Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Relish
Pickled relish has traditionally been served alongside rich-tasting meats in Lancaster County as well as throughout Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Historically pigs and steer were butchered in the winter months which provided meat at a later time. Since the Pennsylvania Dutch people did not have freezers during the 18th and 19th centuries, preserving meats became a problem. The solution was that the meat was smoked, cured and canned as a way to preserve the meat so that it can be enjoyed at a later time.
This curing process gave the meat a salty, smoky taste. It was discovered that acidic and tart flavors worked well in contrast to the taste of the cured meats. As a result, unsweetened fruit, pickles in vinegar dressings, and sauerkraut were served side by side with the meat. Not only did it improve the taste but it helped with the digestion, as well.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some of the dietary, culinary practices of the wealthier, urban society in Philadelphia eventually tricked down to Lancaster County.
One of these practices was the sweetening of the syrups which were used to preserve the the fruits and vegetables. Although sugar in a refined form had traditionally been expensive,the prices went down dramatically after Puerto Rico and the Philippines came under the jurisdiction of the United States following the Spanish-American War.
With the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch love for vegetables and their success in farming, pickling relish became a popular way of preserving their produce as well as a tasty condiment.
As can be expected there are numerous and highly creative variations of pickled relish. In addition to traditional pickle relish, there is corn relish, tomato relish, pepper relish, and pickled red beets - to name a few.
A particularly popular variation is chow chow. Chow chow is usually made in the late summer. Since it doesn't require the youngest, smallest vegetables, chow chow is a good way to make use of the leftover produce of the late season.
Chow chow is made by first by boiling a combination of lima beans, string beans, yellow wax beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, onions, corn, cucumber, red peppers, and green peppers until tender. The vegetables should not be mushy.
In another pot, a combination of sugar, apple cider vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed, water and other spices are boiled until the sugar dissolves and the mixture become syrupy in texture. The tender vegetables are then added to the mixture and boiled for another five minutes.
The final result is a brightly colored, subtly flavored, and complexly textured relish which is put into jars and sealed.
Making chow chow as well as the other varieties of pickled relish is often a big event for the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish family where traditionally the women of the household get together for the preparation, cooking, and jarring of the relish.
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