History of: Chow Chow Pickle

Chow Chow Pickle

My first pickles!

Chow Chow is a pickled relish that can be transformed into much more.  A properly constructed recipe for this dish can touch on all five of the taste sensations.

Sweet:  Sugar

Bitter: Turmeric

Sour: Vinegar

Spicy: Chilies

Umami: Green Tomatoes

The recipe has fallen out of favor with the general public since home preserving is no longer an everyday thing for most people.  The dish has been adopted by the Amish or regionally, the Pennsylvania Dutch.  My first experience with this dish was one that I purchased at a local Amish market.  It did not contain green tomatoes or cabbage like most of the traditional recipes call for, but it did hit on the sweet, sour, spicy combination.

Umami is a flavor perception discovered in 1908 of glutamate, an ionized form of amino acid, glutamic acid, commonly referred to as Monosodium Glutamate.  MSG is a much maligned ingredient misunderstood by the American population.   Much misinformation has been attributed this ingredient.

Many people claim that they are allergic to MSG when in fact there is no documentation to support this claim.  In fact, MSG is a natural salt that occurs in just about all marine life as well as seaweed and any derivative of seaweed, but it is also found in large concentrations in tomatoes and parmesan cheese.  The dish of pasta that you enjoy may contain more MSG then your Chinese takeout.

The pickling process has been around for a long time.  Traces of it go back beyond Ancient Egypt, when mankind needed to preserve food in order to feed himself during times between harvests.  The only preservation process that may be older is smoking or drying foods.  Salt is the key element in pickling and the ingredient that preserves by the prevention of bacteriological growth.  It is bacteria which rots food and makes it go bad, on its own food would last indefinitely, but like all creatures on the planet we have to fight to preserve our food against other forms of life, in this case, bacteria.

Just like in all cooking, time and temperature play key roles in preserving food.  In the early recipes, you see the process of canning being done in a very primitive way, which led to much sickness and spoilage.  The idea is to create an anaerobic environment, or more plainly put, one with no oxygen.  Like all forms of life, most bacteria need oxygen to survive, so any process eliminating oxygen will kill most forms of bacteria.  Add to that mix the salinity, or better put acidity, of salt and the environment becomes even less inhospitable for bacteriological growth.

Now we have instruments to discern the precise temperatures of products and the ability to seal cans completely in oxygen free environments, I strongly advise you use the more modern methods of canning to insure the safety of your dish.

Nicolas Abbert was a French confectioner who was the first to develop the canning process in 1809, by decree of Napoleon Bonaparte, as a way of keeping food preserved for the army.    His method is still in practice today by most home cooks who still use glass jars to preserve food.  The glass jar method he developed turned out to be rather impractical for military application and after the fall of Napoleon, his factory was destroyed in 1814.

Canned goods were in great demand during the civil war as well as any armed conflict of this era.  The Franco – Prussian war as well as WWI were turning points in the canning industry.  These wars offered manufacturers the opportunities to expose their product to the middle class and poor soldiers who were fighting to defend their ideals and ways of life.  After the wars, manufacturers improved quality and expanded into the new markets after the manufacturing processes were perfected during the times of war.  The mass production of canned goods for military applications was the fruition of Napoleon’s idea of creating a cheap, reliable source of food for an advancing or retreating army and opened up the ability of the army to advance during seasons other the summer and fall.  The canned goods allowed armies to travel with food and provisions well into the winter and spring. The famous quote of Napoleon that “an army marches on its stomach,” was finally realized.

Preserved relishes were an important staple to the kitchen in the settling of the region.  It was not only a way of preserving food, but it also allowed a greater flavor profile to be presented at the table.  Most houses had a favorite pickle dish or relish that was served at almost every meal.  In the Italian tradition, this was served as a separate, usually first course, but in American tradition, it is usually served as a condiment or a relish to be added as a sauce or accompaniment with the main course.

While we commonly associate chow chow with a green tomato relish.  It is in fact very versatile in incorporating all sorts of vegetables and spices.  Like most pickled preserves this recipe actually improves with age.  The longer it sits on the shelf the better.  Even with the extensive cooking processes involved in the making of chow chow, the flavor will still benefit from at least a month of aging.  It allows the vegetables to incorporate into the brine and mellow the vinegar.  New chow chow should have a strong vinegar taste when first made.  The flavor will deepen and mellow over time.

