Relishing the Idea of Homemade Chowchow

With the Fourth on the horizon, let us turn our attention to chowchow. If you're from the south or have canoodled with the Pennsylvania Dutch, you might know about chowchow, a type of sweet-n-sour relish made primarily from cabbage. But before we move on, let's define relish.

Cabbage gets a fun makeover as chowchow. (Kim O'Donnel)

Relish is a highly seasoned condiment made from pickled vegetables -- and sometimes fruit -- except when it's called a chutney. Just so everyone is on the same page, "to pickle" means to preserve food in a vinegar-based brine. In this country, 'pickle relish' means pickled cucumbers but if you travel to the West Indies, India or South Africa, you might hear the word achar instead.

The word "chowchow" seems to have interesting, diverse origins as well. For starters, it sounds like chou, the French word for cabbage, and some historians claim that it refers to pickled vegetables in mustard, borrowed from Chinese immigrant railroad laborers in the mid-19th century.

If burgers and franks (or some variation thereof) are on your holiday menu, I'm betting some kind of relish action will be making an appearance as well. For an out-of-the-jar experience, consider trying your hand at chowchow, which requires about 30 minutes of chopping, a few minutes of stovetop action, and by the next day, you'll have gotten yourself into a real pickle.

This is good stuff -- and I reckon you'll find all kinds of applications, moving beyond burgers and franks. I'm thinking this would zip up potato salad, shimmy nicely against a pot of baked beans and work beautifully with a grilled piece of fish.

Best of all, chowchow is one of those dishes that loves improvisation. If you've got carrots in the crisper that need some love, throw'em in. Maybe you've got a few green tomatoes on hand, or you like coriander or caraway seeds in your pickling solution. There are no rules to doing the chowchow cha-cha -- except to have fun.

P.S.: The "frank" pictured above is a meatless, chipotle-flavored Field Roast Sausage, made from wheat gluten, so that the meatless folks can join in on the chowchow fun as well.

Recipe below the jump.

One more thing: The Eat Local Challenge has been set: Join me July 19-26 for a week of eating food that has been grown or raised within 100 miles of your hometown. E-mail me at: to say "I Do" and I'll put you on the ELC Honor Roll. Please type "ELC" in the subject line and in your note, please add your city, state and size of household. In order to be included on the ELC Honor Roll, I need your e-mail by Monday, July 14.

Quick Chowchow
From "Summer Gatherings" by Rick Rogers

4 cups chopped green cabbage (about ¼ of a large head)
½ sweet red bell pepper, seeded and deveined, cut into ½-inch dice
2 Kirby cucumbers, scrubbed, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice (KOD note: I substituted Mediterranean cukes that I picked up at market last week)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 cup distilled white vinegar (KOD note: I substituted equal amounts of rice vinegar; I also think white wine vinegar would be nice here)
2/3 cup light brown sugar (KOD note: You could get away with ½ cup, I found it a tad sweet)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon crushed red hot pepper (more if you want spicier results)
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

In a large colander or sieve, combine cabbage, pepper, cucumbers, onion and salt and set in the sink. Put a plate to fit inside colander on top of veggies and weigh down with a few large heavy cans. Allow to stand for up to an hour (KOD note: I did this for about 20 minutes -- and yes, water did drain off).

In a large, nonreactive pot, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard, celery seed, pepper flakes and turmeric, and bring mixture up to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add vegetable mixture (do not rinse) and stir to combine, returning to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until cabbage is crisp-tender, about five minutes.

Transfer chowchow to a medium bowl (or 1-quart canning jar) and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Chowchow can be made up to three weeks ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from fridge about one hour before serving.

Makes about one quart.

Serve with your favorite wurst, frank, burger or meatless facsimile.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 3, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Holiday Treats , Side Dishes , Vegetarian/Vegan
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My great-grandma used to make chow chow--and this is definitely the time of year to put up a few jars while the tomatoes are still green.

Posted by: Lisa Fain (Homesick Texan) | July 3, 2008 9:14 AM

I have never heard of chow chow made with cabbage, but this recipe sounds pretty good. Like Lisa Fain, I have always heard of it as a green tomato relish. I have heard many stories about my great-grandma's chow chow (which my family actually calls cha cha pickle). Maybe the cabbage is more Penn. Dutch and the green tomato is southern? Anyway, not even my grandma makes cha cha pickle from scratch anymore. We swear by Braswell's green tomato relish. I have never seen it in any stores around here, so I mailorder it by the case. Try it on stewed kale or slow cooked green beans. YUM!

Posted by: Sweetie | July 3, 2008 9:41 AM

Gotta say, I love chow chow, but your definition of "to pickle" is a tad incomplete -- pickling is not just preserving in vinegar.

The most traditional way to pickle is by fermenting veg in brine -- this includes kosher dills and kimchi.

Posted by: Rita | July 3, 2008 9:44 AM

Sounds great to me!! I will make some this weekend.

Posted by: Ohio | July 3, 2008 10:34 AM

Chow Chow---- a great Southern Tradition!!! Happy 4th of July to everyone.

Posted by: East Coast | July 4, 2008 11:28 AM

Not sure if this recipe is chow chow or some sort of modified sauerkraut. I've never seen cabbage in PA Dutch chow.

Posted by: Hungary | July 7, 2008 2:27 PM

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