Early on when I began my canning journey in the early 2000s, I had wonderful mentors here in Orchard who patiently taught me some of the basics of preserving the bounty of our gardens. One summer day one of my mentors, Marlene Hurtig of Orchard, called me up and said, “Come on over, I’m making zucchini relish.”
At that point in my canning career, I had no idea how I might use Zucchini Relish. I didn’t even know how to spell “zucchini.” (Having looked up numerous recipes, I have finally learned to spell it.)
When I got to Marlene’s house, I saw she was using a vegetable peeler to remove the skins from several very large zucchinis. My mother usually raised zucchini in her garden, and she always threw away those big zucchinis, which she said were too tough. Yet here was Marlene peeling them. She then cut the zucchini in half and scooped out and discarded the seeds and soft pulp.
I later learned that as long as the zucchini are not too old or hard, it’s mainly the seeds that become tough and hard. The very large zucchini are great to use if they are relatively fresh. In fact, now I use only large zucchini for relish.
Marlene then used a veggie chopper to cut the zucchini into small, uniform pieces. The next step was to chop up onions and bell peppers with the same chopper and add all the veggies to a large container. The veggies were then sprinkled with canning salt and set overnight.
After soaking, the mixture was rinsed in a colander. As the veggies drained, a mixture of sugar, spices, and vinegar was brought to a simmer in a large saucepan. The veggies were then added and simmered.
The mixture was then added to clean, hot jars and water-bathed.
The first time I tasted the relish I liked it. It had so much more flavor and zing than the rather bland relish sold commercially. According to the website Saveur, relish had its earliest beginnings in flavorful chutneys made in India. H.J. Heinze is credited with introducing relish based on the Indian products in the United States in 1889, according to Mari Uyehara, writing in Saveur. The Heinz original product “featured a sugared and vinegared mix of pickled cucumbers, green tomatoes, cauliflower, white onions, red bell peppers, celery, mustard seed, plus cinnamon and allspice,” Uyehara said.
Over time, Heinz and other commercial producers made relishes with fewer ingredients. While the taste is good, it’s too bland for me.
Even though I really liked the zucchini relish I made, I was a little unsure how and where I would use it, other than on sandwiches for my husband and the obvious use on hamburgers or hot dogs. Within a year or two, I gave a couple jars to a friend in Anchorage. I was amazed by her reaction. She absolutely loved it. Not only that, she raved about it to just about anyone who came to her home. It made me stop taking it for granted as “just relish.” (She has since returned home to South Africa. I so wish I could send some to her, but their postal rules don’t allow it.)
Eventually, my husband started helping me with canning, and we upped our production. Once I realized how much I liked the relish and that I shouldn’t take it for granted, my mind opened to a lot more uses for it. Some are: adding to chicken or tuna salad, adding to potato salad, using on any sandwich, especially a sandwich with cheese. Also, I add it to a homemade dressing I make for Reuben sandwiches, a mixture of mayonnaise, Zucchini Relish and a little Dorothy Lynch salad dressing. Another idea is to add it to stuffed baked potatoes or in scrambled eggs. You can also put it out with crackers and cheese. My sister-in-law makes a delicious curry meal, and she told me this year she planned to set our relish out with other condiments for her curry.
One thing I particularly like about making the relish is that Marlene taught me about the veggie chopper, which I had never seen before. It provides beautifully uniform small pieces. Some recipes call for shredding the zucchini. The taste is the same, but I don’t think it looks as good.
I started off making relish in half-pint jelly jars. These work fine if you want only small amounts. We now jar almost all of our relish in pints because once we open the jar we use it quickly. It will keep for some time in the refrigerator, probably up to several months. But we have always used ours much faster than that.
My recipe is based on several sources, among which are the Ball Blue Book and Ball’s The Complete Book of Home Preserving. For mine, the yield is about 6 pint jars.
12 cups chopped zucchini (peeled and seeded)
4 cups chopped onion
3 cups chopped bell pepper (red is especially pretty, but a combination is fine, too)
1/3 cup pickling salt
2 ½ cups sugar
3 ¾ cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon turmeric
After washing the veggies, peel the zucchini and scoop out the soft pulp and seeds. Peel the onion and seed the peppers. Chop the veggies, then place in a large bowl and mix in the salt. Cover and let stand for several hours. Overnight works great. Then, rinse the veggies and drain in a colander.
In a large saucepan, bring the sugar, vinegar and spices to simmer. Add the veggies and simmer for at least 25 minutes. Ladle into hot clean jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Debubble, then water-bath for 20 minutes. (The water-bath time is adjusted for our altitude in Nebraska.)
Once the time is up, turn off the heat, remove the cover and let the canner sit for 5 minutes. Then, remove the jars and place on a towel away from drafts. Leave undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.
Feel free to try other spices. The Ball Complete book uses 1 tablespoon each of nutmeg and turmeric, 4 tablespoons of horseradish and 1 chopped chili pepper with seeds. When it comes to relish, most of all, enjoy it. . .all year!
***Not all of our recipes are “USDA APPROVED” We highly recommend that you follow the USDA guidelines when canning and cooking. Our recipes are all “tried and true”….some are recipes our families have passed down for generations, some are just made up from the joy of cooking and canning, some of the recipes that we use are straight from the USDA Canning Book and some are passed along by our dear readers. With all of that being said – can and cook at your own risk. If you feel that a recipe is “unsafe”, simply overlook it and move on. None of us are, “Canning Police” and we all should respect others. Safe in your kitchen and safe in my kitchen – two different things….We won’t criticize your recipes please don’t criticize ours :).
Make these recipes at your own risk, we assume that should you desire to follow the recipes in this magazine, you are doing so “at your own risk”. We are and the writer is not liable, not responsible and do/does not assume obligation for…..