The frugal lesson in my grandma's delicious relish

The past has so much to teach us about simple, frugal, and wise living that goes beyond anything that our gadget-obsessed society can ever achieve.

old rocking chairLast week I was on a quest to recreate a memory – the taste of my grandmother’s Thousand Island Relish that accompanied nearly every meal I ate in her home as a child. My grandmother is still alive and well, thank goodness, but no longer does she go to the annual effort of making her famous relish. Now I understand why. It took at least an hour and a half of diligent chopping and one very achy forearm to reduce the 8 huge cucumbers, 12 giant onions, 1 cauliflower, and 4 peppers to the small dice needed for the right consistency.

I added spices, sugar, and vinegar, and simmered the enormous vat of relish until the smell of brine had permeated the entire house. I canned long into the evening, sterilizing and processing jar after jar. The basement is now full of relish – far more than my family and I could ever consume in a year. Anyone who knows me can expect a jar of relish as a gift at some point.

Finally, when I scooped some out to eat with my grilled cheese sandwich, I knew that all the hard work was worth it. A single mouthful transported me to the past, to those relaxed lunches eaten at the worn wooden table in the middle of my grandma’s farmhouse kitchen, when I sat on a rickety wooden spindle chair with chipped blue paint, and she fed me sandwiches with relish, accompanied by pickled beets and dilly beans and grape juice mixed with ginger ale.

I contemplated everything that had gone into making that bit of relish on my fork – a bike ride to the market to stock up missing ingredients, assembling the scattered pieces of canning equipment, the time spent actively making; and what it all meant – having an endless supply of homemade relish made with locally sourced ingredients in reusable glass containers and the revival of a generations-old recipe to feed my own family.

A somewhat disturbing realization crept into my brain.

Here I am, a young woman in the 21st century who considers herself to be modern, connected, and up-to-date. I’m a proud treehugger, both in my profession and at home; but the more thinking I do about green living and the more I try to implement changes in my lifestyle to have the smallest possible impact on the planet, the more I realize that the things I do are archaic, rather than innovative. They’ve all been done before, out of necessity by people who had far less and none of the so-called green technology we enjoy nowadays.

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