Chow-Chow Relish

March 11, 2018 0 Comments

What is Chow-Chow Relish?

What is Chow-Chow Relish? The short answer is “good”. Chow-Chow Relish has long been a favorite on pinto beans in the South and its appeal is even broader when you consider hot dogs, hamburgers, black-eyed peas and its use on various greens such as turnip greens and collards.

Chow-Chow Relish Ingredients

Chow-Chow (or Chow-Chow Relish) is made from chopped green tomatoes (and sometimes red tomatoes), cabbage, mustard seed or powder, onions, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and vinegar. Other optional ingredients include cucumbers, celery or celery seed, carrots, beans, asparagus, corn and cauliflower. Unlike most condiments, Chow-Chow retains a chunky (chopped) texture and is not pureed. The taste can be sweet, tangy, hot or a combination thereof. It is typically served cold and like many foods, there are various varieties with an increasing availability of “hot” versions.

Chow Chow Relish

Chow-Chow Relish Origin & History

The origination of Chow-Chow is somewhat vague. There are known Chow-Chow recipes dating back to 1770 in the recipe book of Harriet Pinckney Horry of South Carolina. According to the book Southern Food (1993) by John Egerton, Ann Bleidt Egerton and Al Clayton, “Chow-Chow may be derived from Baked Beans with Chow Chow Relishthe Mandarin Chinese word “cha” meaning mixed and goes back to the 1840s and the coming of Chinese laborers to California”. The Chinese were known to regularly ship spices and pickles to the U.S. and England. Other sources indicate the name may be based on the French word chou for cabbage. Yet, still others believe its roots might be from India.

Most believe that relishes originated from the need to preserve vegetables for winter. More specifically, its origination may have stemmed from using the end of season vegetables in the garden at the first frost. This notion is consistent with the word "relish", which first appeared in English in 1798 and comes from the word "reles" meaning "something remaining" in Old French. Regardless of when or where Chow-Chow originated, one thing is for sure in that it has been enjoyed in the Southern U.S. for well over 200 years.

There are many other popular types of relish including British Piccalilli, Chutney and Pickle Relish. Also, in today's marketplace it is becoming easier to find other varieties of pickled type relishes such as Artichoke Relish, Cucumber Relish, Jalapeno Relish and others. 

Variants of Chow-Chow Relish

Although many people think of traditional "southern chow-chow" as a cabbage and tomato-based relish, there are many varieties of Chow-Chow today. For example,

  • There is Cucumber Relish and also Chow-Chow Relish made with cucumbers. The lines between the two have become blurry as small producers target their relish at various niche markets.
  • Red color-based and green color-based chow-chow. Typically, chow-chow that is a red color also includes sweet or hot red peppers. The peppers are used to obtain the color, but otherwise still includes cabbage consistent with southern chow-chow. Another option is to include red tomatoes instead of green.

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