When it comes to sweet pickle relish, most people either love it or ignore it. Personally, I like it in very small quantities and really only as an ingredient and not a stand alone condiment. Tuna salad, Thousand Island dressing and potato salad are all likely to receive a dollop of sweet pickle relish in our kitchen but only my husband will eat it by itself and only if it is on a hot dog. My strange aversion to it is a little weird when you consider that I could probably eat a jar of bread and butter pickles all on my own and if you compare recipes, you will see that they are nearly identical in the ingredients used.
As I picked the last of the Homemade Pickle cukes from the shriveling vines in the garden, I wondered what I could make with them. Our pantry shelves already had dill slices, dill spears, bread and butter chips, sweet relish and relish with a bite so why make more? The answer is obvious when you think about the fact that it keeps and it also makes great gifts; more than a few folks I know will be getting a package of canned goods from the garden during the holiday season!
Making pickle relish is a new thing for me. My preference for avoiding it meant that I would rarely try one when available but with the goal of canning and preserving as much of the produce from the garden as I could, I decided to make some since Darry does enjoy it. The first batch I made was a small one and it filled only a few tiny jars and since he enjoyed it so much, I have now made two additional batches, both larger, and we have enough until the next cucumber harvest-a year away!
If you are familiar with relish, then you know that it is made with tiny pieces of cucumbers, lots and lots of tiny, little pieces. Bow down and thank the inventor of food processors, who ever that person(s) is, they just saved us from spending hours of slicing and dicing! You will first need to clean off the little spines on the outside of each cuke, then remove the blossom and stem ends, slice them lengthways and if the seeds are large and fully developed, scoop them out with a spoon. The jelly in the seed area can remain if the seeds have not formed yet or if they are tiny, similar in size to a sesame seed because they will be tender. Once cleaned, cut each piece into chunks so that the food processor will chop them evenly without reducing some to puree. Pulse the chunks in the processor, a portion at a time, until the pieces are smaller than peas. The mixture will be uneven in size to some extent but that is okay, you just do not want huge chunks and tiny pieces together because it will cook unevenly. If you find that it is hard to get a uniform size, pull the large chunks out and dice them further by hand.
In my batch in the photo, you will notice that I sliced the onions and left them in strips, I did this so that they would be more obvious in the finished relish. Honestly, half of the needed pound of onions came from our garden too, but they were so small, smaller than a golf ball, that I just sliced them and left them in strips because I could barely see through the tears! Cut your onions into what ever size you like; it is also acceptable to cut them into chunks and pulse them in the processor to match the size and appearance of the cukes.
One thing I would suggest, don’t use the machine for the peppers. They tend to juice out so much that dicing by hand is better. In this batch, I used jalapenos that had turned red but you can use green ones or any other type of pepper you prefer. Previous batches included dark green poblano peppers as well as green bell peppers. My intention was to make a hot and spicy batch but surprise, those jalapenos turned out to be the variety that isn’t so spicy. Even so, they gave it a little heat but more importantly, a lot of color.
Once the vegetables are all diced, toss them with the salt and let them sit in the fridge overnight. This helps the flavors blend together and develop and it also allows for the water to be released. When you are ready to make the relish, allow the mixture to sit in a colander and drain for at least 20 minutes, give it a press or two to help get the excess liquid out. Taking this step will help preserve the crunchy texture of the vegetables by removing the moisture and therefore shortening the cooking time.
First, the sugar and vinegar are heated to make a syrup. The spices and vegetables are added and over medium heat, allowed to simmer. It is important to stir it frequently so that the water can evaporate and to prevent sticking. As it cooks, the color changes.
The longer it cooks, the more the golden color deepens.
When finished, the vegetables will be mostly translucent and fairly even in color, except for the red peppers. My suggestion, make small batches and experiment with the onions and peppers; red, yellow or white onions, whether sweet or not could be used just as any type of peppers. Keep in mind, you are cooking it down and if you reach for the ghost peppers, it will be beyond fiery!
Bread and Butter Relish
makes about 6 half pints
8 cups diced pickling cucumbers-about 3 pounds
1 pound onions, sliced or diced
1 cup finely diced red jalapenos
1/3 cup pickling or sea salt
11 ounces sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon celery seeds
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
The day before you will make the relish, toss the vegetables with the salt in a bowl or container that is non-reactive. Cover and store in the fridge for 12-24 hours. When you are ready to cook it, dump the mixture into a colander or mesh strainer over the sink and allow it to drain for at least 20 minutes. Give it a few presses with your hand to help it along but do not press it so much that it is completely dry-you want some of the juices for the flavor they will add.
In a large pot, combine the sugar and vinegar and over medium-low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar. When it comes to the simmer, add the spices and then the vegetables and raise the heat to medium. Allow the mixture to cook, stirring frequently, and reduce until most of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are translucent. Depending on the pot, this will take a while, about 30 minutes for my batch.
While the relish is cooking, prepare your canning pot and jars by boiling them. Remove the jars from the boiling water and drain upside down on a rack so that you are filling hot jars. Using a canning funnel, fill each jar so that there is a half inch space at the top, wipe the rims if necessary and cap the jars. Fasten the bands so that they stay in place but do not tighten them too much or the tops will buckle. Process in the water bath for 10 minutes, allow the jars to cool completely on a rack before storing in the pantry or cupboard. It will taste best if stored for a few weeks before eating.
For more information on proper canning techniques, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.