Anyone who has stopped by this space over the past few summers knows that I’m a fermented pickle guy. I like my cucumbers to have that mellow hum of lactic acid, the twin funk of garlic and dill, and a salty bass line. This year I got a full bushel of cucumbers for pickles and have been convinced to split a quarter of them off for bread and butter pickles.
Pickles are often the most vibrantly coloured item on a plate so it’s critical to get it right here. In vinegar, cucumbers lose their bright, deep green and fade to an army-jeep olive that isn’t very appetising. The best solution I can think of is to make the brine as yellow as possible. That way it improves the vegetables’ visual appeal.
The turmeric helps with this but I went a step further and added a tablespoon of ground mustard. Whole mustard seed contributes some flavour–especially when it doesn’t just sink to the bottom of the jar–but the ground gives even more of that familiar kick.
Between two of us we had one mandoline so roughly half of the cucumbers were cut on the ridged blade while the others were thickly-sliced (about a centimetre or just under half an inch) with a knife. I’m sure there are steadfast devotees of both but I like the mix. Whatever you do, just don’t slice too thinly or you could end up with a sort of vinegary, disintegrating pickle mush.
As I said in the intro, we found ourselves with a lot of cucumbers on our hands. If you have less feel free to scale the recipe down.
Bread and Butter Pickles
Adapted from the recipe that appears in the current edition of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.
Bread and butter are the ultimate sandwich pickle for when you want something that is both sweet and sour.
Yield: between 18 and 20 pints
- 12 lbs (1/4 bushel) pickling cucumbers, 3 – 4 inches in length
- 5 lbs white, sweet onions
- 360 g salt
- 5 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 litres apple cider vinegar
- 4 TB mustard seed
- 1 TB ground mustard
- 2 TB turmeric
- 1 TB ground ginger
- 1 TB black peppercorns
- Locate your very largest mixing bowl. Unless you could bathe a lap dog in it, it’s probably too small and you’ll need two. Wash out the dust that has collected since the last time you made pickles. Cut each onion twice through the poles and start slicing the wedges on a mandoline or with a knife. Your mandoline should be set to its finest setting of about 1.5 mm.
- Wrestle the ridge-cut blade of your mandoline into place and move the blade distance to 6 mm. As you start making quick work turning those cucumbers into little wavy chips turn your thoughts to safety. You’re going to be bringing your fingers very close to a very sharp blade upwards of five hundred times here. A cut-proof glove, the mandoline’s hand-guard, or at least a very large dose of care are essential. Mix the onion slice and cucumbers chips together in the very large bowl and salt each as you go. Cover the bowl with ice and let stand at room temperature for about ninety minutes. During this time excess water will be drawn out from the vegetables and salt will be drawn in.
- Drain vegetables, rinse with cold water, and drain again thoroughly.
- Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, ground mustard, turmeric, ginger, and peppercorns in your largest stockpot. Bring to a steady boil, add the drain vegetables and return to a boil.
- Kill the heat. Pack hot pickles and brine into very clean 500 ml and 1 litre Mason jars, taking care to evenly distribute the solids and liquid across all jars. Follow all the usual safety and sanitary precautions. Leave a half centimetre of headspace. Boiling-water process the 500 ml jars for 10 minutes and the litre jars for 15.