While I love most of all to make jam, I do love to eat pickles, especially home-made pickles. Our family has a terrific and super-easy recipe for sour pickles I'll share later in the summer, but for now it's bread and butter pickles. I tried a sweet fiddlehead pickle recipe recently, but I didn't love it, and neither did anyone else who tried it. We all loved the taste of the sweet juice in the jar, but without the taste of the fiddleheads, or pickle-heads, as my daughters call them. The fiddleheads are much better with dill. So, we got the itch to make good old fashioned bread and butter pickles, with cucumbers and onions. You too can make these-- don't be intimidated! Do it. You'll see the flash of nostalgia in their eyes as they eat their first bite, and from there on you'll be their favorite culinary genius.
3 Lbs of cukes (known as pickling cucumbers in your local market)
1 Lb yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt-- don't use regular salt or your pickles will look cloudy and gross
1 1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbs mustard seed
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3/4 tsp celery seed
1 inch cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
6 whole cloves plus a pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp turmeric
If you intend to put your pickles into jars to be shelved, you'll also need:
-6 pint-sized jars with lids (pick these up at any supermarket starting in the spring)
-a big stock pot or canning pot with a rack-- you can make the rack out of screw-bands tied together with twisties
-Tongs or a jar-lifter
Clean the cukes and cut off the ends. Slice them into 1/8 - 1/4 inch slices into a big bowl. Add the onions and pickling salt and stir it all up.
Cover this with a thin towel-- really, just set the towel on top of all the cukes and onions, then cover that with ice so the whole towel is covered. Put the bowl in your fridge for several hours (at least 4, but overnight is good). Take the bowl out and throw away the ice. Rinse off your cukes and onions and drain the water. Do this a second time.
Now-- if you intend to keep your jars of pickles on a shelf, or give them away at Christmas, you'll need to process the jars appropriately. If you're bringing them to a big picnic this weekend, move on to the next paragraph now. Clean your jars and lids with soap and water, then, while you're cooking the pickles, pour boiling water over the lids in a separate bowl. Most people consider the dishwasher to be enough sterilization for jars, so go ahead and just set the jars aside, ready to fill. If you insist on actual sterilization (I do this with everything I put in a jar), place the jars in boiling water in a big stock pot for 10 minutes. Then take them out just before you put the pickles in them so they are still hot.
Grab a 6 or 8 quart pot and bring the vinegar, sugar, and all the spices to a boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cukes and onions and bring this to a boil again. You'll want to stir frequently. When the mixture starts boiling, use a slotted spoon to pack just the cukes and onions into your jars. Pack them up to an inch from the top of the jars. Then use a ladle to pour the vinegar syrup over the cukes into the jars, up to half and inch from the tops. Wipe all the rims of your jars clean with a wet paper-towel, then take your lids out of the hot water to cover your jars. If you're not keeping these on a shelf, go ahead and let them cool, then put all the jars in the fridge. Voila. Done. I hope you got a taste before you sealed your jars!
OK-- here's the important part when it comes to keeping these bad boys on a shelf. Use the same big stock pot you used to sterilize your jars-- the water should still be hot. If you tie together a bunch of jar screw-bands with twisties, you can use these as a rack on the bottom of your pot. The jars shouldn't be touching the bottom, so try to avoid this in some way. Once you have boiling water and a make-shift rack, put your jars into the pot-- you'll want to use strong tongs if you have them-- and let them boil, covers in tact, for 10 minutes. This is known as a boiling water bath in the world of canning. You can do it. When your 10 minutes is up, remove the pot from the heat and do your best to safely remove the jars from the pot using your tongs or other grabbing device. If you intend to do any more canning, you should pick up one of those canning equipment sets-- you can get these anywhere from big supermarket chains to Wally-world. This'll make things easier in the future.
I hope you love these little babies as much as we do! If you just can't imagine canning anything and prefer to buy them from a qualified pickle-maker, look forward to checking out my web site. It's soon to be in-the-making. Until then, leave a comment if you'd rather me send you a jar.