Nothing Says ‘Picnic’ like a DIY Sweet Pickle relish [Recipe!]

It’s time to relish the summer, literally. In fact, there’s no better time to create a made-from-scratch pickle relish than the season of picnics and barbeques, when condiments shine.

Unlike ketchup and mustard, relish lends itself to fast and fairly easy DIY homemade recipes. And nothing spices up your arrival at an outdoor bake-out more than entering with mason jars filled with homespun relish.

Not that relish-making is a breeze. It takes a load of mincing, dicing and mixing – not to mention a spot of time, including an overnight refrigerator stint.  Nonetheless, the uniqueness of homemade relish offers a finished product that puts commercial brands to instant shame. And a DIY relish allows one to avoid the many suspicious, if not downright unsavory ingredients typically added to big-name grocery brands.

Below is what might be called an entry-level recipe for a sweet pickled relish, from It has all the right stuff for a delicious first effort, while offering insights into the characteristic steps for making any relish. From this basic relish-making template, the sunny sky becomes the limit of what can quickly become a signature family recipe.

To be expected, pickled relish made from scratch demands the finest and freshest raw ingredients, as does anything which will undergo a pickling process, which has a way of exposing any bruises or over-ripeness among veggies.

Although the main ingredients in homespun relish can run the gamut from green tomatoes to corn to cranberries, the cucumber still holds the top spot when it comes to what most people expect to see in relish. And that works just fine. Cucumbers rock when it comes to their firmness and ability to develop a deep taste during relish duty. Cucumbers also play well with other natural ingredients common to relishes, like onions and peppers.

As to which cucumbers work best in a sweet pickle relish, it’s a matter of seasonality and personal preferences.

Note: Always make sure to de-wax cucumbers with warm water or a mild detergent. Even “organic” cukes often have a light protective layer of shellac, from the lac beetle, or carnauba wax, from the carnauba palm.

Per this recipe, high-quality peppers in red, green and yellow add flavor and kick up the color.

For a premier relish, use designer sweet onions, like the Vidalia, the “1015” Texas, or the Walla-walla.

Cucumbers should be cut lengthwise and lightly deseeded with a spoon, then sliced and diced. Ditto for peppers. Not all seeds need nixing. Just remove enough to prevent them from dominating the final look of the relish.

The dicing of the veggies can make or break a relish. The tiny pieces found in mass-produced relish are not what you want in yours. Larger and thicker dices make from-scratch relish a taste treat in which all the parts can be recognized. While food processors and blenders can make short order of dicing, there is something homier about hand-dicing.

In this recipe, celery seed is a magic ingredient offering a great flavor. It can be spooned in fairly freely. Never use celery salt, which can cause a ruinous oversalting. Go lighter on spices like mustard, as to not create too much seed-ish crunch.

While the sugar amount listed below might seem high, it befits a sweet relish. It can obviously be reduced to taste in future batches. Don’t try to add extra sugar after the cooking process. For sweet pickle relish, it’s best to stick with a quality (preferably organic) white sugar, which is easier to gauge for sweetness than darker sugars or honeys.

Stick with apple cider vinegar. Experimenting with more exotic vinegars can come in later efforts.

Finally, the salt should be special. A kosher-type granularity is preferable. Everyday table salt just won’t cut it.

Note: Restrict the salting time to a couple hours, tops. An overnight soak will produce an over- salted end while shrinking, discoloring and even de-flavoring the veggies.

YIELD: 3 pints


  • 4 cups cucumbers, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup red or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup kosher salt
  • 3 1⁄2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds


Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise; deseed and dice in a preferred manner. Do the same with peppers and onions.

Put all the vegetables in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the chopped vegetables. Cover with cold water and let stand for no more than 2 hours.

Drain vegetables well, and then press out as much liquid as possible.

In a large pot, combine sugar, vinegar and seeds. Bring to a boil. Add vegetables. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Spoon into pint jars, using a slotted spoon. Lightly press relish down while spooning into jars. Place in refrigerator. Will store for a month or more.

And eat with relish!

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