GRAFTON’S FAMOUS SWEET PEPPER RELISH

Grafton is probably the best-kept secret in America – a little town tucked away in the mountains of West Virginia that time forgot. The most famous unknown place in the Union. Birthplace of Mother’s Day and Charles S Marshall – paternal grandfather of the Blues muso, C.W. Stoneking, and home of Jerry’s Barbeque Joint.  But it’s real reputation hinges on a recipe handed down from one generation of hill people to the next – a recipe that legend tells us hails from a German village the Middle Ages.

So, when was the last time that you had good home-made relish? You know, like the kind you can’t buy at the store. A sweet, fragrant, mouth-watering and chunky relish fit for a king, or queen. The kind you can add mustard to for your hotdogs and sausages. Heaven on a bun! Ever had it? Home-made? Well now you can. And if you don’t think there’s anyway it can possibly be the best you ever tasted, you’re in for a sweet surprise.

Next time you buy relish at the shop, check out the label. You’ll see it’s made with peppers. Sweet bell and pimento peppers are the usual kinds, but with this recipe you can use any kind of pepper you like. In fact, you can use just about any garden vegetable in this relish, as long as you keep a base of peppers to give it that relish texture.

This recipe will make lots of relish, I mean LOTS of relish, so plan on giving some away. It makes great Christmas presents (and if they don’t like it you can always blame me!)

Enough bull – on with the recipe!

Ingredients

1/2 Bushel “Organic” Peppers (did I mention that this makes lots of relish)
1 Head “Organic” Purple Cabbage
1 Head “Organic” Celery
5 to 10 Large “Organic” Red Onions (I can never get enough onions)
1 Can Corn (drained)
Minced “Organic” Garlic (LOTS)
Whole Mustard seed
Whole Allspice
Whole Cloves
Whole Bay Leaf
Shredded Horse Radish
Sugar
Vinegar
Pickling Salt

For hardware, you’ll need the following:

Food Processor
Large Bowl or Stock Pot
Wooden Spoon
Measuring Spoons and Cups
Sharp Paring Knife
Large Cutting Board
Clean Old White Pillow Case
Water Bath or Pressure Canner
Pint size canning Jars and lids
Ladle

All right, let’s do it!….

First of all, set aside enough time to do all of the preparatory work in one day. I say that because the entire process will encompass two separate stages, both of which will take several hours to complete. Hey, I didn’t say it was quick-and-easy now did I? You’ll also want to be familiar with canning practices. If you’ve never used a pressure canner or water-bath canner, find someone to show you how. I learned on my Grandma’s knee. HA!

Begin by coring all of the peppers. If you are going to make this a Hot pepper relish you can skip this step, at least in part. The more hot pepper cores you use, the hotter the relish will be. Next, prepare the rest of the vegetables (you know, core, peal, etc.) for processing in your food processor. If you don’t own a food processor you can use a good Chef’s Knife to hand-chop the veggies, but man! you’re talking about taking a long time getting everything ready that way. If you are going to be doing any canning or other food preservation from a garden, a food processor is a good investment.

By the time you get everything ready you’ll probable need a break, so go ahead…take one. While you’re on break I’ll expound on the fact that you can use almost any garden vegetable you’d like in this recipe. I’ve used tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, radishes, egg plant, you name it, I’ve probably tried it. The one thing you need to remember is that the peppers are central, everything else is just an additive. So don’t overload the relish with too many other veggies. Now, back to work! Process all of those vegetables (except the corn) in the food processor (or hand-chop them) to a very fine chop (ie small).

As you process each batch, layer them into the large bowl or stock pot, and sprinkle it with one tablespoon of the pickling salt (each batch). You should end up using about 1/3 to 1/2 cup salt total, depending on the size of the whole batch. When you get them all done, add the corn, put a top on it, and put it in the refrigerator. It’s best to find room on the bottom shelf as it needs to be there for a couple of days. After the first day, use your large wooden spoon to stir the whole thing up real good. Then cover and put it back in the ‘frige for at least one more day.

OK! It’s time! Now get that old, clean, white pillowcase and get ready to do some straining. Food straining and hand straining. But first, is this Hot pepper relish? If so, you need to think about using some “kitchen” gloves so you don’t accidentally set yourself (you know, yourSELF) on fire by having flaming hands. Got the gloves? Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Anyway, get your stuff out of the ‘frige and take it to the sink. Now take that old pillowcase and turn it inside out. Drape it over the container of veggies and then dump the whole thing into the pillowcase (in the sink!!!). Now’s when you find out what kind of hand strength you have. You need to twist that pillowcase closed over the veggies and then squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can. Then twist it tighter and squeeze some more and keep on doing that until you can’t do it anymore, or until there is no more liquid coming out.

When you finish squeezing you’ll have a much smaller volume than when you started. In fact, you’ll wonder how it got so small compared to how big it seemed when you started. Now we’re almost done. Get your canner ready and heating, and prepare your jars and lids, ’cause it’s almost showtime. Take that small wad of veggies and put it in a large stockpot on the stove (I use the same one I’ve been using). Add 2 cups Sugar, 2 cups Vinegar, 1/4 cup mustard seed, 1/4 cup whole allspice, 1/4 cup whole cloves, 1 cup Minced Garlic, 2 tablespoons Horse Radish, and 3 crushed up Bay Leaves, and heat the whole mess on medium heat until it starts to bubble, stirring often.

As it heats up, it will also begin to show some liquid. This is good, but only a little. You want just a little liquid (1/8 inch maybe) showing over the top of the whole thing. If you don’t have it, add equal amounts of sugar and vinegar, in 1/2 cup batches, stirring in between, until you do. Is it liquid? Is it bubbling? Are your canner and jars ready? Turn the heat under the relish down to a simmer. Fill the pint jars to within a 1/4 inch of the top, put the lid on it , and CAN it (5psi for 10 min.). If you have more than you can get into a single canner-batch, keep the relish simmering, stirring occasionally, until you can get it all done. VOI·LÀ!!! RELISH fit for a King! Let it sit for a couple of weeks for full flavor or, what the heck, crack a jar open right away! You’ll never buy store bought again.

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About stonekingseminars

Poet, screenwriter, producer, mentor
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