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What Is Chow-Chow Relish?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop

Chow-chow relish is generally most well-known in the mountainous areas of the southern United States. Food experts suspect, though, that this condiment full of pickled vegetables actually came from Nova Scotia. Settlers in that part of Canada likely later traveled south, where the land was rife with vegetables almost year-round. The recipe for chow-chow relish spread and it quickly became a staple in many southern pantries. Each cook tends to make this relish differently, but most recipes contain chopped green tomatoes and some kind of pickling agent.

In addition to green tomatoes, many chow-chow recipes also include a combination of the following: cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, some kind of squash, and peas. Not all of these vegetables are used in every recipe and some recipes may also include vegetables not listed here. The mixtures often vary from household to household and may be dependent on the season and the kinds of produce available.

Chow-chow relish is often made with green tomatoes.
Chow-chow relish is often made with green tomatoes.

Those who make chow-chow relish at home often make it in the spring so the vegetables have time to pickle throughout the summer months. The ingredients don’t need to pickle long to take on the flavors of the brine, but many people believe this relish only gets better with age. Some cooks refuse to open a jar of chow-chow relish until the winter, preferring to use it throughout the cold months as a source of vegetables and nutrients. It is often eaten with baked beans or mashed potatoes, and on top of beef, chicken, pork and fish, especially grilled varieties.

Most versions of chow-chow relish start with the chopped veggies and some kind of acid. Apple cider vinegar is a popular pickling base because it is both flavorful and mild. It also combines well with a number of different flavors. Many cooks also add a heaping handful or two of brown sugar and either dry or yellow mustard to the mix. It may also include salt, allspice, and either dried hot peppers or several spoonfuls of hot sauce.

Cooks usually mix the vegetables and the brine separately, adding the veggies to the pickling jar first. The brine goes in next, covering the veggies completely. The cook then seals the jar and either refrigerates it or sets it on a shelf to age. Those who vacuum-seal their jars don’t usually need to refrigerate them. People who simply screw a lid onto the jars should store chow-chow relish in a refrigerator. The pickling brine is supposed to help keep the vegetables from spoiling, but refrigeration may also help the relish taste fresh for longer.

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Discussion Comments


I've also seen whole kernel corn in chow-chow. It's really good, especially when it's used in a tomato based relish.

My great-aunt loved to can and she made chow-chow all summer. You'd ask her, "Aunt Willie, how much have you put up this week?" She would answer, "Oh, not much. Just about 20 quarts of beans, 20 of tomatoes and maybe 10 of chow-chow, and about 20 bags of corn. I haven't had much of a garden this year." You'd see the jars lined up underneath her cabinets.

Her chow-chow had corn in it and it was spicy. She used homegrown banana peppers along with tomatoes and onions. It was delicious.


A lady at my church makes chow-chow that's good on nearly everything, except maybe ice cream. She does sort of a sweet and sour salsa, but it's all from produce from her garden: tomatoes, onions, cucumber -- everything.

She used to sell her chow-chow for $2 a a quart jar and it would have been a bargain at three times that price! When you ate it, you could just taste summer time. I'm not sure of everything she put in it, but it was always absolutely wonderful. She doesn't make it as much now that her husband is gone, but I'm going to ask her if she has any jars still hanging around.

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    • Chow-chow relish is often made with green tomatoes.
      By: MediablitzImages
      Chow-chow relish is often made with green tomatoes.