Appalachian Food Preserving/Canning

Grandma Ida’s Fermented Chow Chow

Fermented foods are all the rage right now. Most of us are familiar with fermenting cabbage to make kraut or cucumbers to make pickles, but these days a quick google will tell you how to ferment carrots, radishes, greenbeans and more.

A few years back, Blind Pig reader PinnacleCreek shared a fermented chow chow recipe that’s been passed down in her family with me. I’ve made it several times and it always turns out perfect. I like the recipe because it uses a small amount of vegetables and can easily be kept on my kitchen counter while its working. I also like that the recipe can be changed up depending on what kind of extra vegetables I have on hand. The recipe calls for an equal mixture of vegetables that total 5 pounds, but I always end up with more cabbage somehow and the recipe still works great. The addition of cucumbers, peppers, and green tomatoes give the chow chow a different flavor than kraut.

Here’s the recipe by way of PinnacleCreek with some added notes from me.

Grandma Ida’s Chow Chow

Tipper, this is my favorite of all time with soup beans and cornbread. This can make the lowly navy bean fit for a king. My Mother always had this with any kind of beans (except green), and it certainly kept the meal from being boring. She learned this from her Mother, so it originates from deep in the hills of Wyoming County, WV. They make a sweet chow chow every year at a local church here, but I never could find anybody who made this crock chow chow just like my grandmother’s.

I had to get info from Mom before her memory deteriorated and had to piecemeal some of my own ideas, but the final product is just as I remember. If you try it you may wish to start with just the 5 lbs in case you don’t like it or in case it is a bad batch. I have not had a bad batch since I started following the signs and made sure the batch stayed totally submerged. I have found the inserts from crock pots at yard sales work perfectly (they practically give these inserts away and they make wonderful pickling crocks), and a bread plate fits perfectly over the concoction to keep it submerged. I have crocks all over the place in the summer.

You will need:
1) 5 pounds of equal amounts end-of-garden cabbage, green peppers, cucumbers, and green tomatoes. *(As I said above, my vegetable amounts are never equal and it still works out fine)
2) non iodized salt (3 tbs. salt per each 5 lbs. vegetables)
3) non fluoride water
4) hand chopper, crock pot insert, plate to cover….later canning supplies
5) grape leaves (optional)
6) a must is to pickle with the right sign *(We prefer to make any fermented food when the signs are in the Head)

Chop vegetables very fine using hand chopper or homemade chopper from evaporated milk can…rough, but worth the effort. *(I cheat and use a food processor)

Layer into crock pot insert. Sprinkle salt on the layers and mash out juice as you go (I use my very clean fist to mash). When you have this all packed into the crock continue to mash a short while to encourage the juices to come out. You can let it set for a couple of hours and much more of the liquid will be released.

The mix is then covered with freshly washed grape leaves which I tuck in around edges to keep pieces contained. This can then be covered with bread plate which fits to edge and topped with a scrubbed rock, or I like to use water filled plastic quart mayo jars to weigh it down. You want pressure on the mix. (this is strictly my idea as my research shows grape leaves add tannins that keep the mix crisp and works wonderfully as a covering) grape leaves are optional.

There’s usually not enough brine so this plate needs to be covered totally with at least an inch of brine (1 tsp non iodized salt per cup of water). Cover with clean tea towel, and I wrap a small bungee cord around it to keep the towel in place and keep lil critters out.

Place where it will be undisturbed, and check every few days to make sure all is well. As it ferments there will be that wonderful odor that is familiar to anyone who has made homemade kraut. Much like Kraut, but the green tomatoes and peppers give it that unique taste. If it ruins the mixture will be soft and have an off odor. Every few days I scoop off and discard the film that forms over the mix–My Mom called it the “mother”, and I have never heard anyone else use that term.

After 14-21 days drain off liquid and bring to hard boil. Pack the chow chow in sterilized pint jars and add boiling brine to 1 inch from top, go around inside edge to remove bubbles, cover with sterile flats and hand tighten rings. Process in water bath 10 minutes. If not enough brine can mix 1 tsp salt per cup of water—hard boil enough to finish filling the pints.


This recipe makes such a small amount that if you’re part of the ferment kick that’s going around you could easily store it in the frig and skip the processing part.


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  • Reply
    Jeannie Collins
    August 21, 2021 at 9:19 am

    I know this post was made 3 years ago, but I was doing a search for Chow Chow in a crock. My dad just told me the story about his parents making chow chow in an old 5 gallon crock that they kept in the floor near their kitchen table and it was always full. So my mission was to find a recipe to make it for my dad (he’s 74 and has been a bit depressed last since he is the last living child now as of recently).

    Thank you so much for the post, the recipe and the story in general! I love it and going to try making it this weekend.


    • Reply
      August 22, 2021 at 3:33 pm

      Jeannie-I hope it turns out great for you!!

  • Reply
    O. P. Holder
    July 31, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    I make an old family thing called slumgully. Same ingredients, but not fermented or cooked. A batch lasts about 2-3 days in the fridge, then another fresh batch.

