It's a versatile kitchen tool. In days gone by, almost every kitchen had one. There were dozens of different models and designs, made by a large number of companies around the country - so many, in fact, that the variety available supports an active collectibles market. Regardless of the model, size, shape of the hopper or curve of the handle, though, they all do pretty much the same thing the same way: Stuff goes into the hopper, the handle is turned, and a screw drives the stuff out the front where it is cut into bits by a rotating knife with many blades.
You can use it to grind meat, but it's not the same as a meat grinder (pictured at left.) With a meat grinder, the cutting action is done inside the barrel of the grinder as the meat is forced out through holes in a steel plate. A food chopper forces the product out of the barrel where it is cut off on the outside. The chopper was a labor-saving device used to mince meat, vegetables, and other ingredients without having to spend a lot of time with a knife. It was the fastest way to get that kind of mincing done in the days before electric food processors.
These days, not as many people actually use food choppers any more. Cooks who want to save time on chopping chores turn to their food processors. My food processor gets plenty of use, but there are times when I still turn to my great-grandmother's Universal Food Chopper. It does an awesome job of cutting up cooked leftover beef roasts to turn them into hash. And it does an equally awesome job of cutting up vegetable ingredients for relish.
How's that for a segue?
Two consecurive frosts have raised hell with my vegetable garden. The tomato vines have pretty much died back, and now I'm picking the green tomatoes that are still clinging to the vines. I've got piles of green tomatoes. Luckily, I have plenty of recipes that call for greenies. Green tomato relishes are another one of those old-style products that have largely been forgotten as cheap and homogenous commercial products became widespread. I call this particular version "Golden Relish" because the use of some turmeric and yellow peppers in the veggie mix give it a golden tinge. This isn't a spicy relish, but rather a good, solid, sweet relish for use on hot dogs, in salads, or on its own with sliced ham.
Golden RelishMakes about 8 pints
8 cups finely chopped green tomatoes (6 - 8 pounds)4 cups finely chopped onion3 yellow bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped6 red bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped3 large green bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped1/2 cup kosher salt1 tablespoon celery seed1½ teaspoons turmeric¼ cup mustard seed4 cups sugar3 cups cider vinegar
Cut each tomato in half across the center and use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds. Run the tomatoees, onions, and peppers through the food chopper and then mix them well together in a large bowl. Sprinkle the canning salt over the mixture and let it stand overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, rinse the mixture lightly and let it drain well in a strainer or colander.
In a large pot, combine the celery seed, turmeric, sugar, vinegar, and chopped vegetables. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours. The tomatoes will release a lot of liquid during the cooking time.