A red bell pepper is simply a green pepper that has ripened. But there is a big taste difference, and there are those that love red peppers but blanch at the thought of eating a green pepper. It’s kind of the same with tomatoes; a hard, green tomato is simply an unripe tomato, but what a difference in taste and culinary applications! And there are those among us that look forward to green tomatoes almost as much as their vine-ripened brethren, plucking them from the vine as soon as they get a hankering for a dish of fried green tomatoes or a batch of green tomato chow-chow.
Often our tomatoes are savaged by the indiscriminate appetites of nocturnal visitors, and we awake to find our slowly ripening plants have been bitten into and otherwise spoiled. Lament not, and curse the squirrels no more; this is where you turn lemons into lemonade, or rather, critter-savaged green tomatoes into a green tomato chutney or delicious chow-chow. For fried green tomatoes, you want a lovely firm fruit of good size and handsome shape, free of blemishes and unharmed by the creatures of the night. For green tomato chow-chow, you can use damaged, misshapen and otherwise hopeless fruit, cutting away the offending parts. The same applies to cherry or grape tomatoes. The tomatoes will be chopped up anyway, so who cares?
Chow-chow is one of my favourite condiments, and at this time of year there is no shortage of green tomatoes or the other veggies-peppers, onion, cabbage and the like- that go into it. Making chow-chow is not only a great way to use up this bounty, it ensures you will have a delicious accompaniment throughout the fall and winter, perfect alongside pork, fried fish, crabcakes and as a relish on hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages.
As is the case with most pickles or relishes, there is no one definitive chow-chow recipe; most folks have their favourite, utilizing whatever veggies are handy. Sweetness is a matter of taste, as is the acid content, with some people preferring a sweeter relish, while others like a good vinegar tang.
Are the tomatoes half ripe and borderline pink? Fine, use them anyway! Cabbage? Perfect, chop it up and put it in the pot. Chayote squash is also pretty much a standard ingredient, and in fact the name “chow-chow” is thought to be derived from the word chayote. Then again, maybe the name comes from chou the French word for cabbage, as it is believed the dish originated with the Acadians (later Cajun) who settled in the deep south, where it is also called piccalilli. But whatever you call it, if you are making a batch, just don’t call me late for dinner.
Green Tomato Chow-Chow
Makes about 6 cups
¼ cup water
2/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup apple cider or white vinegar
2 cups chopped green tomatoes
2 cups chopped green peppers
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped cabbage and/ or chayote squash
In a large pot bring water, sugar, salt, mustard, turmeric,red pepper flakes and ginger to a boil and add vinegar. Add the vegetables and reduce heat, stirring regularly. Cook gently for about ten minutes or until veggies are soft and broken down but not mushy. Remove from heat and transfer to sterilized glass jars and seal. Can be stored in a cool place for six weeks and it gets better if you leave it alone for a while!