WHEN I WAS a child, the end of the growing season in northern Ontario was synonymous with putting up pickles and preserves. Our senses were assailed constantly by the sharp, pungent tang of vinegar and pickling spices. It was natural that we learned to distinguish between the turmeric, for tomatoes, and mustard, for cucumbers.
Pickles or relish were part of most meals. Be it for a lowly hamburger or roast loin of pork, everyone had a favorite condiment. One friend loved the ripe, bright-green glace'ed cucumber pickles. Whenever he was invited to dinner, no matter what was served, there was always a dish of them on the table for him.
Our refrigerator was never without a half-empty jar of the cucumber relish. It is thick and glossy with a slightly sweet taste and is filled with lots of tender pieces of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Tiny bits of celery seed and sweet red pepper float throughout. I happen to think it is best with charcoal-grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.
The hearty golden mustard pickles are a great snack right out of the jar. Each layer of pearl onions is permeated with the juicy mustard sauce and crunchy seeds. It can be made with your favorite among tender-crisp cauliflowerets, celery chunks or shiny red and green pepper strips.
Aunt Lou turned 103 last fall. She no longer makes her chili sauce but credits it for her lasting zest for life. The hot peppers in the sauce contribute to its rich tomato essence. For those with spicier tastes, make a wonderful salsa from the chili sauce by adding sliced fresh jalapen o peppers a day or two before serving.
Brimming with bright red and emerald green peppers, the sweet pepper relish is the perfect Christmas present. Use it with roast goose or turkey for the holiday season.
The sodium content of the pickles is listed for those on salt-restricted diets. The chili sauce is the lowest, with about 28 mg per tablespoon, while the cucumber and sweet pepper relish follow with about 45 mg per tablespoon.
For those who have not made pickles before, here are a few suggestions:
*Find a friend to share the fun of pickling. This way you can make more of a selection and split the batches.
*Choose firm, fresh, unblemished produce and use it on the day of purchase, or picking from the garden, or the next day at the latest.
*Have a large, heavy wide-mouthed pot, a 1/2-cup ladle and a wide-mouthed funnel on hand. Borrow a pot or split the cost of one with a friend. The pot is also great for cooking spaghetti.
*Rubber coated canning tongs and sealing jars with two piece lids will be needed. Wash jars and lids before processing pickles.
*Process pickles to neutralize spoiling agents. Fill the canning jar leaving 1/2-inch of head space. Run a non-metallic utensil around the inside of the jar to expel air bubbles. Wipe the top and sides of the jar rim clean, as food particles will affect sealing. Screw lids onto jars snugly but do not tighten excessively, as air must escape in processing.
*Fill a water bath canner or large pot with water and bring to a boil. Set jars in pot, making sure water covers the jars by at least one inch. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil and boil for 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. Remove jars with tongs to a towel-covered counter. Let pickles stand upright undisturbed until cool.
*To test the seal: Cooled sealed jars will have a concave lid. Press each lid and it should remain concave. If not, reprocess the jars with new lids, or refrigerate relish and eat within a few days. MOM'S CUCUMBER RELISH (About 12 8-ounce jars) (45 mg sodium per tablespoon) 5 cups peeled chopped cucumbers, 1/2-inch dice 5 cups coarsely chopped onions, 3/4-inch dice 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt 3 cups granulated sugar 2 cups white vinegar 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 1/2 teaspoon celery seed 4 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes, 1-inch dice 1 sweet red pepper, seeded and finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1/2 cup flour Cold water
Put the cucumbers and onions in a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons salt. Let stand for 1 hour at room temperature, then rinse and drain.
In a large pot, bring the sugar, vinegar, turmeric, celery seed and one teaspoon salt to a boil. Add the onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and red pepper and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring often, until vegetables are very tender and thoroughly cooked.
