Today, at the Whangarei Grower’s Market, an enormous bag of saucy tomatoes winked at me from the corner of a stall. The humble brown bag was filled with ripe, luscious, and slightly edgy red fruit. Almost every tomato was flawed: scarred, overripe, burst open and damaged. I love a project that can help me be more mindful, so it was love at first sight.
There’s only one thing you can do with that many broken, sketchy tomatoes. Make relish. I bought the 5kg (11lb) bag, took it straight home, and set to work.
Now, the biggest issue with relish is the preparation time. If you’re doing it properly, then it will take time. Oh sure, there are recipes out there where you can pull together a basic relish for dinner in less than an hour. But if you want a beautiful, rich taste that gets better in the bottle, then the process needs mindful attention.
What is mindfulness? Well, according to the recently departed Tichh Nhat Hanh (in ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness (1991), it involves focusing your consciousness fully on the task at hand. If you wash dishes, you wash dishes (p3), you don’t watch an episode of Too Hot to Handle, DM five different people, and ‘like’ twenty-three cheap-laugh memes on Instagram. Your mind, body and breath are focused on washing dishes.
And how does this apply to tomato relish? Well, let me show you how. Mindful Tomato Relish is a delicious accompaniment to sandwiches and a lesson in just taking the time to slow down and BE.
The recipe combines one I found online at Best Recipes Australia (kindly submitted by Bryan Paten) designed for large tomato quantities and one I have used for years and call my own. I read the reviewers’ comments online at Best Recipes and adjusted the amounts accordingly, then mushed the ingredients and process into my recipe and experience. (Always read recipe reviews, by the way – the people who comment are ruthless geniuses. I hope they never read this blog!)
- 4.5kg (just under 10lbs of ripe tomatoes) I bought 5kg but ate a LOT for lunch before I started the recipe
- 1.5 kg onions (mas or menos)
- 1/4 cup of sea salt
- 700 grams (about 1.5 lbs brown or raw sugar)
- 1 litre (0.26 gallon) made up of malt vinegar, white and apple cider vinegar in whatever portion takes your fancy– or don’t be pretentious and just use malt by itself
- a couple of star anise seeds
- a reasonably big cinammon stick
- 4 bay leaves
- a teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds
- a tablespoon of curry powder (you can leave it out if you like, I threw it in because it was coming up to a use by date otherwise would not have bothered. Curry Powder makes me feel lazy)
- 2 fat red whole dried chillis chopped up seeds and all (or Tabasco sauce to the proportion you like)
- 3 tablespoons of cornflour
So here’s what you do
- First of all, as with any preserving you need to sort your jars. Don’t be that person that buys them new (not if you can help it). Jars are something to be scavenged. To be swapped. To be dug out of your neighbor’s recycling when you are dressed in dark clothes at 4am. Summary: use recylcled glass jars. Finding them is fun and will prepare you for scavenging during an apolcalpse. You won’t actually need the jars for another 12 hours but make sure you have them handy ready. Prep!
When you are about to start making the relish give the jars a hot soapy soak to remove labels and start the sterilisation process. You can think of Thich Nhat Hanh and just quietly get on with washing the jars – and only washing the jars.
About half way through the making process (when the mixture below is cooking), rinse them of soap and put the jars in the oven on low (about 120C/248F). You will also need to dry then sterilise the tops with spirits – hard liquor not the metaphysical kind. Leave the lids on the bench ready for the jars when you pull them out and fill them later.
2. Wash and clean your tomatoes, then peel and quarter them. YES! All of them! I know. It’s daunting. But there are hacks. And I recommend you don’t use them!
I read a blog that recommended taking each tomato, holding it over a gas flame with a stick until l blistered, then peeling it. Others talk about cutting an x in each fruit, dropping it in boiling water, ice water, and peeling. These hacks tire me. It also feels like a lot of pre-processing and makes me hurt for the tomato. If this works for you, do it. If not, and the tomatoes are super ripe (which they should be), try just skinning them by cutting the fruit in quarters, digging in your fingers, and slowly pushing flesh away from the skin.
I invited my partner to help, and he did. We sat, skinned and talked, and after a while, we didn’t speak. We just relaxed and worked in silence together. It was so lovely to feel the flesh give way under my thumbs and hear the squelchy plop of the fruit as it landed satisfyingly into the basin. It felt respectful to the fruit, and it was quality time with my partner on a busy weekend. It ended up being a respectful and mindful exercise of about 45 mins. And many of the world’s issues were resolved in the process.
3. Once the tomatoes are finished, chop up the onions in a purposeful way, avoiding tears as much as you can. When done, add them to the same bowl. Mix in the salt, then cover it and leave for 12 hours for the water to leach out of the tomatoes and the onion to flavour the tomatoes. I left it longer, overnight, from about 4 pm to 9 am, and the world didn’t end.
4. Next, load everything into a pot – everything except the sugar and cornflower – and bring it all to a solid boil. Once a good boil, then slowly add the sugar so that it dissolves quickly but doesn’t shoot liquid into your eye.
5. Then drop the boil to more than a simmer but less than eye-splattering-safety-hazard level. You now have to be very mindful, stir regularly, and be with the pan. This is not an exercise in leaving it, going to another part of the house, planning your yearly, and organising your wardrobe. It would be best if you were around the pan. Think of it as a cauldron with an abundance spell that only works if you give it your full attention. Don’t stir so much you get an occupational injury in your arm, but regularly enough, so it doesn’t stick on the bottom.
As you stir, imagine yourself eating delicious relish with your friends or just by yourself. You can think about the tomatoes growing in greenhouses, the sun kissing their skin—the nature of red or orange. Ask, what are tomatoes without their skin? When merged with a diverse range of other things and transformed into a different, even more, beautiful whole?
Ok, you get the picture.
Reducing the liquid down will take at least an hour. You will see the lines on the side of the pot as the mixture decreases, and notice that it will become thicker as you stir.
6. To add cornflower, mix with a bit of water to make a runny mixture, tip it slowly in and stir the pot constantly until it feels the right consistency. You can keep reducing it until it feels the right thickness. Some people see the cornflower as cheating. I do not.
Then it’s done. You can take your jars out, pour in the mixture just short of the top and then put on the lid. Some people do water baths as well. I don’t. If I have sterilised the jars properly, that’s unnecessary. I would only do that other process when canning vegetables or fruit.
You can eat the relish right away or let it mature a little on the shelf. Once opened, please keep the jar in the fridge and try and eat it sooner rather than later. I would say within a few weeks.
And when you do eat it, you will remember how mindfulness felt when applied to your everyday life. And when you gift it, you will know how much the ingredients were respected and how much love went into the process.
For more information on being more mindful, check out my online programmes. You might like to check out my other recipe blog posts, including one on hot sauce. Otherwise, please leave a comment. Thanks for stopping by.