If there is one thing always to be found in my refrigerator it’s a jar of bead and butter pickles. Of course, I am particular to my own pickles or my Mothers and store-bought really will not do at all. These sweet and tangy pickles are the first thing I learned to “put up” and I remember vividly waking up to the aroma of vinegar, onions and tumeric wafting through our house on a summer Saturday morning.
It makes my mouth pucker up just thinking about it. But it also makes me smile, reflecting on how familiar that smell is and how I knew exactly what was happening and what was going to come to pass later that day.
The pickle production line – gurgling pots and steaming jars. My mother announcing that all dogs and small children must stay out of the kitchen, which meant our Pekepoo mix, Pepper, and my brother. I was usually allowed to watch the proceedings IF I was quiet and not under foot. I may even be allowed to hold the funnel over the jars with potholder-covered hands. In the least I would get to “test” the filled jars for a seal – the popping sound snapping back at me as I dutifully pressed and checked the lids like a Vlasic quality control inspector.
Over the years I have found the value of homemade bread and butter pickles to be incalculable. The actual pickles, the onions and the juice have made their way into so many other favorite recipes, which surely would be far less enjoyable without the tart-n-tangy pickle. From deviled eggs to curry chicken salad to pimento cheese and yes, barbeque sauce (!), a jar of bread and butter pickles is the MacGyver of the kitchen pantry – but without all those pesky explosions.
My mother usually makes her bread and butter pickles sans the overnight lime soak. However, I adore the crispness produced with this method so I find it worth the extra steps. Another difference is the thickness of the cucumber slices – my Mama always slices them paper thin, but I prefer a heftier portion per slice. This year a request was made for more onions so I actually almost doubled up on sweet onion – they are great on sandwiches. Chop them up with some pickle slices and voilà, relish. MacGyver should be so resourceful!
Crispy Bread & Butter Pickles
- 8-10 lbs. small Kirby or “pickling” cucumbers, washed.
- 1 cup pickling lime
- 1 gallon fresh water
- 3 tbl. Kosher salt
- 4-6 medium onions, peeled and sliced
- 6 cups vinegar (apple cider or white or a combination)
- 6 cups sugar
- 3 tbl. mustard seed
- 2 tsp. tumeric
- 2 tsp. celery seed
- 2 tsp. whole cloves
Begin the day before you plan to can the pickles. Slice the cucumbers between 1/8 and ¼ inch thick discarding the end pieces. Mix the pickling lime into the gallon of water. The lime will not completely dissolve in the water.
In a large, clean non-reactive (plastic, glass, stainless steel or porcelain – NO aluminum!) mix the cucumbers with the lime/water. Stir and cover. Allow to sit in a cool area overnight and up to 24 hours. Stir once or twice during this time.
Drain cucumbers and rinse in clean water thoroughly 3 times to remove all lime residue. In a large non-reactive container layer the cucumbers, onions, salt and ice. I divide everything by three and layer in thirds. Cover and allow to sit for 3 hours.
Meanwhile *wash the canning jars, new lids and rings and set up for sterilizing the jars. In a large pot (or canning pot) heat clean water to boiling– enough to cover several jars when submerged – add 3 or 4 washed jars, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. In a smaller saucepan heat clean water to boiling and add the new washed lids and rings. Reduce heat to just below boiling- keep them hot.
After 3 hours drain the cucumber/onion mixture. Do not rinse but discard any remaining ice. In a large non-reactive pot mix the vinegar and the sugar and begin heating. Stir to dissolve the sugar and add the spices. Bring to a boil and add the cucumbers/onions. Mix gently to evenly saturate the mixture in the syrup. Bring back up to a boil and stir. Reduce heat to a simmer.
Begin canning the pickles. Carefully remove hot jars from the hot water bath. Fill each jar to within ½ inch of the top of the jar. Wipe away any excess syrup from the moth of the jar with a clean towel. Place a hot, sterilized lid on top and secure with a ring. Use a hot pad or towel to hold the jar while you screw on the lid as it will be hot. Continue to can all the pickles, adding clean jars to the sterilized water and keeping the pickle mixture hot. I can about 3 or 4 jars at a time.
Some people do another step whereas they put the sealed jars back into another hot water bath, bring to a boil, remove and allow to cool. Since I use new lids every time and always check that a seal has been made on each jar I do not do this step.
However, you do need to check that a seal has been made for each jar. To do this, lightly push on the top center of each jar after it has been filled for at least 15 minutes. If the lid pops up with your touch, it isn’t sealed and if it doesn’t, it has been sealed.
If it has not sealed, check back after another 20-30 minutes. If after 1 hour a jar and lid have not sealed, you will need to replace the lid and seal and place the entire jar in a hot water bath (boiling water with water covering the entire jar) for 10-12 minutes. In all the years I have made preserves, jams and pickles I have never had to do this. Use quality jars and new lids. The rings and jars can be used many times over but new lids are the key to a proper seal.
This recipe makes 12 pints of bread and butter pickles. Refrigerate after opening.
* I wash my jars, lids and rings in the dishwasher on the hottest setting. I try to time this so that all will be clean, rinsed and still hot when I place them in the sterilizing hot water bath.