This so-called hurricane has given me the opportunity to write a blog or two. I’ve been busy cooking and baking but haven’t had an opportunity to sit and write until now. I know this is supposed to be a “baking” blog, but I felt the need to write about one of my favorite savory things to make: pickles. More specifically Bread and Butter Pickles. They are sweet and tangy and therefore very different than Half Sour or Dill Pickles. I like those as well, but I don’t crave them the way I do Bread and Butter Pickles.
I’ve always been curiously as to why they’ve been labeled Bread and Butter, so I researched the name and discovered that the answer isn’t totally clear! Some sources claim that the name came from Sweden where they often included the pickles on a Smorgasbord platter, which contains bread, butter, meats and other pickled vegetables. Others say the name came from England where they served the pickles in sandwiches with bread and butter. And a few others feel they received their name during The Depression when they were as readily available as bread and butter and became a staple during that era.
But no matter how much the history of the name varies, the recipe doesn’t change much. It includes cucumbers sliced (or diced), onions, sugar, salt, vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed, cayenne pepper and turmeric. The type of sugar and vinegar may change but the outcome is always the same, a sweet-tart quick processed pickle. I will warn you now, they are time consuming to make and a little labor intensive, but totally worth it! They also require canning, which I will briefly describe how to do shortly.
My mom always made bread and butter pickles during the summer when cucumbers were in their prime. When I left home and moved to New York City, I missed them so much that I resolved to tackle the project myself. I got the recipe from my mom and proceeded:
Mom’s Bread and Butter Pickles
Full batch makes about 14-15 pts
6 quarts sliced Kirby cucumbers (about 20-22 cucumbers)
6 medium sized yellow onions, sliced
1 cup salt
2 quarts white vinegar
6 cups white sugar
1/2 cup mustard seeds
1 tablespoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons turmeric
Combine the cucumbers, sliced onions and salt in large bowl. Let sit for three hours then drain the excess liquid out. (Do not rinse! You need the salt in there.). In a large pot combine the vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to a boil. Add the cucumber and onion mixture and heat just until they are simmering, do not boil. Proceed with the canning process.
To can: The basic theory behind canning is that you create a vacuum inside the jar which causes the rubber rimmed top to create an airtight seal on the glass jar. There are multiple methods to achieve this; I use the old fashioned heating method. You fill a LARGE pot full with water and bring it to a boil. You then carefully lower preheated sanitized jars filled with whatever item you are canning into the water, making sure they are fully submerged by at least one inch. Cover and simmer for approximately ten minutes (this varies on the size of the jar). By doing this, the air locked inside the jar heats and expands. When you remove the jar from the hot water and it cools, the air contracts and thus creates a vacuum inside the jar. Your food is then safely sealed and will stay that way for years! It is not a perfect process either and occasionally you get jars that don’t seal. You can choose to start the process all over or you can place the unsealed jars in the fridge and consume them quickly. For example, of the 14 jars I canned, 3 jars didn’t seal. (Not to worry. I ate them all within a week.)
The canning process is really time consuming and unfortunately it is a required part of my Bread and Butter Pickles recipe. The pickles are cooked very little prior to sealing, because the canning process actually cooks them slightly more. If you don’t want to can your pickles I would suggest first of all do a much smaller batch and then try boiling them for an extra five minutes or so to get the same finished texture as if they had been canned. Store your pickles in the fridge and they should still last for about month.
To serve the sweet and tangy pickles, you can try them the traditional way with bread and butter, but I love them with cheddar cheese and crackers. Although I have to say my personal favorite way to eat them is with a fork straight from the jar. I find them extremely addicting, so be careful! You may just eat an entire jar yourself and then spend the rest of the day feeling slightly bloated and parched from too much sodium intake. I speak from experience.