I was in a bad mood this morning. Hormones, you know? Plus, we leave for Alaska in two weeks and there’s an alarming number of things to do before our long drive up the Al-Can. How’s the spare tire? Got extra fan belts, radiator hoses, headlamps? Is our house in Fairfax ready for the nice couple who’ll rent it while we’re gone? Don’t get me started.
I was cranky about these cucumbers. I can stand at the counter for hours slicing lemons for marmalade, but give me a pile of cukes to cut into 1/4-inch rounds and I’m, like, “Don’t I need to clean out the cabinet under the bathroom sink?” Fortunately, I make these pickles often and I know they’re worth the relatively little time it takes to prepare them.
The ingredient for July’s Can Jam is cucurbits (that’s kyoo-kur-bits to you), and I’d like to thank Laundry Etc. for educating all of us by selecting this interesting mouthful. Did you know that cucumbers, melons, and squash are relatives? They’re all members of the large and various family Cucurbitaceae.
I’ll tell you one thing. I was not going to be canning any squash. I hate summer squash. My neighbor is always asking me to take home her forearm-sized zucchinis while I run in the other direction making excuses. True, I like zucchini bread or a nice creamy soup, but recognizable squash? No thanks.
Also, there was some controversy on Twitter this week about how to stay safe when canning squash, so I want to call it out: When it comes to canning veggies (something I don’t do very often), you’ve got to be extra careful to follow safety rules. Unless you’re a master food preserver, you’d best stick with recipes that are tried and true.
Bread and butter pickles, with their high vinegar content? They’re in the pocket.
This recipe is adapted from the wonderful bread and butter pickles at Simply Recipes. I changed the proportions and directions to reflect my own process and preferences, but the basic methods and the essential ingredients are the same. One thing I did was raise the quantity of cucumbers from 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, adjusting the salt accordingly. It may be that I pack my jars overly tight, but until I made those adjustments, I was constantly coming out with just 3 1/2 pints of pickles, rather than the 5 pints promised by the original recipe. (I also checked with a friend who regularly makes the original recipe and she said the same about the yield; it’s always 3 1/2 pints for her, too.) Following the directions below and packing my jars tightly yields 4 pints for me.
I make these pickles every few months, and the recipe is what it says: simple. If you don’t want to go through the water-bath hoo ha, you can store them in the fridge.
I’ve gotta say, there’s nothing like a little ping, ping, ping to lift my spirits.
Bread and Butter Pickles
3 1/4 pounds firm pickling cucumbers
1 pound white onions, sliced thin
5 tablespoons pickling salt (you can use Kosher salt but don’t use table salt; it contains additives that will ruin the color of your pickes)
1 1/4 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon yellow 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 ground white or black pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1. Rinse the cucumbers but do not peel them. Slice off the ends and discard. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4-inch rounds and place in a large bowl. Slice the onions and add them to the bowl. (I slice the thin onion rounds into quarters.) Stir in the pickling salt so that the salt is well distributed among the cucumber and onion slices. Cover with a clean tea towel or cloth napkin and put a couple inches of ice on top of that. Put bowl in the refrigerator and let chill for 4 hours.
2. When almost 4 hours have passed, sterilize 4 one-pint jars. Even if you plan to store your pickles in the fridge, remember that your jars should be hot when you pack them with the pickles. I like to use regular mouth pint jars for these pickles, because the shoulders on the jars help to keep the cucumber slices submerged in the brine.
3. After 4 hours, discard ice. Drain and thoroughly rinse the cucumber and onion slices.
4. In a 4-quart or 6-quart pot, place the vinegar, sugar, and all of the spices. Bring to a boil. When the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced cucumbers and onions.
5. Bring to a boil again, then use a slotted spoon to start packing the hot jars with the cucumbers and onions. Pack the jars to 1 inch from the rim with the vegetables, then pour the hot, spicy brine over the vegetables to 1/2 inch from the rim. Work around the inside of the jar with a small silicone or wooden spatula to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp paper towel and put a sterilized lid on the jar. Secure with a metal screw band.
6. If you’re water-bath canning the jars, process for 10 minutes.
Makes 4 one-pint jars.