Chow-chow is one of the classic Pennsylvania dutch "Seven Sweets and Seven Sours" which by tradition should be included in every dinner served to company. The seven sours included: pickled vegetables (such as pickled cauliflower, beets, or cabbage), coleslaw, dill pickles, green tomato relish, meat jelly and spiced cucumbers in addition to chow-chow. (For those who are interested the sweets included: jelly (currant or apple), apple butter or apple sauce, preserves such as quince, candied watermelon rind or wild strawberry, two or three pies such as schnitz, shoofly, funeral or montgomery and cheese cake). As a kid, my wife particularly liked chow-chow because she could pick out the veggies she liked best from the wide selection that made up the dish. Although my wife knew chow-chow as exclusively PA dutch, we found out that it is also a southern dish. The Pennsylvania version, however, is said to be much sweeter than the southern. Over the years my wife has looked for but never found a recipe that reproduces the chow-chow of her childhood. She searched on line and found this one based on an old Pennsylvania dutch cookbook from the 1930's.
Pickling liquid: She used sushi vinegar (1 cup), (this is obviously her modification--sushi vinegar is not traditional to Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. She said she used it because it is milder than the traditional cider vinegar), sugar (1 cup), water (1 cup), kosher salt (2 Tbs.), ground turmeric (1 tbs), black pepper corns (1 tbs), cinnamon stick (one), whole all spice (1/2 tbs). She simmered these ingredients in a pot for about 30 minutes. (top right picture).
Then she strained the syrup to remove the spices. She poured the strained syrup back into the pot and added whole bay leaves (3), hot red peppers (dried, 2), yellow mustard seed (2 tbs), celery seeds (1 1/2 tsp) and simmered the mixture for another 10 minutes.
She arranged the vegetables in a glass baking dish (top left picture, since we did not have a glass pickling jar) and poured the hot liquid over the vegetables, stirred well and covered. After it cooled she put it in the refrigerator. The recipe said 'wait at least a week before serving. Because of the way these pickles were made they are considered "refrigerator pickles" meaning that they should be kept in the fridge and will not last more than a couple of weeks. The traditional PA dutch method is, of course sterilized, "heavy duty" canning.
After waiting a week my wife tasted the chow-chow...she was ecstatic!! This was the traditional taste of her childhood that she had been looking for all these years. She was so excited she called me at work to tell me the pickles were a success. She said that the minute she tasted them she was instantly transported back to her childhood--summer picnics, dinners at friend's houses, cafeteria lunches, community suppers at the firehouse. As she said, Proust really knew what he was talking about with those madelaines.
This is a very mild pickle with a pleasing sweet and sour taste. If truth be told, it is a little too sweet for me (my wife says that she probably liked it as a child because it was sweet--she said she still likes it a lot). All the additional spices give it a distinctive depth of flavor. The veggies are still very crisp and the diversity of ingredients makes it very interesting. Chow-chow is sometimes referred to as "the end of summer pickles". It includes such a variety of vegetables because these are all the veggies that are left over from pickling individual vegetables from the summer harvest. I suspect my wife will be making this again. It is certainly worth the effort.