Sorghum Hot Pepper Relish: Late Summer Hot-Sweet-Sour-Saltiness from Kentucky (Mostly)

Adapted from Classic Kentucky Meals, by Rona Roberts

Relish means “great enjoyment.” How appropriate for something pointedly hot, sweet, sour and salty all at once. Relish and salsa are first cousins, although relish has longer keeping powers in the refrigerator. Stir some of this relish into finely chopped peaches or cantaloupe, if you like, to create a fresh fruit salsa.


·       1 cup (about 1/4 pound) hot green peppers (such as jalapeños, hot bananas, or serranos), stemmed, seeds removed for a more mild relish

·       3 cups (3/4 pound) sweet red peppers (of use more hot ones if you want doubly hot relish), stems and seeds removed stemmed

·       1 medium-size onion (about 1/2 pound)

·       1 scant tablespoon salt

·       1 Tablespoon whole mustard seed, any color

·       1/2 cup cider vinegar

·       1/3 cup Kentucky sorghum

·       1/2 teaspoon salt

·       Zest of one lemon, peeled in strips and cut in 1/8-inch slivers, to be added during cooking

Option: One additional tablespoon sugar, if you want a slightly sweeter relish.


Note: If you cut the hot peppers by hand, one way to protect your skin is to put a plastic bag over the hand the holds and moves the peppers, then discard the bag carefully when the peppers are contained.

  1. Chop peppers and onions fine; a food processor with a steel blade works well for this. Pulse it slowly, just until the veggies look nicely shredded, about 5–7 times.
  2. Place the pepper mixture in a mesh strainer, stir in 1 Tablespoon salt, and let macerate for at least two hours. Pour cool water through the vegetables, and press them gently to remove as much water as possible.
  3. In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, bring the vinegar, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt to boil over medium heat; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strained vegetables and lemon zest, if using. Stir well, cover, and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Stir a few times to keep the mixture from sticking. The juices will thicken slightly. Remove from heat and taste.
  4. If you want a hint more sweetness, add 1 Tablespoon sugar; if you want sharper tastes, try another ¼ teaspoon salt. If you add the sugar, cook two more minutes. Now let the relish rest until it reaches room temperature. Move to a glass jar for storage. This relish will keep several weeks in the refrigerator.