<< Previous: Tools & Equipment (Part Two) | Next: Making the Relish (Part Four) >>
Recipe of Ingredients (Part Three) – Making a recipe based on your needs and your local season. Plus choosing the best ingredients to combat food intolerances.
There are a few things you need to consider before deciding which relish you are going to make. Obviously personal taste and preference plays a vital role in choosing what relish you want to spend at least half a day labouring over, however planning a few things out can help also ease the relish making process.
So, before you choose your recipe, I recommend asking yourself the following:
What season is it?
What fresh produce will be abundant (and cheaper) over the next few weeks or month?
Where can I buy local or better yet, source home grown, spray free produce?
How much relish should I make or how much relish can fit into the jars I’ve collected?
What time of the year will my relish be ready and how can I use it as gifts?
What family ocassion or upcoming event could I share my relish at?
Who can I gift a jar to or who could I be sharing this relish with? – Do they have food intolerances? Does it need to be child friendly?
Do I want a sweet fresh flavour or a spicy complex beast?
The Magic of Fresh, Local, Seasonal, Spray-Free Produce
Acknowledging which fruits and vegetables are currently in bountiful, seasonal supply in your locality will not only save you money but will gift you with a beautiful relish in both taste and nutrition. Fresh local, seasonal produce is one of the fundamentals in developing a relish that is full of nutrition and naturally ripened with great flavour.
Of course this depends on where you reside and what produce options you have available at your fingertips.
Making relish with fresh ingredients from within the same season, and locality, can provide fabulous flavour combinations as well as provide a balanced dose of nutrients – right when you or your family need them.
Local, seasonal produce is not only kinder to your bank balance (and the planet), but can supply you with a “just what I needed” dose of nutrients. For example, lemons, oranges and limes are in season during Autumn-Winter here in the southern hemisphere and is typically when the majority of us are hit with the flu or a lowered immune system.
Lemons in particular contain the highest amount of Vitamin C in comparison to any other natural food (and is the highest alkaline forming fresh food on the planet), and are available just at the right time and when we need them. You can add citrus juice to ANY relish to give it some zang and a dose of Vitamin C, like lemon to a savoury tomato or eggplant relish and orange to a sweet beetroot or rhubarb relish.
Speaking of your wellbeing, I am also a huge advocate for spray-free fruits and vegetables.
And better yet, growing your own.
Certified organic is still making it’s way into my belief system (I’m not sure I agree with the red tape, processes and huge costs applied to what, in my naive world, is what mother nature naturally offers us with fertile soil, warm sunshine and clean rain water) yet I do regularly buy organic produce, particularly those listed in the top dirty dozen of foods with most pesticides (like celery and strawberries for example) and I either forget to plant or the birds n bugs eat up too many of my own.
If you don’t already, I’d highly recommend growing your own (or get to know someone who does) fruits and vegetables so you can experience what it’s like to grow your own ingredients, know where they come from and nurture them in your own garden. It’s hugely rewarding, very humbling and grounding, and of course just delicious!
Here is a list of when some of the popular preserving fruits and veg are in season:
(generally based on Australia and New Zealand organic growing climates)
Plan your Relish in Advance
Just like most projects, a little planning can help a long way and it’s no different when it comes to making relish.
The planning process can make your decision on which type of relish to make a lot easier.
Traditionally, relishes are best eaten straight away (that’s the “official” difference between a relish and chutney), however I’ve found leaving them a few short weeks (or a couple of months if you can wait) to allow the flavours to ooze together and mellow out provides an even tastier version of the relish. So if you have a particular event or celebration you wish to show off your beautiful relish at you will need to plan ahead.
Planning to utilise excess harvests from the season before will save you money, make you feel incredibly thrifty, make for a tastier batch and ensure the relish is stored long enough for deeper flavours to develop. For example, I used to produce the majority of my beetroot apple n orange relish over autumn and winter to make use of red onions, oranges, ginger, garlic and beetroots all being in season, and would bulk up in stock for the popular spring and summer months ahead (including Christmas as my beetroot relish was super duper popular on cold ham and roast turkey as a substitute for cranberry sauce).
Size of your Batch
Depending on how many jars you’ve collected or bought and how much fresh produce you can get your hands on, will depend on how big a batch of relish you can make.
