Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Save us all from.....THE ZUCCHINI!

On their vacations, most people would head for the nearest beach with a book from their summer reading list. But not me, Crazy Canning Lady! Already this week, I've managed to produce 11 jars of the much-heralded blueberry-lime jam, and five pints of.....wait, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, my typically lengthy exposition.

I have had a long-standing belief that there should be city ordinances regulating the planting of zucchini each year. I think one plant per neighborhood is all that should be allowed. But we all seem to feel it necessary to plant several "hills" of different varieties, and then by late summer, the sinister summer squashes creep inside our houses and threaten to smother us all in our sleep! No matter how often you harvest, another full-grown squash miraculously takes the place of the one you picked the day before. And if you don't pick them one day, they are the size of RV's by the next! So this year, with the farmers' market baking and canning consuming all of my time, I decided just to plant tomatoes and peppers, and nothing else. But let me tell you, the only thing worse than having to contend with your own prolific squash plants is making the mistake of telling people that you didn't plant any this year, and then being DELUGED with their "gifts" of zucchini.

Initially, I was quite grateful, as I do bake zucchini bread weekly for the market, and it kills me to have to BUY zucchini. But now that the harvest is in full swing, I am DROWNING in it! This week, I had a big cardboard boxful of a yummy, light-green, ribbed variety dropped at my back door (thanks to Kelly and Dana, my friends/colleagues/neighbors/fellow carpoolers), and a huge basketful of monster-sized organic black beauties given to me at the farmers' market by Ruthie, the cheese vendor in the stall next to me. (I gave her some red currant jelly in return, which I think was an excellent trade.) I saved a few of the smaller squashes just to eat with our dinners this week, and it took me several hours yesterday to peel, core and shred the rest. I ended up with 21 pint-sized bags for the freezer (no more room left in there!), and still had ten cups left over. But I took that as a sign from on high, because ten cups is the perfect amount to make a batch of zucchini relish. What's that, you say? Zucchini relish? Yes, indeed, it's good stuff! You use it anywhere you might use regular pickle relish, say on a burger or hot dog, or stirred into potato or macaroni salad. Or you could use it as a zesty condiment for any grilled meats or fish. Some folks love it so much, they eat it straight from the jar with a spoon!

A quick Google search will yield a legion of recipes for zucchini relish, but I was struck with how similar most of them are. Then again, I suppose to make a shelf-stable product, you would have to maintain basic proportions of ingredients. But I do think you can be a little creative with your relish, as long as those proportions are generally maintained. As for me, I worked with two recipes that were nearly identical, one from my dear friend Kurt's mother, Muriel, and one from the GardenWeb's Linda Lou, of the apple pie jam fame. I particularly liked that Muriel adds carrots to hers, giving the resulting product a lovely confetti look and sweeter taste. Linda Lou's, on the other hand, has extra onion for more kick, and I love the addition of celery seed, one of my favorite spices.

However, there were several places where I parted company with both Muriel and Linda Lou. Though Linda Lou uses less sugar than Muriel, I really wanted a relish that was not too sweet. (As you may recall, with cucumbers, I like sour dills, not sweet pickles or even bread-and-butter varieties.) In my review of recipes online, I saw recipes with as little as three cups of sugar all the way up to six cups. So I opted for the low end on the sugar. Also, instead of a regular green pepper, I swapped out hot peppers (anaheims, jalapenos, serranos and super chilis) instead for some punch. In the same vein, I also added a few cloves of minced garlic, as is my way. And though both Muriel and Linda Lou (and many others out there) call for it, I simply cannot support the addition of nutmeg to this relish. Some people swear by it, that it makes the relish truly special, but I am just not a big fan of nutmeg in savory applications. As a final note, I should mention that I peeled my zucchini before grating it, but you might choose not to. It certainly makes a prettier relish if you don't peel it. But peeled or not, if your zucchini are large, you will definitely want to remove the spongy core and the seeds, neither of which are good eats. Anyway, that's why my relish isn't green but looks more like a sort of golden sauerkraut (due to the tumeric and mustard seed and maybe a little from the carrots). Actually, I suppose you could use cabbage instead of zucchini, if you were so inclined, but that would make it chow-chow, wouldn't it? Ok, ok, enough nonsense. On to the recipe:

Zucchini Relish
(an homage to Muriel and Linda Lou)

10 cups zucchini, peeled or not, cored, seeded and either ground (who has a grinder anymore?) or shredded (which I much prefer)
3 cups onions, peeled, ends removed and grated or finely chopped
2 cups carrots, ground or shredded
1 red pepper, seeded, cored and finely chopped
1 cup mixed hot peppers, seeded, cored and finely chopped (or one green pepper if you're a wuss)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 tablespoons canning/pickling salt
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons mustard seeds (I used yellow--brown would be spicier)
2 teaspoons celery seeds
3/4 teaspoon tumeric

Combine all of the shredded/chopped vegetables with the salt in a large, non-metallic bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain very well. (Some people choose to rinse the mixture to remove more of the salt, but I like my pickled relishes a little on the salty side!)

Bring the vinegar, sugar, and spices to a boil in a large stock pot. Add the drained zucchini mixture, stir well, and bring back to a vigorous boil. Some recipes call for up to 30 minutes of simmering the relish, but I think it gets too mushy and colorless if you cook it that long. I would opt for 10-15 minutes until much of the liquid evaporates and the mixture just starts to thicken. Pack in hot, sterilized jars (using that plastic stick thing that came with your canning kit, or any non-metallic spatula, to remove air bubbles from the thick relish). Process in a boiling water bath, 10 minutes for half-pints, and 15 minutes for pints. As with all pickled products, let the flavors develop for at least a month before opening and consuming.

