"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres


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 mount.  

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 cores)
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 often 
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons powdered ginger (optional) 
2 tablespoons mustard or celery seeds, or both (optional)


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.]

PLANNING--Selecting 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.  

TWO-BY-TWO--My 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 of fruit. 

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 small. 

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 summer style. 

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.




All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the Scifres family.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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