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Touring Wisconsin Food

Gender-Differences In Wisconsin Gardening Before A Killing Frost? Plus A Relish Recipe To Use Up Green Tomatoes

Something peculiar occurred in my part of the world this weekend. I wonder if it’s a statistical fluke or if there really is a gender difference in the way in which people respond to the forecast of impending winter. A common conversation-starter around here was, “I hear (heard) we’re going to have a killing frost this weekend.” And when I used this opener, my women friends all responded something like this:  “Yeah, I heard that too.”

“But I’m such a slacker; I didn’t bring my patio plants in.”

“Me neither. I’ve been so busy these past few weeks that at this point, I just don’t care about the plants any more. I’d planned to over-winter ’em, but I’m just lettin’ ’em die.”

“Yeah, me too. Instead of picking all my green tomatoes before the freeze I mended my daughter’s shirt while we watched kid-TV together. She came home Friday afternoon saying she had to dress like an insect for the school dance at 6:00 so I had to mend her yellow shirt. I hadn’t planned on slacking on the garden, but my child had to metamorphose.”

“Oh, I know how that goes. Last week I bought sale-perennials and haven’t even gotten ’em planted yet. But at least (fill in the blank name of husband) went out and picked the last of the peppers and the tomatoes. (Disappointed sigh.) Now I just have to freeze those.”

It’s that last line about the husband which is so curious. Of my friends it was the men in their lives who did the last minute harvesting. For example, my friend and I were driving home Saturday when her husband called to ask if I wanted a stalk of their garden Brussels sprouts. He’d busied himself picking squash and digging onions while we’d blown the whole garden bit off to take an autumn walk with another woman friend who likewise was blowing off her garden. And I have more friends than these; my other women friends were similarly un-engaged with they’re gardens. What was going on? Click on “continue reading…”for my hypothesis.

My number one hypothesis is that we women have put so much time and energy into those damn gardens that by October we’re tired and just want them to die! Die, gardens! Die! Perhaps I exemplify the burned-out, Wisconsin gardener. After all, it was I who grew 84 tomato plants on my kitchen table last March. I couldn’t wait for spring. Was this desperate gardening act a symptom of stir-crazed, Wisconsin-winter cabin-fever? – You betch’a! But then what to do with 84 tomato plants? I gave some away. I sold some at garage sales. And I planted the remaining 39. Then I spent September stirring simmering tomatoes which I then stored in my freezer. Was putting up tomatoes the only thing I had to do? Was it the most profitable?  Was it the most sane thing to do? The answer to all these questions is “NO!” At some point the boondoggle of farcical frugality must end. Thank heavens for that killing frost.

Okay, so the women I know are burned out on gardening. Why are the men out there? I have no clue. So what about you? Can you answer this unimportant question? Or has your gardening experience before the killing frost been the opposite? – Were the women out harvesting, not the men? What do  you think?

As you ponder this gender-difference speculation, I’ll add that it was not only amateur gardeners who demonstrated it in my little world. Late last Monday night I talked with Catherine, partner in Anisoptera Acres, – a corn, soy bean, and livestock farm in Watertown. As we chatted on the phone she was pressing apples and canning their juice on the stove. The clanging of pots and scraping of metal was distinctive of someone busy in the kitchen. At one point, Catherine had to interrupt our conversation to address her husband. Apparently he had just entered the back door with bags of apples. In a pleading voice, I heard Catherine say, “Please Dan, don’t pick any more! I just want to finish tonight the ones already picked!”

So I figure that if the professional gardeners can say, “Enough is enough!” then I can too. I refuse to harbor any guilt about leaving those green tomatoes on the vine to freeze. However, my garden slacking does mean I will not try Darlene Kronschnabel’s recipe for Green Tomato Relish as I had planned. The recipe comes from Darlene’s Seasons In a Country Kitchen Cookbook. It’s really a gardener’s guide for what to cook with garden produce as the Wisconsin seasons cycle. I especially enjoy the book for the entertaining stories Darlene wrote describing her youth on mid-twentieth century Wisconsin farms. And although I haven’t made Darlene’s recipe for Green Tomato Relish, I’ve made many of Darlene’s other recipes and liked them all. So if you have a bounty of green tomatoes, try her recipe for Green Tomato Relish and drop a comment on how it turned out for you. And if you’re not crazy about green-tomatoes, Darlene has a recipe for Spiced Tomato Jam that looks yummy and uses up lots of tomatoes you let ripen on the counter.

Darlene writes: “This delicious relish is made from end-of-the-season vegetables, just before first frost, when vines are laden with green tomatoes. The precise amount of each vegetable is not crucial, so don’t worry if you have a little more or less of a particular vegetable, as long as you have a mix.”

  • 4 quarts washed, cored, and chopped green tomatoes
  • 2 quarts chopped cabbage
  • 2 cups chopped sweet red peppers
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped sweet green peppers
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 4 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons mustard seed
  • 1 Tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish

In a large container, combine tomatoes, cabbage, red peppers, onions, and green pepper. Sprinkle with salt and blend thoroughly. Let stand for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Drain. Rinse and drain thoroughly, pressing to remove as much liquid as possible. In an 8-quart heavy kettle, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, and horseradish. Stir to blend. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and continue boiling for 15 minutes. Add tomato mixture and return to boiling. Lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until cooked down and crisp-tender, with just enough liquid to moisten vegetables. Pack hot relish into hot jars leaving 1/4-inch headroom. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Makes about 8-10 pints.


  1. I’m not a gardener, but maybe there’s a way to get all that left-over produce to a food pantry? Are there any food pantries that pick up food? 🙂

  2. Thank you muchly for the recipe. I have a small pile of green stuff and had no idea what to do with them. God bless the Internet.

  3. LOL! No way would the husband be out harvesting the last tomatoes and green peppers. It could possibly be me, but who really did it was the high school and college age kids in the house! They picked the last green tomatoes and the green peppers. My younger daughter made fried-green tomatoes for us, for the first time EVER. They were delicious! I had no idea that green tomatoes tasted good! LOL!

  4. WOW! Are you lucky to have kids that actually work for you. Mine are still in grade school and will do chores for pocket change, but a monetary negotiation always precedes their industry. It’s also pretty impressive that your kids even COOK for you. It gives me hope; I’ll keep cooking with my kids and keep the faith that someday they’ll cook for me food I will actually want to eat. Thanks for the comment.

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