Smile Politely

Here we call it corn relish

In England, they have piccalilli, which settlers brought with them to the Southeastern U.S. Traveling west, the vegetable mix changes with the frequent addition of green cabbage which puts the chou in chow chow. But by the time it makes its way up the Mississippi, it’s simply corn relish.

For three hundred years, people have taken whatever vegetables were plentiful, added a bit of vinegar, sugar, and spices, sometimes a little chili pepper, horseradish, or mustard for heat, and canned it up. Though the size and components of the vegetable mix, as well as the sweetness vary by region and cook, the end result adds some zing to what would otherwise be bland winter fare.

Brats, hot dogs, roast pork, and beans, like pinto and navy, all go well with these condiments. Piccalilli is frequently the base of mayonnaise-based remoulade sauces in Louisiana, so it’s not hard to imagine a batch of potato salad benefiting from a few tablespoons of corn relish, as well.

While traditional piccalilli and chow-chow recipes require some timely overnight brining, corn relish is a quicker process because the high sugar content of the corn allows it to remain crunchy in the final product without this step.

Most corn relish recipes make around three quarts, which if you aren’t planning on canning it, takes up a sizeable chunk of refrigerator real estate. But here is a tasty, scaled down version. Since you aren’t canning this, there is some room to be creative with the proportions of vegetables. Add a bit of jalapeno if you like, or a bit more green pepper and a little less celery. Do try to get some local celery as it is much more flavorful. Claybank Farm at the Urbana Farmers Market frequently has it at this time of year. Also, do use white vinegar, especially if you are using super sweet corn or other sugar enhanced varieties, as this will help to balance the final mixture. Milder vinegars like rice vinegar, simply aren’t up to the task.

Corn Relish


  • 1 1/3 c fresh corn kernels cut from about 2 ½ ears
  • 1/3 c water
  • 1/2 c chopped celery
  • 1/4 c chopped sweet red pepper
  • 1/4 c chopped green pepper
  • 1/3 of a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic minced
  • 1/3 c white vinegar
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • heaping ¼ t celery seed
  • 2/3 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 t dry ground mustard
  • heaping 1/8 t ground tumeric
  • 2 T cold water

Cut corn from the cob, do not scrape. Combine corn and water in a lidded 2-quart nonreactive pan. Bring to a boil uncovered. Reduce heat if necessary and gently boil covered for about 10 to 12 minutes or until corn is nearly tender. Add celery, peppers, onion, vinegar, sugar, salt, and celery seed. Boil uncovered 4 to 5 minutes more. Stir flour, mustard, and tumeric with 1/2 c cold water in a glass or measuring cup. Add to corn mixture. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, then cook 1 to 2 minutes longer.

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