Looking for green tomato chow? You're not alone

A business on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore that makes small-batch pickles and jams has been overrun with orders in recent months, with everyone looking for the same thing: green tomato chow.

HardyWares Preserves in Necum Teuch, N.S., has been taking frantic calls from restaurants, shops and customers across the province, all looking for the chow.

"What I'm told is that they're not seeing it on the shelves at the moment," owner Margaret Hardy told CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax.

"I don't know if it's a distribution problem, but people are telling me they can't find it in the grocery store, so they're seeking wherever else they can get it from and they're coming into the market of the small-batch preserve makers to buy it."

Hardy said the lack of availability of commercially produced chow has more than doubled her sales, with HardyWares Preserves selling 3,500 jars so far compared to 1,600 at this time last year.

Green tomato chow, also known as chow chow, is a condiment made from green tomatoes, onions and spices. Hardy said she enjoys it on baked chicken, but the most popular way to eat it is with fish cakes.

Green tomato chow produced by HardyWares Preserves, a small business on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore.
Green tomato chow is still being produced by HardyWares Preserves, a small business on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore. (HardyWares Preserves/Facebook)

It's a beloved staple and its departure from grocery stores certainly hasn't gone unnoticed.

Several members of Ask Nova Scotia, a Facebook page that connects tens of thousands of Nova Scotians, have asked where they can find their prized chow.

"On the hunt for green tomato chow chow. Anyone have a lead?" one from December reads.

Another from April asks: "Can anyone tell me where I can get green tomato chow? The main supermarkets don't seem to carry it. Used to be made by Graves. I like it with fish cakes!"

The question has also been asked on the Halifax forum on Reddit: "Where did the chow go?" While some commenters pointed to specific Sobeys locations, others suggested HardyWares Preserves as the best place to get it.

CBC News contacted several companies about their chow but could not get a clear answer about production or the lack of availability.

A spokesperson with Sobeys did confirm that it carries chow from Helen B's, another Nova Scotia preserves company, at both its Halifax and Bedford Pete's Frootique locations.

The company is also "looking for another supplier for Sobeys banner stores."

Production delays

Hardy said her own production of chow was delayed this year because of a shortage of green tomatoes. She said her supplier usually has them available on March 1, but this year she was told they wouldn't have any until May.

"One of our retail clients, they managed to get us some out of Ontario. So we ended up getting over 2,000 pounds shipped down from Ontario and it has only made a dent in the orders that we're getting," she said.

"We'll get them filled and then two weeks later, they're reordering them again."

Hardy said her team will be bringing on a second prep person to keep up with demand. They have also scaled back the number of flavours of jams, jellies, pickles, relishes and marmalades they produce to focus on green tomato chow.

"We're going to have to at some point say, 'OK, we've got to focus on our other flavours now,' because there are a lot of other things to do," she said

But for now, green tomato chow production will continue, much to the pleasure of locally owned shops.

Natalie Maglario, owner of Emerald Isle in Sydney, N.S., said her shop received 300 jars of the HardyWares chow at the beginning of June after months of going without.

"When [regular customers] came back for their chow and it wasn't there, they were very disappointed, so there was a long list of names waiting for it to come in," Maglario said.

"So when it finally arrived, there was indeed quite a little frenzy of people waiting to come and purchase it."

Maglario said she made sure to order a hefty supply because she didn't want to get caught without it again.

"People buy it once and they come back within the week, they're back for more," she said.

"It's a great product. It's as close to making it yourself as you can get, and even better because you don't have to make it yourself."

For those who do want to make it themselves, Hardy said they must be patient. It takes two days of work and proper equipment, which can be difficult for people who don't have the time and space.

It's a practice that has been going out of style, she said.

"I think looking back, we kind of have a whole new appreciation for grandma, who used to make preserves and give them as gifts," she said.