And, no, it's not a breed of canine.
It's a relish, omnipresent on plates at 711 E. 17th Street in Little Rock, AR during my childhood. It's what Nanny and Daddy Gene, my maternal great-grandmother and great-grandfather, canned at the end of the summer with all those green tomatoes still on the vines just before first frost. It was the tart and crunchy that went with the greasy and salty on the rest of the plate.
Here's my mom's description, upon receiving some from her brother recently:
It was delicious! We opened one of the two jars and served it up at the farm today, and it brought back fond memories! Nanny ALWAYS served chow chow with turkey (or chicken) and dressing...always!! Of course it was a staple for other foods and occasions, as well! You said we might want to add more salt, but we don't need it anymore than you do (even though we grew up on it...my favorite meal was fried saltmeat, fried okra, fried or boiled new potatoes, turnip greens, purple hull peas (or great northern beans), fresh tomatoes out of Daddy Gene's garden, along with green onions, cucumbers and radishes...and slathered in "grease gravy", with cornbread to sop it all up! I'd give anything to have just one more of those meals!
And here's my uncle's e-mail from this morning, a response to a request for the recipe. Seems Seattle is overrun with green tomatoes, and chow chow is the first thing that occurred to me.
Here is the recipe. I changed it a little because I started using an electric grinder, The percentage of the mix can vary a little. Each batch has a little different flavor. Nanny just used what she had. She liked a lot of flavor and hot pepper. She used the long red peppers because that is what Daddy Gene grew. The recipe makes about 40-50 pints. You might try half that on your first batch.
It's messy! On my first batch my feet were sticking to the floor!
Good luck. Let me know how it turns out.
And here, friends, is the recipe, in my uncle's own words. I wish I had a picture, too. If anyone makes it, let me know--I would be happy to make you some cornbread for barter. Enjoy.
Nannie’s Chow-Chow Recipe
One crate of green tomatoes
One-half bushel Onions
One-half bushel Bell Peppers (a mix of green and red adds color)
Twelve to Fourteen heads of Cabbage (medium size)
Five cups of Apple Vinegar
Four cups Sugar
One-half cup Salt
Small bag of Pickling Spices (about one and a half to two inches in diameter
One-half pound of Hot Peppers (about 20 to 50 depending on the pepper used)
If using an electric meat grinder, use the largest holed grinder plate. Grind each ingredient separately and keep separate. Reserve all the fluid in each ingredient. It is best to grind because it produces more reserve liquid. If a food processor is used you may have to add water when cooking. If you must cook in more than one batch, try to estimate the volume of each ingredient and keep the blend as close to the same as possible in each batch.
Bring Vinegar, Sugar and Salt mixture to a boil and place the bag of Pickling Spice in the liquid when it is early in the boiling process. Let the Pickling Spices boil for awhile. (The longer the stronger, you can add more later) Remove before adding the ground ingredients. Reserve the bag of Pickling Spices for possible later use. Place the ground ingredients into a large Pot (the flatter the better, you may have to use two burners) and add the Vinegar mix. Add all of the reserved liquid. You must have enough liquid to cover the solids when you seal the jars.)
Bring the mix to a simmer under medium heat while stirring frequently and cook until the cabbage is soft but not mushy. Start to taste when nearing completion and add more flavor to your taste. Judge the taste with a small amount that has been cooled in a small bowl in the refrigerator or freezer. You can add more pickling spice by heating a small amount of Vinegar or water in a cup and letting the bag of spice soak for awhile. Make sure there is enough liquid at the end. It should look like you have too much liquid at the end of the cook. Boil your jars and lids and fill with the mix making sure there is liquid at the top. Use pints for condiment use and pints or quarts for side dish use. Seal the tops tightly and tighten more when cooled. You can use the water bath method but Nanny never did and we have never had a problem with spoilage if used in a few months.
For condiment use the ratio of ground ingredients should be about 30% Cabbage, 35% Tomatoes, 20% Onion and 15% Bell Pepper.
For side dish use the ratio of ground ingredients should be about 35% Cabbage, 35% Tomatoes, 15% Onion and 15% Bell Pepper.
A half crate of green tomatoes is about half a grocery sack. Adjust all the ingredients (ground and flavors) to the tomatoes. You can use more Cabbage than above if you can’t find enough green tomatoes. You can adjust the flavors at the end. I usually make a lot more of the Vinegar mix than I think I need (double) and add more to taste near the end of the cook. Nanny always added more near the end. I have never had too much liquid at the end. When opened a jar should be eaten in two or three weeks. If you buy jars and want to use the box for storage, you need to reinforce the box with tape. I use cayenne peppers.
You will usually need to do one batch to get it the way you like. I screwed up my first batch every way possible and it was still good.
Update: I told my uncle there were some friends who might be making this, and he got all excited. Here's his response:
It is great to have a lot of tomatoes. They can use more tomatoes in the recipe and get a better side dish type of chow-chow. I think they would probably like that type of chow-chow better if it's their first time to taste it. It could still be used as a condiment. If they use a food processor, I would use the large grater disk. Unless they have tasted Nanny's original they may not know how to adjust the flavor. I would advise them to make it a little stronger than the recipe because I usually add more of the vinegar mix at the end. It's fun to make if you already have the tomatoes. It gives you the old frontier spirit if you have grown the tomatoes!
You might not know that chow-chow was the vitamin pills for rural people in the old days. It was eaten almost every day. Nannie and Daddy Gene ate it with every full meal.
Give your friends my best!