I'm sure everyone has heirloom recipes in their recipe box. I know I have a bunch, and I treasure each and every one. I love the special connection to the person who passed it on, all the memories...the stories...the traditions...the love...the laughter...the sharing...the caring. And, of course, the food itself.
And I know I've mentioned that I come from a long line of wonderful women who are, and were, wonderful cooks. On my Mother's side of the family, and for today's post, specifically her mother's side, that would be my Mom, my Nana, my great grandmother, Ma Lebow, and my great, great grandmother Mary Molly.
|This is my Nana, Alma Iona Lebow Gwaltney, in 1985 at age 70.|
This recipe has been in our family as long as anyone can remember. My Mom doesn't remember a time without it. And it was my Nana's favorite recipe, which is saying alot because she had alot of great recipes!
Now what you don't know is that they were also what is referred to as hill folk. Yes, hill folk. From the hills. As in Ozarks. In southwest Missouri...places like Crane, Galena, Hurley, Quail Spur, and so on. Places you've probably never heard of. But most specifically Crane.
I know you're wondering where this is going...well, you see, some areas in and around the Ozarks were hard to farm. The land was rocky, the soil acidic. But some enterprising person discovered that one agricultural crop did particularly well in these conditions. Tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes.
For about 75 years this area of the Ozarks was known for their tomatoes. Tomato canning factories sprung up in just about every township or settlement. My great, great grandfather, George Cline, even ran one.
We don't know the origins of the Ripe Tomato Relish recipe. And, sadly, there's no one left who could tell us. But one has to wonder if it didn't arise from the abundance of tomatoes, and the waste not, want not attitude of these women.
What we do know is life was hard in the Ozark Mountains. According to Ozark History the first tomato factory was built in the 1890's in central Stone County. By the 1920s there were around 60 small canneries in Stone and Taney Counties. The wonderful thing about the canneries was that they provided work when jobs were scarce. They operated through the war years, the depression, and the drought years. They provided a place for small farmers to sell their tomato crops. For a long time it was a way of life for Stone and Taney County farmers. The canneries along the railroads survived the longest, some even into the late 1950's or longer, including the ones in Crane, Elsey, and Galena.
This is my great, great grandparents, George Cline, and Mary Ann Armilda Hutchins Cline, called Mary Molly, and their oldest daughter, Cordelia Viola, known as Cordy.
Here they are several years, and a few more kids, later. My great grandmother is the girl on the back right. Her formal name was Celestia Elizabeth Cline, but she was known as Bessie, or, to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, as Ma.
This is Ma and Aunt Cordy with their parents. Ma is on the back right.
This is Ma Lebow outside of the house up on the hill in Quail Spur.
The small, dark haired lady in the center back is my great, great grandmother, Mary Molly, in her later years. She died in 1936.
And lastly, a picture of Ma and Pa Lebow at their house in Galena. (I'm sure my quiet, unassuming great grandmother would not like you to know she could spit a line of tobacco about 3 yards and and hit the spittoon every time, but I had to tell you anyway!) She died in 1972, and he died in 1973.
My hope in sharing this little tidbit of family history with you is so that when you make Ripe Tomato Relish you will think of my family, of Mary Molly, and Ma, and Nana. Of my mother and me, who carry on the tradition each fall, at the end of gardening season, of preserving a little of the precious tomatoes, and peppers, and onions, and in so doing, honor a little piece of our family history.
To read more about the tomato canneries of southwest Missouri follow this link.
And now to the recipe!
Nana Gwaltney's Ripe Tomato Relish
18 ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cup green peppers (I also use some red and some yellow), coarsley chopped
1 1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)
Simmer 3 hours, or until thick. Can.
This is the chopped peppers, onions, cider vinegar, and pepper flakes.
The spices and brown sugar.
The tomatoes. I just leave the skin on although I suppose you could peel them if you feel like peeling 18 tomatoes.
Here is the relish simmering away. You can see how juicy it is. By now the house smells so delicious I can hardly wait to taste it!
And here it is 3 hours later, cooked down and ready to can.
Now I suppose you are wondering what to do with it...in the old days it was an accompaniment to meat dishes, it's good alongside mashed potatoes and rice. Nowadays I also serve it over cream cheese and crackers, and it makes a wonderful bruschetta, topped with fresh mozzarella or goat cheese. (Probably not a use the grandmothers considered!) Let me know if you find new ways to use it. There's probably some I haven't thought of.
Thank you for stopping by. I've enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with you.
All the best,