Put the mustard and flour in a 4-cup measuring cup and add cold water to make 2 1/4 cups. Mix well and add to the pickles all at once, stirring constantly. Gently boil on medium heat for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. The relish will thicken further upon cooling. Pour into clean jars, cover and water-bath process 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. Store in a cool place. Excellent with hot dogs, hamburgers, ham, meat loaf and pork. MRS. GARROW'S MUSTARD PICKLES (About 16 2-cup jars) (158 mg sodium per tablespoon) 5 sweet red peppers, seeded and deveined 2 green peppers, seeded and deveined 5 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions 5 cups unpeeled cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks 1 head cauliflower, cut into tiny flowerets 1 bunch celery, cut into 1/2-inch chunks 4 cups tiny pickling onions, peeled* Brine: 3/4 cup salt 10 cups water Sauce: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 4 ounces dry mustard 1 1/4 cups cold water 6-7 cups cider vinegar 5 cups white sugar 1 tablespoon turmeric 8 ounces mustard seed ( 1/2 pound) 1 tablespoon celery seed
Cut red and green peppers into strips 1/2-inch wide by 1 1/2-inches long. Mix the salt and water in a large bowl. Add all the vegetables and soak at room temperature overnight. Drain well, discard liquid and set vegetables aside.
Stir the flour, mustard and half the cold water together. Add the rest of the water, stirring constantly. Whisk if lumps occur. Set aside.
In a non-aluminum pot, mix the 6 cups cider vinegar, sugar, turmeric, mustard seed and celery seed. Bring to a boil and add all the vegetables. Bring back to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Mix the flour paste well and add slowly to the vegetables, stirring constantly. Boil until clear for 5-8 minutes, stirring constantly. The volume and juiciness of the vegetables can vary. Add up to 1 cup more vinegar if needed. The sauce should be fairly thin and not gluey. The cauliflower should be slightly crunchy.
Pour into clean jars, cover and water-bath process 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. Store in a cool place. Serve with roast pork, ham or beef.
*If pickling onions are unavailable, quarter or halve small white onions. AUNT LOU'S CHILI SAUCE (About 12 2-cup jars) (28 mg sodium per tablespoon) 30 medium very ripe tomatoes, peeled 10 medium yellow onions, peeled 8 fresh hot red peppers, stem end removed 1 large green pepper, seeded 1 tablespoon whole pickling spice 5 cups cider vinegar 2 cups granulated sugar 5 teaspoons salt
Finely chop tomatoes and onions. Slit pepper lengthwise and remove only half the seeds from the hot peppers. Chop red and green peppers finely. Secure the pickling spice in a piece of cheesecloth tied with a long piece of string.
In a large pot bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes, onions, red and green peppers and pickling spice. Tie the pickling spice string to a pot handle for easy removal. Bring mixture back to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 2 1/2-3 hours, stirring often. Tomatoes vary in juiciness, so cook chili sauce until very thick. It should be uncovered to cook.
Pour into clean jars, cover and water-bath process 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. Store in a cool place. Great with meatloaf, pork, hamburgers. SWEET PEPPER RELISH (About 10 8-ounce jars) (45 mg sodium per tablespoon) 2 hot red peppers 9 sweet red peppers 3 green peppers 6 large onions, peeled and quartered 1 3/4 cups white vinegar 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 tablespoon salt
Cut stem end from all peppers. Cut the peppers in half and remove most of the seeds from the hot pepper and all the seeds from the sweet red and green. Place all the peppers and onions in the work bowl of the food processor and process with on/off turns until finely chopped, or chop by hand. Do not pure'e.
Place the vegetables in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Stir once and let stand off the heat for 5 minutes. Drain.
Mix 1/2 cup vinegar with 1 1/2 cups water and pour over drained peppers. Bring to a boil, uncovered, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Drain.
Pour 1 1/4 cups vinegar, all the sugar and salt over the pepper mixture. Stir and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Remove relish from heat and pour into clean jars, cover and water-bath process 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. Store in a cool place. Excellent with pork, ham or turkey.