Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cowboy Chow-Chow

About a month ago, I made three little jars of homemade bread-n-butter jalapeno pickles that were met with pretty fantastic reviews. Not wanting to pass up more praises, I decided to take on some serious “canning.” I wanted to churn out dozens of jars of my sweet jalapeno pickles.

I ordered a case of pint-sized Ball jars online -- if you’re from the South, no doubt you’ve seen hundreds of these lining the shelves of your grandmothers’ store rooms, cupboards, and garages. As a kid, I saw them packed with pickled-everything but pickles - - okra, green tomatoes, green peppers, and even sweet watermelon rinds (my favorite.)

Having seen some actual canning & pickling done as a kid, I knew I needed a big, speckled, enameled pot in which to “can” my products. Thank god The Internet directed me to Ace Hardware that had all the canning supplies I needed, including the big, speckled, enameled pot. (Ace Hardware also had cases of the Ball jars at half the price I paid online without the ten-dollar shipping fee.)
Who knew?

I headed down to the Latino section of town where I knew I could obtain various varieties of jalapeno peppers at 49 cents a pound.

The display was out of red jalapenos, but like a good Texan, I was able to ask for them in really embarrassing Spanish.
They appeared.

Then, having scored tres libras de jalapenos verdes y dos libras de jalapenos rojos, I headed home and got to work.

They say you should always wear gloves when working with hot peppers. Having grown up working with hot peppers, I did away with this warning. That was not a good idea for I had never sliced a full five pounds of jalapenos. Soon, my knuckles were burning and the burning still hasn’t stopped. I donned latex gloves, but that still didn’t help.

Oh, by the way, if you want to clean a whole bunch of fresh produce, here’s a helpful hint I learned in the restaurant industry; something you’ll never see on The Food Network:

Plunge all your fresh produce into a clean sink of water, apply one or two drops of any detergent and swish around. It will quickly send all insects, microscopic or otherwise, to the bottom of the sink. Dead.I spent a huge amount of time slicing all the various peppers and red onions very neatly then cooked the pickling liquid in another big pot. Jars were sterilized in a boiling water bath (with two or three drops of bleach thrown in for good measure)

Then, when I was ready to stuff the jars, I saw that there was no way I could get all those sliced peppers into a dozen jars.

It was time to put on my grandmother hat and get frugal. I got out the Cuisinart and changed from pickles to relish.
All the nicely sliced peppers were quickly ground, packed into the jars and topped with pickling liquid.
They got “processed” for the proper amount of time.

Retrieved from the big, speckled enamel pot.
And here is the final product.

I was wondering what to call it.

When Southern grandmothers ended up with a bounty of green tomatoes and bell peppers, they ground them up, canned them with a sweet pickling juice and called it “chow-chow”.

Maybe I should call this “Texas Chow-Chow”.

No, better yet . . .

I think "Cowboy Chow-Chow" is a better name;
It's cute and it's also got a bit of alliteration going on there. If I made a milder version, I can call it "Cowgirl Chow-Chow".

Anyway, I have firmly come to believe that the process of “pickling” can only be effectively accomplished if one has a surplus of aunts, great aunts, and grandmothers on hand. A huge amount of labor-intensive fresh produce is involved

I can clearly see that pickling was a means by which our frugal foremothers could preserve a sudden over-abundance of produce from large gardens. It clearly wasn’t done simply to produce tasty condiments, for our great-grandmothers, I’m sure, had many more pressing matters at hand.

I’m sure that one grandmother was suddenly presented with bushels of immature cucumbers that were about to rot. Her keen ingenuity went to work with some runaway dill weed in the garden. Many little helping hands were put to work, and now billions of McDonald’s burgers contain dill pickles whether you want them or not.

Maybe, someday, some culinary anthropologists will be investigating the mysterious origins of “Cowboy Chow-Chow”. They’ll come across remnants of my blog and discover that I had intended to make bread-n-butter pickles but simply had too many peppers and not enough jars.



At 10:35 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

I can't wait to try the new batch of "chow-chow"! *smiles*

Also, HOW can I get my hands on those sweet watermelon rinds?? I've never tried them, but they sound right up my alley! :) :)

At 11:28 PM , Blogger MaryRuth said...

Wow--those are beautiful. I love the colors. I'm kinda scared to can stuff, but I like making pickles.

At 9:09 AM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

MHP - wanna come over on Friday night and get some?

Mary Ruth - the hotness of the peppers is really tempered by the sweet pickling liquid. That's what makes them so darn good.

At 12:21 AM , Blogger Speck said...

>tres libras de jalapenos verdes y dos libras de jalapenos rojos,...

Hey! I know what that means!

Aw, I'm sorry you had to process the peppers. They were just so *gorgeous* as slices.


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