  • Reply
    Nancy Hofmeister
    July 10, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks for the recipe. I have never had Chow Chow. I will have to use oak leaves as I don’t know where to find any grape leaves. That’s a sad situation. We should have grape leaves in Southern Iowa.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    I was just telling my husband a few days ago, i want to make some chow chow. We love it with soup beans and cornbread. I use to help my mom make it before she passed away. We had so much fun making it together and we would divide it between us. Miss you Mom

    • Reply
      July 14, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      Cheryl leaves are good too.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Have read everything and still don’t understand “signs in the head”. What am I missing?

  • Reply
    Neva [Wyatt} Slocum
    July 9, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    Mama would make chow-chow, but would use a pickling recipe. But she would make “pickled” beans and corn using the fermenting method. She also used the “signs” for Kraut and the pickled corn and beans. she would can it all after the process was done. When opening the jar of corn and beans,, the smell let us all know what was for supper. She also cooked them with bacon, I loved them, sadly I did not learn how to ferment them and the last jar was eaten in 1989. [Much to my husbands delight]. He had never heard of them until he came into my family and could not develop a taste for them. Mama would usually cut the corn off of the cob, but sometimes leave it whole, those were eaten before canning, with many of us fighting over them. My kids were not fond of them either, so I would be the only one to eat them. Therefore I will not try my hand at making them and just remember the taste and smell. Mama’s chow-chow was make with green tomatoes, cauliflower, cucumbers, carrots, green or red peppers, cabbage and anything else that needed to be used. Have a great day. Neva

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    July 9, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    I make this using your Mom’s recipe for kraut…….I’m the only one who eats it here. Good post.

  • Reply
    Scott Colcord
    July 9, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    I use oak leaves instead of grape leaves, because they are easier to find and provide the tannin. Leaves with soft lobes are less strong. Also, I only leave them in a few days.
    I pickle the stems of collard and mustard greens, along with onions or shallots. The stems must be 30% of the weight, it seems such a waste to throw them away. I cook the stems one minute before pickling them. They are good and crunchy, and the oak leaves help with the crunchy part.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 9, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for this post… notice how times have changed…words to describe recipes, ingredients and ways…even from my youth…
    non-iodized salt…. =canning salt
    non-fluoride water…=fresh or cold spring water
    food processor…=sharpened tin can or store boughten hand chopper
    plastic quart jar…= glass mason jar filled with water
    bungee cord/towel…linen towel with large plate to weight it ore the crock..
    Grape leaves…only if she knew they had not been sprayed or exposed to some drifting city chemicals…
    Many other changes too in canning and terms…
    Love the post today Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 9, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    I just called the Fish Plant to let them know the Pin De-boning Knives were finished. I’ve been making these things for about 37 years or more.

    I’m glad to know that Pinnacle Creek is a woman. I’ve read her comments for years now, and I went to Coalwood one time with my Father-in-law, who worked in a Shaft thousands of feet underground. It seemed too Closterfobic for me.

    I have never made Chow Chow, but did make kraut in pint jars one time. It turned out well. I followed the advice of a 90 year old woman. I think it had to sit about 14 to 21 days too. That stuff was so sour, it’d make a pig squeal. …Ken

  • Reply
    Jane W Bolden
    July 9, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    My grandmother, Ida Wages, made chow chow in Georgia. Of course she didn’t have a recipe. I was a picky eater and never did try it. My loss

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    July 9, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Granny made her chow with green beans, corn and cabbage and oh how I loved it. When it was ready we had it cooked with bacon/bacon grease, along with potatoes, cornbread and pork chops. What a meal.!
    She make hers with old crock lid and clean rock on top, kept for kraut making. I have seen a saucer and the rock on it, tho! She froze hers in later years because she had three long freezers and b/c ‘we were going to starve for sure.’ !!!!
    Taste fine on the plate cooked from the freezer same a canned..
    Thanks for reminding me, made my mouth water just reading your article.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan
    July 9, 2018 at 10:59 am

    Super post. About the mother. It is an old time term. My family always used it when a small dark form was showing at the bottom of homemade vinegar. My grandmother said to leave it alone and use the vinegar because the mother meant the vinegar would not spoil and was better for your health. I wonder what it contained. But we always had a little cruet of vinegar in the house with a mother at the bottom sitting out for use at every meal.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Will the recipe work with onions?

    • Reply
      July 9, 2018 at 10:38 am

      SometimesKate-I think onions would work in the recipe. A quick google shows lots of folks fermenting just plain onions without the other stuff.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2018 at 10:26 am

    One more thing. What is a bread plate?
    I have a couple of old crock pot liners around here but they are crazed inside. They are made in China and I don’t know what they might have in them. I am afraid something might leach out into the food.
    I put a ziploc bag full of water down into my glass kraut jar to hold the cabbage down in the brine. It expanded out against the sides of the jar. It lets the bubbles escape without letting air in.

