One of my strongest childhood memories was watching my grandmothers in the kitchen preparing meals for our large family gatherings on Sunday afternoons. Both my grandmother and my great-grandmother were influential figures in my life and instilled a quiet passion in me for bringing your heart and soul to the table. They would create memorable and delicious dishes that would cause us to want to sit at the dinner table for hours, not just minutes, and share together. They were wonderful and patient teachers and, like a sponge, I would absorb their body language, their knife skills, and their innate sense of creating something out of nothing as I worked alongside them. They were frugal, but they would never let us know it, as we sat down to a meal fit for kings.
When my great grandmother died, I inherited a few of her cookbooks. They have her notes in them from World War I, when she was a cook for the soldiers. They hold a place of honor on my bookshelf. It helps me to remember what an important role food has to play both in life and in death. I thumb through the fragile pages from time to time, half expecting to hear grandma’s voice whisper a secret direction to me.
This is among one of my grandmother’s signature recipes–a relish made with green tomatoes. We put our gardens to bed this past weekend and pulled up our tomatoes–now it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane.
My Grandmother's Green Tomato Mustard Relish
- Grind and drain for 1 hr. the first 4 ingredients (green tomatoes, green and red peppers and onions).
- Mix the remaining ingredients together and add the vegetables.
- Cook until it boils and thickens, stirring constantly.
- Pack in sterilized hot jars.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
On Tuesday mornings, at the break of dawn, all of the Sisters, Novices and Postulants divide and conquer the larger vegetable gardens in our community. That’s about 30 of us in each garden, with a small team of older sisters staying behind to make breakfast. In one hour, we are astounded at how much gets done – hauling off wheel barrows full of weeds to the compost pile and bringing in tubs of fresh veggies for the week ahead. The older Sisters teach the younger ones about suckering tomatoes and the younger ones have the strong backs to dig and till. Stories are told about the early days, and new ones are made – it’s Sisterhood life at its best.
This week, we got a bumper crop of Japanese cucumbers in – thin, long and crunchy –a welcome sight after a long winter of frozen vegetables! With the volume of cukes coming in, we opted to make our favorite sweet pickles. For many years, we have been making this special recipe and giving them as gifts at Christmastime. Now we are about to let you in on a big secret recipe that has stayed within the walls of our Convent for over 30 years. Enjoy and Happy Gardening!
“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” – Rabbi Abraham Heschel
The Convent’s Famous Bread and Butter Pickles
- Thinly slice the onions and cucumbers. Chop the peppers (if adding).
- Combine cucumbers, onions, peppers and salt in a large bowl and cover with cracked ice. Mix thoroughly and allow to sit at room temperature for 3 hrs. or until the ice melts. Drain thoroughly but do not rinse.
- Combine the remaining ingredients in a large pot and heat just until boiling.
- Add the Cucumber and onion mixture and cook just a bit.
- Sterilize 5 quart size jars in boiling water.
- Add the pickles to the jar, followed by the juice. You may not need all the juice you have.
- Seal jars and process in a water bath.