Tangy and sweet, bread & butter pickles are an old-fashioned favorite best made with largish (4 inches or so) pickling (Kirby) cucumbers. If these are not available, use regular cucumbers of the smallest size you can find: you want a cucumber with the fewest seeds possible.
It’s been a cool summer so far, which has been perfect weather for cucumbers. I’m taking advantage of the bumper crop to make these pickles. You could certainly use a mix – sometimes I do – but it’s not too difficult to make these pickles from scratch.
I’ve cut mine into the traditional crosswise slices, though you can certainly make spears if you wish
a note on equipment
I’ve started canning pickles, especially these bread & butter pickles, with my sous vide machine. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has done research and approved low-temperature pasteurization to seal high-acid foods. The process is quite straightforward: drop your prepared jars into warm water (120º to 140º F), heat the water to 180º to 185º F, and then keep it in this precise range for thirty minutes. This would be difficult with an open kettle on the stove, but with my Anova Sous Vide precision cooker, it’s easy-peasy. Any sous-vide setup should do well: they are designed to bring a volume of water to a specific temperature and keep it at that temperature. Because pickles get mushy starting at the 185˚ mark, I set my Anova to 180˚.
You could certainly seal jars in a traditional water bath, or use one of the newer steam canners. I believe that the sous-vide low-temperature (ie lower than the boiling point) pasteurization method gives a better, crisper, result.
Bread & Butter Pickles
- 5 lb cucumbers
- 2 lb new (small) onions, white or yellow
- ½ c fine pickling salt
- 2½ c white vinegar, 5% acidity
- 2 c cider vinegar, 5% acidity
- 3-4 c granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp mustard seeds
- 1½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1½ tsp celery seeds
- 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 12 allspice berries, plus a pinch of ground allspice
- 12 whole cloves, plus a pinch of ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 6-8 c ice cubes or crushed ice
RINSE, SLICE, SALT, AND CHILL
- Rinse the cucumbers well, and scrub away any dirt that the farmer may have left on. Slice off 1/8″ from each end, and discard. (There is an enzyme in the blossom end that would make your pickles mushy. Get rid of it.)
- Slice the cucumbers 1/4″ thick, and put into a 4-5 quart nonreactive bowl or basin. Have the onions lengthwise, then slice the halves crosswise 1/4″ thick, and add them to the cucumbers. Pour the salt over all, and mix well together. (NOTE: be sure to use a salt without additives, because regular salt will make muddy dark pickles)
- Pile on an inch or two of ice. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, and put it in the refrigerator or a cooler for 2 to 4 hours.
PREP JARS FOR CANNING
- Prepare 8 pint jars for canning: either boil them in a large kettle of water for 10 minutes, or run them through the dishwasher. Set 8 bands aside, ready to use. Put 8 lids in a heat-proof bowl, cover them with boiling water, and let the lids stand until you are ready to use them.
DRAIN & RINSE, THEN BRINE & BOIL
- When you’re ready to proceed, discard the ice from the sliced cucumbers and onions. Rinse the vegetables thoroughly, drain, and then rinse and drain again.
- Take a 6 to 8 quart non-reactive pot (I like stainless steel for this). Pour in both vinegars, the sugar, and all the spices. Bring this to a boil, stirring occasionally, and make sure that the sugar is dissolved. Add the sliced cucumbers and onions, and bring back to the boil.
- As soon as the liquid begins boiling again, use a slotted spoon to pack the hot jars with the vegetables. Pack each jar, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Then pour the hot vinegar/spice solution over the vegetables to within one-half inch from the rim. Wipe the rims clean, cover with lids, then secure finger-tight with the bands.
TO PROCESS IN WATERBATH OR STEAM CANNER
- Process the filled jars in a boiling water bath OR in a steam canner for 10 minutes (up to altitudes of 1000 feet above sea level.) Let jars cool on a towel, and listen for the cheerful popping sound as the lids seal. If a lid does not seal properly, store the jar in the refrigerator and use it promptly.
TO PROCESS SOUS VIDE
- Have your sous-vide bath (I use a 12-quart Cambro rectangular container) at 120-140˚F. Put filled jars in the container, and set the sous vide temperature to 180˚F. When the unit beeps, maintain that temperature for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, remove jars, let them cool on a towel, and (again) listen for the cheerful popping sounds.