Relish is more than its bits and pieces

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez Herald Columnist
  • Tuesday, August 21, 2012 5:08pm
  • Life

In the beginning, relish had a straightforward purpose: a way to use up every last bit of produce before the end of harvest.

Soon enough, however, preservers discovered that these mid- to late-season picklings of all the garden stragglers produced such delectable results that specialty condiments beyond the basic “pickle relish” came to be.

Now relishes and relish connoisseur have merged into the main stream. Inventive chefs have found them to be handy seasoners, an efficient method for injecting zing or simply depth of flavor into a dish.

Indeed, they’re an uncomplicated lot, those tantalizing condiments.

Where jams and jellies require specific amounts of sugar and lemon juice to live up to their full potential, relishes and their fruitier cousins, chutneys, are forgiving. As long as they’ve got a nice balance of vinegar, salt and sugar, the end product is bound to be interesting and useful as a condiment in your kitchen.

And, like I said, because most recipes call for a small amount of many different ingredients, it’s a great way to use up what’s left in the garden.

But first a few points to consider:

• If you decide to make your relishes and chutneys shelf stable, you’ll need to process the jars in a boiling water canner. To stay safe, don’t reduce the processing times in the boiling water canner. Relishes and chutneys are fairly dense and require the entire processing time called for in a given recipe for thorough heat penetration.

If you’re planning to store your prepared relishes and chutneys at room temperature, don’t reduce the amount of vinegar your recipe calls for. That’s because you’re combining low acid foods like onions, peppers and corn, with high acid foods, like tomatoes, fruit and vinegar, with the ultimate goal of creating a condiment high enough in acid that it doesn’t have to be processed in a pressure canner.

So don’t add extra amounts of (low-acid) vegetables or water, or reduce the amount of vinegar called for in a recipe. You would most likely end up with a relish or chutney that’s no longer safe to process by the boiling water bath method. If you want to make the relish or chutney less tangy, add sugar.

• On the other hand, if you’ve got the refrigerator space, chutneys and relishes will maintain fabulous quality in it for months and months and months.

Take advantage of your food processor. Many of old-time favorite recipes call for the use of a hand-cranked “food chopper.” If you have one and want to use it, that’s fine.

But a food processor works swiftly, as long as you are careful and don’t over-process the vegetables into mush. It’s wise to work in reasonably small batches and chop only one type of vegetable or fruit at a time.

What can you do with it?

Well, obviously, it depends on the character of any given chutney or relish, so you’ll have to be the final judge of what works with what, but here are a few things to consider.

• Combine a little chutney or relish with mayonnaise or softened cream cheese and spread on your favorite firm-textured bread for extra flavor in a chicken or veggie sandwich.

Stir a little chutney or relish into the chicken salad or chopped vegetable mixture.

Serve as an accompaniment for roasted meats or curries of lamb, seafood, or beef.

Add to a simple vinaigrette.

Pour over a block of cream cheese and serve with crackers for an appetizer.

Popular California chef Bradley Ogden was one of the earliest celebrity chefs to make cranberry relishes and chutneys a fashionable side kick to roast turkey, sausages and breakfast meats such as Canadian Bacon.

Gently tart and lightly spiced, this wholeberry relish makes a wonderful accompaniment for smoked pork chops, grilled chicken and roasted duck and turkey.

Blueberry relish

3cups sugar

1 1/2cups water

3pint baskets (about 9 cups) firm-ripe blueberries, rinsed and drained

1 1/2cups cider vinegar

Zest (outer peel only, no white pith) of 2 oranges, cut into 3/4-inch wide strips

3sticks (2 inches each) cinnamon, coarsely broken

1 1/2teaspoons whole allspice

1teaspoon whole coriander seed

1/2teaspoon whole cloves

Combine the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water in a large pan. Heat over medium heat to boiling; boil 1 minute. Add the blueberries and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture, uncovered, at a hard simmer just until the berries are broken, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour the berries into a sieve set over a bowl and drain off the syrup. Set the berries aside for later; return the syrup to the pan. Add the vinegar, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, and cloves to the syrup and heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Boil the mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced by about half and registers 220 degrees on a candy-jelly thermometer; this will take about 50. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, if you plan to store the relish in jars at room temperature: wash 3 pint or 6 half-pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs. If you plan to refrigerate or freeze, wash suitable containers and dry thoroughly.

Strain the spices from the syrup and discard; return the syrup to the pan. Add the berries and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl and heat the mixture over medium-high heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the relish at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

For storage in refrigerator or freezer: place in plastic freezer containers or glass jars, cover with tight fitting lids and refrigerate or freeze.

