Make your own dilly of a piccalilli
A long, long time ago, if you were serving hamburgers, you’d better have a darned good piccalilli, or else.
“Else” meant plan B: heading to your corner bar and grill, where they were sure to have the “best piccalilli in town” along with their perfection of the cheeseburger. Pick up a pint and sneak it back home.
Remember that relish flavor? It always was an intriguing melding of cucumber, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and “secret” spice blends. It then went into canning jars and to the shelf in a cool spot to “ripen” for at least three weeks.
Each region has its own version. Go to Chicago and discover their piccalilli is chopped gherkins, the neon-green relish of their hot dogs and burgers. In the South, it’s called chow-chow. In the Northwest, it’s mainly chopped pickled peppers.
In England, piccalilli is torrid hot and bright yellow, from the mustard, a tradition from India. Heinz of Pittsburgh imports this “pickle chutney” to the U.K.
The Ohio version is decidedly Pennsylvania Dutch, always with shredded cabbage and green tomatoes in a vinegar and brown-sugar sauce. It starts with a brine bath to force out the water in the vegetables and then replaces it with the pickling liquid. It is directly related to the chow-chow of the South but more sweet.
You may be enjoying piccalilli and not realize it. For some odd reason, the commercial version often is labeled simply “hamburger relish” and sold beside the mustardy hot-dog relish. Both are piccalilli. Weber’s is one of the few producers taking a chance on the true name.
A good Ohio piccalilli enhances but never overpowers a burger. It offers a sweet, contrasting flavor blast. It’s by far the best thing that ever happened to green tomatoes.
- 1 quart green tomatoes, chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, chopped
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 1 small head of cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped
- 1⁄2 cup Kosher or sea salt
- 3 cups cider vinegar
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Combine vegetables with salt and let stand overnight. Drain, pressing out the juice in colander. Place in a large pot and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, and cook until the syrup thickens. Seal in eight pint-size canning jars and place in a cool, dark place for three weeks or longer to ripen.