Chow chow is ideal for the home canner as opposed to the commercial canner since the variety of ingredients all call for different cooking times and should be cooked separately to maximize quality before combining them together in the acidic brine.  The acidity level of the brine is important to the prevention of parasitic organisms which can spoil the product and even kill the consumer.  When trying out old recipes keep information regarding modern canning techniques on hand.  We know much more now than we did then regarding the dangers of spores and toxins that can be dangerous if the canning is done improperly.  The recipes for ingredients and measures can still be used to experience the flavors of days gone by, but the old methods of canning should not be followed.

Alum is an ingredient found in many old recipes, it is the crystallized form of aluminum sulfate that was used as a crisping agent in pickle making.  New methods have made the use of this additive unnecessary since it has been linked to digestive distress as well as Alzheimer’s disease.

Spices such as horseradish and peppers as well as chilies and ground pepper corns are often used in many cuisines and were used early on in civilization as way of preserving meat and protecting the diner.  Pepper contains capsicum which is a type of poison that is in peppers and chilies that is actually responsible for the heat sensation we feel when we eat spicy food.  It will, over time, actually kill your taste buds which will not grow back or regenerate; this allows people to eat food that is spicier and spicier as they go along.  It evolved as a taste perception in us to warn us of undesirable foodstuff, but we have in fact adapted it to heighten the dining experience.  While I would never advocate losing the spice, I would warn against the macho assumption of pouring hot sauce and jalapenos on everything in an effort to overload your perception of taste.  Hotter is not necessarily better.  The goal of a proper dish is to seek balance in all the proportions of taste.

In 1900, the modern can was developed using the double seam method.  This allowed manufacturers to create a can from a single piece of tin which is billowed out at the ends to allow for the curling of the tin around the lid which is then sealed with a thin strip of rubber and stamped together for an airtight seal.  This method of canning requires precision on the manufacturing process that would have been impossible in noncommercial manufacturing.  Coated tin was now used to alleviate the cost of the manufacturing as cast iron and steel cans were expensive to produce as well as harder to manipulate in the canning process.

The ball company was founded in 1880 when two of the five founding brothers borrowed $200.00 dollars from their uncle to make a wood jacketed tin used to keep and sell paint.  The real success of the company came in 1884 when the company started making home canning jars, which would later make the Ball company a household name.  The Ball Company produced its first blue book of canning recipes and techniques in 1909, and presently manufactures containers of plastic, glass, metal and is even developing space age technology for NASA.

Thomas Kinsett was the first canner in Baltimore in 1849; by 1880 Baltimore was the canning center of the entire country.  Canning during this era was hard work and people often lived on the grounds of the cannery concerns.  Since labor was in such high demand, immigrants and young children were often employed and exploited.

Lewis Hine was a child laborer in the canning industry and was orphaned at the age of fifteen and was forced into child labor to survive.  He took an interest in photography and worked with the National Child Labor Committee to expose and show the long and unsafe working conditions forced upon the children in this and other industries.  Due to his actions and others like him, several laws were passed regulating the use of child labor.

The canning industry has now moved out of the mid-Atlantic region and centered itself in California and overseas.  As of now, there is only one remaining canning factory in Baltimore.  It is a small family owned concern in canton.  M. Manning Inc. began in 1917 and is now the last living bit of living industrial history in the state.

Canning was an essential process during this stage in the development of the region, since the method not only preserved food, but it also allowed people to keep food without the aid of refrigeration which was still and expensive luxury at the time.  Ice boxes were still used by most people at this point to preserve and keep highly perishable items such as milk, canning allowed the people to preserve and keep food and thus, freed many people from having to spend as much time on shopping or culinary tasks such as tending gardens or home canning.  This surplus of resources allowed many in the industrial age to focus on industry and specialized jobs outside of tending to the home.  This innovation along with other innovative and time saving items is one of the leading reasons why women were able to begin getting away from the duties of homemaking and expand their role in society.

