Monday, August 8, 2011

Chow-Chow...Horrible Name, Tasty Relish

As you may know, I am a southern girl, and here in the south we love something called chow-chow.  Chow-chow is a traditional relish made with a wide variety of garden goodies.  The name does not live up to the reality of this condiment even though Wikipedia says that it is based on the French word for cabbage and found its way down south through the Acadians who settled in Louisiana.  I have always liked chow-chow, but I have to admit that if I am in a restaurant and want some, I am a little embarrassed to say it by name.  I mean, chow-chow?  Really? 

Finished chow-chow

Anyway, like any other relish, there are many versions out there.  The common threads among most chow-chow recipes are that they contain cabbage, sugar, vinegar, and usually tumeric (to make it golden).  Chow-chow is good used as a multipurpose relish on hotdogs, hamburgers and anywhere else relish usually goes, but chow-chow also goes into areas regular relishes don't typically venture.  It is great on fish, barbecue, cornbread, greens, and (my personal favorite) soupy beans like pintos.  Some versions are chunky, but I like my chow-chow ingredients diced small.  I chop the vegetables by hand, but you could try using a food processor. Just make sure you don't shred or mince them.  You should be able to discern the individual pieces of each vegetable clearly even though they will be rather small.

It is the perfect time to make this relish since most of the vegetables are easily found at the local farmer's market in many areas of the country.  It is also a great relish since it puts so many of your garden veggies to work in one place.  Chow-chow starts with cucumbers (not the waxed kind), red bell peppers, cabbage, onions, and green tomatoes.  You dice these vegetables and soak them in a salt brine overnight. 

Chow-chow in salt brine

The next morning, you drain and rinse the vegetables.  You then make your pickling liquid which contains water, vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and tumeric.  You will also need to dice some green beans and carrots and blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds so that they remain bright in color. 

Pickling liquid
Drained cabbage mixture on left, blanched beans and carrots on right

 You then combine all ingredients and simmer until ready.

All ingredients combined in pot

Once your relish reaches the proper consistency, it can be ladled into jars and processed for longer storage. 

Finished relish, excuse the few air bubbles you see...must be a more diligent bubble remover next time

The recipe below is adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  I am typing it here with the changes that I make when I cook it.  The original recipe calls for chopping the vegetables in larger pieces than I like as well as slicing the onion.  I also add some apple cider vinegar instead of using all white. 

Chow-Chow Relish- makes approximately seven 8-oz jars

2 cups diced cucumber (not waxed, Kirby type is best)
1 1/2 cups diced seeded red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups diced green cabbage
1 1/2 cups diced onions (I like Vidalia if you can find them)
1 1/2 cups diced green tomatoes, unpeeled
9 cups water, divided
1 cup kosher salt (pickling or canning salt will work also)
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp celery seeds
1 tbsp tumeric
1 1/2 cups diced green beans, blanched
1 1/2 cups diced carrots, blanched

In a large bowl, combine cucumber, peppers, cabbage, onions, and green tomatoes.  Add 8 cups water and the salt.  Cover and let stand overnight.  Drain in a colander, rinse, and drain again.  Allow to sit for several minutes to remove as much water as possible. You may need to squeeze it a little to remove more water.

In a large nonreactive pot, combine 1 cup water, vinegars, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and tumeric.  Bring to a boil.  Add cabbage mixture, green beans and carrots and simmer about 40 minutes until thick.  Much of the liquid will evaporate, and it will be a little thinner than a typical store-bought relish.  

Ladle into sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Top with sterile lids and rings and process 10 minutes.  Wait 5 minutes, remove jars, and allow to cool for 24 hours before storing.  


  1. This sounds suspiciously like Piccalilly (which is the same minus the cabbage and with mustard powder added). Looks great though!

  2. It is a lot like piccalilli and the names are used interchangably at times. I do have a piccalilly recipe also, and (like you said) one difference is that it has mustard powder. The particular recipe I have also has a few extra spices that chow-chow does not. Thanks for visiting the site. Hope you enjoyed it!

  3. Would love to have your piccalilli recipe! My mom used to make it when I was a kid, but I never ate anything sour back then. Unfortunately, she has passed away and I can't find her recipe now that I like sour foods.

    1. Hi WoodsyGirl,

      I do have a recipe for piccalilli I will be glad to send you. You can see if it is like your mother's recipe. Hopefully it is similar. It is lengthy, so I don't want to post it here, but I will be glad to email you. Send me an email at, and I will send it your way. Thanks!

  4. Why do you have to let it sit overnight?And why not shred the cabbage?And what is a non reactive pot?