Nana Gwaltney's Ripe Tomato Relish, A Very Wonderful Oooold Recipe

I'm sure everyone has heirloom recipes in their recipe box. I know I have a bunch, and I treasure each and every one. I love the special connection to the person who passed it on, all the memories...the stories...the traditions...the love...the laughter...the sharing...the caring. And, of course, the food itself.

And I know I've mentioned that I come from a long line of wonderful women who are, and were, wonderful cooks. On my Mother's side of the family, and for today's post, specifically her mother's side, that would be my Mom, my Nana, my great grandmother, Ma Lebow, and my great, great grandmother Mary Molly.

This is my Nana, Alma Iona Lebow Gwaltney, in 1985 at age 70.

This recipe has been in our family as long as anyone can remember. My Mom doesn't remember a time without it. And it was my Nana's favorite recipe, which is saying alot because she had alot of great recipes!

Now what you don't know is that they were also what is referred to as hill folk. Yes, hill folk. From the hills. As in Ozarks. In southwest Missouri...places like Crane, Galena, Hurley, Quail Spur, and so on. Places you've probably never heard of.  But most specifically Crane.

I know you're wondering where this is going...well, you see, some areas in and around the Ozarks were hard to farm. The land was rocky, the soil acidic. But some enterprising person discovered that one agricultural crop did particularly well in these conditions. Tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes.

For about 75 years this area of the Ozarks was known for their tomatoes. Tomato canning factories sprung up in just about every township or settlement. My great, great grandfather, George Cline, even ran one.
That's him on the far right of this old photo. Half of his face got cut off when I scanned it, but he's the man with the mustache. The back of this photo is dated 1891.

We don't know the origins of the Ripe Tomato Relish recipe. And, sadly, there's no one left who could tell us. But one has to wonder if it didn't arise from the abundance of tomatoes, and the waste not, want not attitude of these women.

What we do know is life was hard in the Ozark Mountains. According to Ozark History the first tomato factory was built in the 1890's in central Stone County. By the 1920s there were around 60 small canneries in Stone and Taney Counties. The wonderful thing about the canneries was that they provided work when jobs were scarce. They operated through the war years, the depression, and the drought years. They provided a place for small farmers to sell their tomato crops. For a long time it was a way of life for Stone and Taney County farmers. The canneries along the railroads survived the longest, some even into the late 1950's or longer, including the ones in Crane, Elsey, and Galena.

This is my great, great grandparents, George Cline, and Mary Ann Armilda Hutchins Cline, called Mary Molly, and their oldest daughter, Cordelia Viola, known as Cordy.

Here they are several years, and a few more kids, later. My great grandmother is the girl on the back right. Her formal name was Celestia Elizabeth Cline, but she was known as Bessie, or, to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, as Ma.
This is Ma and Aunt Cordy with their parents. Ma is on the back right.
This is Ma Lebow outside of the house up on the hill in Quail Spur.
The small, dark haired lady in the center back is my great, great grandmother, Mary Molly, in her later years. She died in 1936.
And lastly, a picture of Ma and Pa Lebow at their house in Galena. (I'm sure my quiet, unassuming great grandmother would not like you to know she could spit a line of tobacco about 3 yards and and hit the spittoon every time, but I had to tell you anyway!) She died in 1972, and he died in 1973.

My hope in sharing this little tidbit of family history with you is so that when you make Ripe Tomato Relish you will think of my family, of Mary Molly, and Ma, and Nana.  Of my mother and me, who carry on the tradition each fall, at the end of gardening season, of preserving a little of the precious tomatoes, and peppers, and onions, and in so doing, honor a little piece of our family history.

To read more about the tomato canneries of southwest Missouri follow this link.

And now to the recipe!

Nana Gwaltney's Ripe Tomato Relish
18 ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cup green peppers (I also use some red and some yellow), coarsley chopped
1 1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)
Simmer 3 hours, or until thick. Can.

This is the chopped peppers, onions, cider vinegar, and pepper flakes.

The spices and brown sugar.

The tomatoes. I just leave the skin on although I suppose you could peel them if you feel like peeling 18 tomatoes.

Here is the relish simmering away. You can see how juicy it is. By now the house smells so delicious I can hardly wait to taste it!

And here it is 3 hours later, cooked down and ready to can.

Now I suppose you are wondering what to do with the old days it was an accompaniment to meat dishes, it's good alongside mashed potatoes and rice. Nowadays I also serve it over cream cheese and crackers, and it makes a wonderful bruschetta, topped with fresh mozzarella or goat cheese. (Probably not a use the grandmothers considered!) Let me know if you find new ways to use it. There's probably some I haven't thought of.

Thank you for stopping by. I've enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with you.
All the best,


Kathleen said…
Oh my. That brought tears to my eyes--I have photos like this of my great grandmas, and I am always amazed and their contentment with a very simple life.

Looks like a great recipe, too. I'm bookmarking this one...

CL Field said…
Thanks, Kathleen. I, too, am always amazed, and envious, at how simply they lived, how they could make something as simple as a tomato into something so delicious. How happy they were in their every day round. Another family fave is Ripe Tomato Jam, but that's for another day! It's sweet, and gooey, and yummy!
Katie said…
I love feeling connected to our history the way this made me feel. I dont remember most of those photos...but of course I remember Nana's...brought tears to my eyes. What a long line of amazing women.
Cathy Field said…
Well Katie, I hope you're going to carry on and make the Ripe Tomato Relish!! (Hint hint!) You do come from a long line of strong, amazing women! And you are, too! Hugs!
Cathy said…
Here's a great idea...where I posted this recipe on Beekman 1802 one of the very kind readers, Peggy, has made this recipe. I am so pleased she is enjoying it with her friends and family and Nana would be so gratified. She and her husband used it to marinate and cook stripers. Why I have not thought of using it to cook fish in I do not know, but it sounds delightful and I will be trying it very soon. If anyone else has a new use I would love to hear it, and have you share it here on the blog. Thanks! Cathy
Anonymous said…
I love this post for so many reasons, but the backstory to the recipe is fantastic. You should be a writer or something! Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Imagine my surprise, searching the internet of images, of all things,Gwaltney Meats, and a picture of Nana shows up. Kind of scared me at first, cuz why would you expect your beloved Nana, gone many years now, show up on the internet. Cathy, it was a nice surpise. Glad I found it, so we're connected again, and yes, what an incredible piece of our family history.

Love and miss you! Your one and only maternal cousin, Doug Gwaltney.
Cathy said…
Oh my gosh! How fantastic Doug! So, so good to hear from you! Send me your contact info to my email address!! Love and miss you, too! We need to catch up on life!
Joan in Henderson, NV said…
Neat to find this! My late mother-in-law was a Gwaltney from Hurley and she was a fabulous cook! I'll definitely have to try this recipe!
Cathy said…
Wow Joan! We're probably related! Our family is from the Hurley, Crane area. If you send me her name I'll see if I can figure out who it was. My grandfathers name was Marion Gwaltney, son of Norman Gwaltney and he had many brothers and sisters!!

Great to see you here!
Joan said…
Hi Cathy - My husband is definitely related...his mom was Ruth Naomi Gwaltney. Her brothers were Warren, Blaine, Marion...most likely your grandfather. Sisters Helen, Doris and Alma. I'll bet if I looked through Ruth's old recipes, I'd find this relish recipe! I found your page through Norma husband's cousin. When I mentioned your farm, my 9-year-old daughter shouted, "A FARM?!?!?" She keeps telling me that I should have bought a farm. Maybe we can get out your way to visit yours. I am not afraid to drive...six trips this summer!

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