Many delicious verities of chow chow can be found in Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch markets throughout the region.  Canned food is best if used within two years after processing, however, there is no known date of expiration for canned goods.  Cans have been found on sunken ships up to 100 years old and still have been determined to be safe for consumption.  After about two years the flavor and texture of the product may be compromised.  Acidic contents can break down food into an almost sauce like consistency.  In chow chow, you would lose all of the textual contrasts provided by the verity of ingredients.  There are even cans processed in Baltimore which are still at Shackleton’s base camp in Antarctica and are still considered safe for human consumption.

The nutritional value of canned goods is often debated with a great deal of misconceptions about the lost nutritional content of the food.  A study by the University of Illinois in 1997 showed that since canned goods were packed and processed during the height of the harvest season, many of the nutrients in canned goods were actually higher than their fresh counterparts in the stores.

When canning, using sterile jars is important, make sure your dishwasher has a high enough temperature of 212 degrees, or conversely you could boil the jars before using and allow to air dry.

Chow Chow

Christopher Gobbett



5 Pounds Green Tomatoes, Diced                                            2 Red Bell peppers, Diced*

2 Yellow Bell peppers, Diced *                                                  ½ Head Celery, Diced (Leaves Included)

3 Cups Kidney Beans**                                                                 3 Cups Chickpeas**

1 Lb. Green Beans, Chopped                                                      5 Carrots, Diced

½ Head Cauliflower, Cut Fine                                                    1 Lb. Pearl Red Onions

1 Lb. Pearl Onions                                                                           5 Cups Corn

3 Yellow Squash, Diced                                                                 3 Zucchini, Diced

3 Cucumber, Diced                                                                          3 Cups Lima Beans**

4 Thai Chilies                                                                                     2 Scotch Bonnet Chilies

5 Granny Smith Apples, Diced


*Keep any seeds you can from the seed packets inside the peppers.  Just tap them a few times on the cutting board and allow them to fall off.  Collect them and add them to the brine.

**Drain the beans if using canned or cook them according to the directions if using fresh or dried.  Canned beans work well in this recipe.  



10 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar                                                      12 Cups Sugar

2 Tbsp. Turmeric                                                                              1 Tbsp. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

4 Tbsp. Mustard Seed                                                                    2 Tbsp. Dried Mustard Powder

2 Tbsp. Celery Seeds                                                                      1 Tbsp. Caraway Seed

5 – 6 Cups Water                                                                              2 Tbsp. Salt

3 Tbsp. Cloves                                                                                   1 Tsp. Allspice or Pickling Seasoning


Dice all the vegetables according to the size of the kidney bean.  Blanch and shock all of the vegetables until desired doneness in reached.  I like to leave mine more on the underdone or al dente side as they will add more texture to the finished product. Cook all vegetables separately and then combine in ice bath.  Drain.  Add canned beans or cooked beans if you used fresh or dried. 

Combine all ingredients for the brine and bring to a rolling boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer mixture for at least one hour to allow all of the aromatics to develop.  This can be done while cooking the vegetables or even done ahead and refrigerated.  Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.  The brine must have an acidity level of 4.6 or higher, so the brine must have enough vinegar.  This taste will mellow over time as your preserves develop.  In the kitchen we use PH strips to determine whether the acidity level is high enough, I would recommend this to any home cook as well; these can be found through many suppliers on the internet and are not expensive. 

Add the hot brine to the vegetables and allow to soak for about 15 minutes.  This will also allow the brine enough time to cool sufficiently to handle easily while putting it into mason jars.

 Fill jars of desired size to ¼ inch below the top of the jar.  Do not overfill or the liquid of the brine will seep out under the seal and a proper seal will not be made.  Place a rubber spatula into the jar and press the mixture firmly against the sides this will release any air bubbles that are retained in the food.  Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean sanitized towel.  Place the seal ring squarely on top and then place the screw top on and tighten firmly.  Place the jar into the canning rack and repeat for remaining jars.

