Classic tomato relish

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So I’m walking through the Saturday vegetable markets near my house, probably around 11am – bear in mind 11 is peak hectic time at this market – and I have my arms and bags filled with strange items of produce that I hurriedly listed down on a piece of newspaper on the way out the door. We’re also out of coffee at home, so the jolt to being amidst a pulsing and mingling crowd takes quite an adjustment. I’m basically done shopping at this point, save for the one heavy thing on my list that I always forget until last (like a pumpkin or a feckin sack of potatoes), so I do the final rounds to see if I’ve missed anything super cheap or enticing.

That’s when I see blue ice-cream containers of tomatoes for sale, $1 each. I admit, I’ve been known to overspend at the markets, enticed by shiny fruit and bunches of herbs, but this was a downright bargain and I was game. Two dollars later I have two kilograms of plump bursting-with-ripeness toms in a shopping bag and I’m stumbling along the familiar walk home.

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My parents used to make tomato relish, lots. Dad loves anything pungent and vinegary, and I have distinct memories as a kid of a jar of dark reddy-brown-spiced-strangeness sitting at the back of the fridge at all times. While I didn’t understand what the relish hype was about when I was a primary-schooler, I’ve happily been enlightened since. I’ve even come to use it instead of tomato paste on pizzas, and a dollop will often brighten up an Asian stir-fry sauce well too. Though ultimately, to have a relish like this on hand for cheese toasties is almost entirely reason enough.


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I don’t ever remember my parents following a special recipe or anything, so it was most likely an Edmonds cookbook recipe. I think eventually they stopped making it once they realised there was a store-bought one they quite fancied and it was less effort. Luckily for me though, the bargain price led me to find out for myself how simple it is to make your own.


Your best bet for tomatoes this cheap will be weekend growers markets, but check out your local Indian wholefoods shop or Asian supermarket too, as these often sell cheap seconds produce. The recipe makes about 5 peanut butter jars worth (~2 litres of relish). If you’ve never preserved or bottled anything, check out this video for a quick overview. 

2 kg tomatoes (red, green or mixed)
4 large or 5 medium brown onions
2 1/2 tablespoons salt

450g brown sugar
3 cups malt vinegar (or improvise, I used 2C cider vinegar + 1C balsamic)
1 tablespoon each mustard powder and curry powder
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon each chilli flakes and cumin
3 tablespoons cornflour or arrowroot starch

optional: 1 cup of sultanas, raisins or currants, added when you add the sugar.

a) Make the relish
Core your tomatoes (cut in half, then remove the core with a small “v” slice) then chop into pieces – you’re aiming for 1cm-ish chunks, though I’m often lazy and leave the tomatoes quite chunky. Peel and dice the onions and add to a large mixing bowl or pot, then add the tomatoes and the salt. Leave to sit for anywhere between 5 and 24 hours. this allows the salt to draw out excess water which would prevent the relish from thickening.

Drain off the excess liquid from the tomatoes, then add them to a large pot along with the sugar, vinegar and spices (though you can save half the curry powder and add it at the end to give it more punch). Bring this mixture to the boil, then simmer for about and hour and a half stirring whenever you pass the stove.

b) Sterilise and bottle
Heat your oven to 110C and boil the kettle. Once the oven’s hot, place the jars on a tray and pop in the oven for ten minutes. Now that the jars are heating, pour boiling water over the jar lids and leave them to sit, submerged.

Mix the cornflour with a quarter cup of water, then pour into the relish mixture while stirring. Bring the mix back to the boil, then turn off. If it’s not thickened yet, try again with another lot of cornflour and water.

Remove the jars from the oven and place on the bench. You’re going to ladle (or scoop with a small mug) the hot relish into the jars, leaving about 1cm of headspace before the top of the jar. Remove the lids from the hot water and screw on tightly using a tea towel to hold the jars. Wipe clean, and place aside to cool.

Stores at room temperature for a year and about 6 months once opened and kept in the fridge.

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