A wonderful recipe for using up end of season cucumbers that are too large and seedy to use for other canning or dishes. The relish is sweet and sour with a wonderful aroma of pickling spices. It is sparkling green with bits of red and yellow sweet pepper. Perfect for gift giving during the holidays. Making the relish is not hard just takes several hours so you do have to have some patience.
Last week I was given a large bag of large cucumbers. It was a donation to the local food bank from a farm. The cucumbers were put a large plastic bag that was for potatoes. That is a lot of cucumbers to eat in a couple of weeks. There was some disappointment with a few people because they thought it was going to be potatoes. I knew what I was going to do with mine. I had everything I needed for relish but I had used up all my pint jars on other canning projects. Luck would have it that my local store had one more inexpensive flat of no name pints left on the shelf. So this past weekend I made relish for the first time in many decades.
My mother planted a garden every year and in the fall we would bring in everything that was left in the garden just before frost. We would spend the rest of the week chopping and washing jars for end of the season relish concoctions that my mother had recipes for. My younger brother still makes one of her recipes for tomato hot savory relish. She always called it hot sauce. Everything went into a pickling solution to create jars of chowchow, pepper slaw, corn relish, beet relish and mixed vegetable pickles. Today I see some of those specialty pickles sitting on the top shelves of grocery stores with gourmet prices. As kids we called it left over garden junk and now it is gourmet.
I crawled under my bed and found an old ball blue book that had notes in it that I wrote down so many years ago. There was no special recipe for her relishes except the pickling solutions and seasonings. For a sweet relish my notes said that it takes equal parts of sugar and apple vinegar. Also there was a note to sprinkle salt with out iodine on vegetables and let sit several hours to remove moisture from them. My mother never used pickling salt but bought the inexpensive table salt with out iodine. I guess that is what used on her family’s farm. I looked at pickling salt but changed my mind because I don’t know when I would be doing this again and salt with out iodine was only $.56 compared to $4 for pickling salt. I chose to use the cheaper salt for the other small batch canning and that is what I used now.
Pickling was a necessity as a way of preserving foods and the techniques and recipes were passed down to each generation. Depending on what was available from the garden or what spices and salt that was available that year. So recipes changed with time. Many kinds of relishes was created based on this. Canning recipes became standardized and tested for safety in the 20th century. The Ball company that has been a leader in publishing the recipes which has been tested by them. If you haven’t had much experience with canning you should get a recent copy of the Ball Blue Book of food preservations. You can find it anywhere canning supplies are sold. Also there are many good videos on the internet teaching canning.
I didn’t use my food processor to chop up the cucumbers and onions. I hand chopped them to make the relish like my mother did. I like the larger chop to use in salads and it is just prettier to serve. The red and green sweet peppers I had hand chopped before I froze them a couple of weeks ago so everything was chopped the same size that way. I used the frozen peppers in the place of the ice in the recipe. Since the cucumbers were large, I cut them long ways and scooped the big seeds out. I didn’t want those large seeds in my relish. I used the green food coloring that comes in little bottles that my mother used. Only I didn’t know the relish that was lightly tinted green is Chicago style. I found that out when researching recipes for relish.
This is the basic recipe for making cucumber relish. I didn’t measure in cups. I just chopped all the cucumbers that I had and added extra cups of vinegar and sugar to cover the vegetables I chopped. I also added additional spices. In the end I had 8 pints and 1 half pints.
Chicago Style Sweet Cucumber Relish
Makes 5 pints
- 4 pounds of large cucumbers
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 1 red sweet pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1/4 cup pickling salt
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
- 1 tablespoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- few drops of green food coloring (optional)
Cut cucumbers length wise and remove large seeds buy scooping them out with a spoon. Finely chop cucumbers, onions, and peppers. Place in a large bowl layering the vegetables with a sprinkle of salt. Top with ice and cover or weight down with a bowl. Let stand for 2 to 4 hours to allow the moisture to seep out of the vegetables.
Wash jars and lids. Fill large canner with water. Put clean jars in canner and make sure there is enough water to cover jars. This recipe requires a hot pack water bath method. The jars should be boiled for 10 minutes at a full rolling boil. Turn the canner on when the vegetables are draining. That way the jars will be sterilized and keep them in the hot water until ready to fill.
Line colander with cheese cloth and pour vegetables into colander and let drain. Do not rinse. Pick up cheese cloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Do this several times. Shake vegetables out into a large bowl from the cheese cloth.
In a large pan or stock pot add vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar is melted. Add vegetables and stir in a few drops of green food coloring. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove hot jars from canner to a towel. Fill jars with hot relish. Wipe rim with a clean paper towel dipped in distilled white vinegar. Run finger over rim to make sure it squeaks. Place flat lid on and screw on ring to finger tight. Note that the new ball lids do not need heated.
Put hot jars into hot water and lower. Boil 15 minutes for pints and 10 minutes for half pints. Start timing when water bath returns to a full rolling boil. Turn off heat when done and let the water bath stop boiling before removing the jars. If you see little bubbles in the jar boiling that means the jars will seal. Place jars on a towel and tighten any rings finger tight that are now lose. Let cool for 12 hours before removing rings.