Fall for the perfect preserves

It’s September. The late summer heat brought out the crickets and their distinctive “chirp” fills the day, building a background orchestra for the kitchen sounds. For today is the day to make fruit relish. Sparkling bottles are already lined up on the counter upside down on immaculate tea towels ready to be heated then filled with the pickle. A huge preserving kettle is set on the front burner filled to the brim with bubbling water to finish off the jars in this boiling bath and make them safe so that the relish will be enjoyed even months later.

Preserving is hard work, and expensive, too. A basket of garden ripe tomatoes, and a bowl of perfect Niagara peaches which have to be blanched, peeled and chopped making an almighty mess but smelling divinely sinful!

The tomatoes and peaches are mixed together with chopped pears and apples in a cauldron of a saucepan (usually an especially big one kept for the purpose) and slowly simmered with brown sugar, cider vinegar, chopped peppers and fresh spices.

Always make sure to use the freshest spices. The flavour must not be muddied with age-old spice but sweet, seductive and smooth. All the while the fruits, vegetables, vinegar, spices and sugar simmer – stir faithfully, slowly with a long handled wooden spoon so as not to burn yourself and steadfastly so that the fruit and sugar did not catch and burn, producing the taboo bitter taste.

As you stir, you might imagine the winter days ahead when this sweet sauce will make an everyday meatloaf a feast.

My mother’s recipe, neatly written in her handwriting, is in my recipe box now, ready for this annual tradition. I remember too vividly the fatigue at the end of the day when the neatly filled jars, still hot from their boiling water bath and the hot rich filling within, were lined up like glorious red soldiers decorated with orange and speckled with spices ready to be admired and put away for winter days.

“Remember, pickling is a labour of love,” my mother used to say. “Only serve or give preserves to those you cherish and who appreciate fabulous flavour.”

Here, then, is my mother’s recipe for summer relish. Serve it with your own favourite recipe for meatloaf. My mother was not much interested in meat dishes. Quite frankly, her relish was sublime but her meatloaf mediocre but my, what a marriage!

Daphne’s Fruit Relish

You will have to blanch the tomatoes and peaches. Blanching is a process whereby you submerge your fruits or vegetables in boiling water for about a minute then immediately submerge them in ice-cold water. This process kills off the enzymes beneath the skin and makes it very easy to peel it from the fruit or vegetable.

30 to 36 plum tomatoes, blanched then coarsely chopped
6 peaches, blanched, quartered, seed removed and coarsely chopped
6 apples, peeled, halved, cored and coarsely chopped
6 cooking onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 each, red and green peppers, seeded, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh pickling spice tied into a cheesecloth bag
2 tbsp (25 mL) pickling salt
1 L (4 cups) cider vinegar
3 cups (750 mL) brown sugar, lightly packed

After blanching tomatoes and peaches, peel then coarsely chop. Add the tomatoes to a large saucepan with peaches, pears, apples, onion, red and green peppers, pickling spice (tied together in a cheesecloth bag), salt, vinegar, and sugar. Stir mixture together and let stand two hours, then bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered about two hours or until relish is thickened. Spoon hot relish into sterilized pint mason jar to within a half inch of rim; apply lids and arrange jars in trivet in preserving kettle of boiling water. Boil jars in water bath about 10 minutes. Remove from trivet and cool jars on rack. Wait for lid to snap down (this way you know you have a good, safe seal for the coming year). Label jars with name and date; store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Makes about eight pints.


Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer  –  janmainskitchen@yahoo.ca

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