Bread & Butter Pickles

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.

We might be in Alaska when our own cukes come in, but we’re enjoying the plants.
They’re easy to grow in a big container like this one.

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.

I had just one, tiny, early cuke. Isn’t she sweet?

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 & butter pickles are sweeter than dills;
it’s said the name comes from The Great Depression,
when folks would eat them in sandwiches instead of meat.

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.

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  • Reply Wendy July 23, 2010 at 5:59 am

    I'm so sad. We planted a whole mess of pickling cukes this year, but some critter ate them all within the first few days. Maybe I can find some cukes at the farmers market to make pickles with. And if not, there's always dilly beans…

  • Reply tigress July 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    i get you're cranky. but really, what did a little 'ole zucchini ever do to you? :)

    recipe looks delish…and how the hell did i miss all that on twitter? oh yea, i musta been out in the garden. :)

  • Reply Julia July 26, 2010 at 1:15 am

    I love bread and butters! We went through last year's batch way too quickly. I'm waiting for my little picklers to get big…

  • Reply Denise | Chez Danisse July 28, 2010 at 1:25 am

    I love B&Bs. I liked making them with our lemon cucumbers. Your little early cucumber is so cute! There's something else I must bring up… You hate summer squash? No. So sad. Are you sure? Maybe you should try it again. Some of the two-tone Zephyrs? Maybe?

  • Reply gloria July 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I've just eaten a whoppin big sandwich filled with my summer squash B&B pickles, mayo and a new Lancashire cheese I've just discovered. Another new thing I can't now imagine living without courtesy of Tigress' Can Jam. Your forthcoming trip sounds exciting. Will you take some pickles with you, in a hamper?

  • Reply Dana September 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I cannot seem to find any pickling cukes here in the land 'o green (!), so it looks like I'll have to grow them myself (this preserving thing is a slippery slope I tell ya!). Any recommendations as to what kind of 'cuke seeds I should look for? I'm looking to make zesty, crunchy dills.
    Many thanks from your newest accolyte ;-)

  • Reply Shae | Hitchhiking to Heaven September 26, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Oh,no! I can't believe I never responded to all the nice comments you all left for me two months ago. But then I look at the date and I see it was at the beginning of my grandfather's crisis, so I think that was why. I see this post talks about driving to Alaska, which we didn't get to do this year. We plan to do it that way next year.

    Or maybe it was how much I didn't want to talk about squash! I'm sure one of you could get me to eat it, but you won't get me to grow it!

    Dana: No Kirby Cukes in Ireland. For real? The ones that worked well for me were "Snow's Fancy Pickling Cucumbers" and I got them from Baker Heirloom Seeds. Right here, in fact:

    They're out of stock now, but I bet next season they'll have them and you could mail order them if you can't find them over there. I also tried the Japanese Climbers, but they didn't do well for me. (They climbed alright, but they didn't make any cucumbers!)

    One thing I learned: You need more than two plants. I'd get one cuke and then three days later I'd get another. (And then you might have seen the one that was 14" long. Oops.) Not a good system for pickles. I hope you have more planting space than I did . . .

    Keep me posted!

  • Reply Dana September 26, 2010 at 4:37 am

    That's great, thanks so much for that! Have been investigating some seed banks here, but I'm pretty sure I'll have to mail order. I'll spend the winter clearing some space for a good 4 or 5 plants.
    Happy Quincing! xox

  • Reply Deb July 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    OOhh, I will try this recipe with the next batch! I love the idea of the allspice, cinnamon and cloves.

    My own cukes did not flourish. I will try them again next year in a container or half barrel. We are getting overflow from friends (so grateful for that!).

    Happy pickling!!

    • Reply Shae July 30, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      Deb, I think you will love these pickles. But be forewarned, my cukes in barrels weren’t very productive. This year (2011) is the first I’ve been able to plant them in the ground and they’re doing just great!

      • Reply Deb July 31, 2011 at 2:40 pm

        What I need to do is a better job of dog proofing the garden so I can try them in ground again. :) I will experiment with cukes again next year, because honestly, I’m pickling like a mad woman.

        I’m making these right now and just slurped up a spoonful of the brine. YUM! Can’t wait to see how they taste in a week.

        Thanks for the recipe!!

  • Reply Simmering Weekend Projects | pimplyserfect July 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

    […] Bread and Butter Pickles […]

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