In 2001, my husband and I moved from The Coal Region to New Hampshire where we spent 18 years before returning “home”. Used to a long growing season in PA, I was in for a rude awakening regarding farm-fresh produce (or rather — lack of) in NH.
New Hampshire has a short growing season which was very difficult for this coalcracker to adjust to. Having grown up in my beloved Coal Region in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I was used to being able to stop by any number of roadside stands or farmers’ markets throughout late spring, summer, and early fall where a wide range of produce, including sweet corn, tomatoes, melons, peaches, and strawberries would be in full bounty.
Our own efforts at growing tomatoes in the great north woods was a miserable failure. My husband loved corn-on-the-cob, but only a handful of times were we lucky enough to find some that came close to Pennsylvania Silver Queen, and then it was the mixed yellow and white kernels (known as ‘bread and butter” corn) which usually got trucked in from Massachusetts.
New Hampshire, however, was good for growing zucchini; lots and lots of zucchini. It seemed anyone who attempted to plant a garden of any size there included zucchini in it. Apparently zucchini is the “cranky Yankee” of the produce world: tough, resilient, able to adapt to finicky weather, and determined to see it through to the end.
One late summer day my husband, James, and I happened upon a local farmer’s market. As we strolled through, we noticed that most of the produce vendors were nearly sold out and getting ready to pack up for the day. One of the vendors had some baskets sitting at the front of their stand. I happen to look down, turned and said to James — with a note of sarcasm — “Oh look, hon, zucchini!”
Apparently the farmer misunderstood and thought I was interested in them because he said, “:Five bucks for the whole basket.” I shook my head, “no”: With that, the farmer picked up the basket, dumped the zucchini into a plastic bag, thrust the bag at me and said, “Here, they’re yours. Just take them. I am over-run with zucchini this year and I do not want to haul these back to the farm.”
The frugal Dutchie in me immediately kicked in. I took the bag, thanked the gentleman in the bib overalls and plaid shirt, and thought, “I can do something with these. I’ll just make it work.” On the ride home, James said to me. “I’ve never known you to take something just because it was free without an idea of a way to use it, so what are we making?” “Pickles or relish” I replied. “Haul out the canner and supplies tomorrow.”
James had learned to can pickles with me several years before and we had just done a batch of my Dad’s favorites, so he cast his vote for zucchini relish. I had made it years before while still in Pennsylvania, but never made any for James, so I wholeheartedly agreed. We shredded, chopped, and prepped the vegetables that evening and by the end of the following afternoon, we had several pints of zucchini relish cooling on the counter. Throughout the years since then, making the relish became an annual ritual for us.
A batch of this relish rarely ever lasted until the next season; my husband loved it on burgers, sandwiches, and sausages. I used to joke with him asking if he wanted a little hot dog with his relish because there was at least as much relish as dog in the bun when he got ready to eat it.
The remaining jar of zucchini relish from last season is now gone. There will be none made in my kitchen this year because my right-hand man, my biggest fan, and the love of my life is now gone, too. Every day I cling to the memories we made together like this one from that farmers’ market and the laughter we shared while working together in the kitchen. They will never fill the empty place in my heart, but I hang on to them for dear life because now, that is the part of James I still have.
This recipe includes tomatoes which sets it apart from many other zucchini relishes. It was originally published in The Farmers’ Almanac and is the only zucchini relish recipe I ever use.
Make sure to adjust processing time in accordance with your altitude.
Zucchini RelishCourse: Sides, Appetizers, MiscellaneousCuisine: PA Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
10 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini
5 medium-size sweet onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup cleaned and chopped red bell pepper
1 cup cleaned and chopped green bell pepper
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 large ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup salt
2-1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1-1/4 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2-1/2 teaspoons celery seed
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
- In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the zucchini, onion, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and celery. Add the salt and stir well. Place a plate right on the vegetables and press down (a stack of smaller bowls or cans of vegetables works well). Let stand overnight.
- In the morning, drain the vegetables and rinse well 2 or 3 times until most of the salty taste is gone. Transfer to a large stainless steel pot and add the vinegar, sugar, black pepper, mustard, turmeric, allspice, celery seed, and cornstarch-water mixture. Stir well. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until the sauce is clear and reduced.
- Fill 1/2-pint or 1-pint jars with the relish, cover, and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes for 1/2-pint jars or 15 minutes for 1-pint jars for 1000 feet or under in altitude. Adjust time accordingly for your altitude.