Monday 11 November 2013

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway may have eaten it

Darrel Bristow Bovey, columnist for South Africa's The Times newspaper, messaged me asking for advice about something called India Relish. I've never met Darrel, but I know him in a virtual way, having befriended him on Facebook when I saw him trading appalling puns with my best friend, novelist & punmeister Claire Robertson.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it.

His enquiry made my whiskers twitch. Had I heard of something called India Relish? Where could this be found in Cape Town? Darrel explained that he was planning to make 'Hemburgers' (hamburgers made to Ernest Hemingway's exacting standards) for 13 friends in a week's time, and that he was stumped by a reference in Hemingway's instructions to his cook Pablo, namely 'one heaping teaspoon, India Relish'.

Darrel was determined to create an authentic Hemburger experience, and he has written a most interesting and evocative column about how he combed Cape Town for the right ingredients. Read it here: For Whom The Burger Tolls.

As a collector of old recipes and a keen maker of chutneys and relishes, I couldn't resist the challenge of hunting down this formula.  One or two modern versions of the recipe popped up online, but I what I wanted was more information about the original India Relish. A search of the Google Books archive produced an advert in a 1939 issue of Life magazine, and an extract from a book detailing the history of the relish and some of its ingredients.  India Relish was first made by Albert Heinz in 1889, I learned, and is still produced by the Heinz corporation.

I could find only a few pictures of the modern version of India Relish, which all looked to me like jars of green slime. So figuring out the texture and consistency of this preserve was a real head-scratcher. Was it a thin, sour, pickly mixture, or a thick and chunky chutney?  I appealed to my American friends on Facebook, but not one of them had heard of (let alone tasted) the product.

The book extract indicated that the original Heinz recipe (a secret formula) was close to that of true Indian relishes, so I abandoned the idea of a watery pickle.  In the end, I made what I thought might taste the most authentic:  a cross between a sweet/sharp chutney and a piccalilli, with subtle spicing and plenty of crunch. I made up a batch, filled two bottles and threw one of them into the lavender bush outside Darrel's house.

Here is his verdict:

Isn't that a lovely response?

The recipe below is probably nothing like the modern Heinz offering. For one thing, it isn't green - I had to add a whisper of turmeric because it looked so pathetically pale in its pot.  I'm pretty sure today's Heinz India Relish is artifically stained, because unripe tomatoes and celery alone will not produce a deep green colour.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
A thick, glossy relish with plenty of crunch..

This is good with bread and cheese, and excellent with thick slices of ham. If you bottle it now, in sterilised jars, you can dish it up with your Christmas gammon.

In order to achieve a piccalilli-like crunch, I added a quarter of the vegetables close to the end of the cooking time.

This has just a small amount of heat, so feel free to add more chilli if you'd like to give it a kick in the pants.

Hemingway's India Relish 

8 large, very green tomatoes
4 sticks celery, well rinsed and trimmed
2 red peppers, seeds removed
2 medium onions, peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded
a small head of cauliflower, trimmed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive or Canola oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black mustard seeds
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
1/3 cup (80 ml) flour
1½ cups (375 ml) cider vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white wine vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) allspice
6 large gherkins, cut into little cubes
the juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Core the green tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out the pulp using a teaspoon. Set the pulp to one side. Cut the tomatoes, celery and red peppers into a small, neat dice. Thinly slice the onions and cut the chilli into very fine shreds.  Break off the cauliflower florets and cut into small pieces.

Heat the oil and mustard seeds in a pan over a medium-high heat.  When the seeds begin to crackle, turn the heat right down and add the grated garlic and ginger.  Fry over a low heat for a minute, then tip in the flour and stir very well to make a thick paste.

Whisk in one cup of cider vinegar, a little at a time, as if you are making a roux, and beat energetically to break up any floury lumps. When the mixture thickens alarmingly, whisk in the remaining cider vinegar, the white wine vinegar and the sugar.

