Relish: It's more than just a topping for ballpark hot dogs. A spoonful or two can spark up almost any meal. And don't think all relishes are made from pickled cucumbers; relishes today are made from tomato, corn, eggplant and many more seasonal vegetables and fruits.

Nor does making a relish mean being chained to the kitchen stove all day fooling with canning jars and water baths. Most relishes simply can be refrigerated.

Still, given all the relish jars stocked in the local supermarket, most folks facing the prospect of making their own relish will likely sigh, "Why bother?"

"Anytime you take the time to make a relish or any pickled product from scratch, you will have a freshness and a liveliness you won't get with a commercial product," said Rick Field, chief executive officer of Rick's Picks, a New York City-based maker of pickled products.

"Relish provides the bright flavor notes," said Field, co-author of the new Williams-Sonoma's "The Art of Preserving," with Rebecca Courchesne and Lisa Atwood (Williams-Sonoma, $29.95). "Relish is not like mayonnaise. Mayo binds things together. Relish is the soloist in the band."

"Fire and Ice Relish" comes from "Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham" and can be refrigerated for up to 10 days. "The fire is the cayenne pepper and the cool element is in the tomatoes, bell pepper and onion," Cunningham wrote, suggesting one spoon it on corn, chicken, salmon or a baked potato.

> Fire and Ice Relish

3 cups cherry tomatoes, finely chopped, juices reserved

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup each: cider vinegar, water

4 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons each: celery seed, mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Put the tomatoes and juices in a medium bowl; stir in bell pepper and onion.

Mix together the cider vinegar, water, sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, salt and peppers in a saucepan; heat to a boil over high heat. Boil 1 minute. Remove from the heat; pour over the prepared vegetables. Cool. Cover; refrigerate at least 3 hours. Makes 3 cups.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 11 calories, 0 percent of calories from fat, 0.14g fat, 0.02g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 2g carbohydrates, 0.3g protein, 100mg sodium, 0.5g fiber

The following recipe is from the new "Forgotten Skills of Cooking" by Darina Allen. The relish can be refrigerated for about 2 months. If canned in sterilized jars, this sweet-sour relish will "keep for ages and is particularly good with cold meats, coarse country terrines or goat cheese salads," Allen writes. Serve cold.

> Beet and Ginger Relish

8 ounces onion, chopped

3 tablespoons each: butter, sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 pound raw beets, peeled, grated

1 piece ( 1/2 -inch long) ginger root, grated

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Combine onions and butter in a nonreactive saucepan; cook over medium-low heat until onions are very soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar, salt and pepper. Add beets, ginger, red wine and vinegar; cook over low heat 30 minutes. Spoon relish into sterilized jars, seal, let cool. Makes 2 1/4 cups.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 37 calories, 45 percent of calories from fat, 2g fat, 1g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 5g carbohydrates, no protein, 79mg sodium, 1g fiber.

Although the following zucchini relish is similar to sweet pickle relish, "it has a softer texture and a mellower flavor," write the authors of Williams-Sonoma's "The Art of Preserving." They prefer using a julienne peeler or mandoline, but you can always chop the zucchini instead.

You can refrigerate it for up to 1 month. Or can the relish; sealed jars may be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

> Pickled Zucchini Relish

2 pounds zucchini

1 large yellow or white onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced

2 tablespoons salt

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup each: distilled white vinegar, water

1 teaspoon each: celery seeds, freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon each: ground turmeric, pepper

Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips using a julienne peeler or a mandoline. Cut the strips crosswise into matchsticks. Transfer to a large nonreactive bowl. Add the onion, bell pepper and salt. Toss to combine. Cover; let stand at room temperature six hours or up to a day.

Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids. Drain the zucchini mixture in a large colander. Rinse thoroughly; drain again. Transfer to a large nonreactive saucepan. Add the sugar, vinegar, water, celery seeds, nutmeg, turmeric and pepper. Stir to combine. Heat to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 25-30 minutes.

Ladle hot relish into the jars, leaving 1/4 -inch of space at the top. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe rims clean; seal tightly with lids. Process jars in a boiling water bath 10 minutes. Cool jars; test seals. Store. If the seal has failed during processing, refrigerate jar up to 1 month. Makes 3 cups.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 49 calories, 4 percent of calories from fat, 0.2 g fat, 0.06 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 193 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

For how-tos on canning, visit the Web site of the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia: