The Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, my beloved and I traveled to a farmer’s market that we like to visit a few times a year. Sometimes, we go there to buy meat; sometimes we want to look at tools, or crafts, or baked goods.
This particular trip was for veggies. The crops available there, directly from the farmers, are fresh, plentiful, and reasonably priced. Specifically, we drove for forty-five minutes to buy cucumbers.
I’d mentioned to my DH about a week before that I wanted to make sweet pickles again this year, the ones I made last year that had been such a hit with the family. Last year, I’d purchased a six quart basket, and ended up with something like 10 - 1 pint jars of pickles. At that time, I had also attempted to make pickled beets, but we won’t talk about that.
Oh, all right, I’ll tell you. I second-guessed the recipe and added more cloves than the recipe called for. Ugh. Ick. Enough said.
My beloved thought I should expand my repertoire and make dill pickles this year, too. I’ve made them in the past, of course. I should perhaps mention at this point that I last made them more than 20 years ago. But it’s just like riding a bicycle—or so I told myself.
I was impressed with the selection and the bounty at this very large, and very diverse indoor/outdoor market. We took our “granny cart” with us, and in short order had what we needed. I bought two sizes of cucumbers, “number 1” and “number 2” which are baby dill size and the next size up. I bought a peck of each.
Do you have any idea how many cucumbers there are in a peck? A whole heck of a lot more than I thought there were, that’s for sure.
My granddaughter came over to help me. She just turned 11, and she loves to cook. She proved an able assistant, and chopped the green and red peppers and peeled the tiny pearl onions (for the sweet mix).
I knew of course that I had more cucumbers (the #2s) for my sweets than last year. But somehow, in the fond memories of how well everyone, including me, liked those pickles, I’d forgotten just how much work was involved in scrubbing and slicing those little green buggers. But finally they were scrubbed and sliced and mixed with pieces of green and red pepper and small succulent onions. I sprinkled the entire mixture with pickling salt, coved them with ice, and sighing in appreciation of a job so far well done, let them begin to sit for the prescribed three hours.
Then I turned and saw the laundry basket full of #1s waiting to become dills.
I think I’ll leave the play by play recounting right there. My beloved stepped up to the plate and helped me with the work. By the end of the day, we had 12 quart jars of dills, 24 pint jars of sweets...and a lot of cucumbers left over.
I didn’t pay a lot for the produce, really. Logically, there was no reason I couldn’t just call the rest compost. Emotionally—wasting food simply isn’t how I’m wired.
I recalled the wonderful green relish I used to make—excellent by the way, my American friends, on hotdogs and hamburgers. I thought, well, there’s not that many cucumbers left. Surely it won’t take that long scrub, slice, scoop out the seeds, and chop. [On the heels of the effort just put out you would have thought I’d learned my lesson].
It took most of a morning to do that. But once everything was in the pot, it became simply a matter of slow simmering and stirring... off and on for the next three days.
I now also have 12 pints of green relish on my shelves, keeping the dills and the sweets company.
For any who are interested, the recipe for my mom's relish is below.
Despite the exhaustion, I experienced a sense of accomplishment that money can’t buy. And I’m pretty sure that come next autumn, I’ll be repeating the exercise—but with a fewer number of cucumbers.
Morgan’s Mother’s Green Relish
This is the recipe I used to make relish this year, and this is how I did it. I didn’t have anything written down; I thought I had my mother’s recipe inked in my cook book, but sadly, I did not.
I’m a kind of ‘pantster’ when it comes to cooking. Seriously, you probably need to be one, too, as the quantities are all subjective. I can tell you that I had enough veggies chopped in pieces, before putting them into the food processor, to fill a 3 gallon pail.
One thing I should warn you about, straight off. The aroma of this relish, as it cooks, permeates the entire house. There is no escape from it. None.
Onions (I use cooking onions)
1 – 2 cloves garlic
1 cup pickling salt
Ice chips to cover
3 to 4 cups White vinegar (depending)
1 to 2 cups Cider vinegar (depending)
3 to 6 cups White sugar (depending)
Bouquet garni of 2 tbsp pickling spice, 1½ tsp whole cloves, 1½ tsp celery salt, ½ tsp turmeric.
1 Cinnamon stick (or pieces of cinnamon bark)
Canning jars (pints or the smaller jam size)
First, sterilize your jars. To do this, they must be immersed in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Can you sterilize them in the oven? I don’t know if it works as well, or not, but I have heard that some people do.
How many veggies you use is up to you.
Scrub and slice the cucumbers lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Wash and hull the peppers, and peel the onions and garlic. Chop these to a size you can easily then put through a grinder or chop in a food processor and mix them all together in a bucket or a big pot. While they are in this pre-mushed state, sprinkle the pickling salt over top, and cover with a layer of ice. Let stand about 1 hour. Drain well. (I poured some cold water over it all after the hour and then drained it.)
Either put them all through a grinder, or chop in food processor. You want everything about the size of coarse oatmeal, or not much bigger than.
Place the ground/chopped veggies in a heavy pot. Use cheese cloth to make your bouquet garni. If you are using the cinnamon bark, as I did, put that inside the cheesecloth, too.
Add vinegar and sugar to your veggies; you can increase or decrease these depending on how much veggie mash you have, and depending on your tastes.
Add the bouquet garni.
Bring the mix to a slow, low simmer, and stir occasionally so that it doesn’t burn or stick. Now here’s the part that may not pass muster with some: I simmer it for about 4 hours on day 1.
Then I turn it off and let it rest until day 2. Then I repeat the slow, low simmer for 4 hours on day 2. You may cover the pot for a little while, but basically you’re working on reducing this relish, so that the liquids mostly turn to vapour.
**On day 3, I simmer for about 2 hours and then ladle it into jars and seal. You don’t need the water bath, really, because you’ve simmered it for so long. If your jars and relish are hot, and your snap lids in simmering water, you can fill, wipe the rim, put on the lid, then the screw band and viola your jars will seal.
My mother used to sometimes use jars that weren’t canning jars. She would sterilize them, and then she would cover the relish with a layer of paraffin. I have done that in the past. I didn’t do that this year.
I put the two ** where I did, because I cooled a spoonful of the relish then tasted it to make sure
I was happy with the flavor. Since I was, I put it in jars. You might want a bit more time. Really, as long as the basics of canning are followed: sterile jars and equipment, food that has been simmered, and lids that seal, then you should feel free to experiment.)
The relish does not need to “sit” to be ready; it’s ready now.