For long-term storage at room temperature: ladle the hot relish into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes (20 minutes at 1,000 to 6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet).

Makes about 6 cups.

Adapted from “Fancy Pantry,” by Helen Witty.

My favorite hamburger relish recipe. Worth repeating.

Wimpy’s Delight — A hamburger relish

1quart cider vinegar

2sticks (2 to 3 inches each) cinnamon, broken up

2teaspoons whole cloves, slightly bruised

2teaspoons whole allspice, bruised

4cups coarsely chopped peeled and seeded tomatoes (about 6 large)

2cups sugar

4teaspoons mustard seed

1/4teaspoon ground hot red (Cayenne) pepper

4cups chopped unpeeled firm cucumbers (do not use waxed cucumbers)

1 1/2cups chopped cored and seeded sweet red peppers

1 1/2cups chopped cored and seeded sweet green peppers

1cup chopped celery

1cup chopped onions

1 1/2tablespoons turmeric

1/2cup pickling or other non-iodized salt

2quarts water

Tie the cinnamon, cloves and allspice loosely in a square of cheesecloth. Combine vinegar with the bag of spices in a non-aluminum pan. Bring the vinegar to boiling, adjust the heat and simmer it, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the heat and simmer the mixture, partly covered, stirring and “smooshing” the tomatoes occasionally, until it resembles a puree, about 30 minutes. Add the sugar, mustard seed, and ground hot red pepper. Pour the mixture into a bowl, cool and cover it, and let it stand overnight at room temperature.

Meanwhile, combine the cucumbers, red and green peppers, celery, and onion in a ceramic or stainless-steel bowl. Sprinkle the turmeric and salt over the vegetables, then add the 2 quarts of water. Stir the mixture, cover it, and refrigerate overnight along with the tomato mixture.

Wash 7 half-pint (or combination of pint and half-pint) jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.

Drain the liquid from the salted vegetables and replace it with enough fresh cold water to cover them; let the vegetables soak for 1 hour, then drain them in a colander, pressing lightly.

Return the vinegar/tomato mixture to pot and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the drained vegetables, then return the relish to a full boil, stirring frequently, and cook it, uncovered, over high heat, for 5 minutes. Remove the relish from the heat. Remove the spice bag from the relish; squeeze out all possible liquid from the bag into the pot, then discard the bag.

For long-term storage at room temperature: Ladle the hot relish into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rim with a clean damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process half-pints and pints in a boiling water canner 10 minutes (15 minutes 1,000 to 6,000 feet; 20 minutes above 6,000 feet).

For storage in refrigerator: simply fill clean jars with the hot relish, attach lids, let cool and then refrigerate. Will keep in refrigerator for several months.

Makes about 7 half-pints.

From: “Fancy Pantry,” by Helen Witty.

This is a Southwest-themed corn relish that I developed after falling in love with chef John Huyck’s relish at Bombs Away Cafe in Corvallis many years ago.

Pickled corn relish

19-20 ears of yellow or white sweet corn, cut from cob to yield 8 cups of kernels

2cups finely chopped sweet red peppers

2cups finely chopped celery

1(16 ounce) jar pickled jalapeno pepper slices, drained and chopped (you will have about 2 cups of jalapeno slices after draining, and before chopping)

1cup finely chopped yellow onion

2tablespoons salt

2tablespoons mustard seed

1tablespoon cumin seed

2teaspoons whole allspice

1cup granulated sugar

1quart distilled or cider vinegar (at least 5 percent acidity)

If you are planning to store the prepared relish at room temperature, then you will need to wash 7 pint jars (or 14 half-pint jars); keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.

Combine the corn, peppers, celery, pickled jalapenos, onion and salt in a large non-aluminum pot. Tie mustard seed, cumin seed, and allspice into a bag made up of many layers of cheese cloth (or use a freshly-laundered cotton handkerchief), add to the corn mixture, along with the sugar and vinegar. Heat the mixture to boiling and then reduce heat and simmer, for just 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, then refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally and squeezing the bag of spices to release the spicy flavors into the liquid.

For long-term storage at room temperature, prepare the canning jars as described above. Bring the relish back to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and ladle into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (20 minutes at 1,000 to 3,000 feet; 25 minutes at 3,000 to 6,000 feet; 30 minutes above 6,000 feet).

For storage in refrigerator: simply fill clean jars with the hot relish, attach lids, let cool and then refrigerate. Will keep in refrigerator for several months.

Makes 6 to 7 pints.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Oregon, food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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