chow – my grandmother’s recipe

by Michelle

pop, pop….pop

The sound of pickle jars sealing has the most profound effect on me. I am immediately catapulted back to my girlhood. I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen sitting between my Nan and my mom listening to beloved family stories, that by then I already knew by heart. Stories of how my grandmother’s family had survived the Depression years living on ‘chow’ sandwiches. Chow or more commonly called Green Tomato Chowchow is a green tomato and onion mixture preserved with vinegar, white sugar and spices. Some recipes call for brown sugar but that dramatically takes you away from the flavour of Nanny Ekstrom’s chow!  It is quintessential Maritime fare. The summer season, in our part of the world, is not long enough. Frugal country house wives were not going to leave their hard work to rot on the vine. Making chow allowed them to use up tomatoes that would have ended up on the compost heap.

I can’t remember a supper where a bowl of chow didn’t grace the table. My childhood was full of meat and mash potato meals fancied up with a little chow!

This week our farmhouse smelled like a pickle factory.

The old apple trees covering our farm give me tons of apples to experiment with. This year I made apple, cayenne and thyme jelly!

check out the clarity!

I was like a kid in a candy shop!

Trying to recreate the taste of my grandmother’s elusive chow has become an annual pilgrimage for Mom and me. Nanny left us a recipe but of course she never really followed it.

This recipe is close…


8 lbs green tomatoes

4 lbs yellow onions

1/4 cup table salt

1 quart white vinegar

4 cups white sugar

3 tablespoons pickling spice tied in cheese cloth

Remove the stem end of the tomatoes, then slice thinly.

Peel onions and slice thinly.

Place vegetables in large bowl and sprinkle with salt.

Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight.

The next morning place ingredients in large colander and drain for 5 hours.

Place vinegar, sugar and spice bag in a heavy bottomed large pot.

Add drained vegetables.

Bring to a boil over medium to low heat.

Cook until soft, stirring often.

Every year is different due to the tomatoes so the cook time could be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours.

Pack into sterilized jars and store in a cool and dark place.

Serve this lovely pickle with homemade beans and potato scallop on a Saturday night and you will have the beginnings of a Maritime kitchen party!

Thanks for reading.