I wrote this piece a while ago and just stumbled upon it while doing research for a project. I’m really behind in posting blog articles, so while I’m thinking about it, I’m posting this one right now before I get back to being overworked and underpaid. 😎
My son adores Chow Chow. No, not the dog, the relish. I found him a great recipe to make at home. In searching for the recipe I discovered something interesting. Chow Chow is not just a Southern Tradition. It’s also part of Soul Food and the Pennsylvania Dutch area. Who knew.
For those of you new to Chow Chow, basically it’s a form of pickle relish. I always grew up calling it Piccallili. The further South I moved, it was called Chow Chow. When I found it in an Amish store in Pennsylvania, then, well, my whole idea about what it was got squashed and I went back to the beginning.
This made me research even further to find out that how Chow Chow is made is what sets it apart from the various regions. According to Wikipedia, “The term chow-chow is reportedly based on the French word chou for cabbage. Others claim a connection with Chinese cuisine as an origin. The name is sometimes used interchangeably with piccalilli.” The more I dug it appears it was brought to America by Chinese railroad workers. However, I’m not sure how that fits in with the South. Hm, sounds like yet another research adventure at another time.
The main ingredient common to all of the recipes is vinegar. It’s basically vegetables, in one form or another, pickled in vingear. Depending on the region, the way the vegetables are prepared and some of the additional ingredients are what separates the region recipes.
In southern recipes, it’s cabbage and peppers, all kinds, red, green and hot. You could also add in green tomatoes. Basically it was another way to get rid of the bumper crops in a good season. In the north, it’s carrots, califlower, celery and onions. In the south, they add dry mustard and tumeric. In the north, it’s vinegar only.
In Pennsylvania, for example, it’s pickled vegetables that are kept pretty much in large chunks – i.e. whole califlower clumps, large junks of celery and carrot, etc. They even include beans.
However, in the version I’m used to, the southern version, the vegetables are chopped into very fine pieces and there is mustard included. And there are no califlower or beans.
ChowChow’s can be hot (my son’s favorite version) or sweet. In the south, cabbage is a big player in recipes and you pile Chow Chow onto of hot dogs or serve it with Pinto Beans. Ah, my mouth waters at memories of Greens and Beans, with sides of hot vinegar, chopped onion, and Chow chow.
It was fun researching Chow Chow and interesting to find that the name may be the same but that’s the only thing that was. Two different regions – two vastly different recipes.