My Nana (grandmother) canned a lot; but she did not can a lot of different items. Known for her homemade white bread, chow chow and pickled red beets that she turned out in huge batches, Nana’s other forte in canning was homemade chili sauce — the Pennsylvania Dutch version, not the kind you find nestled alongside Asian dumplings.
Nana’s chili sauce was typical PA Dutch “sweet ‘n sour”; red ripe tomatoes, slowly simmered with pieces of diced celery, onion, and bell peppers until thick; its flavor warmed with cinnamon, allspice, and clove.
Reading: how to make the best chili sauce
And I hated it.
This Coal Region kid of the ’60’s and early ’70’s thought chili sauce should be that stuff in a bottle from the supermarket shelf just one step up from ketchup. It should be smooth, hard to get started from the glass bottle, and never have “chunks” of veggies in it. Aughgh…NEVER!!
The “adults” in the family (meaning Mom, Dad, Nana, and Pappy) seemed to douse everything with the concoction; meatloaf, burgers, grilled hot dogs, even toasted cheese sandwiches. But what sent chills up and down the spine of this fussy kid was when Nana or Mom insisted on making Coal Region Barbecue with it!
I would sit at the old chrome kitchen table set — dutifully staring down at the bun on my plate topped with this crime against nature they expected me to eat — then flick every piece of celery, onion, and bell pepper off onto the plate (or table) using the tip pf the tines of my fork.
Mom entertained it…for awhile. The day she informed me that it was what was for supper and my two choices were to eat it or go without was the day I (sort of) made peace with homemade chili sauce.
I broke my Mom’s heart the day I attended a party held for the graduating class of ’78 of Minersville High School when I returned home and announced I had just gobbled down “the best barbecue I ever had” swearing I would never make it any other way. I kept my word. To this day I make it according to the recipe passed on to me that day.
Although now, as I enter my own “senior years” of my life, the memories of the stuffy late-summer, tiny Coal Region kitchen crammed with three generations of women (one of them a fussy kid) bustling about peeling, cleaning, and chopping baskets of tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers fresh from the farm and roadside stand in Hegins (PA), makes me long for those days.
Nana’s chili sauce holds a special place in my heart — chunks and all. If I close my eyes, the aroma from the huge stainless steel pot slowly bubbling on the stove — stirred and carefully tended by my Nana for hours — takes me right back to one place; home — where, at least in my memories, I am once again with two people I loved with all my heart.
To peel tomatoes
Using a sharp paring or serrated knife, remove stem; cut a shallow “X” through the skin on the bottom of the tomato (opposite end from stem)
Prepare a large bowl filled with ice water, Set aside.
Bring a large pot of unsalted water to boil; gently place several tomatoes in; keep the water at a slow boil or rapid simmer. Remove them with a slotted spoon after about 15 to 30 seconds or when the skin begins to peel at the “X” — do not leave them in too long; the tomato should not start to soften. Put them into the ice bath. Allow to sit about 3 to 5 minutes. The skins will being to wrinkle and can be slipped off by hand. Use a paring knife to loosen any stubborn spots of skin and remove core.
One more thing
I think the “pulp” in tomatoes yields a lot of flavor but the seeds can be bitter. I scoop out the seeds and juice that surrounds them and press this through a fine mesh sieve to remove most of the seeds. Add some or all of this strained juice/pulp to the pot with the vegetables to cook. This will make the sauce juicier, which will require more cooking, but I find the flavor worth it.
Americans tend to refer to celery in a confusing way; which is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but can quickly mess up a recipe.
A “stalk” or “bunch” of celery is the whole… well, “bunch” of celery like you usually find in the grocery or from a farmers’ market.
A “rib” of celery is a single long piece from the “bunch”.
It has been a long time since I made this recipe. I apologize in advance for not being able to remember the quantity in pints this yields. Remember to use safe practices when home canning.