities.

One small example is our backyard garden. In all probability two new raised beds would have remained a dream without the joyous self-giving of our friend and neighbor, Debbie. She brought her tools, knowledge, energy, and laughter to the effort. She generously brought alpine strawberries, Egyptian walking onions, and black-eyed Susans to be planted. Other neighbors and friends, Ida, Audrey, and Creta gave their extra tomato and onion plants so that we now have an abundance to share with others.

Our little backyard garden, still very much a work in progress, is not something that we can claim as “ours.” It is the gift and product of community, the fruit of connection, and a harvest of true blessings.

Questions to Ponder

What strands of connection and community are you weaving into your life?

Who gives to you and to whom do you give?

What harvest of blessings might you celebrate during this season?

Photos by Linda N and steppnout. Thanks!

Beginnings: How Will the Garden Grow?

Then GOD said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it. and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And GOD saw that it was good. –Genesis 1:11-12

I have a weakness–seed catalogs, especially those from Seeds of Change, The Cook’s Garden, and Heirloom Seeds. One of my secret guilty pleasures (o.k. not so secret now), is to curl up with a cup of hot tea or cocoa and look at the beautiful pictures of healthy plants while imagining the garden I would love to have in the spring.

In the interest of full disclosure and complete honesty, I offer this disclaimer: I am not a master gardener. I am not even a remotely competent gardener. I am trying to learn to be a gardener. I really, really want to be a gardener and grow my own food. The whole process appeals to my kinesthetic learning style.

I have had numerous kitchen gardens over the past 15 years. Most of them have amounted to nothing more than a few herbs and tomato plants. On a couple of occasions I’ve had some fairly decent success in spite of my ineptitude. Last year my spouse and I got a late start but still managed to have prolific basil, decent tomatoes, one pepper, and some small but tasty cucumbers. This year we WILL do better, and we are planning to expand the size of our garden. Hopefully, we will also find a small, used chest freezer, too.

GOD proclaimed the earth’s vegetation good, and ever since humans have been working the land to produce food. Unfortunately, in North America there was a decline in home gardening as we moved from a largely agrarian society to a manufacturing society that would become highly mobile. Thankfully, recent trends in mass food production of questionable origin and content, along with the economic downturn, are contributing to an upsurge in backyard and kitchen gardens.

There is something inherently satisfying in growing, preserving, preparing, and eating food that you have grown. My suspicion is that we can trace the beginning of this itch to get our fingers in the soil back to the beginning of creation. GOD proclaimed creation good, and we thrive when participate actively in GOD’s good creation.

So, while the fruit trees rest and the winter wind howls at the door I’ll be looking at seed catalogs (albeit this year online to save paper), sketching out plans for a bigger garden (hopefully, a series of raised beds) and a compost bin, and looking forward to spring’s thaw to celebrate the goodness of soil, seed, and–eventually–a bountiful harvest. Thanks be to GOD for the opportunity to play in the dirt!

For Further Reflection

Sit today with these two verses from Genesis (11-12) and think about the goodness of fresh fruits and vegetables. GOD proclaimed them good, and there is goodness in fresh produce, especially when we have a hand in growing and harvesting it. Give thanks for fruits, grains, and vegetables and for the people who grow them.  Backyard gardeners and family farmers play an important role in our lives whether we realize it or ignore it. Include farmers in your prayers. If you plan to plant a garden this year (no matter how small!) pray that your planning and planting will be successful. Give thanks to GOD for seed, soil, sun, and rain.

Thanks-Living Actions

If you are not able to plant a garden, consider supporting a local farmer or cooperative by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture). You’ll enjoy fresh seasonal food for a reasonable price and support an independent business person/farmer. It’s a win/win situation! Click here for more information and the location of a CSA program near you.

Enjoy reading? Check out Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her family’s year of growing their own food on the family farm. You will also enjoy the website! You might also be interested in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules by Michael Pollan.  You can access the author’s website by clicking here. Finally, check our Kristin Kimball’s delightful memoir The Dirty Life. Click here to visit her website and learn about Essex Farm and how a city girl fell in love with a farmer and ended up feeding a community. It’s good stuff!

Photos by pmulloy2112, sleepyneko, and various brennemans used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)