After a green Spring and Summer, autumn is a pretty time for me. The deciduous trees and shrubs shed their leaves by showing off brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. I love how everything in life is cyclical starting with the seasons. And autumn is a signal for me to start my preserves. Farmers’ markets are full of goods freshly harvested from the farmer’s fields. One item I seek out is the green tomato. For the past four generations, the women on both sides of my family all made green tomato chow chow and other relishes. Green tomato chow chow is easy to make but you do need to set aside a couple of hours from start to completion.
Have you ever thought about preserving, pickling or canning? It’s not a difficult task. As a kid, I used to watch my mom and paternal grandmother get ready to make their batches of canned fruit, jams, and pickles. I think every mom in the 1960s did that. It was a way to preserve the fall harvest and keep food waste to a minimal.
Preserving and canning seemed to take a back seat around the 1980s but in recent years it is making a small comeback with the resurgence of eating locally and seasonally. We can thank Napoleon Bonaparte for canned food. He offered a reward in 1795 for whoever could develop a safe, reliable food preservation method for his traveling army. Nicholas Appert took on the challenge, and 15 years later introduced a method that involved heat-processing food in glass jars reinforced with wire and sealing them with wax.
makes about 6 half-pint jars
4 lbs. green tomatoes, chopped or sliced
3 cups onions, chopped or sliced
1/2 cup pickling salt
2 tablespoons pickling spice (purchased or homemade)
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cups vinegar
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, onion and bell pepper with salt and cover. Let stand overnight. Drain the vegetables into a large colander. Under cold running water, rinse to remove any salt residue. Make a simple spice bag by using a double thickness of cheesecloth, add pickling spice, gather up edges and tie with kitchen twine.
In a large stockpot, add the sugars, turmeric, dry mustard and vinegar. Stir well. Drop in the spice bag and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the drained tomatoes, bell peppers, onion and return mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 15 minutes until the mixture is slightly thickened. Stir occasionally to make sure it is not sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and discard the pickling spice bag.
While the chow chow is cooking, begin the bottle sterilization process. Bottle the chow chow while it is hot into the hot, sterilized bottles. Use a clean, damp cloth and wipe clean each jar rim. Seal immediately with lids. Screw on jar bands just until resistance is met. Process filled jars in a hot water bath according to canner manufacturer’s directions. Cool and store in a cool, dark place. Let chow age for at least 2 weeks before serving.
Serve chow chow on the side with meat or poultry. It’s lovely in a grilled cheese sandwich and a perfect companion to fishcakes. Or, substitute dill pickle in a hamburger with chow chow.
The Culinary Chase’s Note: I like to do a taste test once the sugars have dissolved to make sure it’s not too tart or sweet. If you reuse mason jars, remember to buy new lids. Enjoy!