Vinegar All the Things - Sweet Pepper Relish

Sweet & hot pepper relish from The Spoon + Shovel

Years ago, Meghan was working for a large specialty foods company, and we discovered their incredible sweet & hot pepper relish. We would combine the relish with cream cheese and serve it almost any time we had guests over. When we stopped consuming dairy, we just swapped out the regular cream cheese for its non-dairy counterpart, and neither we nor our guests (so far) can even tell the difference. As we brainstormed about what the tackle in this blog, it seemed only natural to want to try our hand at sweet & hot pepper relish too.

As previously mentioned, I want to focus on cooking with seasonal produce in S+S; a big reason for this is because I feel like we (modern Americans, at least) have become estranged from eating seasonally. If we want a fresh tomato in January, we get one at the store. Strawberries in March? Store. Milk all year round? Same. Growing up with virtually all foods available all the time, I have rarely longed for a dish for more than, say, a few days. This sounds great in theory, but lessens the enjoyment of traditionally seasonal dishes like ratatouille or apple pie, and has led to a lifestyle and economy hinged on year-round produce from temperate zones. As we've seen with California's water table just this year, the damage is massive and near-catastrophic. I'm not saying I won't buy avocados in January, and I'm not trying to shame anyone into giving up all food grown outside of their hometown, I simply want to think a bit harder about where my food comes from.

We live in Zone 6 here in Ohio, so October is about the tail end of pepper season. Sadly, none of our pepper plants did much this summer, but we had enough in our extra fridge from my parents' garden to pull off a sizable batch of sweet pepper relish.

Sweet & hot pepper relish from The Spoon + Shovel

Sweet & hot pepper relish from The Spoon + Shovel

The recipe is adapted from this Harry & David clone I found on Pinterest, with a few changes due to runny consistency. I originally used an entire box of fruit pectin (the recipe only called for 4 T.) and ended up with 15 jars of relish that didn't set. I actually had this entry in my drafts for a week and a half as I waited for an opportune time to open them all up, toss it all back in a pot and add another full box of pectin. 

Just so you don't think I get it right the first time every time...

Sweet & hot pepper relish from The Spoon + Shovel

This was one of the messier preps I've done, but canning is often a big effort, and one you probably don't want to undertake when you only have an hour or 2 to spare. Following the previously-linked recipe, I sterilized my jars (15 total, 8oz. size) in a hot water bath, and tossed my tomatoes in a separate pot of boiling water for 1min, then straight to an ice water bath to peel off the skins before chopping. 

Sweet & hot pepper relish from The Spoon + Shovel

I diced the peppers and onions a bit larger than the recipe, as we wanted noticeable chunks in ours, then everything went into a big stockpot to cook down. I think I let it cook for 1.5hr before adding the pectin, and should have probably let it go for another 30 at least. My advice is, use your judgment - if it looks runny still, let it go for a while longer. Unless you want to be like me and have to re-can a week later. 

Sweet & hot pepper relish from The Spoon + Shovel

Be sure to have your water bath boiling and ready to can once your pectin dissolves into the relish (if you're processing like me; if you have a pressure canner, prep accordingly). Fill your jars with about half an inch of room left over, and wipe off each one's lip before screwing on lids and immersing in your water bath. Make sure there's about an inch of water above the lids so they cook and pressurize evenly, and boil for 10min. Remove from the water and let them set up for 24-48hrs. If the relish is still runny, you can open them all up, empty jars back into a pot and add another half or full package of pectin. Use your judgement and preference here.

Good luck, and good spice to you!