A co-worker gave me all the green tomatoes from his garden on Friday. He’s been supplying us with tomatoes while his wife canned quarts of tomato sauce and salsa. But she was done and he wanted to pull the vines and till up his garden. Since I was Southern, he wondered if I’d like the remaining green tomatoes. Well, I must confess, I’ve never eaten a fried green tomato. But living out in the high desert—where the summer season was so short that I’d only get a handful of ripe tomatoes—I’d become proficient at making a green tomato relish. It’s been two years since my last garden. I know it sounds strange but it was easier growing a garden in the desert than here in this haven for deer which is why I had a garden in the desert but not the nation’s breadbasket. Besides, if you don’t have a garden, someone will take pity on you and give you more than enough tomatoes and squash.
Anyway, back to my story. Friday evening, I sliced up all the tomatoes as well as an amble stash of onions and red and green peppers. The tomatoes and onions were placed in a 12 quart pot with brine to "cure" overnight. All was well. I didn’t get back to my project until late Saturday afternoon. I mixed up the vinegar concoction, added the peppers, rinsed off the tomatoes and onions and added them to the vinegar, through in some spices. I had two large 12 quart pans on the stove—enough relish to get me through a couple years with some extra to give to friends. Things were looking up. But the winds of fate often shift..
While washing the canning jars, I noticed a problem with the drain in the kitchen sink. Actually, the predicament was with the lack of drainage. "No problem," I thought, "I must have ran too many peelings down the disposal." I quickly got to work, getting out buckets and a pair of channel locks (a type of pliers that works well on pipe fittings). I cleaned out space under the sink (for the first time in a year and a half) and started taking pipes apart. But there was a problem. Actually it was a lack of a problem, which indicated a bigger problem. There were no clogs in the pipe. The relish was still cooking and it was about time to put it into jars, but I had not yet been able to wash the jars.
Seeing that the pipes under the sink were fine, I got my snake out (why I own one of these is a long story) and tried to clean out the drain. I couldn’t find any clogs. So I went down into the garage, which is below the kitchen (convenient for the sake of plumbing). It was easy to spot the clean-out plug. When the house was built 50 years ago, someone had plastered the basement. But sometime in the past five decades, there had been problems as the plaster had been chipped away around the plugs and some of the pipes. As this was high over my head, I had to get a ladder and pipe wrench (another tool that’s a long story as to why I own). The plug wouldn’t bulge. With a lot of tugging and some encouragement from a 3-pound hammer it finally began to move. "This is great," I thought. I held a bucket up as I unscrewed the plug and was showered with dirty dishwater and gunk that filled the bucket and sloshed all over me. Yes, the relish is still cooking. I wipe myself off—went to turn the stove down to low—and then back downstairs to clean out the pipe. I kept pulling black gunk out. Soon, I thought I had it open and I put it all back together, but the drain still wouldn’t flow. Again, I went down to the garage, got showered with another batch of water and gunk, and tried to snake it out again. Somehow, the clog had reappeared, just a little further down the pipe. I could never get the pipe completely clean (I don’t have a long snake) and by now the relish is almost mush.
Trying to salvage the situation, I washed up, washed the jars in the sink downstairs (yes, Ms. Stewart, I cleaned the sink with Clorox before hand). Next, I put the jars in a pan of boiling water for ten minutes. Afterwards, I canned 13 quarts of relish (there’s something unlucky about that number, isn’t there?) Tomorrow morning I’ll call a real plumber, until then I’ll just eat out.
If you ever find yourself up this way and have a hunger for a hot dog, I’ll fix you up. I steam my buns, use only good quality franks that have been boiled in beer, and then garnish the dog with a swipe of mustard and some mushy labor-intensive relish. As we enjoy the dogs, we can pound down a bottle of Leinenkugel (a beer from Wisconsin) and I tell you about why I decided not to become a plumber.