To keep things simple I used to base all my recipes and the batch size I would produce, on the weight of the star ingredient for each relish. My batches were either 4kg or 8kg’s which then was also how much I needed of the (non-prepared, as is) star ingredient, and other ingredients in the recipe were then scaled down / up accordingly.
On average I found the amount of relish produced from a batch was fairly close to the amount of the star ingredient used in the recipe.
So, for example, in my red capsicum relishes the star ingredient is red capsicum, so a 4kg batch refers to 4kgs of red capsicums and on average the recipe produced a yield of just over 4kgs of relish (around 4425grams to be precise). Same with my mango n chilli relish. 4kgs of mangos produced just over 4kgs of relish.
My beetroot apple n orange 4kg batch of relish always produced a little more, from 5.5kg to 6kg of final bulk, purely because beetroot holds its texture (and thus size), and contains less liquid so does not reduce down as much when cooked for a long period. (i.e. the shorter the cooking time, the saucier your relish).
My balsalmic red onion n lime relish was a completely different story, and would always produce a smaller amount of relish than what I started with, purely because of the nature of onions. They cook down and reduce very very well.
Combating Food Intolerances
I have had food intolerances and allergies for the majority of my life, so I totally understand how disappointing it can be to come across something delicious only to find you can’t even try it, let alone digest it. Well not without unwanted side affects.
I used to faint while chopping up mushrooms, and felt sick if I ever ate them; break out in an allergic rash when peeling, de-pipping and slicing mangos; and have a very unwelcome splattery, respiratory response to chilli. Gratefully I’ve since healed the majority of these, but food intolerances / allergies cause havoc and can be a bit of a burden – especially if you love food!
In a world where there are so many intolerances, to so many things – not just food – I found the best way to combat this in my relishes was to basically, not add anything unnatural (i.e no artificial gunk), or to add too much of any one thing.
“No artificial gunk” is the proud slogan I openly promote about my relishes, and define anything that doesn’t truly come from nature as artificial. (And is why I really struggled with adding any sugar to my relish, but the science of preserving requires it, so I have had to. And I’ve found, even now, there still isn’t a great substitute…)
Many people are gluten intolerant (and in my humble opinion, the rest just don’t realise it yet) and some thickening flours used in preserves include gluten (even the occasional cornflour!). Naturally, corn flour doesn’t contain wheat, thus has no gluten, however I have seen some branded cornflours stating they may contain gluten (no idea how or why, assume they produce other gluten products or mix in another ingredient), so do read the packaging. Same goes if you’re buying a relish, and you want it gluten free, read the ingredients section on the label – they are required by law to list everything added.
I personally prefer not to risk it. I’ve found relish with added thickeners don’t quite taste the same (yes you can taste, and see, the difference) and believe relish doesn’t actually need thickeners.
All of my relishes were saucy for a reason (including the fact the sauce provided more flavour) so I’m not a fan of adding it. Thickeners are primarily added to tomato based relishes due to their high liquid content, particularly if you don’t have time to boil your relish for hours to reduce it down.
If you have to add a thickener I would recommend using a Tapioca Flour (from the cassava root found in Brazil) or Potato Starch. They are definitely gluten free and better for you (and the planet as they don’t support the mass production of corn and high fructose corn syrup which is derived from corn starch).
Malt vinegar is not gluten free. Unfortunately malt vinegar is the prime vinegar used in the majority of preserved products on the shelves of stores and in Grandma’s secret recipes. Malt vinegar is cheaper than the wine or balsamic varieties and seems to add a flavour and colour certain relish makers prefer. I personally have never cooked a relish with it and only use red wine, white wine or balsamic vinegars.
Chilli and Spice Factor
Chillies – there are a lot of people with a propensity to avoid chilli and anything with it in it. I found from my market adventures that a huge percentage of people would appreciate a small tiny hint of chilli in their food, as long as it didn’t take over the flavour of the relish (and their mouthes, esophogus and intestines). There of course was also the flip side of this, and I always attracted a fair few of those who loved the flaming-hot-tastebud-killing, pass-me-a-glass-of-milk-or-something-sweet now type of relishes.
If you’re not making a strong chilli jam or wanting to kick peoples tastebuds off the planet, you can still add a subtle hint of chilli by using either a small amount of fresh chilli (like half of a birds eye chilli – with seeds will be a little stronger) or half to one to two teaspoons of ground chilli powder in a 2-4kg batch (totally depends on how much hint you want to add).
