Grandma Brodacki’s Recipes: Polish Salsa

Grandma Brodacki, flanked by Auntie Helen & Auntie Lucy

Grandma Brodacki flanked by Auntie Helen and Auntie Lucy, 1948

There is nothing really Polish about these recipes, as far as I can tell. But chili sauce was our Polish-American family’s solution to what to do with all the tomatoes that ripen in Michigan pretty much at the same time in late summer. My mother wrote down two chili sauce recipes and called one “Mother’s Delicious Recipe” and the other just “Mother’s.” I remember my mother and grandmother both making chili sauce, and it was a favorite of Auntie Helen, my godmother and my mother’s sister-in-law. I have found that if you don’t vary the cooking time and sugar according to your taste, you might find the chili sauce a little too sweet or a little too watery, which calls for experimentation. All three of the recipes below seem to be variations on a theme shared by my grandmother, mother, and godmother, but Auntie Helen’s recipe has the most complete instructions. Whatever the result, this “Polish salsa” is great on hot dogs.
Mother’s Delicious Chili Sauce
1 peck tomatoes
1 large bunch of celery
2 quarts onions
4 hot peppers
4 green sweet peppers
1 cup vinegar
6 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
mixed spices (including cloves) tied in a bag
Cook until thick.
Mother’s Chili Sauce
12 large tomatoes
3 medium size onions
2 green sweet peppers
2 red sweet peppers
2 hot peppers
1/2 teas. celery seed
1 bunch celery
1 and 1/2 Tbls. mixed spices
1 and 1/2 cups vinegar
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 teas. salt
Wash tomatoes, pour in hot water, then put in cool water, and skin.
Squeeze or chop into fine pieces.
Peel onions, peppers and put through a food chopper, also celery.
Put spices in cheese cloth and tie.
Add vinegar, brown sugar, and salt.
Cook approximately 1 and 1/2 hours or until thickness is attained.
Pour in sterilized jars and seal.
Auntie Helen’s Chili Sauce
I asked my cousin Cynthia (Auntie Helen’s daughter) how her version of this recipe varies from the ones my mother wrote down and just exactly what those spices are. Here’s what she said:
“Okay—here is the recipe I use. One bushel is equal to approximately 90 tomatoes. Here are the amounts downsized that I use when I am canning by myself. If I have a helper, then I can manage 1 bushel in a day because timewise that is about 12 hours.”
12 large tomatoes
3 medium onions
2 green & 2 red sweet peppers
1 hot pepper
1 and 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 bunch celery
1 and 1/2 T. mixed PICKLING spices
1 and 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar
2-3 T. salt
“Wash tomatoes, blanch in boiling water. Transfer to cold water, core and skin. Squeeze or chop fine. Peel onions, chop. Add chopped peppers. (May do all with food processer, just don’t make it mushy.) Chop celery, or use slicer on food processer to do this step. Put pickling spices in cheesecloth and tie with string. Place all in cooking pot, add vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook 45-90 min. Now add brown sugar to mixture. Cook at low boil, stirring often so not to burn, for 45-60 minutes more or until desired thickness. Pour into prepared sterilized jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath 5 minutes for pints, 10 minutes for quarts. (1 bushel makes 26-30 quarts, depending on how thick you want it to be.)”
“All this said, how about doing chili sauce with me next fall? she added, “September time?”
October 2013
Summer came and summer went, and with autumn comes the frantic picking that characterizes farming at the end of the annual growing cycle. Cynthia and I did get together, a little later than expected. I went to Detroit’s famed Eastern Market–the same market to which our grandparents hauled produce in a dilapidated truck some 60 or more years ago. There, I found huge boxes of tomatoes and peppers for $10 or $15 a box. I ended up buying from the Gaier farm, since the sign said they were from Armada, Michigan, where I attended public school for 13 years. “Is this John Gaier’s farm?” I asked the woman in charge. Yes, indeed, she said. I told her to tell John hello. The last time I saw him was 1966. I remember him as a tough country  kid who inadvertently taught me–and some of the other giggly teenagers I hung around with–to start an event by saying, “Let ‘er rip.”  I am pretty sure he was referring to a tractor pull, or some other farm phenomenon that we had giggled our way through, but we thought it was a pretty good way to inaugurate the rest of our lives.
I arrived at Cindy Williams’ condo (nee Cynthia Brodacki) at noon on Monday. She had already peeled and chopped onions and celery, and she had the pickling spices and brown sugar ready to go. She hauled out the canning kettle, the glass jars, the lids and screw tops, and they were ready to be sterilized and filled. She showed me the funnel, the jar grips, and the little tomato-coring tool she had save from her mother’s canning days. We filled two large kettles with our sauce, based mostly on her mother’s (Auntie Helen) recipe. While we collapsed after four hours of hard labor, the chili sauced bubbled fragrantly on the stove. Some 35 jars later, we sat contentedly and listened to the lids pop–proof that they were sealed. “They will last for seven years,” Cindy said. That reminded me of the dozens of jars of canned vegetables that remained in Grandma Brodacki’s basement leftover from the previous owners of our farm. I remember wantonly breaking them in the back yard when Grandma said that after more than 20 years on the shelves in our cellar they were no longer edible–although they probably were. After all, if people could still drink the wine found on the Titanic, surely Mrs. Foote’s vegetables would not have killed us.
While we reminisced about our childhoods, Cindy and I observed that our little canning ritual was for us a recognition that only one generation before us, our families had canned not for fun but to survive the winter. There were no Whole Foods stores with produce flown in from Chile. There would have been no money to buy those Chilean delights even if they had been flown to Armada, Michigan. There were root cellars and shelves of canned peaches, pears, tomatoes, and green beans. There was no “frozen food section”; instead we had mushrooms that Uncle Harry picked and strung on threads to dry. There was venison and pheasant from Cindy’s father, my uncle John. There was my grandmother on the porch shredding delectably hot horseradish. There was vinegar from the apple trees. There was canning and drying and burying in the cellar. There was the endless harvesting and preserving that permitted us to “make it through another year.”
What will we do with all this chili sauce? Cindy and I looked at the fruit of our labor and decided the little pint jars would make nice Christmas presents. Of course now, you have to cover the lids with cutesy-pooh gingham cloth and proudly pronounce the product “homemade.” What lucky children we were, that growing up, everything we ate was “homemade.”
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One Response to “Grandma Brodacki’s Recipes: Polish Salsa”

  1. Carolyn Koleda says:

    Oh, soooo nice to see. Made me cry.

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