My Mom has been a canner/preserver for as long as I can remember
She and my Dad have been inveterate garden-keepers for almost as long as they were husband and wife. Mom grew up on a farm, where keeping a large garden was just one element of her family’s near-complete self sufficiency. Each year’s harvest provided fresh vegetables in summer, and a year-round supply of canned favorites: green beans, butter beans, squash, peas, and beets were some of our favorites. And, to the delight of family, friends and relatives, Mom has always made a delicious array of pickles and relishes. She had made, over the years, dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, lime pickles, and probably some others I can’t recall now. She makes several varieties of relishes from green tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and peppers.
Sweet-Hot Pepper Relish is the best, though
She makes a pepper relish that gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it. Relatives and friends ask for it. She makes batches to sell at church sales, and sells all of it. We fortunate immediate family members get preferential access. It’s great on all kinds of things: hot dogs, beans, pizza, crackers with cream cheese – whatever you want to add a little zip to. For all the years that we’ve enjoyed it, we haven’t actually seen her make it. We have access to the recipe, but if you know my Mom for very long, you’ll discover that a recipe is sort of an obligatory starting place. Her years of experience lead her to make “on-the-fly” adjustments. Consequently, you don’t know how she makes something until you watch her make it. So, we made plans to watch her make a batch this past Saturday.
The four of us headed to Pine Forest to watch and learn about making the relish. Mom
had already done some of the work by picking peppers from the garden. She left some for Lindsey and Debbie to pick, so they could participate in the experience “from garden to jar.” From picking the peppers, and throughout the process of making the relish, Mom advised Lindsey and Debbie to wear gloves when handling the peppers. If you get the oil from the peppers in your eyes – well, you don’t want that kind of pain. They also wore masks while cleaning the peppers; the vapors have a tendency to irritate your throat, and make you cough – a lot. While they picked the remaining peppers, I pulled up the rest of a row of onions, so they didn’t just rot in the ground (Mom had already picked and cleaned onions for use in the relish-making process). What follows is step-by-step photos, with commentary.
How to put it together (here’s the recipe)
- Pick the peppers and onions (you can buy them from the store, or the farmer’s market, too). For this batch, we picked two varieties of cayenne, a smaller amount of jalapeno, and a couple of green bell peppers (for “volume” says the chef – if you want it smokin’ hot, leave out the bell peppers). You could, theoretically, add some even hotter peppers, if your taste buds can take it.
- Clean and prepare the peppers and onions: you wash the peppers; cut off the stems; slit them down the side, and remove (most of) the seeds. The more seeds you leave, the hotter the finished product will be. Wash and peel the onions and chop them into quarters (for ease of loading into the food processor)
- Prepare the other stuff you need: large pot, white wine vinegar, sugar, and jars and lids for storing the relish when it’s cooked
- Pour the vinegar into the large pot, and add the sugar, and the salt. This is where that experience comes in; she was making a double batch of the relish, but said not to add twice as much salt as the recipe calls for – it’ll be too salty. You can start heating this, as it will be boiled once the peppers and onions are added. Remember to stir as you’re heating, so the sugar doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan.
- Put the onions in the food processor, and chop them at high speed for several one-second intervals. You want small pieces of onion, not puree.
- Do the same with the peppers in the food processor – not too small with the pieces.
- Add the chopped onions and peppers to the vinegar/sugar/salt mixture in the pot.
- Bring the whole business to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook it for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
- In a separate pot, bring a couple of quarts of water to a boil, or near-boil. This will be used to “pre-treat” the jars. Prior to putting the hot relish in the jars, she pours some of the nearly-boiling water into the jars, lets it sit for a minute, and then pours it out (some can go in the bottom of the shallow pan the jars are sitting in). Doing this keeps the jars from cracking.
- Prepare the jars and lids to receive the relish. Mom puts the sanitize jars in a shallow pan. This serves two purposes: it will catch whatever relish you spill when you’re putting it in the jars, and some of the hot water you pre-treat the jars with can stay in the bottom of it.
- Add the still-hot relish to the jars. Make sure there are no small pieces on the tops of the jars, as this will prevent the lids from sealing properly. Place a lid on the jar, and screw down the top ring. The differential in temperature between the inside of the jar (with the hot relish) and the outside will cause the lid to create a vacuum seal. Place the filled jars on a cloth on the counter (putting them on a cold counter could cause them to crack – I guess this was learned from experience, too).
Voila! Johann’s Sweet-Hot Pepper Relish!
Here’s a slide show of all the pics I took Saturday: Aside from the relish-making, we did a little fishing, and helped Mom pick some of the ripe figs that are starting to show up on the tree next to the garage.
Oh yeah, about that recipe:
I figure some of you might actually be interested in the recipe, so you can have some exact measurements of the ingredients. It’s in a cookbook, and I don’t have easy access to a scanner, so I’ll have to re-type it. I’ll add that as a post in the next day or so.