My friend Cathy in England wrote a while back to ask whether I had a recipe for bread-and-butter pickles. She says she can’t get them in the U.K. but loves them when she’s in the States.
I do, too. These sweet-and-sour cucumber pickles were a staple in our household when I was growing up, as ubiquitous as the bread and butter after which they are named. My grandmother learned to make them from her foster mother, and my mother learned to make them from my grandmother.
SOME DAY I hope to make a version of these with maple syrup. This year, however, I didn’t think about pickling until last week, when cucumbers were suddenly disappearing from gardens and farm stands in our area!
To get something pickled this year, I’m sticking with my mother’s recipe, which probably came from Fannie Farmer long ago. She’s a Fannie Farmer cook. It’s simple, and the brown sugar gives it a mellow flavor.
6 cups thinly sliced pickling cukes (leave the skin on, but remove the ends)
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar (do not pack)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
2 cups mild cider vinegar (I used a store brand rather than the more robust version from my local apple orchard)
In a nonreactive bowl combine the cucumbers, onion slices, pepper strips, and salt. Cover the bowl and let the mixture stand for 3 hours to drain some of the liquid out of the cucumbers.
In a large nonreactive pot combine the brown sugar, spices, and vinegar. Bring them slowly to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse the vegetables thoroughly. Add them to the liquid on the stove and heat just until the liquid is about to simmer once more.
Spoon the vegetables into 4 hot, sterilized pint jars, and cover them with the cooking liquid. Fill the jars but leave 1/2-inch headspace.
(If you’re a little short on liquid, add a small amount of vinegar to the bottom of the cooking pot—where there will still be a residue of the spices—and bring it to a boil; then add that to your jars.)
Cover the jars with two-part lids and process them in boiling water for 10 minutes. (For more information on this process, check out the USDA Guide to Home Canning.)
Now, here’s the hard part: wait at least 6 weeks before you open the first jar. We’re counting the days in our house.
Makes 4 pints.