When I worked in Toronto, we had a first warm weather day tradition of heading out to a hot dog cart and getting some street meat. I the aromas got me and I partook. I fully admit to liking those offerings a bit better, but I still wasn't convinced I should be eating them. As dumb as it may sound...I think what made me think kinder of vendor vittles were the self-serve pots of condiments -- onions, relish, sauerkraut, pickled peppers and of course the mustard and ketchup. I think only I would derive pleasure from dressing the dog.
So when I saw the recipe for Hot Dog Relish in Anita Stewart's Canada, I was torn. I don't like hot dogs, but I wanted to make the relish. And yes, I know you can use it on foods other than hot dogs. But she wrote about her memories of making relish each autumn, and how it differed to the almost electric green, bottled bits of sweetened cucumbers. Hmm...I fully believe that homemade foods can be much tastier than store bought...why not?
So, fresh from my victory over peach chutney, I decided to head back to My Dear Little Mummy's kitchen to make the relish--like the chutney and the rest of my canning and preserving this year, I made them at my parents as my mum is more experienced at such things than I (well, depending upon what we're making) and, well, she's got the canning gear. I just have to buy the ingredients and some jars and snap lids.
At the recommendation of several Mennonite women at the market, English cucumbers were put aside for salads and I bought several kilos of little pickling cucumbers. It makes perfect sense because well, cucumber relish is sortakinda like chopped pickles.
As we don't have a grinder, all the cutting was done by hand...and of course, I decided to brunoise...everything. I don't know if it would be more tedious to mince four large cucumbers as opposed to the...dozens...of little cucumbers, but chop into teensy-weensy cubes I did...and then the tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, Thai chillis and celery. Unfortunately, all that mincing left me with one, somewhat gloriously deep cut...which the chilli pepper then wormed its way into. Owieowieowieowieowie....
I must admit I was a little concerned after I tasted the pot remnants --it was a bit sweeter than I'd hoped (but not as sweet as the store-bought kind). Yes, I know that it would take some time for the flavours to meld and settle, but my imagination ran unchecked, convincing me I'd made jars and jars of green, acidic ice cream topping.
Am happy to say, that my impatience in opening the relish a few weeks (perhaps two or three) squelched the taste of vanilla and relish from my imagination's palate. Am very happy to say that the sugars mellowed and it was quite good -- nicely balanced between salt and sugar, a bit sour and just spiked with enough heat to make it clear it wasn't the ususal store-bought relish.
When it came time for its premiere serving, I felt obligated to have it with...you guessed it, hot dogs. Who knows. Maybe I'll actually like them.
No, I'm certain this isn't magic relish that turns everything that's reminiscent of leftover animal parts into a palatable meal--I simply bought a different brand to what I grew up with...sometimes the most obvious solution is never as obvious as it should be. But it's pretty darned good relish.
Hot Dog Relish
adapted from Anita Stewart's Canada
yield: four litres
1.5 kg pickling cucumbers, tipped and tailed, minced
500g green tomatoes, chopped finely
2 green bell peppers, seeded, minced
2 red bell peppers, seeded, minced
2 Thai chillis (or to taste), seeded (optional), minced
3 large yellow cooking onions, minced
60g pickling salt
1L pickling vinegar
1 celery rib
1 Tbsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Combine the the cucumbers, tomatoes, bell and hot peppers and onions. Sprinkle with salt and give it a stir before covering with cling and letting stand overnight.
When you're ready to make the relish, drain the liquids from the veg. Tip the cucumbery mix into a pot, add vinegar, celery and 600g sugar. Give the mix a stir and bring to a boil over a medium flame. Reduce the heat and let boil gently for 20 minutes while stirring often.
Combine the remaining sugar with the flour, mustard and turmeric. Sprinkle a spoonful at a time onto the cooked relish, stirring between additions. Return to the hob and cook for a few minutes until bubbling and thickened.
Ladle into sterilised canning jars, seal and store somwhere dark and cool.