This morning I chopped and ground vegetables for almost three hours. It was exhausting work. After I had ground two and one half gallons of green tomatoes and drained the liquid from them, I ground cabbage, apples, onions and sweet and hot peppers. By the time salt, sugar and vinegar were added, this work resulted in twenty-two pints of green tomato relish.
Green tomato relish is a bit of a delicacy in western Kentucky. In Tennessee, where I live now, it is called Chow Chow. It is a peasant food, of my people and if you are lucky enough to have a jar in your pantry, it is the perfect thing to adorn a bowl of soup beans.
Last summer, my father-in-law passed away. We always counted on the fact that he would have a number of those jars in his pantry to share. I don’t know if he actually did the canning or he talked his sisters, Eva and Vada into making it, we didn’t care, as long as they used the recipe of my husband’s Grandmother Bessie. It is still the best.
Peasant foods from around the world are usually a delicacy. But, in their time, they were simply ingredients on hand that cost little. When my father was still alive, he craved soup beans. It was important that he have them at least once a week. He said that growing up, he was tired of eating this common staple but later on, it was one of his favorite foods to eat.
I have to wonder why these foods have such an appeal. Is there more than meets the taste buds? My son who is a Sous Chef once told me something about curing country hams that I hope I am repeating correctly. He said that those hams that are cured ‘by the seasons’ have a flavor that If you are paying attention, you can almost taste the kind of winter or spring that ham was produced in.
It made me think of Grandma Bessie’s relish. I have to wonder if we crave this relish because we know how hard it must have been raising so many children in the midst of the Depression? The gift of food when there wasn’t plenty was a very big deal. Do we appreciate the ingenuity of making a bowl of dried beans into a meal, using every ounce of bounty left in the garden. Maybe we still appreciate the work given to make things better for the next generation. Perhaps those are the subtle flavors that we are yearning for in the deepest parts of our soul.
I like to think that I am a student of St. Ignatius of Loyola who reminds me to look for God in all things. Today, I found Him in a jar of green tomato relish! As I was pouring up jars getting ready to process each one, I thought that His hand had been on each vegetable in this recipe. From the tomatoes that my sister brought me from a garden that had once been my Dad’s to four small jalapeños. The love of all that had been given before me is there. I almost wept.
We live in turbulent times. Not always, but today I decided to look for God who is Love. And, it was worth it.
I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.