EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 30, 2013

Canning, cucumber relish, and memories

Pat's Kitchen
Pat Altomare

---- — This is an old recipe, tried and true. My mother made it every summer for 50 years. She inherited the recipe from her mother-in-law early in her marriage. I don’t know exactly where and when the recipe originated. I do know it has become very popular with all our families and friends, being given as a gift to many (my mother had a rule she lived by and drilled into us, “never go empty-handed when visiting”), and this homemade relish was a popular gift to bring when she would go to visit a friend for coffee or attend a family function.

Here are a few ways that our family enjoys it:

My brother will not have tuna salad without this relish mixed in.

I always put it in my deviled eggs.

My sister made it a permanent ingredient in her macaroni salad.

It is a perfect accompaniment to homemade baked beans on Saturday nights.

My mother is deceased now, but one of her grandsons has taken up the “summer tradition.” Steve said that he grew up on this relish and he missed it, so he had no choice but to make it himself. He also had a great memory of spending a month one summer on Cape Cod with his grandparents, and one day he and his grandmother made it together — well, he says he just watched Grammy and followed her instructions. He remembers turning that food chopper for hours. But he also remembers seeing the full jars cooling on a clean towel and what a satisfying feeling it was.

A food processor now makes it easier and quicker.

New England Cucumber Relish

Ingredients

1 quart large cucumbers (remove seeds, do not peel)

1 small onion

1 red pepper (finely chopped; the red gives it a pretty color, but if you want to use up your green peppers, the flavor will be the same)

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Enough cider vinegar to cover cucumbers

Clean pint-size canning jars

Put cucumbers and onion through chopper to finely chop. Combine and let set for 2 hours.

Then drain thoroughly in a colander. Put into a pot on top of the stove, and add the pepper, sugar, and seasonings. Mix well and add vinegar to just cover. Bring to a boil, than let gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Place empty jars in hot water, keeping hot until ready to fill. Fill hot jars with relish to within half an inch of top. Clean any dripping off the jar rim, and put caps on, but do not screw caps on very tight. This will be done when cooled.

Process in a water-bath by lowering jars on a rack into a canner, using very hot water just below the boiling point, and one inch above top of jars. Be sure jars do not touch. Cover pan. Count process time when water comes to full boil, keeping at a gentle boil. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Cool jars on a cloth.

Note: To make a large recipe, use 8 quarts cukes, 8 onions, 8 peppers, 8 teaspoons mustard seed, 4 teaspoons turmeric, but only 6 cups sugar.

Five to 6 large cukes will make 2 quarts (“cukes” is how every farmer referred to cucumbers).

Basic steps of canning process

Heat jars and lids and keep hot and ready to fill by immersing them is simmering water in your canner, which can be a large stockpot with a lid.

Transfer prepared food to the hot jars, put on lids, lower jars into canner so they are covered by 1 to 2 inches water.

Bring water to a boil and process jars according to the recipe until a vacuum seal forms. For jams, for instance, this is typically about 10 minutes.

Canning gifts

There are few gifts as personal as ones that come from your kitchen. Put aside a day or two to preserve some produce now, when fruits and vegetables are at their freshest. You’ll have much of your holiday shopping done months ahead of time. A few jars of jam, pickles, or chutney presented in a pretty basket makes a wonderful gift.

Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at patakitchen@yahoo.com.