Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sweet Pickle Relish

When I was a little girl, I attended a gardening camp called Hill Top in southern Indiana. (The Hilltop Gardening program still exists!) I did this program many summers and had my own plot garden that I shared with a friend and learned about weeding and other gardening techniques.  I made projects that I entered in the local county fair and even won some ribbons for my herb braids and flower arrangements.  One summer, I decided to grow a cucumber in a jar.  I put a baby cucumber in a large Snapple jar covered with newspaper (to protect the baby fruit from the sun).  The cucumber eventually grew so big that you could not remove it from the jar.  I harvested the cucumber and my mom and I pickled it in the jar to have a marvel "How did that get in there?!?"

That was my first, and only, pickling experience.  Since we moved last summer into our first house, I now have a yard and a garden.  I have wonderful crops of zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers.  We have so many cucumbers that we cannot keep up with eating them so I thought that I would try pickling.

I don't normally post about food I cook unless it is related to another bigger project like a party I'm doing a lot of crafts for.  I used to run a cooking blog, ChemEats, but haven't posted there in years. This adventure into pickling feels very crafty to me, and I wanted to make sure I recorded it to have notes to look back on in case it is a success... or failure.  If there is anyone who understands sterile technique it is someone with a PhD in biochemistry whose dissertation involved a lot of microbiology work!

This first project is a sweet pickle relish.  I bought a bunch of 8 oz jars because I wanted to be able to make small enough batches to use and to give away.  Depending on how this goes, I might start trying other recipes. My cucumber plants are doing pretty well.  We've eaten a bunch but I saved some up for my first batch.  I'm ready to de-seed and chop them up.

The recipe I found for sweet pickle relish calls for 1 cup of chopped red bell pepper and 1 cup chopped of green bell pepper.  I'm bummed that my sweet peppers aren't ripe yet so I decided to just use a red and yellow bell pepper that I purchased from the store.

Turns out the drought conditions (90 degree weather, watering intensely once a day) created some bitter cucumbers.  I was able to remove most of the bitter portions (closet to the stems) and then keep the tasty sweet cucs. I was really frustrated for a while trying to figure out if my cucumbers were rotten.  I'm so glad that the majority of the fruit was usable.

I had just shy of 2 cups of apple cider vinegar so I topped off the last 1/8 a cup or so with white vinegar. Similarly, I only had just over 2.5 cups of white sugar.  Why am I running out of everything?  I hope this isn't completely botched.

This is my first time canning anything for preservation.  I found some resources on sterilizing jars and other tips for canning.  Even though the processing time for this project was 10 minutes, I did sterilize the jars in advance. (I am close to sea level so I did not have to add additional time.) I successfully sterilized the jars before hand.  With the tools it was easy to fill the jars and the seal them in a water bath.  I really really hope that I don't poison anyone with this recipe.

I filled 4 - 8 oz jars with relish.  Like the tip, I filled jars using a slotted spoon and then added liquid to the appropriate head space height (1/4" for this recipe.) I have a TON of the vinegar mixture left over.  I think that I might use it for some refrigerator pickles.  (Grandmama gave me some cucumbers from her garden - I might add them straight to the brine in my left over jars and refrigerate them)  I even added some extra cucumbers to the recipe!  I'm glad to know that I can absolutely reduce the amount of liquid if I'm going to do one batch of veggies.  I am amazed by how much the vegetable shrunk.  Even the refrigerator pickles shrunk a bunch after they soaked in the brine, probably since I didn't take the time to pre-salt them.

Now I have no idea how long I need to wait before trying to eat the pickles.  It looks like it could be ready to eat the relish in a few weeks or a month.  The refrigerator pickles I started eating the next day.  Yum!

Whoops!  I forgot to add the pickle crisps to my relish!  I had planned to add a pinch (I actually have a measuring spoon labeled "pinch"!) of the pellets to each jar before boiling them.  Oh well.

Waiting is going to be so hard.  I can't believe that I have to wait 24 hours now that I've sealed the jars before I can touch them and finishing tightening the lid!  Well hopefully sealed.  I did hear a pop when one of the jars just came out of the bath so hopefully that's a good sign.  I didn't do a good job getting the air bubbles out, hopefully that won't hurt me....

24 hours after canning, I tightened the lids all the way.  One of the four lids went pop.  Maybe the inner lid wasn't centered enough so when I tightened the screw cap it popped the seal pop.  Oh well.  I put this batch of relish in the fridge and after some weeks have passed we'll test it out.

A few weeks later (8/22) we opened up the refrigerated batch of relish and it was delicious!  The brine was a little sweet but there was still some good crisp to the pickled veggies.  I think that my next pickling adventure will require some spice and a little less sugar.

Please share your favorite pickling recipes with me.  What other veggies do you like to pickle?  I think next year I will have to expand my garden so I can preserve even more food!

Relish created 7/27/16.