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A Relish for Life

On the weekend, I got a couple of boxes of beautiful little tomatoes from Tiltern Farm. I planned to make some tomato based preserves including our ever popular Tomato Quetta. Martha said they were rather small because they were the last pick off those bushes – small but full of flavour.

Our family’s favourite preserve is my mother in law’s Tomato Relish and as Tuesday was her 85 birthday, I knew I had to make some Tomato Relish. Every one loves Barbara’s (yes she’s a Barbara too) Tomato Relish – even Bob who hates Tomatoes. Since I discovered Quetta and Kasundi I rarely make relish myself. I do have Barbara’s recipe but today I thought I’d make new sort of Tomato Relish, from one Barbara to another.

The first part was easy – tomatoes, onions and garlic. Barbara usually salts the chopped veg overnight and strains off the liquid. I prefer to sweat the onions and cook out the juices – I think it sweetens and intensifies the flavour. All relishes need vinegar to add acid and preserve, and sugar to take the edge off the vinegar.  I used my secret stash of GGFF Fig Balsamic Vinegar. Figs seemed a good taste match and appropriate symbolically as well.

Figs are a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Barbara has certainly lived a fertile life with two husbands, three sons, three more step children and numerous daughters in law, grandchildren and an ever growing number of great grand children. She has worked hard all her life from her childhood on a Stanthorpe farm.  She is the epitome of a good cook and housewife but she also worked in a senior management position for Yellow pages. She has made her own prosperity and her children and grandchildren love to visit and eat her wonderful food. She loves to cook old fashioned food, full flavoured with lashings of pepper.

I put pepper in my relish and had a taste while thinking about her. I wondered if the relish should have a taste of Barbara.  I didn’t want to use curry powder –  I wanted a fresh mild taste. I save the curry spices for Chutney. Instead, I added a good mix of herbs from my garden and left it to simmer. I also added mustard to match her sharp wit.

When I first met Barbara over 30 years ago, we were very wary of each other. She had only recently married my father in law, I was about to marry Allan.  We lived literally over 1000 kilometres away from each other and so for many years only saw each other once a year at best. We got closer when we moved to the Lockyer Valley and visits were more frequent. Our relationship has developed slowly and surely over the years – much like a good preserve. We enjoy each others’ cooking and company. In the past, we never left a visit to Grandma Barbara without some of her carefully packed biscuits and slices and a few bottles of relish or jam. We call  them her care parcels because she really does care and puts that caring into food rather than words. These days Barbara is spending a lot less time in the kitchen and it bothers her that now the care parcels are brought to her.

Each time I  see her, I think she is disappearing before our eyes she is getting so small and frail. Inside she is still the same tall strong proud woman though. Trevor worried that she might get knocked when they go out. Barbara says on the contrary they should worry about her and her walking stick. That’s our Barbara – small but full of flavour.

The Tomato relish is finished. I think it is ok. When Barbara cooks something new she always says “have a try – I don’t know if it is any good.” Whatever she makes it is always good. Hopefully her birthday relish is too.

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