Serendipity is when you get a surprise package at your front door that links you to your past. That happened a few days ago, when a box of pear relish showed up at our address — six mouth-watering jars of a side dish I learned to appreciate to the fullest, growing up on a farm where the highlight of the day was a filling meal.
Turns out that Lisa Harden of Stripling's, the sausage maker in Warwick, was responsible for the shipment. This means that at my next meal when peas are on the menu, I can reflect back to those rural times when peas were the favorite mealtime vegetable. We always, in addition to the requisite garden, had a sizeable pea patch, which produced a variety of peas for our kitchen table.
My favorite became crowder peas--more specifically, purple hull crowders. (Interestingly, you won't find the word crowder in the dictionary, and if you enter it into your computer, you'll find the word underlined in red.) My father usually planted a variety of peas for us to enjoy in spring and summer and to put up for the winter. He, too, liked purple hull crowders and always planted a few extras rows of one of our favorite vegetables.
Pear relish recipe
1 peck pears (24 pounds)
3 cups sugar
6 large onions
1 tablespoon allspice
6 sweet green peppers
1 tablespoon salt
6 sweet red peppers
5 cups vinegar
1 bunch celery
Wash the pears, onions, peppers, and celery in cold water. Peel and core the pears, remove stems and seeds from the peppers. Clean the celery, peel the onions, and put them through a food chopper. Then add the sugar, allspice, salt and vinegar and let stand overnight. Heat to boiling
Pack hot mixture into jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove the air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Or put all ingredients in a large container when it comes to a boil (boil for 30 minutes). Put in sterilized jars and lids and seal. Makes 27 pints.
I never tired of peas. Most of our meals included either peas or butterbeans or both. When I read about the effect that five servings of fruit and vegetables has on one's longevity, I reflect that the amount of peas we consumed at a single meal gave us at least, if not more than, the daily five servings. And what made the peas so tasty was my mother's pear relish. Never knew anybody who made pear relish in our part of the county and have no idea where she found the recipe, but we always had an ample supply. We had a couple of pear trees in our back yard that always bore bountiful fruit each year, which is why I believe my mother created her own pear relish recipe.
When the vegetable bowls were passed your way and you dipped generous helpings and then reached for the pear relish jar, you were experiencing one of life's great mealtime pleasures.
My parents maintained a garden into their 80s, and my mother kept on making pear relish, which she would give me when I went to visit her. Sadly, one day recently I realized that she was retired from the kitchen. She would no longer be making a favorite dish.
It wasn't many years ago that we made a stop at Stripling's on the way to Thomasville, and somehow or another I learned from Lisa Harden that she had a pear tree in her back yard. That is when I told her about my mother's pear relish. She wanted to know if I had my mother's recipe. I did, and soon after emailing Lisa the recipe, she sent a couple of jars of the pear relish, which tasted exactly as I remembered it growing up. Now she has replenished our pantry, and we are grateful.
A peck of pears makes 27 pints of pear relish, and while I don't remember how long 27 pints lasted back on the farm, all I remember is that we never ran out of pear relish, even in winter.
Bringing back food from the farm was always a high moment for us for many years. Then my parents got too old to maintain a garden, since it required hard labor in the hot sun. That is when I really appreciated the perk I had enjoyed. Never took it for granted but just never thought about the day it would end.
If obesity is the problem that we hear about, I wonder how many concerned parents ever think about how much a garden would help alleviate the problem.
When it comes to maintaining a garden, the biggest issue in the big cities, of course, is space. Which reminds me of a tour of a residential area of Beijing, China, years ago; we saw vegetables growing in areas as small as three square feet. But if space is not a problem, there is another challenge. Gardens require hard work and patience. I suppose it's easier to grab the bad stuff which you can find on any street corner.
Loran Smith is co-host of "The Tailgate Show" for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.