A Condiment That (Almost) Can’t Go Wrong in the Making

Piccalilli relish on tuna. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Piccalilli relish on tuna. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

T he end of summer and beginning of fall often produces a glut of vegetables. The question becomes, what to do with them when you have one of this and two of that, and aren’t inspired to cook or freeze them?

I asked myself this question the other day as I stared at a motley assortment of green peppers, hot peppers, corn, green tomatoes, onions and some other odds and ends. I couldn’t think of any obvious way to use them all together in one dish, but after scanning my old, reliable Fannie Farmer Cookbook , the solution was obvious. Turn them into relish.

Relish is, according to the Oxford Companion to Food , a term given to any condiment that offers a sweet or spicy complement to a dish that is potentially bland. Frequently, it’s also another way of saying pickle, and pickles have the twin advantages of being easy to make and long lasting.

Before the advent of refrigeration, pickling was one of the premier ways to conserve foods. The vegetables can vary, but the essential ingredients include vinegar and sugar, both of which act as preservatives, mustard seeds and other spices. Relishes have names like piccalilli and chow chow, which may harken back to words in Indian languages for various pickles, or colloquial English adaptations of other foreign words. Pickling is a preservative process, and you can count on any pickle or relish lasting for months if you can them in a boiling water bath, or store them in the refrigerator.

The appealing part of making relish is that you can use almost any vegetable or spice, and be relatively assured of a good outcome. Relish can be used like a salsa, as an accompaniment to fish or poultry, cooked or cured meat, and with sandwiches and cheese in an English Plowman’s Lunch.

I made a piccalilli, which is another way of saying “everything but the kitchen sink.” Piccalilli and chow chow seem to be interchangeable recipes, and I think anything goes as far as what you put in them.

The derivation of “piccalilli” is a little murky, with some sources claiming it’s a version of “pickle,” while it’s speculated that chow chow is drawn from the French for cabbage, chou, which frequently appears in relish. Relish requires some chopping but other than that, it’s only a matter of throwing your ingredients into a big pot with the vinegar and spices and cooking for a brief period.


Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook .

The original recipe calls for enough ingredients to make six pints, but I wanted to end up with less, so I adjusted the amounts as well as the kinds of ingredients, based on what I had on hand. The result is on the sweeter side, so if you prefer something not so sweet, reduce the sugar.

6 green tomatoes, chopped medium dice

1 or 2 green peppers, chopped medium

2 large onions, chopped coarsely

1 small cabbage, shredded medium

3 ears corn. Remove corn from cob.

1 mild hot pepper, chopped

2 hot peppers, whole

1/4 cup salt or less

1 cup light brown sugar

1 Teaspoon celery seeds

1 Tablespoon mustard seed

1/2 tablespoon cloves

cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon to 1/2 tablespoon whole allspice

2 cups cider vinegar

The night before you plan to make the relish, chop your vegetables (except for the corn) and sprinkle them with the salt. Let stand overnight, covered.

The next day cover the vegetables with cold water and drain. Mix the remaining ingredients (the sugar, spices and vinegar) together, add the vegetables, including the corn, and bring the pot to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer on low to medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, let the mixture cool for five minutes and then spoon into sterilized pint or quart jars, filling the jars with cooking liquid and leaving a half-inch of space at the top. You can process these in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes for storage in a pantry, or store them in a refrigerator.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.