2020-07-29 Coalcracker Chow Chow .jpg

Chow chow is quintessential Pennsylvania. Dutch; a sweet and sour mix of pickled vegetables often served as a side dish next to other Pa. Dutch classic foods.

Not only delicious, it is near and dear to a “Dutchie’s” heart — we let little to nothing go to waste. In this pickled dish, we salvage odd amounts of vegetables left at the end of harvest or on the farmers’market table; hence another name you might have heard it called, “end of season relish.”

While the true origin of the name isn’t officially known, there are a few theories, one being that it comes from the French word for cabbage, “chou“. Others people surmise it may be related to Indian squash, “chayote“, which is also known as “chow-chow”.

My Nana (grandmother) made chow chow every year when I was child. The supplies would show up on the kitchen counter; jugs of distilled vinegar, bags of granulated sugar, new canning jar lids and rings.

My Pappy (grandfather) gladly got in his old Ford pick up truck and made the trip to Hegins (PA) where our favorite roadside stand could always be counted on to have many of the veggies Nana was looking for. Mom and I went to the grocery and bought cans of beans, always with orders to bring back a particular brand of canned butter beans, “not those other ones they have!”

The kitchen kicked into gear early one morning as agreed upon by everyone in the household. Nana wanted no unexpected interruptions and she meant business. The already cramped Coal Region kitchen grew even more snug as the participants set off to do our assigned jobs. Pappy had washed the jars the night before after hauling the empties from last year up from the basement

The now sterilized jars sat like a row of shining soldiers on the corner of the kitchen counter, taking up what precious little counter space that kitchen had, but such was the price we paid for the yummy reward we were expecting.

Most of the cutting and prep of the fresh veggies was done the day before with containers stacked in the refrigerator like building blocks, making it nearly impossible to find anything else in the poor over-loaded “ice box”.

Out came a huge stainless steel pot for the pickling syrup to await the veggie mix. The canner waited in another room until it was needed. Small saucepans with vegetables filled every bit of burner space on the stovetop as Nana multi-tasked the cooking process for the fresh veggies, She carefully tested each, determining when they were ready to be cooled, drained, and added to the big bowl of ready-to-go vegetables and beans.

That little kitchen became a steam bath and we all looked like we’d had a really hard day only a couple hours into the process, but we turned on the old fan on top of the fridge and pretended it helped — even just a little.

My Pappy loved my Nana’s chow chow and his favorite thing was to take two pieces of her homemade bread and plop a big dollop of her chow chow between them and enjoy. Because of his love for her chow chow, she always made a lot and usually jarred it in quarts. Even so, we were lucky to make it through the winter with any left and oh, how it seemed like forever before we would be making another batch.

Sadly, this is not my Nana’s chow chow recipe – I, like so many, failed to write down what she knew in her head. Only after she passed away the year I turned 15 did I realize the colossal blunder I made. I have so many of my family’s recipes, thanks to my Mom who passed them down — and wrote them down — but the one Nana was most famous for is lost forever; gone from my life just like my Nana.

This recipe is one I did find in an old, ragged cookbook that fell apart and was disposed of eons ago; there is no way to even identify the recipe’s source now.

One day I made up a batch thinking, “let’s give it a try.”. I was pleased with the results. I is not “Nana’s”, but I like it in its own right. And — I wrote this one down!

This Pennsylvania Dutch relish not only has variations between every cook that makes it, but varies batch to batch depending on what’s available for vegetables to use.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to make chow chow; adjust sweetness up or down for your taste, add turmeric or leave it out — this is not a “one-size-fits-all” recipe. The quantity of finished chow chow is also variable. Prep a few more jars than you think you might need. You may find you need to make more pickling syrup or might not need all you did make. Sorry, I wish I could be more precise, but that is not how this works!

This recipe makes an amount that should fit about 7 pint jars which is what a basic hot water bath canner normally holds. Always review safe practices for water bath canning and use appropriate canning times for your elevation. If you want more, make a second batch, don’t double this and leave half the jars sitting around waiting until the first canner full processes.

Read the whole article and find the recipe on A Coalcracker in the Kitchen