Summertime Recipe: Bread & Butter Pickles

First, when making pickles, you must have the perfect pickle recipe. Along with David Bednar, I too happen to have one- it’s my great-grandmother’s recipe, from many a hot Iowa summer, written in my grandfather’s own hand, which somehow makes it cooler than cool, and guaranteed to make magic pickles. It’s also helpful to have a wooden-yellow-handled vintage pickle cutter. Helpful, but not necessary. Cooler, but everyone will live if your poor pickles have straight sides. They’ll feel sorry for you, but they’ll still like your pickles.

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Like many old recipes (and patterns too) it’s short on details, long on flavor and success. It assumes a certain familiarity with the kitchen. It assumes you know what kind of cukes, how to prep them, and what a quart of cukes looks like. I love this about old recipes- it feels like the writer is talking to me over a painted wooden table while we share tall glasses of sweet tea, with ice tinkling and melting in the late afternoon sun. “Put the cookies in a medium hot oven…”, “Pack in hot jars…”, “Process your jam…” All of these assume a certain shared intimacy. You KNOW how to pack jars, dear. You KNOW that a med-hot oven lets you hold your hand inside for only so many seconds. It’s… intimate.

  • 4 quarts sliced pickling cukes (the small ones, not the big eatin’ ones)
  • 4 onions, sliced thin
  • 2 diced green peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 2 Tbsp whole mustard seeds
  • 3 cups vinegar

Mix sliced cucumbers, onions and  peppers in a big bowl, add salt, mix thoroughly, and cover with ice chips, and let stand 3 hours then drain. Combine the sugar, vinegar and spices in a big stock pot, heat to boiling, add the drained vegetables, pack in hot jars.

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My pickles, onions, garlic and pepper are chilling in the salty ice, while I suds and bleach my canning tops. If you’re going to pack, and don’t want broken glass all over the kitchen, jar and food must be the same temperature or thermal shock will make jars pop into a million pieces. Icy pickles never go in hot jars. Never.

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You need all of this stuff. And after you follow the directions, you get the best sweet pickles on Earth. (and I hate sweet pickles. Really, I do- but not these. Maybe it’s because they’re so wrapped up in gossamer memory, or maybe it’s because they really are that good. Does it matter why?) Make them. I have given you a gift. Make them.

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This is what you get. Blessed, delightful, little briney, sour, sweet gems from the garden. You can hot process them, and make them shelf-stable. I do that sometimes. This batch I cold-processed, and they will have to be refrigerated, but cold processed pickles stay much crunchier. If you’ve got the cold space, I prefer them- but the shelf-stable ones are almost as good- AND you can ship them to all your favorite pickle people. We’ve already busted into our second jar.

This is a recipe the kids can totally help with- especially if you have a nifty vintage slicer- it’s not sharp enough to de-finger anyone, but cuts the cukes into great shapes. Now go make some pickles. Don’t tell anyone I gave you the recipe. You’re welcome.

Comments

  1. Mommie Dearest says:

    Tracy, you’re better than Smitten Kitchen. Martha would be proud. I hate sweet pickles too, but you have made them appear essential to a properly-made summer cuisine. If only I could grow my own cucumbers.

    Where are the drooling comments? Are you guys all a buncha philistines?

  2. Peter LLC says:

    Is that a Zwilling Professional S in the first pic?

  3. We Philistines are too busy drooling, or comparing Tracy’s recipe to Mom’s, or thinking “Doh! so that’s how people cut crinkle pickles!” or otherwise being so wrapped up in the content of the post that we forgot to comment until now.

  4. No dill?

  5. Awsome,

    Any suggestions on how to grow better cukes? Mine are terrible this year

  6. Peter, it’s a Wusthof Dreizack 10″ I’ve had for about 12 years. My favorite knife, hands down.

    Ardis, I knew the biggest risk in putting up a Bread & Butter recipe was going to be comparing it mom’s. These are particularly old recipes, and while maybe folks don’t make them much anymore, it seems EVERY family has one :)

    Eric, nope, no dill in these pickles.

  7. Tracy, I love my Mom’s recipe, but she never stopped trying new ones just because she liked the old ones so I have no prejudice against yours on that account. Yours is very similar to hers except that she didn’t use garlic and the turmeric and sugar measurements were different. I don’t have a precise enough imagination to mentally taste what the increased turmeric would be, but I’m sure if it had ever occurred to her to add garlic, she would have. Yum!

    I’ve never tried cold-packing. My kitchen is so tiny (6′ x 5′) that it would be hard for me to hot pack, but I just might be able to manage cold-packing. I very well may try your recipe. It would have to be with purchased cukes, though — the size of my porch garden doesn’t allow for more than a few tomatoes in pots.

  8. I have a u-pick farm where I get my cukes. If you could see the handwritten recipe more clearly, you’d see that my grandpa’s hand writing actually calls for 6 onions, only 2 cloves of garlic and 5 cups of sugar- I’ve dialed it in a little for my tastes, and quite often I use less turmeric. It doesn’t make much difference in taste, but the color is less intensely yellow. My favorite part is the mustard seeds and onions. Mmmmmmm….

  9. Julie M. Smith says:

    Fun!

    I canned pickles and salsa last week and will do apples (apple sauce, chutney, and for pies) this week. I find canning addictive, and I’m not sure why.

  10. Cukes” is a new word for me.

  11. Mommie Dearest says:

    I see the cognoscenti who appreciate a dynamite pickle recipe are also early risers. (and not night owls)

    I’ve never been able to get enough good pickle cukes to grow all at one time in Arizona caliche. Yet. Although I once had a neighbor who imported this lovely black dirt from Iowa to grow his gardens in.
    I inherited a pickle slicer similar to that one–finally I know what it is!

  12. I am listening to the first patch of our bread and butter pickles pop as the jars seal, one by one, as I type this. (Yes, we hot process them…the cold process will come later in the season.) We’ll have pictures up later, Tracy; we got home, and our cucumbers were simply out of control. We’re going to have tons this year (b&B and dill; we do both).

  13. Edje Jeter (10),
    I guess you’re unfamiliar with Minnesota Cuke, then?

  14. Wow. It’s been a very educational evening for me.

  15. That’s what that thing is! I inherited a pickle slicer from my mother and never knew it. Obviously we didn’t make a lot of pickles at my house!

  16. You can use it to make crinkle-cut potatoes too.

  17. This may be a stupid question: but what is the difference between cold processing and hot processing? Do you cool them after adding the drained veggies to the hot liquid? (And why do you freeze them if you are going to add them to boiling liquid?)

    This recipe sounds great, but I’ve never made pickles before. I love pickles, so it sounds like something fun to try.

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