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A platter of crackers and cream cheese topped with a half cup of red pepper relish makes an attractive presentation on an hors d’oeuvres table.

If you grow bell peppers in your home kitchen garden, please try this; it’s astonishingly simple, and crazy delicious: Make and preserve red pepper relish to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at dinners throughout the coming year.

My garden is long abed, but I scored some inexpensive red peppers at the local Mennonite grocery store, so I just made up a batch of red pepper relish. While it takes about six hours from start to finish, your actual involvement will be closer to one hour: 30 minutes to prepare the peppers and start them cooking, and 30 minutes to prepare canning jars and can the finished relish.

Red Peppers in a Home Kitchen Garden

From what you see in a grocery store, you’d think there are bell peppers, and red bell peppers: two varieties. Truth is, a bell pepper is a bell pepper, and red ones have simply remained on the plant longer than the green ones have. If your growing season doesn’t provide three and a half months of consecutive warm days, start plants indoors and transplant them when your garden’s soil warms up past 65 degrees… green bell peppers want to be red, but they need a lot of time to get there.

Ingredients for red pepper relish are few: 12 large red peppers (I used 14 cuz mine were small), a tablespoon of salt, 3 cups of sugar, and a pint of cider vinegar.

A Bit More About the Relish

Red pepper relish is a mash of ground-up, sweet, sticky, pickled red peppers. The uninitiated may wonder: how can that be tasty? If you’re skeptical, please take my word for it and make one batch. When you decide you don’t like it, send me your spare inventory and I’ll reimburse you for the shipping cost. Better still, serve it at a dinner party, watch who hangs around the relish tray, and give a jar to that person as a house gift the next time you visit them.

My mother-in-law introduced me to this delicacy, and the recipe I’m sharing here is the one she gave me; I don’t know where she got it, but I’m glad she did. Here’s how to use your red pepper relish:

You’ll need 4oz canning jars… 8-to-12 of them along with canning lids and the screw-on rings that hold the lids on. You can’t be certain how much relish your peppers will produce, so have extra jars on hand.

You’ll need an 8oz block of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese and a box of savory crackers such as Ritz, Club Crackers, Triscuit, or something hoity-toity (involving crackers, I’m a simple man). An hour or so before you plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, set the block of cream cheese on a serving plate large enough that you can later surround the cheese with a ring or two of crackers. Open a four-ounce jar of red pepper relish, and scoop its contents onto the cream cheese, distributing it evenly on the top. Some relish may drip down the sides of the cheese onto the plate.

When your guests arrive, surround the cream cheese and relish with crackers, add a table knife or a butter knife, and set the plate out with your other hors d’oeuvres. A guest can cut off a chunk of cream cheese with its associated patch of relish, and scrape it off the knife onto a cracker.

Wash the peppers, remove their stems and seeds, and cut them into 2-inch pieces.

Chop the peppers up fine—each piece should be roughly the size of a thick piece of dry oatmeal. You can use a knife to do the chopping, but it goes a lot faster if you use a food processor. Mine held half the peppers. I used 2-second pulses totaling 20 seconds of run-time, scraped down the sides of the bowl, and then did 20 more seconds of 2-second pulses.

In a cooking pot, mix one tablespoon of salt through the ground peppers and let them sit for two hours. Then put a strainer over a pot or bowl, and dump the ground up peppers into the strainer. Let them sit for at least a half hour… more then three cups of liquid will drain out of them. (My mother-in-law tosses the liquid; I’m going to use it to make jelly… I’ll let you know how that works out.)

Return the ground up peppers to the cooking pot, add 2 cups of cider vinegar and 3 cups of sugar, and stir it together. Simmer the mixture uncovered for three hours, stirring periodically. For the first 2.5 hours, you don’t need to stir often, but in the last half hour, make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot (also, heat your canning jars—see below). I start my relish on high heat for about seven minutes, and then set the temperature to low for the remainder of the cooking time.

The cooked relish is thick, sticky, dark, and delicious.

With a half hour of cooking to go, make sure the canning jars are clean and put them in a large pot (a canning pot, if you have one) to heat on the stove. I used a 4-gallon stock pot with enough water that the tops of the jars would be two inches beneath the surface. I put two cloth napkins in the pot, and placed the canning jars bottoms down on the napkins… the water is going to boil, and the napkins protect the jars from jostling against the metal (you can use a dish towel instead of napkins). Also, put the canning lids in a sauce pot of water and set it on low heat; the water should get very hot without boiling. When the relish is ready, fill jars as follows:

  • Remove one from the boiling water (I use tongs for this) and empty the water back into the canning pot.
  • Spoon relish into the jar, leaving a half inch of clearance from the top of the relish to the top of the jar.
  • If you’ve splashed relish on the threads or top of the jar, wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Fish a canning lid from the hot water and place it on the jar.

  • Screw a band snuggly onto the jar. Don’t bust your gut tightening it, but neither should you be gentle.
  • Lower the jar back into the canning pot, making sure it comes to rest lid-side-up on the cloth napkin or towel.

Boil the jars for fifteen minutes, take the jars out of the canning pot, and set them on a dry dish towel to cool. My batch produced exactly 10 jars of relish.

Red Pepper Relish Recipe:

12 large red peppers

1 TBS salt

1 pint cider vinegar

3 Cups sugar

Core, de-seed, and chop up peppers into meal-sized pieces

Stir in salt and let stand for 2 hours

Strain off liquid for about a half hour

Put peppers in sauce pot along with vinegar and sugar; simmer for 3 hours.

Spoon into hot canning jars leaving a half inch of head space. Process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Yield: 5-6 Cups (10-12 half-cup jars)

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6 Responses to Red Pepper Relish from Your Home Kitchen Garden

  • Andi says:

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. Even 3 years later, I keep coming back to it. This time I added a jalapeno for a touch of heat. Tastes AMAZING!

  • admin says:

    Andi – Thanks for your kind words. I made a batch of this once using only hot peppers — a combination of jalapenos and banana peppers. With all the cooking, most of the heat cooked out of it, but there was enough to give it a nice kick. These days I make different color relish by using all orange peppers or all yellow peppers.

  • D S says:

    Thanks,
    But do you have an idea for the juice I have left over?

  • admin says:

    I use the leftover salty pepper juice to make dressing for three-bean salad. I mix the same proportion of sugar and vinegar to juice as I mix sugar and vinegar to ground peppers for the relish. I explain this dressing and how to make a three bean salad in my book, Yes, You Can, and Freeze and Dry It, Too.

  • Leslie says:

    I, too, want to thank you for this recipe– it’s so delicious. I also added a couple of jalapenos for just a touch of heat. I felt compelled to let you know that I just won a “Best in Division” (all relish) with it at the Los Angeles County Fair! If I was giving an acceptance speech, I’d definitely credit you ;-)

  • admin says:

    Leslie: Thanks so much for letting me know! I’ll pass your comment along to my Mother-In-Law who first brought the recipe into the family. Two years ago I heard from another reader that his son had followed the bread & butter pickle recipe from my book and won first place at a county fair. It’s so exciting to hear such news! You made my day.

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