One of our interns, Carly, shares with us the tastes of her childhood and how canning helps preserve these memories for generations to come. Learn to preserve your family's flavors - or start your own traditions - at our Intro to Canning workshop!
When I was little one of my favorite things to do was leaf through my mother’s recipe box—a cute, vintage tin about five sizes too small and one recipe from exploding. Despite its stuffed appearance, I was not intimidated. For me I was holding a box full of family history and infinite culinary possibilities. My great-aunt’s chocolate mayonnaise cake, my grandmother’s clothes-pin cookies and my great-grandmother’s sweet chili sauce, each recipe hand-written, worn with love, and exuding as much personality as the person who wrote it.
I love the nostalgia attached to whipping up an ooey, gooey, chocolate mayonnaise cake and imagining my mother, at five years old, enjoying the same cake on picnics at her aunt’s lake house. A taste bud time machine!
With fall just around the corner and summer on its way out, one of my family’s most cherished recipes comes to mind, my great-grandmother’s sweet chili sauce. My dad reminisces about the crisp autumn days when he’d step off the bus and smell the sweet, spicy sauce wafting down the street. My now 90-year-old grandmother would greet him and his siblings at the door with a slice of buttered bread, topped with the still-warm chili sauce, which her own mother used to make. It’s funny; every time I make this sauce my aunts come out of the woodwork, subtly hinting that they wouldn’t mind a jar.
I’m always amazed how a smell or taste can transport you to a certain time or place. Each and every hand written, coffee stained, dog-eared recipe has a history of its own: the special place it was enjoyed, the only time of year it was made and who was in the kitchen helping. I have grown to cherish these recipes and the stories that go along with them—the edible history of my family.
Grandma Gert’s Famous Sweet Chili Sauce
- 18 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (blanch in hot water to remove skin)
- 6 onions, chopped
- 3 green peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 C. vinegar
- 2 C. sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. clove
- 3 tsp. red chili flakes (optional for heat)
TIP: If chopping isn’t your style, use a grinder or food processor for the tomatoes, onions, green peppers and garlic.
- COMBINE tomatoes, onions, green peppers, garlic, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, for 1-½ hours, until sauce begins to thicken. Add the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove and red chili flakes (optional). Continue to gently boil, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and begins to mound on your spoon, about 30 minutes. This is about the time your neighbors will start pressing their faces against your window, drooling from the audacious aroma. Grab your wooden spoon; chase them away!
- HEAT clean pint jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
- LADLE the hot sauce into the hot jars, leaving about ½ inch headspace between the sauce and top of jar. Remove air bubbles with a non-metallic spatula. Use the spatula to wiggle your sauce around, releasing any trapped air bubbles. Adjust headspace if necessary by adding more sauce. Wipe rim, to ensure a proper seal. Center lid on jar. Loosely apply band.
- PROCESS jars in boiling water for 20 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Allow your jars to rest, untouched for 24 hours. Check for seal, when center is pressed, lids should not flex up and down.
- ENJOY as a condiment on hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans and scrambled eggs. Mix into potato salad, spread on meatloaf, plop atop tacos or add to a big ol’ pot of goulash. Remember folks, this is a sweet chili sauce condiment NOT chili but it sure is tasty!
If you’re interested in learning more about canning, want to reminisce on the good old days, or simply want to start your own, hand-canned stockpile, clear out your pantry and check out our upcoming workshop, Intro to Basic Canning!