Pepper Relish Kicks Off 2012 Canning Season

Red Pepper Relish

After 9/11, I made jam.

Everyone coped with the aftermath of 9/11 in different ways. I made jam. I learned from Laurie Colwin’s exquisite essays about Plum Jam and Corn Relish (both in More Home Cooking), and acquired at least three dozen more books about modern and historical canning and preserving.

It would be fair to say that between October 2001 and September 2006 that I was obsessed.I kept an annotated jam log, and those were the years when I had six cases of empty jars in my car “just in case.” I won ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair for jams, relish and, of all things, Barbecue Sauce in 2004. Odd indeed, because I don’t grill.

Another distraction/obsession

I got distracted from canning in 2006, when I began to paint with watercolor, acquiring an obsession which has taken over my life with nanoscapes (geometric abstractions) and small friends (whimsical creatures who have a show at Hopkins Center for the Arts between June 24 and July 13, 2012. Opening reception June 24 from 4-6 pm, if you’re in town).

After 2006, I made just a few things including the memorably rock-hard Carrot Marmalade, Amazing Spiced Cherries (best preserved thing ever), deeply weird Jamaican Banana Jam (all in July 2007), and Ginger-Chili-Jelly (May 2010), which I loved, but the Minnesota State Fair judges found wanting.

My jam chops are rusty, but I’m ready to get back to it. 

First up for 2012 is Red Pepper Relish, an ideal beginning preserving project because it doesn’t have to set up like jelly or jam (no pectin), and it imposes the important discipline of soaking and rinsing the vegetables to preserve their crunch. It was also ideal for me because it requires just one cup of sugar, which was all that I had. My version is hot and sweet and crunchy.

Granite Ware 21-1/2 Qt Canner


Preservation is chemistry, which can cure you of all sorts of ailments or kill you if instead of creating a healthy atmosphere for deliciousness, you make a stew of botulism. Read the directions. Read them again. Follow them to the letter.

  1. A 20+ quart kettle with a rack. The Columbian Home 0707-1 Granite Ware 21-1/2-Quart Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack is less than $20 and is available from Amazon and hardware stores everywhere. 
  2. An 8-to-16-quart pan with a lid in which to boil the vegetables. You can spend a little or a lot on this pan, or you can use whatever pan you use to make spaghetti sauce.
  3. Labels for your jars. If you like doing preserving, your kitchen will fill up with jars that look quite beautiful but will bring you grief when you can’t distinguish between Blueberry-Ginger-Double-Chili (which you like) and Black Raspberry (which you are not too keen on and want to give away.)
  4. Tools you need and MUST STERILIZE by boiling in the big canning kettle:.
  • jars, lids, and bands, which you MUST sterilize according to package directions
  • a wide-mouth funnel
  • a large ladle to pour the preserves into the jars 
  • a knife to use to pop out the air bubbles 
  • a jar lifter which is the right tool for getting hot jars out of boiling water
  • a magnetic lifter for getting jar bands out of hot water (not strictly necessary, but fun to use)

RED PEPPER RELISH (freely adapted from Linda J. Amendt’s Blue Ribbon Preserves)

8 large bell peppers
8 large red fresno peppers*
2 dried habenero peppers**
2 medium red onions
1-1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1T Kosher salt

*If red fresnos are unavailable and you don’t mind mixing your pepper colors, use a combination of jalapeno and serrano, depending on how much heat you can bear. Otherwise, use a few more sweet red peppers and some reconstituted hot peppers in addition to the habeneros.

** I found Mariposa Farms Dehydrated Habenero in my local grocery. Very handy.

1.  Soak the habenero peppers in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain.

Handy Habeneros

2.  Chop the fresh peppers and onions quite fine. (NOTE: When I chopped by hand in 2003, I wrote “Either wear gloves or never do this again.”) Use the food processor on “pulse” and stop before you get to pepper soup. Don’t fret if everything isn’t the exact, precise, same size. This is preserving, not creating mosaics.

3. Cover the fresh peppers, onions, and soaked habanero peppers with boiling water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain. Cover again with hot (not necessarily boiling) water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve for one hour.

4. In the 8-to-16 quart pan, heat the vinegars, sugar and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the drained vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the habanero peppers. EITHER cut up fine and return to the pot or discard. These are very very hot.

5.  Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space, and process for 15 minutes. Cool cool overnight.

About susangainen

Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.
This entry was posted in Linda J. Amendt, Mariposa Farms Dehydrated Habenero, Red Pepper Relish, small friends. Bookmark the permalink.

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