Bring a large kettle of water to a rolling boil.  Adding salt to the water will increase the density of the water and thus increase the temperature the water is at when boiling.  You can achieve a higher temperature this way.  The water level must cover the jars completely by at least two inches.  Process 12 minutes in boiling water.  Pull the jars out of the water and allow draining on a towel.  When cool, adjust the screw top tighter as it will have loosened during processing.  Look for any irregular signs in the jars such as brine leaking out or air bubbles in the jars.  If you see these things you can begin again by re-sterilizing the jars and trying again.  The rubber seal of the lid must be discarded and a new one put in its place.    Store in a cool, dry place, preferably on a low shelf so if they fall it will not hit anyone. 


I like to make this dish as more of a condiment then a pickle.  I use very small cuts on the vegetables.  This process calls for the vegetables to cook quickly and retain their shape and not turn to mush, but the tomatoes I do allow to cook longer since I do want them to break down more.  This recipe is perfect for using as a side dish in a pinch, or my favorite way is to use it is to top a hamburger.  Another great way to serve it is over rice.  The beans and rice make a complete protein and this is a great way to eat healthy and cheaply, but still eat well.

I am also a big proponent of not wasting things.  This is a great way to utilize all the abundance of the vegetable garden, so improvising with an assortment of vegetables in encouraged.  Try to keep everything about the same size.  The kidney bean should be the measure in which you think when cutting your vegetables.

I also use apple cider vinegar exclusively in this dish as it adds more flavor as well as having a slightly duller acidity and I think it balances out better with the other flavors.  The astringent quality of white vinegar, to me, is better left to cleaning then to eating.

Sous vide (a method of sealing and cooking food in an anaerobic environment created by vacuum sealing it in plastic) can also be used in this method of creating a variation on this dish.  It is interesting to see the texture of the cucumbers and squash change under vacuum seal.

The essential ingredients for chow chow are seasonings               used in the brine of the pickle.  Mustard seed and turmeric are the primary ingredients used that define a chow chow from and ordinary pickle.  This dish is almost unheard of beyond the Mid – Atlantic region and is not commonly found outside of a few Amish markets and as a unique topping in local hamburger joints.  It makes a great condiment for chicken, pork and a great local condiment for vegetarian dishes.

The Evolution:

It is difficult to show the evolution of this dish because it is difficult to define exactly what ingredients comprise a chow chow.  Every cook has a version of this dish and no two recipes are the same.  We must therefore define what a chow chow is before we can proceed any further.  The primary ingredients in chow chow that seem to define it are the use of mustard seed, turmeric, green cabbage and green tomatoes.  These ingredients seem to predominate through most of the recipes, but the inclusion of various additions seems to be almost at the whim of the cook.  There are however, distinct reasons exist for why some ingredients are chosen for specific recipes as we shall see:

Chow Chow Pickle[1]



½ Peck Green Tomatoes

2 large Cabbages

15 Onions

25 Cucumbers

1 Plate Horseradish

½ Pound Mustard Seed

1 Ounce Celery Seed

2 Ounces Ground Pepper

2 Ounces Turmeric

½ Ounce Cinnamon


Cut the onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage in small pieces; Pack them down overnight in salt, lightly; in the morning pour off the brine, and put them to soak in weak vinegar for two days; drain again and mix in spices.  Boil half a gallon vinegar and three pounds sugar, and pour over them hot.  Mix two boxes ground seed.  – Mrs. R. A.


Here we see the traditional components of the dish which give it the characteristic color and flavor.  In this version, the spicy element of the dish is created by horseradish, pepper and cinnamon.  This combination would change later as new spices were introduced into the region.  Even by this time in 1879, the dish had seen many transformations that were lost due to a lack of publication.  Condiments such as this were not commonly put down and published in recipe form, since they usually took a different form in every household.

Only because of the pickling process used in this dish is it referred to as a relish or pickle as opposed to the common usage term of the time: Catsup.  During this period most condiments ranging from blueberry to walnuts were classified under this term.

