Yesterday was my grandmother’s birthday. She would’ve been 104. She’s been gone for 8 years now, but I still miss her a million times a day. She was all the things that you would want a grandmother to be, warm, kind and loving, but she was more than just a grandmother to me. She was my friend, my most trusted confidante, and my relentless defender. Once, after I absentmindedly backed into my Dad’s car, she called him to say it was his fault – he shouldn’t have parked so close to me. She was hands down my favorite person. I loved everything about her from the way she said here, which was more of a he-ya, to her delicate precision in all she did. You’ve never seen a more perfectly peeled tomato or pile of folded clothes. Above all of that, she embodied the meaning of home for me. She was my safe, happy place and when in her presence I knew I’d be okay.
In addition to all the things listed above, Nin, which is what I called her, was a damn good cook. Yesterday I went back and forth on what recipe of hers I would make in honor of her birthday. There are so many that I love, chicken and dumplings, cornbread… but after talking with my sister, I decided to make her tomato relish. She would make large amounts of it in the summer when the tomatoes were in season and can it to use all year long. She called it chili sauce, but I don’t think that is an appropriate name. When I hear chili sauce, I think spicy and this is not. It’s sweet from the sugar, warm from the spices, tangy from the tomatoes and vinegar and absolutely perfect piled on black eyed peas.
Luckily my sweet aunts compiled all of her recipes into a book as a gift to her grandchildren, but that only got me so far. The precision that I mentioned before did not carry over to her recipes. They are filled with vague instructions like “add till right” or “cook till done.” This one was no different containing “cook until right consistency.” It was up to me to figure out what that was.
The first thing I did was divide the recipe by 6. The original makes 6 pints, and while I would love to always have tomato relish on hand, my little kitchen cupboard doesn’t have the space. I then had to figure out how long to cook the relish. After about an hour, the mixture had thickened and looked the way I remembered. This could be wrong (Sandel relatives please correct me if I am) but the result was delicious and will only get better with time. I meant for the peas and relish to only be a side, but after taking one bite, I decided to forget the chicken and ate a whole bowl for dinner. I was immediately transported back to Nin’s kitchen. It was the perfect way to celebrate the memory of my favorite lady.
Tomato Relish (aka Chili Sauce)
Recipe by Nuna Mae Sandel
Again, I divided this recipe by 6 and it worked fine, so feel free to do the same if you don’t want to can them.
- 3 dozen ripe tomatoes chopped
- 6 chopped green peppers
- 6 chopped medium onions
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. cloves
- 2 tsp. ginger
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 4 cups vinegar
Cook chopped vegetables until tender. Add other ingredients and cook until right consistency (for me, this was about an hour. It should be thick). Seal in mason jars while hot. Serve over black-eyed peas with corn bread.
MAKES 6 PINTS