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Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

Relish Pickle
Sweet pickle relish topping
Sweet pickle relish topping

Sweet pickle relish combines cucumbers, green or red bell peppers, and onions from the summer garden. This is the classic relish to enjoy on hot dogs and hamburgers.

Half-pint jars are probably the right size for canning sweet pickle relish. Once opened you’ll want to keep this relish refrigerated and use it up within two weeks.

I choose pickling cucumbers that are odd-shaped to make relish—those are the pickling cucumbers that aren’t straight and not a great choice for the pickle jar. You’re going to chop up these cucumbers to make the relish, so set aside the odd ones.

My favorite pickling cucumbers (those are the short, compact cucumbers with tender skins) are County Fair, National Pickling, Pickle Bush, Regal, and Saladin. I grow at least one of these each year. So keep these varieties in mind for next year’s garden. (The long, slender slicing cucumbers are not well suited for relish making or pickling.) More on cucumber varieties: click here.

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Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

Yield 6-7 pint jars

Some relish recipes require 5 hours of cooking and a day of cooling. This recipe will take a bit less than 3½ hours from the start of preparation until the end of processing.

Ingredients

  • 6 medium pickling cucumbers, peeled
  • 3 green or red sweet peppers, stems removed
  • 6 medium onions—the sweet Vidalia onion is a good choice
  • ¼ cup pickling salt
  • 2½ to 3 cups sugar (less sugar means a tangy relish). You can substitute 1¼ to 2 cups honey for the sugar--again, less honey means a more tangy relish.
  • 2 cups cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 2½ teaspoons celery seeds—or substitute 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 2½ teaspoons mustard seeds—or substitute 1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

Instructions

  1. Wash the cucumbers, peppers, and onions under cold water. Slice the peppers and discard the stems, membranes, and seeds. Remove the stem and blossom ends of the cucumbers; you can, but don’t have to peel away the skins of the cucumbers. Peel away the outer skin of the onion. Now chop the cucumbers, peppers, and onions or put each through a food chopper separately using a medium or “chop” blade. About ¼ inch cubes is ideal.
  2. Measure 6 cups of chopped cucumbers, 3 cups chopped sweet peppers, and 3 cups chopped onions.
  3. Combine the vegetables in a large bowl, a 5 or 6 quart saucepan. Sprinkle with pickling salt and stir to mix. Add cold water to cover. Let the vegetables stand covered at room temperature for 2 hours (longer if you like).
  4. Drain the vegetable mixture in a colander set in the sink, rinse with fresh water, and drain well. Return the vegetables to the bowl, cover with ice water, and let the vegetables sit for 1 more hour.
  5. Combine the vinegar and sugar in a 4-quart kettle or pot. Put the spices in a cheesecloth or spice bag.
  6. Quickly bring the mix to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the vegetables to the pot and return the mixture to boiling. Cook uncovered over medium-high heat about 10 minutes or until most of the excess liquid evaporates; stir occasionally to keep the mix from sticking to the pot.
  7. Ladle the relish into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Run a spatula down in between the relish and jar to release air bubbles. Fill with more cooking liquid if necessary.
  8. Wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth and adjust the lids in place to seal. Screw the ring bands on as tightly as you can.
  9. Put the jars on a rack in a boiling-water canner making sure they don’t touch the canner sides. The hot water in the canner should just cover the jar lids by 1 to 2 inches. . Place the kettle covered on the range to heat. Bring the water in the canner to a boil for 10 minutes (start timing when the water reaches a boil).
  10. Take jar out of water at end of processing time with a jar lifter being careful not to disturb the lid seal. Cool on a wire rack or folded towel away from drafts. Leave on ring bands in place until jars are cool. Check for good seal by pressing each lid with your finger; if the lids stay down when pressed, the jars are sealed and the rings can be removed.
  11. Label and store canned relish in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate all jars after opening.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

Comments

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    • Yes you can substitute distilled white vinegar at 5 percent acidity for cider vinegar. However, the flavor may be more acidic. Check the vinegar label to be sure the acidity is 5 percent.

    • Yes–try doubling the recipe. Jars of relish once opened can spoil if not used soon afterwards. Don’t can batches greater than your expected use.

  1. The one thing that’s unclear is about the canning salt. Do you add it during the fermentation period only, in addition to?

    I just did it for the fermentation. I added some during the cooking but only enough to where I could stand the taste of it.

    • Cucumbers can be pickled by two methods: the brined or fermented method and the quick method. In the brined method: salt is added to water (to create brine) and then cucumbers are soaked in the brine for three to six weeks. During the weeks of fermentation lactic acid bacteria, which can tolerate salt, convert the carbohydrate in the cucumbers into lactic acid; the lactic acid preserves the pickles and gives them good flavor. Be sure to use the amount of salt in the recipe; if you use too little salt the pickles could spoil. The salt is necessary for fermentation. In the fresh pack method, instead of allowing the lactic acid bacteria to produce acid, vinegar is poured over the cucumbers; vinegar is very acidic on its own. In this method, the cucumbers are soaked overnight in brine (salt water). The overnight soaking draws water out of the cucumbers and helps them to absorb the final pickling solution which will commonly contain vinegar, salt, and other flavorings. If this is the method you are using, salt can be removed from the fresh-pack and still be safe if the recipe contains as much or more vinegar than water or other liquid. For example, if you are not adding salt and the recipe calls one quart water, you should add at least one quart vinegar, as a rule of thumb. In fact, vinegar can even be the only liquid ingredient used in the fresh pack method.

    • Yes, you can use unfiltered apple cider vinegar if you are using a tested recipe that specifies unfiltered apple cider vinegar and the vinegar has a strength of 5 percent or greater. Check to be sure your recipe has been tested. The pickled food may be murkier than if you used filtered vinegar.

  2. I doubled your recipe and wound up making and canning 24 half pints today with enough leftover to try this recipe for dinner. Hands down. This is the best relish we’ve ever had! we used to own a hot dog shop. wish I had found this recipe then.

    • The amount of honey you add depends on how tangy you want the relish to be. Honey is much sweeter so adjust your recipe. Some recommend 3/4 cup honey = 1 cup sugar; we go less. Instead of 2 1/2 to 3 cups sugar, you can add 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of honey.

    • It’s probably your personal preference. We’ve prepared both ways and enjoyed it both ways. The kids seems to like unpeeled best.

    • Field cucumbers may be a bit large, but it is certainly worth the effort. Harvest the cucumbers just at maturity not later for canning.

  3. This recipe turned out wonderful! I started with 4 1/2 lbs of diced cucumber (10-11 cups), 8 cups diced onions, 5 cups diced green/red sweet peppers, 2 cups diced jalapenos and added 3/4 lb fresh carrots chopped…. doubled sugar, vinegar, celery/mustard seeds and turmeric. I ended up with 4 pints and 14 1/2 pints! Thanks for the recipe!! It’s a keeper!!

  4. I’m confused by the spices. You say to put them in a spice bag, but then never mention them again. Does the bag go in to boil with the vegetables? When do you pull it out? So the spices done ever actually mix in with the rest of the mixture?

    • Remove the spice bag as the liquid evaporates:
      Step 6: Quickly bring the mix to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the vegetables to the pot and return the mixture to boiling. Cook uncovered over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until most of the excess liquid evaporates; stir occasionally to keep the mix from sticking to the pot. Remove the spice bag and discard as the liquid evaporates.

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