Make the most of summer produce with this tangy vegetable relish.

By Melanie Fincher
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four mason jars of pickled relish
Credit: Jason Donnelly/Meredith

Chow chow was born out of an effort to preserve the bounty of summer produce growing in the backyard, including tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and more. As you'll see, chow chow can look very different depending on where you are. Get acquainted with this tangy vegetable relish that can be used on everything from hotdogs to beans. Plus, learn how to make chow chow at home.

What Is Chow Chow?

Not to be confused with the dog breed, chow chow is a type of pickled relish made popular in North America. Its ingredients can vary depending on what region you're in, but more on that below. Chow chow can be mild or hot, depending on the spices used.

Some chow chow recipes consist primarily of chopped green tomatoes, cabbage, onion, and peppers while others can contain carrots, beans, cauliflower, or peas. Regardless of which ones you choose, the ingredients are all pickled in a canning jar and served cold as a condiment.

The origin of chow chow remains somewhat of a debate. Some say that it found its way to the Southern United States during the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia to their settlement in Louisiana. This has led some to suggest that the name "chow chow" comes from the French word "chou" for cabbage. Others claim it's connected to the relish of the Chinese rail workers in the 1800s.

The truth is, it's hard to be sure exactly where this tangy vegetable relish came from. But one thing's for sure, it's taken on a variety of forms across North America. And most importantly, it's a great way to preserve summer produce for enjoyment that lasts well beyond the summer season.

Northern vs. Southern Chow Chow

There are two primary variations of chow chow: the Northern variety (primarily found in Pennsylvania Amish communities) and the Southern variety. Both relishes are prepared the same way, but with different ingredients.

Southern chow chow is typically made with just chopped bell peppers, green tomatoes, sweet onions, and cabbage. Northern chow chow on the other hand can consist of everything from cauliflower, carrots, beans, onions, bell peppers, and more.

In addition to the two varieties found in the U.S., there is also a Canadian version found primarily in the Maritime provinces, which is made almost entirely from green tomatoes and onions.

How to Eat Chow Chow

You can use chow chow as you would any other kind of pickled relish. Use it as a topping for hot dogs, hamburgers, or barbeque. It's also commonly used to give a little spunk to a bowl of beans or a side of cornbread. You can even make a delicious appetizer by adding a little atop a cracker with cream cheese spread.

How to Make Chow Chow

Learn how to make chow chow based on this recipe from SLT. This version is similar to the classic southern variety, but the ingredients can be easily adjusted to fit your taste.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ½ pounds green tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 large onions, chopped,
  • 10 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 6 chopped green chile peppers
  • 1 quart distilled white vinegar
  • ½ cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Directions:

  1. Combine tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and salt in a large bowl. Let stand overnight.
  2. Drain the mixture and add hot chile peppers, vinegar, sugar, and horseradish.
  3. Wrap the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in a cheesecloth or porous bag, and add to the mixture.
  4. Boil the mixture for 15 minutes, or until tender.
  5. Pack tightly in sterilized jars and seal.
  6. Store the jars in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks to allow the flavors to mingle. Store unopened for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.

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