Grandma Chi Chi

Reader Contribution by Arkansas Girl
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My grandmother conjured up all kinds of neat things, especially good, mouth-watering food. Her canning and cooking were good, but she believed in spicing things up a bit too. Obviously she knew that no one likes just plain old greens or beans or peas with no salt or herbs or spices in them or no flavoring added. I know I don’t, and I’m glad Grandma knew it too.

Well, my grandmother made this dish that is a version of Mexican salsa. I had not heard of salsa then, but when I first ate some of that hot, spicy sauce, I thought of this condiment that Grandma made. Actually, from the taste of salsa, it contains many, if not all, of the same ingredients. Grandmother grew all of her veggies, so when she got ready to make her “salsa,” she had everything that she needed.

It’s interesting how people from different ethnic groups can concoct the same or very similar dishes without even knowing someone else is preparing the same. Supposedly at the same time that Grandma was in her kitchen cutting and chopping her veggies, some woman in Tabasco, Mexico, had just gotten back from plucking her a variety of veggies from her backyard garden.

Now, she’s in her kitchen and these two cooks are imitating each other. It’s almost like their ESP is working really well and they pickup on what each other is stirring up even though they’re a thousand miles apart. My grandmother called her dish Chi’ Chi’ and Mrs. Housewife in Tabasco called her Salsa. So, that sort of proves that while we’re all different, we’re also similar if not the same. In other words, we like and eat each other’s foods and for the most part, we think along the same line when it comes to cooking and baking.

Your guess is as good as mine as to where Grandmother got the name for her hot, spicy sauce, I have no idea. Back then, we weren’t into root words, prefixes, suffixes, and all of that, so whatever anyone wanted to call a thing, then, that was its name. It’s sort of like when someone gives you a nickname. Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with it. And that’s probably how our American salsa got the name Chi’ Chi’.

Grandma never saw a cutting board in her life, but man could she chop up some stuff with just a regular pairing knife, a large plate or skillet top (aka cutting board) and her long, strong, skinny fingers. Whatever worked best is what she used. She didn’t even have a dicer, a chopper, a food processor, not even a steel vegetable grater. Actually, for Grandma, those fancy, kitchen helps had not been invented, but even without them, she did a good job with what she had. She chopped and diced the old-fashioned way with her gnarled, deft hands.

When Grandma was finally ready to chop, she took her freshly grown, ripe, red tomatoes and diced them up real good. Then, she took her own backyard grown onions and cut the fire out of them. After she had done her thing on them, she cut up some fresh, long, skinny, green and red hot peppers.

Finally, she put some vinegar, salt, and black pepper in the middle of those veggies and stirred them up. She didn’t boil them. She just put the lid on and tucked them on a back shelf in the smoke house. As tightly as those lids were screwed on, there was no way any fumes were going to escape from those jars. Those saucy veggies simmered and fermented in their hot juice until wintertime. In the dead of winter when no veggies can be gathered from the garden, that’s when we pulled out Grandma’s Chi’ Chi’ “salsa sauce. It was the perfect complement for our canned beans, peas and greens. Not only is the sauce deliciously delicious, it helps to warm you up on cold, inclement days.

Photo: Fotolia/baibaz

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