Chow Chow[2]



½ Peck onions

½ Peck Green Onions

5 dozen Cucumbers


                Slice all very fine, and put in a few whole cucumbers, one pint small red and green peppers; sprinkle one pint salt over them, and let them stand all night; then add:


1 Ounce Mace

1 Ounce white Mustard Seed

1 Ounce Celery Seed

1 Ounce Turmeric

1 Ounce Whole Cloves

3 Tablespoonfuls Ground Mustard

2 Pounds Brown Sugar

1 Stalk Horseradish, Grated Fine


                Cover all with one gallon and one pint of strong vinegar, and boil 30 minutes. – Mrs. E. T.


Here we see the addition of more traditional pickling elements such as cloves and sugar.  Here we begin to see versions within the same collection of recipes that illustrate the differences of the dish from one house to another.

 Chow Chow[3]



½ Peck Onions

½ Peck Green Tomatoes

3 Dozen Large Cucumbers

4 Large Green Peppers

½ Pint Small Peppers, Red and Green


                Sprinkle one pint salt on and let them stand all night; the cucumbers not peeled, but sliced one inch thick, the onions also sliced.  In the morning drain off the brine, and add to the pickles:


1 Ounce Mace

1 Ounce Black Pepper

1 Ounce White Mustard Seed

1 Ounce Turmeric

½ Ounce Clove

½ Ounce Celery Seed

3 Tablespoonfuls Made Mustard

2 Pounds Brown Sugar

With a Little Horseradish


                Cover with vinegar, and boil until tender, a half hour or more.  When cold, ready for use. – Mrs. C.N.


Here is another illustration from the same collection showing the differences in ingredients of the dish.  The brine seems to remain somewhat consistent, but the vegetables that are used are probably largely in part, whatever happened to be on hand during the time when the pickling was done.

Chow Chow Pickle[4]



1 Gallon Chopped Cabbage

4 Onions

2 Pounds Brown Sugar

2 Pints Strong Vinegar

2 Tablespoonfuls Black Pepper

2 Tablespoonfuls of Allspice

2 Tablespoonfuls of Celery Seed

½ Pint Mustard Seed

1 Tablespoonful Ground Mustard


                The cabbage and onions must stand in salt and water two hours, then place in a brass kettle, with the vinegar and spices, and sugar; boil until syrup is formed. Excellent.  – Mrs. J. H. F.

Compared to the complexity of the previous recipes, this one is much simpler in its preparation.  The ingredients are more ordinary and may indicate an economic difference, or perhaps just a preference in taste, it is impossible to speculate on that.

The use of brown sugar in the recipe may be due to the availability of the product and the fact that it was inexpensive, but today I would recommend using white sugar since you will not get the foam and impurities which could cloud the finished product and make it look less appealing.

Creole Chow Chow[5]



                One gallon of green tomatoes, sliced thin, half dozen silver skin onions, sliced thin, one gallon wine vinegar, two teacups of brown sugar, one tablespoonful of cayenne pepper, one tablespoonful black pepper, one tablespoonful tumerick.  Put the onions and tomatoes together in a keg or jar and sprinkle over them one pint of salt and let it so remain twenty four hours, then drain all the brine off from them over collender, then put the vinegar to them and add the seasoning, and put to cook on a slow fire, stir to keep it from burning.  It will take the whole day to cook; you can make any quantity you want, by doubling the quantity of vegetables and seasonings here prescribed, or if you want less quantity, lessen the proportion, say half the quantity, then you want half a gallon of tomatoes to begin with, and a half of everything else needed in this chow chow.


This recipe is unique in that the tomatoes and onions are sliced thin and layered which would make for an interesting texture.  The vegetables must be treated gently when removing.  This is a brine cold cure pickle where the product is not cooked.  It will take longer for the pickle to ferment properly and will yield a firmer finished product.  This dish would be excellent to use on a hamburger.

Chow Chow[6]



½ Pound English Mustard                                                            ½ Gallon Vinegar

½ Ounce Turmeric                                                                           1 Cup Sugar

2 Tablespoonfuls of Mustard Seed                                          1 Gill of Salad Oil

1 Quart String Beans                                                                       1 Head of Cauliflower

1 Quart Button Mushrooms                                                        1 Quart Tiny Cucumbers


                Boil the cauliflower, beans and onions separately until tender.  Cover the cucumbers with strong salt water and soak twenty four hours.  Then mix all together.  Put the vinegar in a porcelain lined kettle.  Mix the mustard and turmeric together, and moisten them with a little cold vinegar, then stir them into the hot vinegar and stir continually until it begins to thicken;  add the sugar, mustard seed, and oil.  Stir again and pour this, while hot over the vegetables.  Put away in glass or stone jars.


