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Growing up in Schuylkill County in the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeast Pennsylvania, I could barely turn around without bumping into a farm stand, roadside market, or farmers’ market filled throughout fresh produce season with the bounty of the fertile fields of our area.
In my childhood, my Nana (grandmother) was the “canner” in the family, turning out lots of goodies, such as her chow chow. I hovered in the kitchen from a very young age, fascinated by the processes that turned plain old vegetables into delicious relishes and sauces. When my Nana passed away, my Mom lost interest in canning and the season went by without the tantalizing sweet and sour aromas wafting through the house that always were so pleasant when Nana was in the kitchen.
I got my driver’s license a couple summers after Nana passed away and used to like to take the car and explore on my own. One of my favorite drives was from Friedensburg, Pa. to Pine Grove, Pa. on Route 443.
It was outside Friedensburg one day that I discovered a roadside stand bursting at the seams with fresh produce. including freshly picked Silver Queen corn, still warm from the field. My parents were fans of fresh corn, so I stopped and brought some home. It was absolutely delicious. I found myself going back there repeatedly, bringing home the corn until it was nearly done for the season.
Not wanting to go months without that corn, but not being a fan of frozen corn, I wondered how I could preserve that taste of summer and sweet corn we all loved. One evening while I was sitting watching TV, my mind wandering, filled with memories of Nana and how she would be in the midst of a flurry of canning activity in previous years, it hit me – corn relish!
I had seen a recipe for it somewhere…but where? Of course! It was in “THE cookbook” — a community cookbook that my Nana bought from a church fundraising effort that was so well used and splotched with grease and stains from cooking, half the pages were stuck together and had to be lovingly pried apart. The book is still in my possession, but the covers and many outer pages are gone, rendering the source unidentifiable.
I announced that I was going to try my hand solo at canning, received my Mom’s blessing, and set off to buy corn and supplies. The next day, by 5 pm, there were 7 jars of corn relish processed and sitting on a towel on the counter, cooling.
I truly did not expect much from my first foray into the world of canning on my own, but when we opened the first jar to serve as an accompaniment to grilled hot dogs, I was pleasantly surprised — and my Dad was in love. We used it to top burgers, hot dogs, sausages, as a dip for corn chips, you name it.
But the thing that often comes to mind is the night my Mom looked out into the kitchen from the dining room and saw my Dad sitting at the kitchen table with an open jar of my corn relish in front of him “What you are doing?, she asked. “Having some corn relish.” he answered. “With what?” she cried, wondering if he had cooked something “With a spoon” Pop said. And sure enough, he was sitting there having spoonfuls of corn relish right from the jar, grinning between each bite!
I introduced my New England born and raised husband to life as the spouse of a Pa. Dutch woman with Dutchie foods like scrapple, red beets eggs, chow chow, chicken and waffles and this corn relish early on in our married life. He seemed to enjoy everything but I was not really sure back in those very early days if he was just being polite in order to not hurt my feelings when he expressed his enjoyment of the Pa. Dutch foods that I paraded across the dining table.
The day I found him in the kitchen, jar of corn relish in one hand, spoon in the other, eating it right from the jar is the day I stopped worrying about whether he really liked my Pa. Dutch cuisine. I remember laughing at first, then tearing up as the memory of my beloved Pop doing exactly that same thing came to mind. Something tells me that if Pop and my husband were in the kitchen together, I’d be making more than one batch of corn relish a season!
These days, my husband helps with making this corn relish and is a blessing in the kitchen because my physical limitations make handling hot jars and water bath canners hazardous. And he still eats the corn relish right from the jar!
Fresh Corn RelishCourse: Sides, AppetizersCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Sweet and tangy, made from fresh corn, this versatile relish will become a family favorite.
8 cups fresh corn kernels cut from cob, do not scrape cobs
4 cups chopped cabbage
1 cup chopped sweet red bell pepper
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped sweet or white onion
1 Tablespoon celery seed
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon turmeric
2 Tablespoons dry mustard
1 Tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1 cup water
4 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups white sugar
- Prepare canning jars (6 to 8 pints)
- In large pot combine all ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
- Pack while very hot into jars leaving 1/2 inch head space.
- Wipe rims, adjust lids, process in hot water canner 10 minutes at less than 1,000 ft. altitude. Add 5 minutes processing for 1.001 to 3,000 feet, add another 5 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet, add another 5 for over 6,000 feet.
- Remove hot jars, set on a towel lined counter, allow to cool and check seals.
- Cut all vegetables approximately the size of your corn kernels or just slightly larger.