Bread and Butter Pickles
Boxes filled with cucumbers from the farmers market, scores of mason jars, big pots, lots of activity in the kitchen, fresh homemade pickles. These are some of my memories from summers growing up. My grandmother (dad’s mother) and my parents used to pickle a lot when I was a kid. My dad’s favorite was spicy carrot and cauliflower pickles (I’m still waiting for the recipe); my favorite was sweet watermelon rind pickles (can’t find watermelons with thick enough rinds to make these anymore). Sweet pickles like these bread and butter pickles (who came up with that name?) never lasted that long around here; we kids gobbled them up.
Bread and butter pickles are easy to make, and if you are planning to make them as refrigerator pickles (storing them in the cold fridge, to be eaten within weeks), you can skip a lot of the canning steps. This is a basic recipe which we happen to love, cobbled together from various editions of the Joy of Cooking plus some online research. The ice helps keep the cucumbers crispy, as does cooking them just a short time. You can experiment with the pickling spices, and the pickling vegetables for that matter. A friend recently told me about an idea for bread and butter jalapeño pickles that sound too good not to try to make. Do you have a favorite bread and butter pickle recipe? If so, please tell us about it in the comments.
Start with the freshest pickling cucumbers you can find; your pickles are only going to be as good as the produce you start with. The fresher the cucumbers are, the crispier your pickles will be.
- 2 1/2 lbs pickling cucumbers (fresh from the market)
- 1 pound white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup pickling salt (can use Kosher salt as a substitute, regular table salt has additives in it that will turn the pickles dark and muddy the color of the pickle juice)
- 1 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 Tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 6 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
- 6 whole cloves plus a pinch of ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
If you are planning to store pickles outside of refrigerator, you will need the following canning equipment:
- 5 pint-sized canning jars, clean, unused lids, metal screw bands for the lids (see Canning jars and lids)
- 1 16-qt canning pot with rack
- Jar lifters or tongs
1 Carefully rinse the cucumbers, scrubbing away any dirt that may have stuck to the ribs. Slice off 1/8-inch from the ends and discard. Slice the cucumbers in 1/4-inch thick slices, place in a large bowl. Add the sliced onions and pickling salt. Stir in so that the salt is well distributed among the cucumber slices. Cover with a clean tea towel (thin towel, not terry cloth). Cover with a couple of inches of ice. Put in the refrigerator and let chill for 4 hours. Discard ice. Rinse the cucumber and onion slices thoroughly, drain. Rinse and drain again.
2 If you are planning to store your pickles outside of the refrigerator for any length of time, you will need to sterilize your jars before canning, and heat the filled jars in a hot water bath after canning. If you are planning to eat the pickles right away and store them the whole time in the refrigerator, you can skip the water bath step. It's still a good idea to sterilize the jars first, you can do that by running them through the dishwasher, or placing them in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. To sterilize the jars for canning, place empty jars on a metal rack in a large, 16-qt canning pot. (Jars must rest on a rack in the pot, not on the bottom of the pot). Fill with warm water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to warm to keep the jars hot and ready for canning. Remove with tongs or jar lifters one by one as you can the cucumbers. Sterilize the lids by bringing a pot of water to a boil and pouring water over a bowl containing the lids.
3 In a 4 qt or 6 qt pot, place the vinegar, sugar, and all of the spices. Bring to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced cucumbers and onions. Bring to a boil again. As soon as the sugar vinegar solution begins boiling again, use a slotted spoon to start packing the hot jars with the cucumbers. First pack a jar to an inch from the rim with the vegetables. Then pour hot vinegar sugar syrup over the vegetables to a half inch from the rim. Wipe the rim clean with a paper towel. Place a sterilized lid on the jar. Secure with a metal screw band.
4 If you are planning to store pickles outside of refrigerator, process the filled jars in a hot water bath for at least 15 minutes. Return filled jars to the same canning pot with its already hot water. Water level needs to be at least one inch above the top of the cans. Bring to a boil and let boil hard for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes for altitiudes of 1001 to 6,000 feet. Over 6,000 feet, boil for 25 minutes. Remove jars from pot. Let cool down to room temperature. Jars should make a popping sound as their lids seal. If a lid doesn't properly seal, do not store the jar outside of the refrigerator.