Here we see the more modern version of the dish, which contains the inclusion of beans.  This is definitely where the dish takes on more of a relish form, which we see today and becomes its own dish as opposed to just an assorted pickle.  It does not contain the cabbage or green tomatoes though, which is unusual.

Chow Chow[7]



                One quart small onions, 1 quart lima beans, 1 quart string beans, 1 quart small pickles, 1 quart corn, 2 heads cauliflower or cabbage, ¾ Pound Coleman’s Mustard, 5 cents worth of turmeric powder, 1 pound sugar, 5 or 10 cents worth celery stalks chopped; vinegar to taste.

                                                                                                                –              E.F. Spencer


                Here we see an assortment of beans being used as well as the inclusion of pickles, which is a modern ingredient used in the dish.  It always struck me as odd that a pickle dish included pre-made pickles as an ingredient in the dish, but it is very common in later recipes.  The quantities used in this recipe are difficult to determine since they are given at cost an I am uncertain what the conversion rate would be.

The pre-made pickles included in the recipe act as a sort of starter brine for the chow chow.  It is sometime common for pickle makers to use leftover brine as a starter, much like the process used in making sour dough bread.

Chow Chow[8]



                One peck green tomatoes chopped fine, one dozen onions chopped fine; let stand in salt over night, drain them, add two heads cabbage; put one and one half quarts vinegar, one pint sugar, two tablespoons pickle spice and let come to a boil; add cabbage, etc., stir until warm through.

                                                                                                                                – Mrs. McCommon


Little to no instruction is given to the process of pickling the chow chow, much less canning it in this recipe.  It is assumed that people using this cookbook during this period in time were familiar with the canning and pickling process.


Chow Chow[9]



¼ Peck Green Tomatoes

¾ Peck String Beans

3 Cups Shelled Limas

3 Cups Corn

5 Green Peppers

1 Quart Onions

1 Large Head Cauliflower

2 Cups Sugar

3 Quarts Cider Vinegar

½ Cup Salt

2 Tablespoons Celery Seed

2 Tablespoons Mustard Seed

½ Pound Ground Mustard

1 Tablespoon Turmeric Powder


                Cut the string beans in pieces; break the cauliflower into flowerets, add the lima beans and corn and cook all four ingredients about 25 minutes.  Chop the onions, peppers and tomatoes.  Heat the vinegar and when hot, add the sugar, salt and spices which have been mixed together.  Drain the water from the cooked vegetables and add to the hot vinegar.  Then add the chopped vegetables and cook about 25 minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour into sterilized jars and seal. 

The dish is now taking on more of the modern form where it acts as a sort of catch all for whatever is left in the garden.  The descriptions are more detailed and ingredients are now referred to being cooked separately, due to the different cooking times needed for different vegetables and beans.  At this point in time, it is becoming more of a specialty home canning product.

Chow Chow[10]



                Two hundred small pickles, 3 heads cauliflower, ¼ peck of string beans, 1 dozen sweet peppers (3 colors), 1 pt. small onion, 1 pt. lima beans, 1 lg. stalk celery, 1 qt. small green tomatoes; salt vegetables in the evening, boil each separately, then drain.  For dressing – 2 lbs. Brown sugar, 2 Qts. Vinegar, 2 tablespoons flour, ¾ cup mustard, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 tablespoon turmeric, 2 cents worth of celery seed.  Mix the flour and a little sugar and vinegar so it doesn’t get lumpy.  When dressing comes to a boil, put in vegetables.  Heat thoroughly.  Spice to taste.

                                                                                                                                Jennie Brown

More care and details are added here and give more focus on presentation.  This is the era of the victory garden in America and we see a greater sense of pride in the care and use of the vegetables grown and canned at home.

