GARDEN GOURMET--February 2008
Writing a gardening column on the eve of a snowstorm
in February is a bit uncertain, but come snow, rain, or shine when the
shortest month of the year rolls around thoughts of tilling the soil slowly
The weatherman more or less dictates what one
is to do in the garden in the month of February, and we all know that can
lead to shin baking. But in February in the Midwest both snow and sunshine
prevail in their assigned times and the gardener works accordingly.
When the first killing frost hit our garden last
fall it was time to get what was left of the green tomatoes (ripe ones
too), peppers and a few other items hidden by weeds from the cold nights
and frost damage. But even though we knew the best of the tomato crop was
over the hill, there was a salvage crop in the offing. The first thing
that popped into my mind was my grandmother/mother/sister’s version of
Chow-Chow, a green tomato-base relish conglomeration of pickled
vegetables of your choice. With some reservations, you put in what you
like. However, I insist (beyond the well-chopped green tomatoes, including
skins and seeds) on peppers of at least two colors, corn, a bit of ripe
tomato, and cabbage. All are well chopped, of course, I hesitate to term
it “finely” chopped. Fine chopping tends to take away some of the substance
of chow-chow. It should be a bit chewy.
Here is what I usually use:
4 (four) quarts (maybe two extra cups) well-chopped
green tomatoes (including skin and seeds, core out--sometimes I include
1 medium head of cabbage
3, 4 medium onions (your choice)
3 green peppers (more if you like)
3 red sweet peppers (same as green).
½ cup salt (or less). It is good to add
salt slowly to taste
1 32-ounce bottle of brown vinegar (to taste)
4-5 cups sugar (to taste, go slowly, tasting
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons powdered ginger (optional)
2 tablespoons mustard or celery seeds, or both
Chop all veggies and combine them in large kettle
(covered) and let them stand at room temperature for 6 to 10 hours, maybe
overnight. Then drain liquids and save temporarily.
In another kettle combine vinegar, sugar and seasonings
(seeds in). Bring to good boil; turn down to simmer 30 minutes.
Bring vinegar/sugar liquids to boil again and
pour into drained vegetables. Let simmer slowly (covered) for 30 minutes.
Spoon hot mixture (including liquid) into sterilized
jars, and hand tighten jar lids and tops. Process in boiling water bath
15 minutes and retighten jar tops with hands.
[Note: Degree of sweetness varies. A spoon
or two of sugar may be added when a jar is opened for use and refrigerated.
As they age in refrigerator they will sweeten with added sugar. But sweeten
only one jar at a time as you use the chow-chow.]
the cultivars that one’s garden will feature is an important part of the
growing season. But one must not relegate such decisions to your next trip
to the garden shop.
Such a turn of events will almost certainly lead
to bags of seeds--even growing plants and produce--much of which will not
get planted, or just stuck in the garden plot to disappear with the summer.
When the snow flies and the cold winds howl--like
right now--is the time to sit down in the kitchen with pad and pencil (even
sketches will help solidify plans).
Let’s face it. February is an ornery gardening
month, but it also is a good one. On those warm days (well, they seem warm),
it is good to dress for cool winds with the realization that surplus clothing
is easy in the disrobing. On some physical jobs . . . especially removing
old tomato plants, corn stalks and weeds . . . getting ready to till the
soil . . . can get physical and hot.
When I removed these items from my plot of last
summer to create a really good surface for a new garden this year, it required
digging up roots with a sharp-bladed, long-handled spade. The tomato plant
runners were often half to three-fourths of an inch in diameter and strong
as a hemp rope.
dad, the late Jacob W. Scifres, who gardened the town lot next to our house,
grew only one species (strain) of tomatoes because in our town there was
only one plant. We grew what we could get.
Later in life he changed the tune to grow no more
than two plants--three at the most--of any strain. That brings a variety
With the many strains of tomatoes, one can now
have a great variety of fruit for the table of home grown tomatoes. For
example, we had them (plenty for freezing after cooked) last summer and
they were all (six strains) great. I find it interesting to note
that one “cherry” plant produced more than an estimated 600 of the beautiful
miniature fruits--enough for home, the farmer who gives me garden space,
and several friends. And they ripened up to first frost and later.
On the other side of the coin there were a brace
of Beefsteaks (six inches across), and four others between the large and
Incidentally, if one wants fresh-like tomatoes
in the cold months of the year, summer surpluses may be frozen (intact,
after being rinsed and dried) just as they are (no cooking). Just place
one tomato or two in a sandwich bag and freeze them. When thawed, I am
told, the outer skin will come off as they thaw and they can be sliced
I also skin tomatoes by blanching, add other items,
cook them until most of their identity is gone and freeze. Delicious for
winter dishes requiring stewed tomatoes and the extras.