Last year I attended a community led ‘Nana’ technologies workshop. Yes, that’s right nana not nano. It was held on an autumn afternoon under the shelter of the community wood fired oven pergola in the hope that methods of the past could be shared to new (and old) household cooks. Several ‘everyday’ women – and I mean this only to state they were not chefs – shared their techniques of bottling and pickling. It was a worthwhile two hours and I felt inspired and excited to start… I immediately contacted my own Nana, who at 93 still lives at home and cooks everyday. I needed the family relish recipe, the ingredients were basic but it is the spices that give each relish its point of difference, a slight nuance that brings about evocative memories of one’s childhood. Nana was obliging, after several minutes of thinking back, a feat for any nonagenarian. Finally though she had it and the surprise was on me. It wasn’t so much a ‘family’ recipe but a family favourite with its origins in the ‘old faithful’ of recipe archives – the CWA cookbook! Either way, I was off and running with my first experience with fowlers jars and condiments. The first mouthful was full of emotional heartbreak, you see mum had passed away 20 years ago at only 51, and as I was only 21 I never really appreciated things like her home-made relish. But there it was, in a pot on my stove waiting to be bottled, and handed out to friends with love. I felt sad and happy at the same time, as is so often the case in a bitter-sweet life when loved ones die too soon.
So this year I decided to branch out, or ‘beet’ out with my relish experience. I love Beetroot, especially when it is pulled out of the garden and is plump and the deepest pinky-red imaginable. I sourced some recipes and then decided to amalgamate to try my own version. Simple as it was, you worry that it won’t work, you worry the relish won’t have that ‘mmmm’ that typifies a good condiment. First I peeled and grated 3 large Beetroot (tip – use gloves to avoid pink hands), and added to a large saucepan which I had previously added 1 chopped large brown onion and a teaspoon each of cinnamon and cumin seeds and cooked down in some olive oil. I then cooked the Beetroot for 5 minutes before adding 1 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup each of red wine vinegar and malt vinegar and 1 cup of water. After leaving for 40 minutes on low I checked and decided to add just less than a tablespoon of corn flour to bring it together a little more. It tasted great, looked great and I felt great, a winning trifecta in any home-cook’s language.