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Eat this! Chow chow and piccalilli pickle the Southern harvest

Assorted house-made pickles at Big Jones.

Assorted house-made Southern pickles at Big Jones in Andersonville.

What it is: Pickles and relishes are brined or vinegared, seasoned vegetables with a piquant flavor. Lying somewhere between side dishes and condiments, they’re generally used to provide a sharp contrast to mild or fatty foods. Almost any food can be pickled, and in the South most things are, usually in a sweet-sour vinegar mixture.

Pickling has long been a way to preserve and flavor the summer’s harvest, and no Southern recipe collection is without its supply of pickle receipts.

Southerners are especially known for relishes such as chow chow and piccalilli. Below the Mason-Dixon line, piccalilli is not the mustardy compound that goes by that term in Great Britain, nor the brilliant green cucumber relish that sometimes goes under that name in Chicago. Both chow chow and piccallili are vegetable mixtures that can include green tomatoes, chayote, peppers, onion, cabbage, green beans and others, mixed with a variety of spices, depending on the cook’s preference. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, though chow chow usually contains cabbage and piccalilli typically has a base of green tomatoes.

Paul Fehribach

Paul Fehribach

Where it comes from: Pickling as a means of preserving and flavoring vegetables date back to prehistoric times. Archeological evidence indicates the ancient Mesopotamians pickled, and pickles are mentioned twice in the Old Testament.

Christopher Columbus brought the pickling process to the New World. Amerigo Vespucci packed pickles before he set out to explore the Americas. Barrels of pickled vegetables on ships kept 15th-century sailors from the ravages of scurvy.

Pickles were being produced commercially in Virginia as early as 1606, and Thomas Jefferson commented, “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.”

What to do with it: Chef Paul Fehribach uses his house-made pickles and relishes as garnishes and ingredients for the Southern-style dishes he creates at Big Jones in Andersonville. While pickles can be canned for shelf-stable storage, Fehribach prefers to make refrigerator pickles that need no further processing and keep for months as long as they’re kept chilled. He generously shares his recipes for mirliton chow chow, onion pickle, pickled okra, dill refrigerator pickles and piccalilli (click “continue reading” for the recipes).


Big Jones’ Southern-style pickles and relishes
Chef Paul Fehribach

 
Mirliton chow chow

Brine:
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 quarts water

Vegetables:
2 cups matchstick-cut green bell pepper
2 cups matchstick-cut red bell pepper
1 quart shredded green cabbage
1 cup matchstick-cut yellow onion
1 quart peeled, thinly sliced mirliton (chayote)

Pickling liquid:
1 quart white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon whole allspice, crushed
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon crushed coriander seed
2 tablespoons shredded fresh ginger
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Brine the vegetables: Stir the water and salt together until the salt has dissolved salt. Place the vegetables in a container and cover with brine. Cover, label, date and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Make the pickling liquid: Place all ingredients in a 1-gallon nonreactive stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and infuse for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid and return to pot, and return to a boil.

Pickle: In the meantime, drain the vegetables, discard the brine, and place the vegetables in a 1-gallon container with a tight-fitting lid. Carefully pour the boiling brine over the vegetables and cover tightly immediately. Let cool to room temperature (3 hours). Label, date, and refrigerate. The chow chow will be tasty after one day, best after a week, and will keep, tightly covered and refrigerated, up to 6 months. Makes about 3 quarts.

 
Onion pickle

2 cups very thinly sliced red onion
1 jalapeno, sliced very thin
Red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine the onions and jalapeno in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Add vinegar to cover. Stir in the salt and mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cover, label, and refrigerate at least 24 hours. 2 cups.

 
Pickled okra

3 quarts whole okra pods
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup turbinado sugar
10 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
8 bay leaves

Scrub the okra pods well, being careful not to bruise them. Place in a 1-gallon container with a tight-fitting lid.

In a 2-quart, nonreactive saucepan, place the salt, water and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the remaining seasonings and tie up in a square of cheesecloth; add to the container with the okra. Carefully pour the boiling brine over the okra and spices and cover tightly at once. Allow to cool to room temperature (3 hours).

Label and refrigerate. Marinate at least 72 hours before using. The pickles will keep, tightly covered under refrigeration, up to 2 months. 3 quarts.

 
Dill refrigerator pickles

5 pounds pickling cucumbers
1/2 cup kosher salt
7 cups white vinegar
4 cups water
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon dill seed
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole cloves
8 bay leaves
1 medium onion, quartered
2 tablespoons coriander seed
8 cloves garlic, smashed

The day before pickling, slice the cucumbers into 3/4-inch-thick half moons, cover with ice water in a 2-gallon container, cover the container with a tight lid, refrigerate, and soak overnight.

Drain the cucumbers and place in a 1-gallon container with a tight-fitting lid. In a 1-gallon nonreactive stockpot, place the salt, vinegar and water, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the remaining seasonings and tie up in a square of cheesecloth; add to the container with the cucumbers.

Carefully pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers and spices and cover tightly at once. Let cool to room temperature (3 hours). Label, date, and refrigerate. The pickles will be tasty after one day, best after a week, and will keep, tightly covered and refrigerated, up to 6 months. Makes about 1 gallon.

 
Piccalilli

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds green tomatoes, cut in 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
2 green bell peppers, diced small
2 red bell peppers, diced small
2-3/4 cups white vinegar
3/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon celery seed
1/4 cup whole yellow mustard seed
4 bay leaves

Place the vegetable oil, tomatoes, onion, peppers and 2 cups of the vinegar in a nonreactive 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently.

Drain and discard the liquid. Turn the vegetables into a 2-quart container with a tight-fitting lid.

Add the remaining vinegar and seasonings to the vegetables and stir well. Do not cook. Cover tightly, label, and refrigerate. Allow to marinate for at least 48 hours before using. The piccalilli will keep, tightly covered under refrigeration, up to 2 months. Makes about 1 quart.

 
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