So this fall, as I am enjoying an unexpected autumn in my hometown I decided I wanted to stock up on some of Nana’s green tomato ketchup and if I’m lucky some pecans.
On Sunday, PopPop and I went to my cousin Wil’s farm and harvested about a bushel of green tomatoes that were still on the vine. Then yesterday I arrived at Nana and PopPop’s house ready for a day full of grinding, pickling and canning.
I was greeted by PopPop, sitting in his foldable camping chair on the side of the house- a virtual sentinel standing guard- with a gun no-less, should his arch-rival, the squirrel, poke his head around the edge of a branch. You see, PopPop, has spent the majority of the past two months sitting in this spot with his pellet gun waiting to knock off any squirrel that dare take any of his prized pecans.
While the rest of their grandchildren and great grandchildren are playing video games, chatting on facebook or running around doing errands, Nana and PopPop are content at spending their days in their side yard, searching for their version of Kentucky gold: the pecan. One Sunday after dinner we all went out to see how many pecans had fallen. With childlike glee Nana would scream, “oh here’s one,” followed by giddy laughter and sheer delight. The pecans kept falling one after another. We could hear their kerplunk as they hit the moist ground. The afternoon turned into a scavenger hunt: who can find the most pecans on the ground. I think our final count was around 200. The running total as of yesterday is about six gallons.
On days when I run out of job hunting things to do or just want a glass of milk and a slice of cake I go over to Nana and PopPop’s to check in and see how many pecans they have collected each day. The other day I went over and received a much needed lesson in the techniques used to extract the pecan from their shell. First, you crack it with a nut cracking device, then you pick, with surgical precision, out the nut from the shell. I can’t help wonder if PopPop’s precise skill at pecan hulling is honed by his clock repair acumen or vice-versa. Either way, when it comes to making sure a perfect pecan is extracted PopPop is a great teacher.
As PopPop stands guard of our fall bounty of pecans, I go into the kitchen and find Nana already hard at work. I told her to wait and I would help. But this woman does not know how to slow down and has probably worked her whole life, nary with a break to breath.
Her arthritic swollen hands have already washed cored and cut up about a half bushel of green tomatoes. And don’t start to think for a minute that she didn’t let me know how much work all this was. She repeatedly tells me, “last time PopPop and I did this we swore we would never do it again!” Alas, I guess being a grandson has it’s perks. She knows I love her green tomato ketchup and I eagerly want to learn how she makes it every year so I can carry on the tradition. I take a roasting pan full of green tomatoes out to the deck and start the long process of grinding about 3 gallons of green tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cabbage.
Next, we wait 4 hours, watch Nana’s favorite afternoon TV show, Let’s Make a Deal, and then start prepping the mason jars for processing.
At first Nana, scoffs at my suggestion that we have to first sterilize the jars in boiling water. Then after we fill all the jars with the green tomato ketchup she thinks I’m crazy for saying we have to put them in a water bath. What do I know, I just moved back from the city and all I have to go by is Ball’s Blue guide to canning.
Nana said, “I have never, put them in a hot bath and it always turned out just fine.” I guess, growing up in a germ phobic world has taken it’s tole on me. I explain why I think we need to put them in a water bath and Nana relents. She admits, “My mom always canned everything under the sun, but I never paid attention.” She continues, “I have always been a tom-boy and never wanted to be in the kitchen when we were canning. All I did was wash the jars, since my hands were so small.”
Let’s just say I won the war on the boiling water bath and taught Nana something as we listened to the tops of the Mason jars pop, indicating the water bath had done it’s job and properly sealed the jars.
By the end of the day we had a nice batch (21 pint jars full) of green tomato ketchup, family stories and a garage full of pecans. I can’t wait for a bowl of white beans, a dollop of green tomato ketchup and corn bread (made from Mammaw’s cast iron mold that creates little corn cobs). Oh, and for dessert Nana’s famous Pecan Pie.
While Nana and PopPop think their pecans are Kentucky gold, I think my opportunity to learn Nana’s recipe for green tomato ketchup and hear her old stories is my own version of Kentucky gold.