Green tomatoes may be battered and fried, as in the Fannie Flagg book, but I like them most in my grandmother’s sweet relish. It’s been an eon since the last (and only) time I made it myself, so I take advantage of our bumper tomato crop, borrow my mother’s galvanized food grinder, buy the rest of the veggies, and dig in.
I begin cutting peppers, tomatoes and onions to feed into the hopper as I crank the wooden handle to force them out of the circular holes. A simple machine, an inclined plane, it is still fascinating to watch as it pushes piles of mush into the pan below.
And the juice! It drips around the vegetables, but also onto the floor like the perspiration onto my ears. Who’d have thought onions would have the most juice of all?
There is something about a kitchen completely absorbed in putting up food the old-fashioned way. Pans are large. Knives are sharp. One sink is full of seeds and pulp. The top of the stove is completely covered as steam rises from sterilized jars. The floor grows sticky.
Holding onto the crank with one hand and the vise with the other, I watch the outdoors. Ruby, the hummingbird, pauses in front of the patio door to let me know her juice is empty. Flower hues, a bit more subdued than the day before, still dance in a faint breeze. There is time to think.
But the rest of the work is waiting. The vegetables go into the pot, joined by sugar, vinegar and a cheesecloth bag full of spices. They simmer and are soon ready to be poured into jars.
If you are curious about what goes into this savory mixture, or if you by chance would like to try making some yourself, here is Grandma Porter’s recipe. I am fortunate to have a copy in her left-handed script:
Sweet Pepper Relish
1 dozen green peppers
1 dozen red peppers
1 dozen green tomatoes
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 pint water
1 1/2 pints apple cider vinegar
salt to taste
Grind vegetables and cover with boiling water. Let stand five minutes and drain. Add sugar, water, vinegar, and salt. Gather pickling spices into a cheesecloth bag and put in. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove the bag of spices, pour into jars and seal (jars and lids have been scalded in boiling water bath).
Oh – and I make half a recipe. The whole thing would be out of my league.