Mrs. Pruitts’ Cha Cha Salsa Keeps it Local
"I am Mrs. Pruitt,” says Linda Kay Williams, and that’s a fact. Her husband, Ed Pruitt, is a direct descendant of Ma Pruitt, who developed a chow chow recipe in South Carolina in the early 1800s. It was so beloved by her family that the recipe has been handed down for generations. And now you can taste it too.
Chow chow (also known as cha cha) is a pickled relish made with a combination of vegetables, comparable to piccalilli or chutney. In the United States it’s mainly associated with the South. Pruitt says his mother made it each fall in sufficient quantity to get through the winter, which is exactly how the recipe began.
“The recipe was derived from the need to harvest and preserve vegetables,” Williams says. “Our ancestors were slaves. When they weren’t gathering the harvest, they were allowed to pick up the scraps, the cabbage leaves, the green tomatoes, peppers, onions. You wasted nothing, because they didn’t have anything to waste. They canned what they had, and they put it on everything.”
For years the Pruitt family talked about making their family recipe commercially available. In 2010 Williams, a master gardener with a degree in business administration, established her business, Fall Harvest Urban Farms. In 2014 she launched her first product, Mrs. Pruitt’s Gourmet Cha Cha Salsa, from a manufacturing facility in Hamtramck. Vegan and gluten-free, it comes in hot or mild versions and is based on cabbage, green tomatoes, peppers, cider vinegar and pickling spices.
"Our ancestors were slaves. When they weren’t gathering the harvest, they were allowed to pick up the scraps, the cabbage leaves, the green tomatoes, peppers, onions."
The company buys locally and organically as much as possible. “We pride ourselves on local produce in a 50-mile radius,” Williams says. Keep Growing Detroit provides a lot of seasonal produce. Williams gardens in several spaces and eventually hopes to grow her own organic vegetables.
Williams says getting out into farmers’ markets, special events and stores and letting people taste her salsa has been key. “They love the way it smells, and it tastes fresh. We always get that comment.”
Her not-so-secret weapon is her gregarious husband, who mans the booth at farmers’ markets and engages passers-by. “It just came natural,” Ed Pruitt says. “Everybody was telling me what they would eat [the salsa] with and I would repeat it. I love to make people laugh and smile. I get enjoyment out of that. I try to make sure everybody has a good time, and it works.”
This year the company expects to offer two new products: Motor City Heat, a much hotter version of the cha cha salsa, and chips made with Michigan potatoes and Mrs. Pruitt’s seasonings. The couple, who live in Detroit, have also begun hiring youth seasonally through their own youth mentoring and life-skills program.
“We teach them how to present themselves,” Williams says. “The exposure is so important. They’re learning some really good skills.” Williams, who has a master’s degree in rehabilitation guidance and counseling, says the program is important to her and her husband.
“I’m all about uplifting Detroit,” she says. “I need to be engaging the community in some way.”
Find out more at Mrs. Pruitt’s Gourmet Cha Cha Salsa