Zucchini Relish

A week and a half ago, we felt our first breeze since May.

I hadn’t realized I’d been keeping track of that sort of thing, but when the air changed, the whole town stopped for a minute to revel in it. Our first Southern summer is over. We made it!

With fall here, a sense of urgency has descended in my kitchen. After three months avoiding the stove like it was radioactive, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. On top of that, the farmers’ market produce is quickly drying up, so there’s no time to waste for hot-weather vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, okra, and zucchini.

Fortunately, a friend kicked my brain into preserving gear with the gift of a jar of pear jam. Cinnamon-laced, sweet and chunky like pie filling, I stirred a spoonful into a bowl of thick strained yogurt each day until it was gone. J seems unaware that I ate it all, which is probably for the best. Naturally, one does not return a jar empty, but I’m lucky to have four charmingly nubbly pears to play with, along with a haul of zucchini from the market and a vague idea of how to preserve things without poisoning anyone.

Now, I can hear my mother scoffing from 3,000 miles away at the idea of anyone paying good money for a zucchini. Growing up with an ever-expanding vegetable garden, we always had at least six zucchini plants, though in recent years the number has mushroomed to more like a dozen.  Cucurbit chaos ensues from July through September, at which point the plants mercifully succumb to a powdery mildew every year. It’s probably something we could prevent, but that would mean more zucchini.

Despite the overwhelming tonnage that the family garden churns out annually, not a single zucchini has ever been wasted. As a kid, I acquired our neighbor’s zucchini bread recipe and churned out loaf after loaf for the freezer. My mother even saves the hulking two-footers with huge seeds and watery flesh, just to turn them into her notoriously delicious chocolate zucchini cake. And yes, sometimes they actually get eaten as a vegetable, sauteed or in the dreaded ratatouille, but where’s the fun in that?

We weren’t the only zucchini growers in the family, it turns out. My great-aunt Ruthie made a huge batch of zucchini relish from her year’s haul, and everyone in the family got a jar or two at Christmas. My dad mixed it into tuna salad and my sister and I forgot that we hated zucchini and we hated relish. Tuna sandwiches have been sort of boring since Ruthie’s been gone.

So today I’m ending the drought of zucchini relish in this family. Five jars of tangy, pepper-studded goodness are cooling in the kitchen, and I’m headed straight to the store for some tuna. This relish also makes a nice appetizer when poured over a brick of cream cheese and eaten with crackers, if you’re looking for a zero-effort snack that’s a hit with guests.

Zucchini Relish

When searching for a zucchini relish recipe, I was slightly shocked to find that my usual sources for canning recipes, Well Preserved and Food in Jars, were silent on the topic–although Joel & Dana do have an intriguing entry for zucchini marmalade! This recipe is adapted from, of all places, About.com. You can sub different colored peppers or yellow zucchini here, but be careful to keep the same ratios of vegetable, sugar, and acid for safe canning. 

For the new or curious, more info on canning is available from the National Center on Home Food Preservation.

10 cups of shredded zucchini (I used my food processor to make this a short job)
2 large red bell peppers (ditto on the food processor)
4 cups finely diced onion (food processor saves the day…again!)
5 Tbsp. salt
2 1/2 c. cider vinegar
3 c. sugar
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. celery or dill seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1. Mix salt, zucchini, peppers, and onion together in a very large colander with all of the salt. Allow it to sit draining over a mixing bowl for at least half a day, preferably overnight. Once this time has passed, throw out the liquid that’s drained out, rinse vegetables thoroughly, and press against the colander with your hand to squeeze out most of the excess moisture.

2. Prepare canning jars and lids (about 5 half-pints) by sterilizing them and setting aside in a simmering water bath.

3. Bring vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery or dill seeds, pepper flakes, and pepper to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add vegetable mixture and return to a boil. Mix cornstarch with enough water to form a paste and stir into the relish.

4. Boil over medium-high heat for 25-30 minutes, until zucchini turns translucent and relish becomes thick. Monitor closely and stir so it does not burn. (If you get distracted and it does burn a bit, do not scrape up the burned bits! Immediately transfer to a clean pot, leaving the burned bit behind, and keep going.)

5. Remove jars from their water bath and fill to 1/4″ from the top with relish. Wipe jar rims down and apply lids, tightening gently. Process for 10 minutes in a water bath, until lids have sealed. I set mine upside-down to cool so the lids don’t get any ideas about unsealing themselves. This allows air bubbles to rise to the top, sucking air out of the seal. Science!

6. Store in a cool, dark place for up to six months.

Yield: About 5 half-pint jars.