In the beginning, relish had a straightforward purpose: a way to use up every last bit of produce before the end of harvest.
Soon enough, however, preservers discovered that mid- to late-season pickling of all the garden stragglers produced such delectable results that specialty condiments beyond the basic "pickle relish" came to be.
Now, relishes and relish connoisseurs have merged into the mainstream. Inventive chefs have found them to be handy seasoners, an efficient method for injecting zing or simply depth of flavor into a dish.
Indeed, they're an uncomplicated lot, those tantalizing condiments. Where jams and jellies require specific amounts of sugar and lemon juice to live up to their full potential, relishes and their fruitier cousins, chutneys, are forgiving.
As long as they've got a nice balance of vinegar, salt and sugar, the end product is bound to be interesting and useful as a condiment in your kitchen. And like I said, because most recipes call for a small amount of many different ingredients, it's a great way to use up what's left in the garden.
But first a few points to consider:
- If you decide to make relishes and chutneys shelf-stable, you'll need to process the jars in a boiling-water canner. To ensure safety, don't reduce the processing times in the boiling-water canner. Relishes and chutneys are fairly dense and require the entire processing time called for in a given recipe for thorough heat penetration.
- Additionally, if you're planning to store prepared relishes and chutneys at room temperature, don't reduce the amount of vinegar the recipe calls for. That's because you're combining low-acid foods, like onions, peppers and corn, with high-acid foods, like tomatoes, fruit and vinegar, with the ultimate goal of creating a condiment high enough in acid that it doesn't have to be processed in a pressure canner. So don't add extra amounts of (low-acid) vegetables or water, or reduce the amount of vinegar called for in a recipe. You would most likely end up with a relish or chutney that's no longer safe to process by the boiling-water-bath method. If you want to make the relish or chutney less tangy, add sugar.
- On the other hand, if you've got the refrigerator space, chutneys and relishes will maintain fabulous quality in it for months and months and months.
- Take advantage of your food processor. Many old-time recipes call for the use of a hand-cranked "food chopper." If you have one and want to use it, that's fine. But a food processor works swiftly, as long as you are careful and don't overprocess the vegetables into mush. It's wise to work in reasonably small batches and only chop one type of vegetable or fruit at a time.
Now that you've made it, what can you do with it? Well, obviously, it depends on the character of any given chutney or relish, so you'll have to be the final judge of what works with what, but here are a few things to consider.
- Combine a little chutney or relish with mayonnaise or softened cream cheese and spread on your favorite firm-textured bread for extra flavor in a chicken or veggie sandwich.
- Or stir a little chutney or relish INTO the chicken salad or chopped vegetable mixture.
- Serve as an accompaniment for roasted meats or curries of lamb, seafood or beef.
- Add to a simple vinaigrette.
- Pour over a block of cream cheese and serve with crackers for an appetizer.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.