Back in 2011, I created a canning CSA. One of the recipes we made was zuchinni relish. Not only is it tasty, but it is a superb way to use up an abundance of summer squash that always seems to happen this time of the year. Below is the tale of one of the canning CSA classes, but feel free to just skip to the recipe.
As six women gathered in the Mad River Grange Hall, following the monthly grange breakfast, they prepared to participate in a centuries old American tradition that is experiencing a much needed revival. They were about to 'put-up' 150 lbs of fresh, organic zucchini from Willow Creek Farms.
The art of preserving food is thousands of years old- with drying meat, salting, and preservation in vinegar and cellars. Canning is the procedure that allows us to use acid, heat & proper processing to ensure that foods can be kept safely for longer periods of time. It wasn’t until the early 1800’s that a Frenchie by the name of Nicolas Appert observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars that food was able to be put up for longer durations. This discovery was prompted by a contest offered by Napoleon who was looking to provide food for his troops.
Canning foods as a preservation method came to the American Colonies in 1812, but didn’t gain much popularity until the Civil War. Today North Americans can more food than anywhere else in the world, and the trend is growing as evidenced by sales of canning supplies continuing to rise.
Putting food up was a way to save money, eat a more varied diet in the winter and provided a social outlet. Neighbors and community members would gather in a kitchen to help each other process the bounty- a daunting task that is mitigated with helping hands & a convivial attitude.
Through the years the materials have gotten considerably better, lighter and safer for preserving food. Now we have come to rely on home-canned foods to contain the essence of a season, so we can enjoy the fresh tastes of summer when it is positively wintry out.
With increasing knowledge of the importance of eating locally, rising food costs & a renewed interest in American traditions- canning food is experiencing a resurgence. It is no longer just the weird gift you get from your aunt at Christmas.
With this history lesson, and a overview of kitchen & canning safety procedures, the women went to work chopping the massive amount of zucchini. Soon the grange was filled with a rhythm of knives, spontaneous canning advice, talking & laughter. With the process of chopping, salting, sitting, brining & boiling- there was little time for rest and as the finished jars began to multiply, the efforts were tangible.
Just under four hours later, 170 jars of zippy, sweet but not too-sweet, summery zucchini relish was canned. Each person got to take home about 28 jars. That should definitely last through some late summer BBQ's, potato salads, & sandwich creations and will help serve as a delicious reminder of the cyclical nature of seasons & abundance.
Zucchini Relish from “Zucchini Time”
Makes 9 pints
2.5 cups sugar
3 cups vinegar
1/3 cup mustard seed
4 tsp. celery seed
1 tbsp. curry powder
24 medium zucchini (~7 lbs.)
¼ cup granulated pickling salt
1. Cut zucchini into a small dice. Sprinkle with salt. Add cold water to cover. Let stand for 1-2 hours. Drain, rinse with cold water.
2. In a 10 quart Dutch oven, combine sugar, vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed, and curry. Bring to a boil. Add zucchini. Heat through (but do not boil) about 5 minutes.
3. Pack zucchini & syrup into clean, hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Using a spatula or chopstick, remove air bubbles. Adjust lids according to package directions. Process in boiling bath for 5 minutes (starting time when water returns to a boil).
-add to any sandwich for a zesty crunch
-garnish your bratwurst or hamburger
-serve as a side dish at a picnic
-add to potato salad for an quick side-dish
-give as a gift to friends & family