Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beet Relish

Summer is the time for canning. There is all the bounty of the garden, and the time to sweat over the stove. I love canning. I especially like the end, when all the sparkling jars are lined up on the counter, their colors somehow enhanced by the process. I feel like Mrs. Ingalls, laying away for the winter. Of course, it hardly ever works that way. We don't even eat half the stuff I can. But I still do it, in honor of all those farm housewives.
Since I am at the apartment, canning presents difficulties. No knives for chopping, no big pot for sterilizing the jars, etc. etc. So I asked Mommio if I could use her large, heroically well equipped kitchen for canning. She was puzzled, especially by the idea of beet relish, but she said yes.
You, dear reader (s)(?) might be puzzled as well. Why choose beet relish out of the 30 or 40 relish and jam recipes still pending in this book, when I could be canning something my family and friends might actually eat, like apple chutney, or green tomato mincemeat? Why, indeed? Well, the choice had to do with available ingredients, namely cabbage, as well as with the quantity made by the recipe. The actual farmer gave me a cabbage a week and a half ago, and three quarters of it remained. So, clearly, whatever I made had best contain cabbage. Also, I had bought a dozen six ounce canning jars. I didn't want to make 22 quarts of something. Thus, beet relish.
So, I brought all the assembled ingredients, including fresh horseradish, which looks like something one Zulu warrior might open another Zulu warrior's scalp with, to Mommio's kitchen and set to work. If you are not supposed to covet your neighbor's goods, I suppose that includes their Revereware pots. Mommio appears to have a complete collection, which made me drool. It ran from the extremely tiny, used probably to melt butter, to the large kettle, which I used to cook the relish. Then there was a largish aluminum pot, which Mommio informed me was rejected by some people, including her picky daughter. I used that to sterilize the jars.
As I began peeling and chopping the beets, it occurred to me that beets were probably not the best medium to use in a spotless kitchen maintained by a particular, 86 year old cook, especially the day the cleaning lady had come. But, c'est la vie. Pretty soon, my hands looked like Sweeney Todd's , and I tried to remember not to wipe them on my pants.
I slapped the beets on to boil and turned to the cabbage. As I said, we had three-quarters of it left. One of the three quarters had been removed from the whole. I chopped that up, and bingo, it provided six cups of cabbage, as requested. Sigh. Half a cabbage left. The horseradish was kind of woody. I wondered how fresh it was, but, at that point I wasn't going out for more horseradish.
Pretty soon, the mixture was boiling on the stove, as were the jars. Sweat, the constant companion of summer cooking, was rolling off my brow. It was time to fill the jars. I took a quick peek around the kitchen to look for tongs. Mommio makes her own grape jelly and her own marmalade, the ingredients of which come from The Vermont Country Store. However, she does not sterilize her jars, so she didn't seem to possess a set of tongs.
No matter. I am an old hand at fishing jars, rings, and lids out of a kettle of boiling water with a wooden spoon (and burning myself). Mommio's wooden spoon seemed to have belonged to a salad set. It had a shorter handle than the wooden spoons I used. But I persevered, only burning myself two or three times, and filled up my jars with a beautiful deep crimson mixture. The amount of relish almost exactly equaled the amount needed to fill nine jars. How did it taste? Okay. Like beet-cabbage salad with a lot of sweet vinegar.

Beet Relish

6 cups cooked chopped beets
6 cups shredded raw cabbage
3/4 cup freshly grated horseradish
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar

1. Combine the beets, cabbage, horseradish, salt and pepper. Heat the vinegar, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil.
2. Add the vegetable mixture and cook tenty minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. Cool and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
Makes about 5 pints.

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