You will need to marinate the vegetables overnight before covering them with the hot vinegar the next day, and then the vinegar will need to cool. The chowchow can be served then, but it’s even better chilled. It sounds funny to serve beans on beans, but a big tablespoonful of this on top of a bowl of soup beans served with cornbread is a pure delight.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and place it next to the stove. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan; add the green beans and lima beans and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Then drain, and plunge the beans into the ice water to stop the cooking.
When the beans are cool, drain and return them to the (empty) bowl. Add the fennel bulb, green tomato, and onion to the beans. In a separate large bowl, whisk the salt into 4 cups of water until dissolved, then pour this over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, drain the vegetables and discard the brine.
Combine the vinegar and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the ginger and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fennel seeds, celery seeds, mustard seeds, and peppercorns and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the garlic. Let rest for 5 minutes, and then strain the infused vinegar through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
Pour the infused vinegar back into the pot and add the vegetables. Simmer gently, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a container (or containers) with a tight-fitting lid, such as a canning jar. Pour the liquid over the vegetables and let stand at room temperature until cool. Then cover and refrigerate for up to one month.
Reprinted from Victuals, © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
"Vegetables are perishable, so we don't have any indication of what they looked like 500 years ago," says James Nienhuis, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin.