I was a little north of Columbus last weekend and found the farmers’ market in Jasper, Alabama. We picked up some delicious corn, little yellow squash that were so tender, some habanera pepper jelly (can’t wait!), a few cucumbers, some tomatoes (not quite prime) and a jar of chow chow.
It’s natural to think of the farmers’ market as a location for fresh produce and good conversation. But don’t neglect using that same market as a place to stock up on jams, jellies, relishes and salsas. We have examples of each at the Hitching Lot that would rival any jar anywhere. Period.
Among the cherry jam and kudzu jelly will almost always be a jar of chow-chow. Our home was never without one in the refrigerator waiting to be eaten alongside the turnip greens. That’s really about the only time I remember eating it; to this day, it’s a requirement whenever I have slow-cooked greens. I didn’t realize or think about what else to do with the condiment and only in the last years have thought to give it more prominence in the kitchen.
Chow-chow is a great substitute for relish on a hot dog, a delectable condiment on a roast beef sandwich, is eaten on top of bowls of cooked pinto beans or black-eyed peas; and is sometimes a side dish of its own on a plate.
John Egerton in his book, “Southern Food,” says that chow chow may have been a derivation of the Chinese word cha meaning “mixed.” This would trace the word back to California and the Chinese immigration during the building of the railroads. And, certainly, pickles play a big part in many cuisines of China.
There are scads and scads of recipes for chow-chow. The most common ingredients are cabbage, green tomatoes, mustard seed, onions and green peppers. And the relish is always chunky, never pureed. The additions of vegetables such as cauliflower, jalapenos, carrots or red tomatoes are up to individual taste. Heat and spices such as cinnamon should be experimented with.
Below are three recipes I picked for you. I think each is worth studying for technique and flavor. If you find yourself studying too long, then please just run down to the Hitching Lot and buy a jar waiting there just for you!
(a vintage recipe for a large quantity)
1 gallon chopped green tomatoes
1 gallon chopped cabbage
1 gallon chopped onions
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 tablespoons allspice
2 tablespoons cloves and cinnamon
3 tablespoons celery seed
1 pound sugar
1 gill (1/4 of a pint) salt
3 quarts vinegar
Turmeric (small amount, to taste)
(Source: Mrs. Stewart Jones, “Laurel Cook Book,” Fifth edition, 1949. Compiled by the women of St. John’s Auxiliary, Laurel)
12 large green tomatoes, cored
4 green bell peppers, seeded
1 red bell pepper, seeded
4 large yellow onions peeled
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
(Source: “The Gift of Southern Cooking,” by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock)
4 pounds green bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 pounds red bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 pounds green tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 pounds sweet onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
One 3 1/4-pound head of green cabbage, cored and finely chopped
1/2 cup kosher salt
6 cups sugar
4 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon celery seeds
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
(Source: Linton Hopkins, epicourious.com)
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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