Fresh chilli will mellow while the relish is cooking but the spicy heat intensifies once the relish cools and settles all its spicy flavour into the rest of the relish, so its difficult to judge how much is too much. Just before your relish is ready to jar, I recommend taking a large spoonful of relish onto a plate, allowing it to cool completely and then tasting the chilli factor. If you do end up adding too much I have “heard” adding more sugar may reduce it but I’ve never found it successful.
*Remember relish with chilli in it will get spicier as it settles, cools and has time for all the ingredients to mingle. You have been warned!
Alternatively, if you’d rather avoid the risk of chilli or know someone with a chilli intolerance, ginger is a fabulous substitute – particularly with a good douncing of garlic. The flavour and spice of ginger also kicks in towards the end of a mouthful (like chilli), and can provide delicous heat to a savoury or sweet relish without the adverse side affects of chilli.
I am surprised at how many children openly tried my relish at the many farmers markets I attended. Once they got over the fact their were vegetables in it (some didn’t try it purely because of that), and they’d been averted away from the super spicy chilli version – they actually loved them. Although, I suspect the cheese and cracker helped.
The biggest favourite was my sweet, citrusy beetroot apple n orange relish – cutely referred to as “the purple dip!” followed not too far behind with my savoury and sweet red capsicum (non-chilli) relish.
Childrens palates are uber sensitive, as is their digestive system, and their tastebuds take awhile to accept stranger, exotic foods like olives, mushrooms, ginger, vinegar, oils and of course chilli.
If you are wanting to make a relish for children to eat, I’d highly recommend making a simple flavoured, sweeter (not from added sugar, but from extra added fruits and vegetables), nutritional relish like a basic tomato, beetroot or even an onion version (as long as the child is ok with onions – they do tend to get long and stringy when cooked, and are hard to hide!).
Adding raisins, dried apricots or other fruits that may already be in their diet and on their “acceptable” list can also help. I’d stay away from malt vinegar and use a quality balsamic vinegar blended with either white or red wine vinegar. Or you could just make my famous purple dip relish (beetroot apple n orange) and try it out, as there was (roughly) a 90% yummy rate with all the children who tried it at my market stall!
(My relish recipes are out soon!)
Preserving and the Sugar Argument
Relish requires preservation, to keep it “alive” and to stop the growth of any harmful bacteria (ie. to stop your preservative free produce from going off). Traditionally salt, sugar and vinegar have been the choice of the ages, and are combinations that work well. Oil is also a preserving agent and is used primarily for making flavoured oils, and some jams, than a preserved relish. You don’t need to add any oil to a relish with a sugar/vinegar preserving process.
Sugar is an ingredient caught up amongst some huge debate at present. The disadvantages of having the refined version of it in so many of our foods is thankfully, finally starting to be taken seriously in the food industry (and the media) and in other areas. It perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if it was eaten in moderation, in smaller dosages, and you actually knew when you were eating it (like scoffing down your mother/nana/wife’s latest baking outta the cookie jar), like they did in the old days. But sadly, today it’s rampant and a little bit ridiculous about where you can find it – or more fittingly, where you can’t.
Unfortunately sugar is one of the core ingredients in almost all preserving products – particularly in relishes and chutneys, due to the need to balance out the vinegar and aid with preserving.
The good ole preserving recipes from previous era’s and older generations have really high quantities of sugar added which is not ideal for today’s diets. Sugar back then was more of a luxury product, more expensive, and perhaps harder to get a hold of, so some of those old nana recipes use excess sugar, added thickeners and sometimes even dairy, which need to be adapted for tastes, needs and bodies of today, particularly with the increased rate of diabeties, obesity and general food intolerances.
I have sometimes reduced the sugar content by half when following older recipes, and my own relishes are always much lower in sugar (and higher in produce) than typical recipes. I have also tried to come up with a non refined sugar substitute to keep the relish “alive” yet fresh and tasty, but not with much luck… yet!
Now you’ve made a few of the bigger decisions behind choosing which relish to make and how much produce you’re going to need, now you just have to prepare your kitchen (and yourself) and get on with making the most beautiful relish in your life!
Coming Soon Next: Making the Relish (Part Four) – Preparing yourself. Preparing your kitchen. Preparing your jars. And Jarring your relish