Saturday, September 30, 2017

Piccalilli: An End-of-the-Garden Relish

My grandparents' neighbor Fred used to talk about his family making a relish called "piccalilli."  He used to reminisce about it fondly, so I was excited when I ran across a recipe for it in my 1975 Kerr canning handbook. (Actually, I should say "Mom's" 1975 Kerr canning handbook.  I'm fairly certain that I found it amongst her cookbooks some 20 years ago and cabbaged onto it.)

Another reason I was pleased to see the recipe was because I had raised all of the vegetables it called for in our garden this year.  Here is the way the recipe reads:


1 quart chopped cabbage
1 quart chopped green tomatoes
2 sweet red peppers, chopped
2 sweet green peppers, chopped
2 large onions
1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 cups vinegar (5% acidity)
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. celery seed
All the vegetables to use in piccalilli.  I'll confess that I decided to
use purchased onions.  I have onions from my garden, but I've
already used the big ones and the little ones that are left are best
for use as pearl onions.

Chop the cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, and onions.  
The chopped vegetables with the salt sprinkled on top.  This
antique crock belonged to my great-great aunt Meme who
taught me to cook and is partly responsible for my fascination
with wood cookstoves.
Mix with the salt and let stand overnight.

Vegetables and salt mixed together.  This is one of those pictures
where I wish we had smell-o-vision because the aroma of this mixture
was fantastic.

Next morning, drain and press to remove all liquid possible.

The chopped vegetables draining in a colander.

I used a plate to press as much liquid out of the vegetables as possible.

Boil vinegar, water, sugar, and spices five minutes. 
The sugar, vinegar, water, and spice mixture coming to a boil
directly over the firebox.

Add the chopped vegetable mixture. 

The vegetables coming to a boil after being added to the vinegar/sugar solution.
You can see the water bath canner right behind this kettle over the firebox.

Bring to a boil and pour into sterilized Kerr jars to within 1/2 inch of top.  Put on cap, screw band firmly tight.  Process in boiling water bath five minutes.  Yield: 6 pints.

Now, here are the things I did a little differently:

1. The green peppers that I wanted to use were a little small, so I used three instead of two.

2. I don't like messing with sterilizing jars, so I just had my jars hot by putting them on top of the reservoir.  Then once they were filled, I processed them for ten minutes in the boiling water bath.

3. Maybe my onions weren't large enough, but my batch yielded only four pints and a four ounce jar of piccalilli.

The finished piccalilli.

Since making this recipe of piccalilli, I've researched this stuff a little more and found out that piccalilli varies widely by geographic area.  This particular recipe may be a little more "northeastern United States" in nature because what I've read seams to indicate that Midwestern piccalilli tends to have cucumbers in it.  However, I consulted my 1926 West Pottawattamie County Farm Bureau Women's Cookbook, and the two recipes for piccalilli listed there are very similar to this one.  The major difference seems to be the spices.  Neither one calls for turmeric or celery seed, but both call for cloves.  Further, both call for white sugar instead of brown.  The method is exactly the same, though.
I talked to a friend who lived in Maine for a number of years, and she said that piccalilli was served as a relish on the side there.  I've read that others put it on hot dogs, sausage, or hamburgers.  I'm not sure how I'll eat mine, but I know I'm going to enjoy looking at it on the shelf in the fruit room for a while first.
Use the comments section below to tell me what piccalilli is like in your area of the world.
Note 10/2/2017: Had some of this on top of my BBQ beef sandwich tonight.  It was delicious and added an excellent crunch!
10/18/2017: Also excellent atop a pork burger (no bun) which I served with a mashed potato patty and corn.


  1. I have a recipe I use for sweet pickle relish that is somewhat similar to your recipe, only it doesn't have cabbage in it, though I am intrigued by the idea of adding some in.

    1 quart chopped cucumbers (about 4 medium)
    2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
    1 cup chopped sweet green pepper (about 1 med.)
    1 cup chopped sweet red pepper (again, 1 med.)
    1/4 cup salt
    2 cups sugar
    1 1/2 cups brown sugar
    2 cups cider vinegar
    1 tsp. celery seed
    1/2 tsp. ground mustard
    1/2 tsp. allspice
    1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
    1 1/2 tsp whole cloves

    Combine cucumbers, onions, green and red peppers in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand 2 hours. Drain throughly, press out excess liquid. Combine sugars, vinegar and spices in a large sauce pot. Note that the cloves go into a tea ball strainer to be steeped in the broth rather than being tossed loose into the mixture. Bring to a boil. Add drained vegetables and simmer 10 minutes. Retrieve tea ball and discard cloves. Pack hot into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Adjust caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yield about 8 half pints.

    The spices in this recipe are a combination I came up with while combining earlier recipes from a variety of sources.

    I love what the cloves do for this, though it is a bit of a bother putting the cloves into a tea ball then retrieving it before filling the jars.

    1. I have to add that vinegar, sugar, and spices boiling together is one of the most amazing smells to come out of any boiling pot on a stove. Anybody that has never made any kind of sweet relish where such a boiling mix is used doesn't know what they are missing. :-)

    2. Boy does this sound good, Stephen! I wish I'd had this recipe earlier when my sister-in-law's cucumbers were producing so heavily. Now I'm looking forward to next year's cuke crop!

      I have a tea ball, but a couple of other recipes that I use call for tying the spices in a small cloth bag and then removing them before canning. Do you think that would be sufficient for the cloves?

  2. I'm sure a bag would be good. I too have some recipes that call for that, but I have a tea ball and no bags, so!

  3. Exactly like my mom's but amounts a little different. She also used turmeric.