Growing up, the return of hot weather meant it was time to tend the garden. Tending the garden meant it would soon be time for canning — tomatoes, squash, beans and, above all, bread and butter pickles.
Fights would break out over homemade bread and butter pickles, but when it was time to make them, it was hard to find good help. The combination of a hot summer’s day and an enormous cauldron of boiling water for processing the finished jars was too much for most people. Nowadays, I’m fortunate to have a working and quite efficient air conditioner, and pickling has become much easier. As temperatures warm up, I get the itch to start putting up pickles as soon as I get my hands on enough cucumbers. This past weekend, I noticed farmers markets and grocers pricing and putting out enough cucumbers for a good batch.
Here’s the recipe I use. If you end up with some extra juice, as I usually do, I put up a small jar of pickled squash or carrots.
Bread & Butter Pickles
Makes about 8 quarts. Recipe is by Beth Colvin. Use a mandolin slicer with a finger guard to make quick work of the slicing — and keep all your fingers.
25 cucumbers, about 10 lbs., washed well and sliced thin
5 to 6 medium purple onions, sliced thin
2 tbls. minced garlic
2 tbls. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup salt
4 cups cider vinegar
5 cups white sugar
2 tbls. mustard seed
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1 tbl. ground tumeric
1. In a large, non-reactive container (I use an ice chest), put the sliced cucumbers, onions, garlic, pepper and canning salt. Stir to combine and allow to sit for at least 3 hours. Add a couple of quarts of water, stir again to rinse and drain.
2. In a very large pot, bring enough water to a boil to cover filled jars by 1 inch. Put cold jars, lids and rings in cool or just warm water and, over medium-high heat, bring to a boil.
3. In another large pot, combine the cider vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, cloves and tumeric. Bring to a boil over medium heat and add the cucumbers and onions. Stirring occasionally, allow to just barely come back to a boil. Remove from heat.
4. Remove jars and lids from the canning pot. Using a slotted spoon, fill jars with cucumbers and onions. Push them down lightly to pack, then ladle the liquid over the cucumbers. Leave about a 1/2 inch space in the jar. Run a spatula or butter knife around the edges to release any trapped air. Place the hot lids on the jar and secure with rings.
5. Return the jars to the hot-water bath, making sure there’s at least an inch of water over each jar. Bring the water to boil, then cover and boil for 10 minutes. Using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars from the water and place on a counter covered with a towel. You may hear some popping as the jars seal; that’s normal. Allow the jars to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. If the seals are correct, you should not be able to pop the lids. If not, refrigerate and use immediately. Correctly sealed jars should have the rings removed and may be stored in a cool, dark place for at least a year.