Green Tomato Love

October 1, 2009

The K and T Victory garden is churning out green tomatoes like nobody’s business. My neighbor Jen brought a huge bowl over, shook her head at me and said, “What on Earth are we gonna do with all of these?”

And yeah, we fried some of them. They were delicious, of course. I mean, you could deep fry a hairball and it’d probably taste all right. But we had loads of green tomatoes. They hung, saucy and plump, mocking us from the vine.

I did a little Internet detective work and came up with an answer to our Green Tomato Conundrum: Chow Chow Relish.

I’ve only encountered Chow Chow Relish once in my life. When my family first moved to the Rockies, a neighbor of ours named Diane made us feel very welcome. She had that Southern Hospitality thing down pat. She was also an avid gardener; most summer days, she was outside, gloves on, puttering around in plantworld, and would give a friendly wave as I whizzed by.

That first summer, Diane was up to her ears in green tomatoes. She showed up at our door one afternoon with 3 big mason jars, filled with some violently yellow, chunky substance.

“Homemade Chow Chow,” she said proudly.

I took the jars, suspicious. I thanked her–I think–and took the jars to Mama.

“Oh, Chow Chow,” Mama said, pleased.

I couldn’t believe she knew what this crazy-ass stuff was. I just looked at those jars, eyes a-buggin’.

“It’s like relish,” Mama said. “You like pickles.”

Umm, yeah…I like the green, crunchy, normal Claussen pickles that go with ham sandwiches. Chow Chow had chunks of stuff in it. And it looked like mustard, which back then, was akin to lye in my opinion. Not to be ingested. At all costs.

That night, at dinner, a huge jar of Chow Chow appeared, next to the ketchup.

“I’m not trying that gunk,” my sister said.

“Fine,” my mother said, slathering the stuff on her hamburger. “You don’t know what you are missing.”

Turned out, nobody in the family was willing to give Chow Chow the benefit of the doubt save Mama. But in her typical Mama way, she set out that jar whenever burgers, hot dogs, chicken or chops came off the grill. And we did our best to avoid looking at it.

I wondered if every Fall was going to be like this. Come September, was I always going to have to play a game of Ignore the Chow Chow?

Lucky for me, Daddy saved us. The next summer, in an angry rampage against The Grasshopper Invasion from Hell, Daddy sprayed our entire backyard with Agent Orange. On a breezy day.

Diane’s garden was toast. She sent her husband over to rail at Daddy, because she was mad enough to pound him good. She was decidedly cooler to us after the Agent Orange Incident. And I never had to face Chow Chow again.

Until now.

Second chances are lovely and generous things. At least, that’s what I told my husband, as he fled the house, gagging at the odor of vinegar and pickling spices. It was a fair trade. Jen was next to me, slicing and dicing, and hubs escaped next door with the NFL for a while.

We had so many green dudes that we doubled the recipe. And now we are left with enough Chow Chow to torment an entire neighborhood.

Which is exactly what we intend to do.

Beware, neighborhood children. Your doorbells will be ringing soon.

Chow Chow
recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustand
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

2 pounds green tomatoes, chopped
2 cups diced onion

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until reduced slightly.

Add the onions and the tomatoes, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes.

**Verdict: Certainly not the gag-fest I expected as a child. In my opinion, Florence’s version is too sweet and not quite spicy enough. I would reduce the sugar by AT LEAST 1/3, and I’d add a good teaspoon of chile flakes to the pot.

Jen, however, was pleased. “It’s sweet!” she said. “It’ll go great with Tandoori Chicken!” And that’s exactly what we did. I had to agree, with a spicy dish, Chow Chow somehow works.

Later on in the week, I topped a burger with it, which made my husband green around the gills. I’m tempted to keep a jar of Chow Chow around at all times, just to watch him squirm.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: