Friday, October 2, 2009

Green Tomato Love

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.


  1. Yum! I think I would love this. It looks kinda like stuff we call mustard pickles and that is delicious on a white bread sandwich with corned beef and cheese.

    Love the name Chow Chow :-)

  2. Love it - wicked entry as usual! I love how you wrap them up so well! :) Never heard of this stuff but very intrigued now. Also - how do you fry your green tomatoes? Do you put them in a batter of any kind? I'll have to forward this recipe on to my mum - how long do you reckon this stuff will keep?!

  3. I'm definitely down for a game of Ignore the Chow Chow. (I don't like the dogs, either, so I'm gonna go ahead and proclaim myself the ultimate game winner.)

    Awesome post.

  4. The chow chow doesn't sound that bad to me. However, I am not a fan of sweet relishes. I saw an awesome recipe one time for a green tomato and tomatillo salsa that looked yummy. Now, if only I could find it...

  5. Oh! And Martha Stewart (I know, gag usually) had a recipe for a tomato tart that had an almond crust and green tomatoes. Very yummy. You can probably find this one on her vast website-if you dare go there...

  6. This was a staple at my grandmother's in NC...well, anyone's grandmother's in NC. So were Fried Green Tomatoes. Dredged in cornmeal first, of course. Can't believe you wouldn't touch it as a kid. In NC, you'd go to hell for that LOL!

  7. This had me laughing all the way through. I think moms sometimes love having something that no one else will touch, just so they don't have to share! I know I would. We have loads of green tomatoes that I've been wondering what to do with too. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. LOL Sheri I was just thinking who doesn't know what chow chow is, Cracker Barrel has tons of it and when I worked there guest always requested it with pintos.

  9. I must go and buy some green tomatoes to make this. I agree with your idea of making it spicier -it's supposed to be that way and it's delicious on hot dogs! I was given a jar by my mom years ago and loved it. Can't wait to make my own!!

  10. mmmmm. As usual my mouth is watering. I love green tomatoes!

  11. Congrats on your chow-chow success hon.

  12. LOVE anything Tyler Florence comes up with--I might be ringing your bell.

  13. my favourite part of this post was how you came around full circle... hahaha leaving the jar out every time.

    it actually looks pretty tasty! send a jar on up to Canada!!

  14. Laura, thanks for the rec on the Martha recipe. We have a ton more of these green suckers, so I may check it out.

    CC: No idea how long it will keep? If you can it properly, in sterilized jars, probably a while?

  15. It sounds kinda yummy to me...then again I HEART tomatoes.

  16. I'll try anything once. For you.
    I'm, like, the best toddler ever.

  17. Nap, can you come replace, like, the worst toddler ever? The one residing in my house? Except she's a little bigger than a toddler...but she is FOUL.

  18. Do not come knocking because I won't answer. My grandmother made this and lets just say I didn't visit if I knew she was canning.Not that fond of the fried variety either.

  19. I love the childhood memory that came from this post. I had the similar experience with cucumber salad, of all things. Hated it as a child but love it as an adult. Funny how even the tastebuds mature!

  20. I have never heard of Chow Chow either. My mom would love it. She used to have a jar of Indian Relish on the table. I think she even ate it with cottage cheese. Not sure who canned it, but I know it was homemade. I wouldn't try it if my life depended on it! Probably still wouldn't because it was sweet. The spicy version you did I probably would!

  21. Mm.

    Green tomatoes remind me of fried green tomatoes, which I've always wanted to try.

  22. You won my free stuff giveaway! (from my 2nd Blogoversary last week). I'll send you an e-mail with your stationery box choices.

  23. Okay this is weird, I've never heard of Chow Chow then I am right now watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and they were at a restaurant in Memphis where their specialty is Chow Chow and showed how to make it! What are the odds?

  24. Pretty soon, I'm going to have to try to write a poem with all your recipe titles. Because from a language perspective, they are SO fun. Though I wouldn't expect anything less from you, Word Goddess.

  25. I watched Tyler Florence make this on his show and I wondered what people thought of it. I bookmarked the recipe to try, and I'm glad that you said to cut back on the sugar. I finally tried fried green tomatoes (also by Tyler Florence) for the first time, and loved it. As you may know, I'm a fan of Tyler anyway.
    Great childhood story!

  26. Thanks for teaching me something new. Chow Chow, what the "H"?

  27. I was just reading a recipe for chow-chow. If only there were any tomatoes left in North Florida. They have all wilted and died.

    I love fried green tomatoes! Looks like you guys had a blast with all the fabulous green tomatoes.

  28. My great grandparents apparently made chow chow all the time! I would love to try this. I had an amazing green tomato soup last weekend at a restaurant. It was sooo velvety and fresh. And of course I love them fried with red onion relish. . . drool.

  29. You, my friend, are a lifesaver! I have the biggest bag of green tomatoes on my counter right now. I wanted to make some fried green tomatoes but had no idea what to do with the rest of them. Gonna have to try this recipe! :D

  30. Never heard of it, but It sounds delicious. You make me laugh and giggle, and it is good. Especially after 50 freshmen composition papers. Good writting and good food comfort me. So thanks!

  31. TKW, you are the freaking funniest writer I know!!! Agent Orange...that is hysterical.

    I've always wanted to try Fried Green Tomatoes. Chow, chow? I'd do it. But I'll come to your house because it's pretty obvious that I am not going to make that myself.

  32. Eralda: 50 composition papers...oooh, I am having a bad flashback...I definitely sympathize.

    Gibs...Chow Chow is right here waiting for a bad Richard Marx song :)

    Ungourmet: if you attemt Chow Chow, let me know how it went?

    Feast: Yeah, it really is too sweet...

  33. Ink:

    You are right. F(*& Wallace Stevens. Emporer of Ice Cream? Right. I am the Queen of the Sandwich Chow Chow White Trash Motherlode!!!

    ps: I love you.