Family relish recipe a winner for Winn cook

By Tom Kelly
Editor and Publisher

If one day you're having lunch at Uncle Earl's Pea Patch Cafe in Winnfield and a blond-haired lady brings your plate and asks if you'd like some chow chow with your peas, don't refuse, especially if she tells you she made it herself.

That lady would be Brenda N. Johnson, who works part-time at the Pea Patch, cooking, serving, and whatever other chores it takes to help make this unique dining spot a favorite of mine.

The Pea Patch Cafe is nestled in the far back corner of an antique Winnfield building that in another era housed the storied Heard Hardware Co. at 109 S. Abel Street, across from the west side of the Winn Parish Court House. The larger portion of the renovated building contains the Pea Patch Gallery, owned by artist Gail (Mrs. Steven, the pharmacist) Shelton, who displays her original works including paintings, photographs, and a variety of other objects, plus antiques of many kinds, through which one strolls enroute to the dining area where hostess Gina Weeks presides efficiently.

After my lunch, I moseyed back to the counter to congratulate the lady who served me the chow chow, and while waiting for her to exit the kitchen, happened to spot a display of cook books, the Louisiana's Best Restaurant Recipes, which proved to contain a listing on the Pea Patch itself.

Upon being introduced to Brenda Johnson, I inquired about her recipe, which she later furnished, and agreed to talk about herself. The recipe was invented by her sister, Debbie Brunston of Junction City, Arkansas.

"We are from the country, and we all like to cook," Brenda said. Their mother, Mrs. Imogene Shackleford of Haynesville, raised them to cook, and Brenda confirmed that she still loves it. When she was dating her husband, Lawrence Johnson, he came calling one evening. She had cooked a major meal, and to test his intentions, she told him, with a straight face, "I didn't cook any of this stuff." Either he didn't believe her, or his affection was strong enough to overcome it, and they have now been married seventeen years.

The Johnsons are members of the First Assembly of God in Winnfield, where he is a deacon and she sings with a choral group. He is a welder-machinist with Michael Franks Logging in Winnfield. It was important to her to state, "I want to thank God for the ability to use my talents to cook for people, the sick and needy, and others."

From a prior marriage, she has two grown sons, Randall Vines, who has two sons and a daughter, and Richard Vines, who has one son.

Brenda brought to the interview what turned out to be the last jar of her current batch of chow chow relish, which looked good as she held it up for her photograph. I'm sure she'll make more. And I'll be back to the Pea Patch for peas, also.

Brenda Johnson's Tomato Relish (Chow Chow)

1 gallon tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspon allspice
3 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
2-4 large onions
2 bell peppers
1/2 -1 cup hot peppers
Boil 1 1/2 - 2 hrs

Blanch the whole tomatoes in boiling water until the skins start breaking, then cool in cold water and peel the skins off before chopping. The whole operation takes four to five hours until finished, but the result is worth it.