Anzley Morrell III holds a jar of his popular Butch’s Chow-Chow.
Photo provided by Anzley Morrell
His dark-colored couch holds miscellaneous papers in a neat pile on one side. On the other end is an oversized, wooden crucifix and two large, intricate grey balloons.
Once out of bed, Anzley Morrell III, 71, starts his morning off at that couch in the living room of his Southfield home in quiet reflection, prayer and deep gratitude. He ends his day there the same way, too.
Those balloons (miraculously still holding up from last fall) were a gift from Morrell’s pastor’s wife after he lost his wife, Carolyn Morrell, 67, to COVD-19 last spring.
“We did nothing without each other,” he said of the bond he and his bold and beloved wife shared.
Also situated near those balloons is a picture of his wife who left notes to herself he later found describing how she was grateful to have married the love of her life. They shared a life together since May 29, 1982.
“Every morning and every evening I say a prayer, then I [look at] a picture of my wife. I look at her, and I tell her I love her.”
He added that his pastor’s wife makes balloons, which she gave to him after he lost his wife.
“I tell her they’re still on my couch. [I say] ‘First Lady when is this going to deflate?’” Morrell said.
“When it deflates, I can throw it away,” he told The Michigan Chronicle in an interview where he shared some of his fondest memories and challenging moments.
Morrell said that his church family at Central Baptist Church in westside Detroit rallied around him and other church members who grieved losing loved ones to COVID-19. And Morrell (a trustee at his church) and his family reciprocate the love back a big way by serving in different capacities.
Morrell, a man with a gentle, booming voice and quick laugh, not only dealt with the blow of losing his wife but the loss of his oldest son, Anzley IV, who died at 39 years old six months before his wife’s death from an aortic rupture. He was an assistant coach at Denby High School.
“Almost six months to the day when my wife died,” he said of his son’s death. “Very, very heartbreaking for me. I almost lost my faith. I had a lot of questions about everything but God kept me strong and He’s got me still here.”
After he prays in the morning, Morrell thoughtfully goes about his day, which includes plans on how to improve his popular family relish business, Butch’s Chow-Chow — something he almost gave up on.
But the father to three other adult children, numerous grandchildren, and with a community behind him, still has ambitions to pursue.
Morrell, who used to drive a SMART bus and was a Detroit sanitation worker for 20 years, dug even deeper into his faith and began to put his house in order to re-evaluate what’s important.
His faith centered him to get back to one of the things he loved doing: cooking. Throughout Morrell’s marriage, he was primarily the cook of the family. The ex-Marine also cooked on his captain’s ship when he served in Vietnam. His wife would cook, too, for the family when he worked late some nights, which he recalled in the interview lightheartedly.
“Our kids would look in the pot and say, ‘Why did you let mommy cook?’” he said, adding that she was just trying to help. He added that he lovingly told her next time to wait until he got home to cook.
“She didn’t deny it, she laughed,” he said.
His cooking skills paid off because his wife’s parents and grandparents (from Sylvester, Ga.) had a family recipe for a well-beloved southern staple, an all-natural product called chow-chow, a relish mixture of nine vegetables.
Her family gave Morrell the recipe after her grandmother knew him for a couple of years and saw that he was an okay guy.
“I was talking with her grandmother and she said, ‘I’m going to give you a family secret — we’ve been making this in our family for 200 years,’” Morrell, who was not familiar with chow-chow beforehand, said.
His family recipe includes vegetables like cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, pepper, turmeric, and other spices “that make the family secret,” Morrell, who plans to pass on his business to his daughter (who manages a bakery in Detroit), said.
His grandmother-in-law showed him and his wife how to make it almost 40 years ago. The then-residents of Detroit started a backyard garden for the chow-chow ingredients at their home on Lindsay Street and 8 Mile Road when they first married.
“We were selling it primarily just to friends and church members — we belonged to a large church at the time,” he said, adding that everybody waited once a year when their crops were harvested. They made just enough for private sales.
“We use very little sugar, apple cider vinegar and we make a brine where it sits in the brine for a day,” he said, adding that the ingredients get rinsed off and the final product is sold in 16-ounce jars (in mild, medium and hot varieties) at the Eastern Market and on his website, https://butchschowchow.net/.
“Whenever I come in, they look for Butch’s Chow-Chow,” he said of patrons at the Eastern Market. He added that the relish can be added to practically anything including greens and cornbread, black-eyed peas and more. “Now I’m coming out with a new variation.”
Morrell is also looking at expanding his brand and marketing it to an even bigger audience and even in stores.
“Some would compare it slightly to pickle relish,” he said, adding that he’s gotten children who wouldn’t touch vegetables to eat it. “My daughter loves it in deviled eggs.”
This spring, if not sooner, Morrell said that he also plans to sell Butch’s Chow-Chow in person and at the Eastern Market, where it’s become a huge hit, and at other markets.
“I’ll be there without a doubt,” he said, adding that his wife used to sell the chow-chow at other farmer’s markets, too, alongside him and separately to cover more ground. “In the morning she would go to the Royal Oak market and I would go to Eastern on Saturdays.”
Morrell said that he and his family, despite it all, are blessed.
His pastor, the Rev. Robert Bolden, who tasted the chow-chow, along with members of the congregation at different church events, would agree.
“Brother Morrell, he’s been a member of our church for quite some time,” he said, adding that he and his family play a “pretty significant role” in the church and God “fortified” Morrell after his loss.
“It can really ransack your life, but I’m grateful to see how he has endured and really his whole family. They didn’t just talk the talk of faith … they walked the walk and I do believe his faith has been strengthened and he has been fortified in his faith now more than he ever has been,” Bolden said.
For more information on Butch’s Chow-Chow or purchase it visit https://butchschowchow.net/.