Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sweet Pickles

There is no store-brand comparison to homemade bread-and-butter sweet pickles.
During the Depression, pickles were as common as "bread and butter"
on the dinner table; hence, their name.

I'm particular about my pickles. The two recipes I love the most for bread-and-butter pickles, alas, are not to be had. Both are in Michigan. The first is by Murlynn, a wonderful Michigan friend who grew her own cukes and made the most incredible pickles. I savored each and every one and felt fortunate whenever I had a jar of her B and B's in my fridge. The next was by a woman who helped run a hamburger booth at the local summer socials held across from my studio. How I miss those pickles. Why didn't I ask, beg, and plead for the recipes?

Pickles begin as small cucumbers. They are sliced and soaked or "pickled"
in a solution of vinegar with spices and sugar.

I went through a ton of recipes before settling on the following. I liked this one because it used fresh, whole spices, not just "pickling spices" which is mostly mustard seed, anyway. Most recipes used a 1-1 ratio of sugar to vinegar. I cut back on the red pepper flakes and, before packing the jars, I placed several slices of fresh garlic in the bottom of each.

Canning really is not difficult and the results are so self satisfying, especially in winter when you open up your summer bounty. Follow these few rules:
  1. Have your kitchen clean and ready to go. Keep a sink full of hot sudsy water to which you've added a capful of bleach. Use clean towels and dishcloths, not sponges. Use metal utensils, not plastic or wood.
  2. Have your pots, jars, lids, rings, spoons, all lined up and ready to go. Keep the jars simmering in the hot-water bath until ready to use. Keep the lids and rings in a medium saucepan in simmering water, likewise.
  3. Keep your counters clear of clutter.
  • Ingredients:
  • 2.5-3 pounds pickling-sized cucumbers
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1 cup apple-cider vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 6 allspice berries (and a pinch of ground allspice)
  • 6 whole cloves (and a pinch of ground cloves)
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 6 pint-sized canning jars

Early in the day: wash cucumbers thoroughly. Do not peel. Slice into generous 1/4-inch rounds and place in a large bowl. Thinly slice the onion. Add to cukes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup pickling salt and thoroughly mix. The salt draws out the water from the cucumber resulting in a crisp chip. Place a clean, cotton towel on top (not terrycloth) and cover with several inches of ice. Place in refrigerator for about 4 hours.

Slice the cukes. Add onion and salt.

Cover with a clean, cotton towel and ice. Refrigerate.

Remove towel and ice.

Drain in colander. Rinse several times
under cold water. Allow to drain.

In a large pan, measure out the vinegars and add the spices. Bring just to a boil.

Whole spices are less likely to cloud the vinegar mixture.

Add the drained, rinsed, cucumber mixture and just simmer, don't boil, for about 8 minutes or so. Stir as little as possible. You don't want to break up the chips.

Remove now-sterilized jars from water bath using tongs. Have them lined up on a heat-proof cutting board. If using, place several slices of garlic in the bottom of each jar. Using a slotted, metal spoon, spoon pickles into jars to about an inch from the top and then fill with hot liquid to about 1/4 inch. Push down gently to release any air pockets. Proceed to rest of the jars. A wide-mouth funnels simplifies this part of the process.

Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe the rim of each jar clean. The jar will be very hot, so you may need another wet cloth to hold it. Using tongs, carefully remove lid from hot water in saucepan and place on top of jar. Place on band and screw firmly. Proceed to rest of jars.

Lower jars into water bath. Water should cover the jars by at least one inch. As soon as water returns to a boil, cover and process for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove jars and place on several thicknesses of towels. Jars will usually "ping" as they cool, so don't be alarmed. When cool, jars should be sealed. If a jar isn't sealed properly, you will be able to push down on the lid and it will pop back up. Place those in the fridge and do not store.

Allow pickles "to cure" or mellow for at least three weeks before opening.

These are unusually good on a ham sandwich. Or spread a Ritz cracker with simple cream cheese and top with a pickle! I think my old friend Murlynn would be quite pleased!