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. Now add three-quarters of the vegetables, the powdered ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and allspice.

Turn up the heat so the mixture cooks at an enthusiastic bubble. Keep stirring and scraping, or it might stick to the bottom of the pan.  After about 25 minutes, when the relish has reduced by about half and is looking thick and glossy, add the chopped gherkins, lemon juice, remaining vegetables and reserved  tomato pulp. Season generously with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

To check whether the chutney is ready, put a dollop onto a chilled saucer and leave for a minute. Draw your finger across the puddle: if the channel you've made closes very reluctantly, the relish is ready to bottle. If it's still too thin, continue simmering until it passes the channel test.

Spoon the chutney into hot sterilised bottles or jars (see Cook's Notes) and screw on the lids. Let the bottles cool for an hour, then tighten the lids again.

Makes 2 jars.

Cook's Notes: 
  • There are several ways to sterilise jars for bottling pickles and chutneys. I find microwave sterilising the easiest.  Place two or three jars in a circle on the glass turntable, fill each one with 3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, and cook on high for five minutes. Boil the metal lids in a small saucepan for 5 minutes. Then drain the jars and lids, upside down, on kitchen paper or newspaper.  Both the jars and the relish should be very hot during the filling process.
  • When you're making relishes that are acidic, it's important to use a jar that has a plastic-lined lid, or the vinegar in the mixture may react with the metal in the lid.  

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Kit said...

Now that's a true foodie challenge! Well done, Jane-Anne, and I'm glad it didn't come out watery and lime green!

Carla said...

...As a collector of old recipes and a keen maker of chutneys and relishes, I couldn't resist...

Hi Jane-Anne

Would you mind posting a nice chutney recipe some time?

That would be great!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Help! I made this yesterday and might have added a bit more vinegar by accident (long story...) and wondered if the strong vinegar taste will mellow out if left to stand for a month? I was so excited to make this recipe, perfect solution for my green tomatoes that have been hit by a hailstorm that is looking slightly imperfect. Thank you! :)

petergunn said...

Anuka said...

wow..India relish...good to hear your experiences in finding out the closest recipe to it. There is beautiful amalgamation of spices and oil for pickles in India. Great Blog.

Unknown said...

I was going through my late grandmother's recipe box, when I found a canning recipe called "India Relish." Having never heard of such a thing, I headed to the internet to research variations and origins of the recipe and I saw your interpretation!

Seeing as Nana Ruth's recipe was handwritten, and she has long since past, I have no way to verify if her recipe is "the exact" version Hemingway liked, but I figured I'd share since the recipe originates from the United States.

12 cups tomatoes, peeled & chopped
3 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped red peppers
3 cups dark brown sugar
¼ cup salt
4 cups white vinegar
⅓ cup mustard seed
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp mace
¾ tsp cloves
¾ tsp allspice

Toss chopped tomato, celery, onion, & peppers with salt in large non-reactive pot; allow this to stand at least 2 hours. Add rest of ingredients, & then bring to boil; turn down heat, & simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally. Fill hot, clean jars; seal with boiling water method. Yields about 8 pints.

**NOTE: this recipe was originally handwritten by my Nana Ruth, I did my best deciphering her script, and filling in actual steps as she tended to be vague.

Unknown said...

Great Recipe. Would definitely try it soon. My father ordered it for me online last year from an online store using coupon codes.

Unknown said...

Thank you Jane-Anne. I came across the recipe from my work in digital preservation and immediately wanted to try it. When I finally found India Relish in the store I knew this couldn't be right. After researching I found, as you know, that the ingredient list had been shortened. Fortunately I found your recipe for India Relish at the same time.

Finally this summer, I decided to make the time to make the relish and the burger. I could not have been happier with the results.

Your recipe for India Relish is incredible. I can't wait to try it on other things.

Here's the story I wrote for my digital preservation blog.
The Hamburger and the Sea of Documents