Here’s another retro recipe for you! But first, I need to make a confession: I didn’t like this when I was a kid, when I had the opportunity to eat the chili sauce Grandma Renner herself had made! Now, of course, I kick myself for being such a little nitwit.
But I long ago copied the recipe from Mom’s collection, thinking I’d make it someday. But I had to go through some kind of phase where “real” chili sauces were viewed as somehow “better” than my own grandmother’s.
Maybe it’s a labeling problem: this really isn’t a true chili sauce. There aren’t any actual chilis in it! Bell peppers, green and red, but mostly it’s tomatoes. It’s a spicy tomato sauce. It’s basically chunky ketchup. There’s no heat to it at all.
For our little Fourth of July feast, I decided to offer an alternative relish for our burgers, so I made up some of this. And boy, howdy—it’s pretty darned good!
You usually think of something piquant, tangy, tomatoey, and just . . . sharp tasting. Sharply tomatoey. But this has a good combination of flavors, vinegar, sugar.
Naturally, I didn’t follow the instructions to the letter. First, I made the “mistake” of not knowing that one is always supposed to blanch, peel, and deseed tomatoes used for sauce! What a nincompoop I am. (However, I do know that nutrients and flavor are in the skin and seeds, so unless I’m told not to, I tend to keep them in.)
After the initial hour of simmering, I could tell I’d have to run it through my food mill, and that would change the texture from how Grandma used to make it. But okay—I remember Grandma’s chili sauce being chunky and fairly watery, and I wanted mine to be more like a sauce—thicker, more ketchupy. So my “mistake” turned out to be a boon.
Grandma’s recipe calls for “red peppers,” too—I had to ask my mom what Grandma might have used. I mean, any hint of the word chili, and I’m inclined to use red chili peppers, those small, thin-skinned little firecrackers, like cayenne. But no, Mom told me it was more like a red bell pepper. Read: sweet red pepper.
I quartered Grandma’s recipe, since it was a maiden voyage, but next time, I’ll make a full batch and process it. Here’s why:
—It goes on nearly everything. Hamburgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, baked potatoes, you name it—anything you’d maybe put ketchup on. I mean, just a hot dog or hamburger, a bun, and this stuff—and wow.
—Check this out: open a jar of sauerkraut, pull out enough kraut for however many servings you need, rinse and drain it, sprinkle caraway seeds on it, then spoon some of this relish in. Stir it up, then heat it. A microwave will do. Feed it to people who say they don’t like sauerkraut, and see if they don’t make an exception. Great as a side with brats and potatoes.
—You can use it as a salsa—a chip dip. Stir it in with yogurt or sour cream.
—Mix it with mayo and use as a dressing base for a pasta salad.
For this maiden voyage, I used greenhouse tomatoes—but I’ll bet it will be exponentially better made with red ripe summertime tomatoes! You might want to try it, too.
Here’s the recipe. Notes in [brackets] are by me.
By Clara Renner
16 cups tomatoes (about large pot full)
6 sweet peppers [green bell peppers]
8 big onions [Mom said Grandma would’ve used yellow ones]
—Cook for 2 hours.
—Then, add and cook 1 hour longer:
2 cups vinegar [Grandma would have used apple cider vinegar]
3 red peppers [Mom said Grandma would’ve used sweet ones, such as red bell peppers]
2 Tbsp. mixed spices [Mom said these are pickling spices; I used McCormick, which must have some cinnamon in it—very delicious!]
2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. celery seed
—For catsup or sauce, use 1/2 tsp. ground red pepper, which you can use instead of 3 red peppers [okay, I added a little chili powder—the spice-blend kind you’d use for making chili—and I also used the red peppers as well.]
If you’re like me and you want to just try it out, below is the quartered recipe I used. I made an effort to cook it down.
(makes about 3 pints)
4 cups tomatoes (approx. 4-5 tomatoes), chopped (next time, I’ll blanch and peel the skins off of them)
1 1/2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 regular-sized yellow onions, chopped [I figure what was a “large” onion in Grandma’s day is probably what we’d call a “medium.”]
—Cook for 2 hours in a heavy-based pan.
—Then, add the following and cook for 1 more hour or until as thick as you want:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 sweet red peppers (shape and size of jalapenos—but they’re sweet)
1/2 T. pickling spices
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 T. salt
1/4 T. celery seed
—Adjust seasonings to taste. I’m sure I added more pickling spices and celery seed, thinking my containers of them were rather old. I also added a pinch or so of chili powder.
—When it’s about as thick as you want, run it through a food mill if you want it to have a more homogenous texture.
—I didn’t preserve mine, but this recipe was born to be canned.