Chow Chow (Mustard)[11]



1 Qt. Small Pickles                                                                           1 Qt. Medium Pickles, Sliced

1 Qt. Large Cucumbers Cut                                                          1 Qt. Small Onions, Whole


                (The above items are bought already pickled and need no more cooking until scalded with the other vegetables.)


1 Large Head of Cauliflower                                                       3 Large Red Peppers, Seeds Removed

3 Large Green Bell Peppers, Seeds Removed                     1 Qt. Cut String Beans

1 Qt. Cut Green Tomatoes                                                           1 Qt. Cut Celery


                Cook these vegetables until nearly nearly done.  Then strain.  Cover with cold water adding 1 ½ cups salt, and let stand for 24 hours.  Pour off water.  Combine the vegetables and picked items and scald the whole, (without boiling) in equal quantities of vinegar and water.  Strain thoroughly before pouring on paste.




2 Cups Flour                                                                       3 Tbsp. Ground Mustard

1 scant Tbsp. Turmeric                                                   2 Tsp. Celery Seed, Added When Paste is done

3 Qts. Vinegar                                                                   5 Lbs. Granulated Sugar


                Having kept out enough vinegar to make thickening, bring remainder of vinegar and sugar to a boil.  Add thickening, stirring constantly and cook until paste is thick and flour is done.  Add celery seed.

                Pour scalding hot over pickle and mix well.

                Pour into jars and let it get cold before covering.

                Makes 16 Pints.

                                                                                                –              Margaret W. Lamb



This is the beginning of the industrial food movement.  4 quarts of prepared pickles are bought and added to this dish.  This recipe was used by people who still cooked at home, but did not have the need or desire to preserve a harvest from the garden.  Seeing as how this recipe is credited from coming from the metropolitan area, it is possible that this is an urban adaptation to the classic dish.

Mama’s Chow Chow[12]



¼ Bushel Green Tomatoes (about 18 pounds)                    1 Head Cauliflower, Cut Up Fine

14 Onions                                                                                            Small Bow White Mustard Seed

12 Sweet Peppers (6 Red, 6 Green)                                         1 Box Celery Seed

1 Cup Salt                                                                                            2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard       

2 Qt. Cider Vinegar                                                                         1 Tablespoon Allspice

4 ½ Pounds Sugar (9 cups)                                                            1 Tablespoon Clove

1 Pint Jar Sweet Pickles, Cut Up Fine


                Cut or chop tomatoes, onions, and sweet peppers fine.  Put in large basin.  Sprinkle over all 1 cup of salt and add water nearly to the top.  Let this stand overnight.


Next Morning:

                Drain off all liquid from above mixture.  Place in large basin, add the cider vinegar, sugar, sweet pickles, cauliflower, mustard seed, dry mustard and spices.  Bring to a boil and cook over very moderate heat for 1 hour.  When cold, pack into clean jars and seal.  Will keep a year or more if kept in a cold place. 


This recipe is an indication of the recipe being passed on and preserved from one generation to the next, but not necessarily used on a regular basis.  It was possible at this point in time to purchase chow chow already made in jars from the grocery store in Maryland.  It is still considered to be a local flavor and has never really seen popularity outside of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Chow Chow[13]



1 Quart Small Cucumbers                                                             1 Pint White Onions

1 Quart Small Zucchini                                                                   1 Pint Red & Green Peppers (Sweet)

1 Quart Corn, Cut from the Cob                                                 2 Cups Sugar

1 Pint String Beans                                                                          1 Tbsp. Dry Mustard

1 Pint Celery                                                                                      1 Quart White Vinegar


                Chop vegetables coarsely; cook each separately in a very little water until barely tender; drain and mix together.  In a separate pan, mix sugar, mustard and vinegar and bring to a boiling point.  Fill clean canning jars (with 2 piece lids) with cooked vegetables to 1 inch of the top.  Fill with vinegar mixture; seal; process in boiling water to cover, on a rack, for 10 minutes.  Check seal according to manufacturer’s instructions; cool and store. 


This recipe is sort of a misappropriation of the term.  This is just a vegetable medley pickle which contains mustard.  It does not include the tomatoes, cabbage or turmeric that we see in traditional recipes.