Yield: 5 pints


Anonymous said...

You should try some Zucchini Salsa! This is awesome when opened and mixed with some fresh, chopped tomatos and a little bit of fresh cilantro.

Corn and Zucchini Salsa
(from Preserving the Harvest)

Note: The ingredients list below only makes two 1 pint jars, so I tripled it.

3 med zucchini, cleaned, trimmed, and diced
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ears yellow corn, husked, silks removed
4 T olive oil
2 large tomatoes, seeded & chopped
1 cup fresh lime juice (I used bottled)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 jalapeno chilis, seeded & minced
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Toss the zucchini with the salt and "sweat" for 1/2 hour in a non-reactive colander. Rinse and dry.

Coat corn with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes (until lightly browned). Cool & cut off kernels from cobs. I cut the kernels off before roasting; it was easier.

Combine the zucchini, corn, remaining oil, tomatoes, lime juice, vinegar, jalpenos, scallions, garlic, and pepper in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace, and cap & seal. Process in a BWB for 15 minutes.

End note: I added about 2 T of cumin to my batch as it "needed something." If you're following the recipe for 2 pints, then add about 1 tsp of cumin if desired.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Ooh! That sounds faaaaabulous! I'm definitely going to try that. Thanks for the recipe!


Randi said...

Must I use pickling salt or would kosher salt work?

Joy Bugaloo said...

Hey, Randi!

Kosher salt and canning salt can generally be used interchangeably, as they are both pure salt with no additives that might adversely affect pickling. However, kosher salt is flaked, so it takes up more volume in any measurement. That is to say, you'll need to use a little more of it as compared to canning salt. How much more? Well, that varies by brand. For this recipe, where the exact amount of salt is not critical, I might use six tablespoons of kosher salt to sweat the zucchini overnight. That should work fine.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I also wanted to add...the salsa is really good as a topping on some grilled or blackened (Cajun)chicken!

Yum, now I want to make some more! I used up all my jars from last year.

Anonymous said...

I made this because I had to use up a surplus of summer squash. I was really excited when you said you didn't like sweet relishes, as I don't either and all the other ingredients looked yummy. 3 cups sugar did seem like a lot, but I put it in. Wow. It is sweet. Ugg. Are you sure the proportions are correct, because this really is way too sweet. To each their own, I was just wondering if I did something wrong or if our versions of sweet differ wildly. :)

Joy Bugaloo said...

Yes, that amount of sugar is "correct," though I have seen the same amount of zucchini sweetened with up to SIX cups of sugar! The most common recipe calls for 4 1/2 cups, so I was aiming for the low end. Since you're using a straight vinegar brine, it really does require some sugar to balance it out. But I admit, I just made a batch this past weekend, and I cut the three cups in my posted recipe by half, and I much preferred it to the sweeter version. The vinegar keeps the recipe safely high-acid, so the sugar can be added according to taste. I personally would not go below a cup, though, as I think the vinegar would become overbearing. But as you say, each to her own tastes.

I'm sorry that the first batch was too sweet for you. I suggest you give those as gifts, as most people like sweet relish. Then make a new, less sweet batch for yourself! Lord knows, there'll be more zucchini! :-)

Good luck--Gina

Jen said...

Thanks for sharing and the great instructions. I made this yesterday and it's really good ( my 1st zuke relish). Only used about 1/4 c. honey and a loose 1/2 c. brown sugar. No red pepper (used green), and extra c. of carrots. I did rinse lightly and we love it.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Hi, Jen. So glad you liked it! I just can't get enough of the stuff myself!

However...I am compelled by fear of improper canning practices to ask if you processed yours? Even if you did, you're probably okay, as this recipe uses straight vinegar as a brine. But always remember, when you make substitutions in canning recipes, you must keep them in proportion so as not to throw the pH out of whack. So swapping out a green pepper for a red pepper is no problem (or hot peppers for sweet ones, as I did). But ADDING a cup of carrots (or other vegetable) lowers the overall acidity of the mixture, which can be dangerous in home processing. Just to be safe, you might want to add some extra vinegar--maybe taking it to three cups? just saying.

Jen said...

I just saw your reply. I returned to tell you that we entered it in our County Fair--my 10 yo daughter won Best of Show w/ it, and I took a 2nd place in Open. THANKS! =D

I had forgotten about the delicate balance of acidity--thanks for the concern. I did process it in a hot water bath as you recommended. Think we're OK? I did use the real ACV...

Joy Bugaloo said...

CONGRATS on your awards at the fair! That's so fun!! :-D

And yes, I do think your relish is safe, as the brine is straight vinegar. Just remember in the future to keep the veggies in the same proportion as the recipe dictates, just to be safe.


Jen said...

Thanks, Gina--important lesson learned w/o the pain of being poisoned. :) Jen

Judy said...

Found this on an internet search and while the comments are old, I hope you see this. I made it with half the sugar (halved the recipe itself, so only 3/4 cup total) and upped the mustard seed a bit. It is PHENOMENAL. I used what I had in the fridge as far as vegetables (mix of colored peppers, green zukes and yellow zukes) plus the carrots and I've got to say I couldn't be happier. I was paying $6 a jar for this at the farmers market and now I have 9 half pints, almost free as the veggies were from my garden. Thanks so much!!!

Joy Bugaloo said...

Hi, Judy! Thanks for the comment. I must confess that I make it with a scant cup of sugar myself now or else it's too sweet for my taste. And I celebrate your frugalness! Isn't it AWESOME when the jars are the most expensive part of the recipe? Tee hee. --Gina

Anonymous said...

I love the zucchini relish it is just the right sweetness. Most others have way to much sugar for me.