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Sweet Pickle Relish
August 21, 2018

Homemade relish on hot dogWe like pickle relish on hot dogs, in tartar sauce, and in making potato, chicken, and ham salad. Some folks like it in their deviled eggs. For the amounts we use of it, it's not terribly expensive, although we seem to run out of it often enough.

With lots of cucumbers and red peppers on hand, I decided to try making a good relish. My previous attempt last summer following a Dummies recipe yielded a rather runny relish. So I did a better web search for recipes and came up with three that I liked, each with its own slight variation on ingredients and methods.

Sweet Relish Recipes

Since I needed to save some seed from our Earliest Red Sweet bell peppers, I began making the relish by chopping up two red peppers. When saving pepper seed, one can harvest the seed and still use the pepper flesh for cooking or freezing. I took seed from five peppers, with the flesh of three going into the freezer as pepper strips.

Moving on to the cucumbers, I found deseeding the cukes to be rather time consuming. After removing the ends and peeling off areas of flesh with brown spots from six Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, I split them lengthwise and scraped the seeds out with a tablespoon. This was not a new task, as I do it each year when saving cucumber seed. It was a whole lot less smelly and messy this time around, as when harvesting seed for saving, one uses very ripe to overripe yellowed cucumbers.

AmazonI started out chopping the cucumber flesh into small pieces with a kitchen knife, but quickly tired of the task. Ignoring the suggestion in many recipes to chop with a food processor, I used our Pampered Chef Food Chopper to reduce the cucumbers to small pieces.

With the food chopper out, I chopped onion for the relish. I also pretty well pulverized some garlic. It's not listed in the recipes above, but is listed in the Better Homes and Gardens' Bread and Butter Pickle recipe that is similar to the relish recipes above. At times when we've run out of relish, I have chopped up some bread and butter pickles as a substitute.

I once again employed the old Chef Tell trick of smashing canning salt into the finely chopped garlic to absorb garlic juice. Doing so prevents anyone from getting a big chunk of garlic in whatever you're preparing. The salt is part of the recipe anyway as part of the brining.

Relish briningThe cucumbers, peppers, onion, and garlic all got mixed in a large glass mixing bowl. I covered it with ice and spread canning salt over the ice. The bowl was covered with clear plastic wrap and went into the fridge overnight. Every so often, I'd stir the mix a bit to make sure the salt and ice got evenly distributed.

One pint and three half pint jars of canned pickle relishThe next day, I dumped the brining mix into a fine mesh strainer and let it drain for an hour. In addition, I followed Leda Meredith's direction in her The Spruce Eats recipe to "Get out even more of the liquid by squeezing with your clean hands (squeeze hard), or by pressing the vegetables against the sieve with the back of a wooden spoon." I used the sieve and wooden spoon approach. I think this step may cure some of the runniness of my previous attempt at making relish.

Then it was just a matter of heating up the cider vinegar, sugar, and spices, adding the cucumber mix, and boiling it for ten minutes or so. Water bath canning time for pints was ten minutes in boiling water.

It turned out to be a lot of work for just one pint and three half pint jars of our own canned pickle relish. And, one really should wait a week or two before sampling the stuff, as that gives the ingredients time to flavor the mix. But I'll know next time around to use more cucumbers when making relish. I only used six, when I had sixteen on hand! The extras along with a whole bunch of lovely red peppers and some cracked, but not rotting tomatoes went to my wife's co-workers.

For readers looking for a more traditional recipe listing:

6 Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers
2 red peppers
1 onion
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup canning salt

1 Tbsp celery seed
1 Tbsp mustard seed
1 tsp turmeric
3 1/2 cups white sugar

  1. Wash the cucumbers. Use a potato peeler to trim off any bad spots on the cukes. Trim off ends. Split cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds.
  2. Chop cucumbers, peppers, and onion to size of chunks desired.
  3. With garlic, one can finely chop it and crush a teaspoon of salt into it to add to the mix. Alternatively, one could halve the garlic cloves and add them to the mix, only to remove and discard them after brining.
  4. Cover the mix with ice or cold water and the remaining salt. Allow to sit and brine for at least two hours, longer being better.
  5. Thoroughly drain brined mix. Squish out as much water as possible.
  6. Heat cider, spices, and sugar. Allow to boil gently for just a few minutes.
  7. Add cucumber mix to the cider and bring to a boil for ten minutes.
  8. Use a finely slotted spoon to move the cucumber mix to sterilized or scalded canning jars. Note that you'll have a lot of the apple cider liquid left over.
  9. Water bath can the jars of relish for ten minutes.

A day's picking of JLP'sNote that Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are really long, often reaching nearly two feet long while still remaining edible for slicing and canning. Six of them are probably equivalent to about eight of the shorter, fatter cucumbers one finds in groceries.

A Week Later

Relish jar and hot dog with relish

Having waited a week for the relish to cure a bit, I boiled a hot dog and eagerly covered it with ketchup, mustard, and lots of our relish. It was a bit spicier and not quite as sweet as store bought relish. I really liked the result.

Update (8/25/2018)

Lots of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbersJapanese Long Pickling cucumber vinesHaving had some success in making a small batch of sweet relish and overwhelmed with cucumbers from our Japanese Long Pickling vines, I made a big batch of relish, enough to last us all winter.

I didn't change the process or steps, but did adjust the amounts of ingredients. While 21 cucumbers isn't terribly descriptive, the cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic, and ice pretty well filled a 12 quart pot for brining.

Anyway, here's what I used:

21 Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers
7 Earliest Red Sweet bell peppers (5 red, 2 green)
3 onions
8 large garlic cloves
6 cups apple cider vinegar
9 cups sugar
3 Tbls celery seed
3 Tbls mustard seed
2 tsp Tumeric

Deseeding and chopping cucumbers Brining mix Enough canned relish to last all winter

This batch produced 8 pints and 6 half pint jars of canned sweet relish. That should keep us in relish well into next summer.

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From Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening
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last updated 6/17/2019