It is not uncommon to see culinary terms misused, although this happens mostly to French terms, but here we see it assigned to a local dish.

Chow Chow[14]



1 Qt. Green Beans, ½ “ Pieces                                                    2 Qt. Lima Beans

1 qt. Yellow Beans, ½ “ Pieces                                                   1 ½ Qt. Diced Red Peppers, Raw

4 Lg. Head Cauliflower, Bite Size Pieces                                                2 Qt. Plain Sour Pickles, Chopped

2 ½ Qt. Canned Kidney Beans                                                     3 Lbs. Carrots, Diced

1 Qt. Canned Great Northern Beans                                        2 Stalks Celery, Diced

1 ½ Qt. Corn



2 Qt. Vinegar                                                                                     1 T. Celery Seed

2 Qt. Water                                                                                        ½ T. Turmeric

2 Lb. Sugar                                                                                          1 C. Finely Diced Onion

1 ½ T. Salt                                                                                            1 T. Mustard Seed


                Mix syrup ingredients all together.  Stir until sugar is dissolved; set aside.  Wash and drain kidney beans and great northern beans.  Blanch Cauliflower.  Cook green beans, yellow beans, lima beans, carrots, celery and corn separately until tender.  Do not overcook.  Salt vegetables to taste when you are cooking them.  In a large dishpan, mix all vegetables together.  Pour syrup over all.  Mix; put in canning jars.  Process jars in boiling water bath 12 minutes for quarts, 10 minutes for pints.  Yield: 18 – 20 Quarts.

                                                                                                                                                                Anna Wise


This is a perfect example of what the dish has evolved into in its modern form.  It includes all of the traditional ingredients associated with chow chow today with the exception of green tomatoes and cabbage.  This is a recipe which you could find commercially available in Amish markets today.

Much of the traditional ingredients have been removed to accommodate the modern palette, but this is one of the great things about chow chow.  It is endlessly versatile in the ability to adapt to various ingredients.  You can add just about any combination of vegetables and beans to the dish as desired and it is a dish that truly celebrates the bounty of the harvest.

For people who are interested in the local movement of farm to table food, this is an ideal dish.  It is also a great dish for the home canner since it can incorporate not only products from your garden, but also from your pantry.  You can use an infinite variety of pre-made products as well as garden fresh.  It is an excellent dish for beginners to try, since the recipe can be modified to include and exclude anything that you may not care for.  It is a model of evolution and will no doubt see even greater changes in the future with Sous Vide technology.

[1] Housekeeping in Old Virginia: Marion Cabell Tyree, John P. Morton and Company Louisville, KY. 1879

[2] Housekeeping in Old Virginia: Marion Cabell Tyree, John P. Morton and Company Louisville, KY. 1879

[3] Housekeeping in Old Virginia: Marion Cabell Tyree, John P. Morton and Company Louisville, KY. 1879

[4] Housekeeping in Old Virginia: Marion Cabell Tyree, John P. Morton and Company Louisville, KY. 1879

[5] What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking by Abby Fisher: Women’s Co-operative Printing Office 1891

[6] Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cookbook: A Manuel for Home Economics by Mrs. Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer: Applewood Books 1886

[7] Recipe Book edited by the London Grove Branch of County Auxiliary for the Benefit of Chester County Hospital: The Oxford News Print 1909

[8] Practical Cookbook: Useful recipes Contributed by The Ladies of Grove City and Vicinity: Grove City Herald Print 1924

[9] Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook of Fine Old Recipes: Culinary Arts Press 1936

[10] Glen Rock Cookbook: Published by The Ladies of “The Friendly Helpers” Bible Class of Trinity Reformed Sunday school Glen Rock, Penna 1946

[11] Maryland Cooking Compiled by the Maryland Home Economics Association 1948

[12] My Favorite Maryland Recipes by Mrs. J. Millard Tawes: Random House Publishing 1964

[13] Pickles and Pretzels: Pennsylvania’s World of Food by Virginia K. Bartlett: University of Pittsburg Press 1980

[14] Mennonite Cooking from the Heart of the New York Finger Lakes by Sauder’s Store: Carlisle Printing 2002


About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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