    • Reply
      July 9, 2018 at 10:36 am

      Papaw-I didn’t have a bread plate that fit in mine so I used 2 saucers. I think your ziplock method would work even better 🙂

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      July 9, 2018 at 12:45 pm

      Papaw…I started using large Ziploc bags also, if I didn’t have a plate to hold all under the brine…However, if it is your final product sitting as the last few days of seven day pickles, etc…Make absolutely sure you do not get a nick in the bag that would release any water and spoil the balance of salt/sugar etc. and spoil the lot….
      PS…Today I call a bread plate…a cake plate/dessert plate…a flat saucer without the ring to hold the cup…Most are really not heavy enough today to hold pickles under the brine…

  • Reply
    July 9, 2018 at 10:08 am

    I have some kraut in a jar right now. It’s been working for a month and it ought to be ready to put in jars but when I sniff the top it don’t smell like kraut. It’s in a glass canister of a thing so I can look at it and it looks like kraut except for the very top layer which is a little darker.
    My mother and grandmother made a lot of kraut and went by the signs to start it. They said the signs need to be in the upper part of the body preferably the head. I had no idea what that meant and still don’t but thought about it when I made this run. I started it on the 8th of June but couldn’t find a calendar with body parts on it. Was that a bad sign?
    Grammaw said that if the signs were below the waist your kraut will smell like feet. I just laughed at her. Now it’s not funny any more. My kraut don’t smell like old tennis shoes but it don’t smell like kraut either. Reckon it’s is safe to eat if I dip off the darkerlayer?

    • Reply
      Lee Mears
      July 9, 2018 at 11:17 am

      Worse than feet , Papaw! Like its been buried in a Korean field for awhile with a rotten fish in it. !!
      Then you can call it Kimche

      • Reply
        b. Ruth
        July 9, 2018 at 12:52 pm

        Lee…My husband said in the old days when he was in Korea you could smell Kimchee miles away or not (depending) if you get my…Today he loves Kimchee on occasion, the memory I suppose. However, he said the Kimchee bought in American stores is not like the real Korean Kimchee…but just enough taste to bring back the memory…

  • Reply
    July 9, 2018 at 9:47 am

    I m so very glad your family enjoyed that recipe. I think it probably goes back over a 100 years in my family, and I have never seen chow chow fixed this exact way. Our local church sells a sweet chow chow and apple butter every year that I purchase for my granddaughter. We grew up eating very simple food, but it was those ole time additions like homemade chow chow that made the food fit for a king.

    Tipper, as you said, fermenting has become very popular. My Grandma always had big ole crocks of pickled something in the corner, and mostly we loved the pickled corn on the cob.. I want to surprise my aunt with some, as she never learned how this was done. She craves that food of her childhood.
    I found out the best part is these foods provide those expensive probiotics everyone is buying for digestive health. Googling will give a lot of information on the benefits. If it is processed it does kill the probiotics, but tastes just as good. They never used the grape leaves, but I found this by googling. It keeps the batch together and is supposed to add crispness. As usual, Tipper, you always amaze me, and those pictures of that ole time recipe are so nice.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2018 at 9:38 am

    I got into fermenting 7-8 years ago & was using a french cook book full of recipes from pre-refrigeration days. We had so many green beans I started w/ those, BUT. It was before I knew anything about signs. An older lady came over, took a whiff, asked me when I tried & told me I had worked whilst in the loins. Guess what it smelled like. I’ve made kraut from cabbage & zucchini successfully since then but I’ve been too scared of that smell in my kitchen to try it again. Hey, that’s how I found this blog. My garden got started so late I’ve just now got flowers on my tomatoes, I’ll be pleased if I get green ones. This chow- chow looks like a good way to spend them. I usually make a green tomato pie filling to can that tastes like apples but I find I’m preferring sour to sweet, the older I get.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Mom made something similar to chow chow and called it mixed pickles. She added any vegetable she had on hand, which was usually green beans, corn, onions and cabbage. She made it in a big churn. That sounds like a lot, but it never lasted very long.

    • Reply
      July 9, 2018 at 4:29 pm

      Folks in the neighboring county of McDowell make those mixed pickles, and they were in much larger pieces with more variety. I obtained the recipe but lost it. I guess back in the day the areas were so isolated that even a short distance away they put up all their crock foods differently. My family was mostly German. Mom had wonderful what she called “end of garden” recipes. The odds and ends at end of growing, were made into chow chow and canned soup.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 9, 2018 at 7:19 am

    Tip, I didn’t know that pickling was the rage now a days. The recipe sounds simple enough and I’m sure it’s good. I love that an old time country food is popular with the younger folks. I’m gonna google it. We always preferred to pickle with the signs in the head.
    Using the insert from a crock pot is a great idea! Hope you’ll let me taste the final product!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 9, 2018 at 6:27 am

    I would like to try this recipe interesting and I hsve never tried chow chow

  • Reply
    Julie Moreno
    July 9, 2018 at 6:09 am

    My Granny made chow chow much the same way. She had a sweet and a spicy hot variety.

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