Spicy, sweet, and tangy, this Southern relish enlivens so many dishes.

Photo: Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Margaret Dickey, Prop Stylist Christine Keely
Active Time:
1 hrs 15 mins
Total Time:
19 hrs 20 mins
5 (1-pint) jars

Chowchow is a pickled vegetable condiment designed to preserve the best of summer's bounty. It appeared in many early Southern cookbooks as "piccalilli" and "Indian pickle," but regardless of what it was called it always consisted of vegetables pickled in a canning jar and served cold as a condiment. It will look different depending on where you find it, but often includes tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Some chowchow recipes might contain carrots, beans, or even cauliflower.

Its origins are widely debated, with some saying it came from China, others insisting it came from Canada via the Acadian people who settled in Louisiana. This recipe, shared by Jessica B. Harris, originates with her childhood friend Charlotte Lyons. Lyons' version includes cabbage and dried pico de pajaro chiles for a kick along with heirloom tomatoes. Lyon worked as Ebony Magazine's food editor for 25 years, from 1984 to 2010, but this chowchow recipe goes back before her storied food career to when she was a kid in Atlanta.

The recipe began with her great grandmother and was passed down through her grandmother and mother who each put their own spin on it. Lyons' variation is the perfect blend of sweet and hot, so good she once marketed it as Greenie's Country Kitchen Chow Chow and managed to get Walmart interested. It truly goes well on anything from pork chops to greens. It can be folded into deviled eggs or heaped onto hotdogs and hamburgers. The options are pretty much endless.


  • 1 small (2 lb.) head cabbage, coarsely chopped (about 10 cups) 

  • 5 small (7 oz. each) green-colored heirloom tomatoes, chopped (about 5 cups) 

  • 2 white onions (11-oz. each), chopped (about 4 cups) 

  • 1 small (7 oz.) green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup) 

  • 1 small (7 oz.) red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup) 

  • ¼ cup canning and pickling salt 

  • 5 cups white vinegar 

  • 3 cups granulated sugar  

  • 1 Tbsp. ground allspice 

  • ½ Tbsp. dry mustard 

  • 2 to 3 tsp. dried pico de pájaro chiles, crushed, to taste, or 2 to 3 tsp. crushed red


  1. Place cabbage, green tomatoes, onions, and green and red bell peppers in a nonreactive container. Sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 6 hours, or chill in refrigerator up to 12 hours.

  2. Drain mixture well; rinse and drain again. Set aside.

  3. Prepare a boiling water canner. Heat 5 (1-pint) glass jars in simmering water until ready to use. Do not boil. Wash lids in warm, soapy water; dry well. Set bands aside.

  4. Stir together vinegar, sugar, allspice, dry mustard, and chiles in a large stockpot. Cover and bring to a boil over high. Uncover; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, undisturbed, 10 minutes. Add vegetable mixture, and stir to combine. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high. Uncover; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, undisturbed, 10 minutes.

  5. Remove mixture from heat, and ladle evenly into hot, sterilized jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Remove air bubbles, and wipe jar rims. Center lids on jars, and apply bands; adjust to fingertip tight. Lower jars into boiling water canner, and process, covered, for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, uncover, and let jars stand 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner, and let cool 12 to 24 hours. Check lids for seal (lids should not flex when center is pressed). Store in a cool, dark, dry place for up to 18 months.


*Originally appeared as Charlotte's Chowchow in the August 2022 print edition.

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