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Chow Chow

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My granny/great grandmother/Minnie Earlene Justus made chow chow. She used what was in her garden in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Whether she was at the Rock House, the boarding house, or her little two-bedroom cottage on Kanuga Road, she always planted a garden. Along with her melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, there was always a pint jar of chow chow on the table.
I learned early that I did not like what was in that jar or in her glass dish served with all that wonderful food. In later years, I noticed my dad didn’t care for it either. This didn’t keep my mom from having it available in the frig; she enjoyed it with beans and pork. She even put it on hot dogs sometimes.
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Chow chow is popular in parts of the American South, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Appalachia. It’s made by combining a whole lot of different vegetables (usually with a cabbage and/or green tomato base) with vinegar to quickly pickle the vegies.
It is one of those end of the season recipes that utilizes things that are quickly fading from the backyard garden. It’s a way to use those tomatoes that are still on the vine, but will never turn ripe before the first frost gets them. So this is usually made in the fall. That goes for the other vegetables that are included in it. Some folks use cucumbers, some use cauliflower, some use pretty much just cabbage. If you start looking for recipes, you’ll find lots of variations.
Of course, if there is an abundance during the growing season, it makes sense to make a batch then.

Old-Fashioned Chow Chow Relish

And before you get confused about this word, this is not that cute dog that I am writing about this morning.
Have you ever eaten chow chow? If you live in the South, you might have. It is part slaw, part pickled relish, and part side dish. The mixture is served cold, and some variations also kick it up with condiments like ketchup and mustard. It’s tangy, sweet, a little spicy, crunchy, and it pairs well with just about any savory food.
<strong>Bright and tangy chow chow is a perfect sandwich topper. </strong>
John’s mother used to make it, but none of her sons liked it either. Wonder if it is a generational, as well as regional food?
As to the origins of chow chow, the late Southern food historian John Egerton believed the origins of chow-chow began in the sauces brought over by Chinese railroad workers in the 19th century. The Food Lover’s Companion links it to a ginger-and-orange-peel condiment of that same Chinese origin, but it  bears little resemblance to what we call chow-chow today. Others say that the name originated in the French language, where the word cabbage is chou. As it became popular, family recipes over a century were handed down from grandparents. (This makes sense as to how it came into our home.)
The Amish  – especially of Lancaster County – have become well known for their chow chows. Chow chow has established itself as a favorite “end of garden” relish for many Amish cooks. They include string beans, celery, corn, kidney beans, and carrots. Perhaps, theirs is another way to consume leftovers.
The process of making it is easy. Chop and combine cabbage, corn, onion, green tomato, hot pepper, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander, and celery. Toss with vinegar and honey. Boil water, add vinegar, and pickling spices in a large pot. Add sugar for sweetening. Bring it to a boil for about five minutes until tender. Cool it off and put it in the fridge. There are many versions available on the Internet for you to personally check out.
Preserving family recipes, as well as stories, is important to me, as you know. I guess the chow chow delicacy stops with John and me. And, I love pulling out those old recipes, written by their hands, to cook and share with my family and friends. Giving those women credit puts a smile on my face.
I agree with one of my favorite authors. “I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations,”  said Beatrix Potter.
If you are interested in buying chow chow, Bellew’s Market in Spartanburg and the Hendersonville Farmer’s Market still sell it.
When I think about my mountain, Appalachian roots, I see strength in Granny and on up her family line. They made do with little and stretched everything feasible to feed their families. Chow chow seems to be another sign of that by using the left-overs from the garden. Their hands were hardened with work, as well as rearing children. They fought hard for their families. Survival was based on know-how, and I guess that also includes knowing how to make chow chow.
This post has not been what I thought it would be today. I really thought I was going to share information about an old recipe that I didn’t particularly care for. What happened is another realization about the heritage the women in my family tree have passed on to me.
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”
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“Hi! Ho! Silver! Away!”

Today is my brother’s birthday, and he is celebrating it in heaven. I have been flooded with memories of our childhood.

He loved the outdoors. In our early years, it was playing Daniel Boone or the Lone Ranger. Fess Parker and Clayton Moore modeled lives of being brave and helping others; our interpretive versions became a different reality in the woods of the vacant lot across the street from our home. We used old brooms for horses. Critt had a holster set with two pistols for his role as the Lone Ranger and a wooden rifle and coonskin hat for Daniel. We hid behind tree trunks and whispered secret messages, so we could outwit the enemies that were stalking us. Then we would race and jump behind a stump or a fallen log.

Critt would usually carry his canteen, so we wouldn’t have to go across the street to civilization and drink out of the hose in the front yard. He pretended to build fires to keep us warm or for me to cook on. As we grew older, other children in the neighborhood joined in our sojourns in the back woods.

On January 31, 1933, The Lone Ranger premiered on the radio. It immediately became popular with adults, as well as children. An announcer introduced each episode with similar words, “In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

Ten years later, the show became an instant hit on television, and a new introduction was memorized by the fans. “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! … With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”


Yesterday someone reminded me of the back story of The Lone Ranger. He was the only survivor of an attack on a group of six Texas Rangers. In 1823, Stephen Austin initiated this law enforcement group. Except for during the Civil War, this agency has continued to both investigate and bring to justice criminals in Texas.

At Bryant’s Gap, a band of outlaws ambushed these six Rangers in the series. They all died, except for the one Lone Ranger. Included in those killed was Daniel Reid, the Lone Ranger’s oldest brother. Tonto finds the slaughtered men and saves the life of the one barely alive. Burying the others and digging a sixth grave, so it would appear that all had perished, Tonto nurses the lone survivor. With part of his brother’s vest, the younger Reid brother fashions a black domino mask and vows to hunt down Butch Cavendish and his gang of outlaws.

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The opening theme from “The William Tell Overture”; the wondrous horse, Silver, described by the show’s announcer as “a fiery horse with the speed of light and thundering hooves”; Tonto’s name for the Ranger, “Kemo-sabe”; the silver bullets; and the Ranger’s vow of refusing to shoot to kill and never removing his mask (unless in disguise) brought the wild west to our home on Penarth Road. Sitting on the floor beside our dad’s chair, the wild, wild west enthralled us all.

By the way, I was Tonto. Tightly putting my hair back in a pony tail, I would tie ribbons around it. My lines always ended in “Kemo sabe,” except when I was talking to my horse Scout.

[Jay 1]

Kemo-sabe is Potawotamie for “trusty scout” and others say “faithful friend”. Jay Silverheels was a descendant of the Mohawk tribe, and those words describe his role in this series. With my coal-black hair and olive complexion, I could pass for a Native American.

In looking for pictures for this article, I found this poem. Fran Striker, the American writer for radio and comics, who created the characters of The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, and Sergeant Preston.

The Lone Ranger Creed
By Fran Striker
(circa 1933)
[lone ranger]
“I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one.

That all men are created equal and that everyone
has within himself the power
to make this a better world.

That God put the firewood there but that every
must gather and light it himself.

In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to
fight when necessary for that which is right.

That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.

That ‘This government, of the people, by the people and
for the people’ shall live always.

That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.

That sooner or later… somewhere…somehow…
we must settle with the world and
make payment for what we have taken.

That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”

This creed speaks to me today of a man who chooses to make a difference. As C. S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” So as in our childhood, my brother and I played at doing good things, I applaud his doing good things as an adult.