HOTdog Relish

a livelier use for green tomatoes.
(c) 2017, Davd

In much of Canada, this first week of October if not before1, the first frost has come and the outdoor tomato plants have died — or maybe many of their leaves have died and they are struggling until another frost finishes killing them. In all of Canada, that day will come before the year ends, and it’s only in tiny fortunate patches, here and there, (if anywhere) where it won’t come before November.

When the cold reality of a Canadian autumn kills your tomato plants — unless you have been very, very diligent about pinching off the late summer flower shoots and very, very fortunate in estimating when the killing frost will arrive — there are likely to be dozens of green tomatoes too small and immature to ripen in a cool room or garage, and too good, really, to throw on the compost heap. Especially too good to leave to rot, given the price of relishes in the stores.

Maybe you’ve made a batch or two of George’s Relish, while the tomatoes were producing really well, with surplus tomatoes and the outer leaves of the cabbages that went into the sauerkraut crock… but now, you expect your family and a few favoured friends will eat all the red tomato crop as fast as it gets ready.

When the green tomatoes are what you have to work with, and maybe some half grown sweet peppers, they can become a very different relish from George’s, one that gives more zip to a hot-dog sausage or some similarly mild food. You don’t have to make bland green tomato relish unless bland is what you really want. You can make a hot dog relish that’s HOT.

HOTdog is as the name implies: Spicier than the usual hot-dog relish; but of the same greener, lighter colour and taste. It goes better with the light taste of most “hotdog” sausages, especially perhaps, with “chicken wieners”… but it isn’t bland; it livens up that long sandwich somewhat. Frankfurters and wieners2 are bland, at least in their North American forms; HOTdog relish helps fix that.

I’ve used the HOTdog technique to make use of surplus green tomatoes for well over a decade. Like George’s, it has repeatedly given superior performance… and like George’s, it’s a “technique” rather than an exact procedure. Reading what follows should give you an idea what to do with those green tomatoes, and what to have on hand when you start. You can make half or a quarter as much it that’s all the green tomatoes you have to use; half again or twice as much if you have a bucketful and big enough pots. Your own tastes can adapt the seasonings to your liking.

A good HOTdog relish should have more green tomato than onion;
‣ more sugar than vinegar;
‣ celery seed, lovage, or celery trimmings;
‣ paprika, coriander, mustard, bay leaf — and distinctively, hot pepper.
Fresh sweet peppers, maybe undersized because of those frosts, are good if you have them (but if i had to pay two dollars a pound for them in a store, i’d more likely increase the paprika powder.)

(I have used a very hot pepper powder which i bought cheaply on sale and which may have been originally grown for Indian cooking; i refer to it as cayenne because it’s that hot. If you decide to substitute jalapeños, for instance, expect to use quite a bit more volume than one t[easpoon]. Likewise, if you have some celery leaves left over from stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey, and decide to use them instead of lovage or celery seed, expect to use more.)

Since this is a technique, the first time you cook with it, give yourself time to think about what you’re putting together and about what you’re tasting as a result. Wouldn’t hurt to cook it up thoughtfully the second and third time, too….

– – – –

Vegetables:
‣ up to 4 l chopped green tomatoes, salted, ‘fridged3 overnight, drained

‣ up to 7 chopped strong medium onions ‣ 1-2 chopped sweet peppers if handy.

Seasonings:
‣ 3 cups each, of vinegar and sugar (I suggest tasting after you’ve put in 2 cups of vinegar and then adding as much of the third cup as “tastes right”.)

‣ 2 T pickling-spice [coriander, bay, hot-pepper, mustard seeds, ¿fennel?, a touch of allspice and-or clove, peppercorns]

‣ up to one T ground mustard, ‣ 4T celery seed4, ‣ t cayenne, ‣ 1-2T paprika powder

Technique:
‣ Chop the onions, green tomatoes, and peppers, add salt in a large bowl, stainless steel pot, or plastic pail. Cover, let stand overnight. Drain.

Mix the dry herbs and spices with the vinegar in a kettle, add the sugar, bring gently to boiling, stirring often until the sugar has dissolved and then stirring occasionally; and simmer, barely bubbling, for about 20 minutes.

‣ Add the salt-softened chopped vegetables, bring back to boiling, simmer at least 10 minutes. Simmered fairly long, say 15-30 minutes, the mixture will probably become reddish, with improving flavour.

‣ Ladle into jars (it’s always good to have plenty of total jar volume available, including 1-3 small jars so nearly all the relish you make can be sealed to let the flavour mellow and mature); adjust their lids, process in boiling water 5 minutes [from return to boil]

‣ Remove the jars from the boiling water, cool on wooden boards, wire racks. or a towel folded at least double, check for seal when they have cooled.

Like most relishes, HOTdog improves with age. The amount left after filling the last jar, the contents of a jar that didn’t seal, will be good. The relish you open in the winter, the following spring, the next summer, will be better — at least, it has tasted better to us.

Notes:

1. . Alberta’s weather forecasts, from Red Deer, Camrose, and Stettler north past Edmonton and Highway 16, call for a snowstorm beginning — overnight October 1 to 2. Vegreville’s forecast, for instance, calls for -7C Monday night. Saskatoon is forecast to see -2, Tuesday and Wednesday nights; Miramichi NB, -2 on Monday night.

I surveyed several correspondents from Atlantic Canada, across to central Alberta the last week of September; a majority were having their first autumn frosts that week, or had seen frost the week before. Generally, first frost comes later on Vancouver Island than anywhere else in Canada except perhaps southern Ontario. (This year, Ontario as far north and west as Thunder Bay, has been hotter than normal in September due to the hurricanes near the Gulf of Mexico, a Thunder Bay correspondent told me… but the farms in the Slate and Kaministiquia valleys had seen “a couple of frosts”, still.)

The forecast for Nanaimo includes historic low temperatures back to 1948, and it’s interesting to read that September 27 is the first day I’ve noticed that a temperature definitely below 0C was recorded in any of those 69 years. The lowest-ever temperatures for the 26th and 28th were above 0, the 25th, 29th and 30th, exactly 0 … and then in the first 5 days of October, one 0.0, two -2,8, -1.1, and -0.6. The possibility of frost increases abruptly as the nights become longer than the days.

2. Wieners, historically, are the sausages most common in or identified with Wien, or Vienna as it usually is written in English. Frankfurters, similarly, are the sausages most common in or identified with Frankfurt. In American usage, which most Canadians follow, the two are not reliably distinguished, and might as well be treated as the same (unless you’re speaking Deutsch.)

3. In autumn weather, the Great Outdoors can very often serve as a refrigerator: Put the stainless steel pot or plastic pail outside on the north or west side of the house, covered against fruit flies and mice (though i expect the vinegar would repel most mice), and to be sure, with a fist sized, clean rock or similar amount of weight on top of the cover; and overnight, most nights, it will be cool.

4. You can substitute about the same amount of crumbled, dried lovage (liveche, Levisticum officinale) if you grow that herb. You can also substitute celery leaf (of which you should expect to use more.)

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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