Making Bread and Butter Pickles

Before beginning to make pickled eggs, I had never cared much for pickles of just about any sort all my life, although over time I have come to realize that I wasn’t as averse to pickled items as much as I thought, demonstrated by having begun making pickled eggs and continuing to love them for many years now.

My mom, on the other hand, has enjoyed several kinds of pickles as long as I remember. While I was growing up, every summer into the fall, she would be part of a group of ladies at our church who would be making various jams, jellies, and pickled vegetables to sell later each autumn at the church’s fund-raising bazaar. This in fact was an indirect inspiration for me, a couple of decades later, to make my pickled eggs to contribute to the same church bazaar table. To this day, every year my mom makes an English-style chutney containing rhubarb (which she grows in her garden), raisins, and onions, using the recipe the church group assigned to her to make in the early 1980’s.

Over the years, one of the things that I have been keeping my eyes out for at roadside farmers’ stands on my way up to the cottage are artisanal jars of pickles from the local farmers to keep my mom supplied with pickles, usually of the bread and butter pickles, and pickled beets, varieties. For several years, one stand in particular sold bread and butter pickles that my mom really liked; however, the stand has since closed. I won’t be trying to find out whether the lady who made them distributes them elsewhere; conversations over the years indicated that she found that making at least her bread and butter pickles was becoming too much trouble for the price she was able to charge.

A growing nagging feeling that I should at least experiment making bread and butter pickles for my mom has been developing over the past couple of years.

This year, after having found a different road side stand distributing various pickled vegetables from a local cabane à sucre (maple sugar shack) (here’s my archive), I bought some jars of the bread and butter pickles for my mom. She tried them, and found them to be representative of the style but not as good as those from the closed farmer’s stand, and further, that the jars appeared not as fully packed as the other jars.

This proved to be one of two imps pushing me over the edge to experiment, the other imp being having found a three litre basket of pickling cucumbers at my local grocery store shortly thereafter, which I decided to purchase.

I almost looked for a recipe for bread and butter pickles on the internet, but just in time, I discovered on the back of a packet of the pickling spices I use for my pickled eggs a recipe for bread and butter pickles (here’s the recipe I developed, based on the recipe on the back of the bag.) I was mildly amused to see it there, having never noticed it before in all the years that I had been using this brand of pickling spices for my pickled eggs.

Already having a supply of onions, sugar, and vinegar, I proceeded to wash then slice the cucumbers in my food processor using the slicing tool. The recipe was based on cups of sliced cucumbers, so given the number of cups of sliced cucumbers I actually produced from what I’d purchased in the three litre basket (14 cups, as compared to the base recipe’s 20 cups), I adjusted the amounts of each of the rest of the ingredients accordingly.

I deviated from the original recipe in the following ways:

– The original recipe called for thinly slicing the onions, while I coarsely chopped the onions;

– In addition to the pickling spice blend in the bag, the original recipe called for mustard seeds, turmeric, and celery seeds, which I did not have, and which I simply omitted;

– The original recipe called for packing sterilized jars with the cucumber slices, onions, and pickling solution immediately once bringing the mix to a rolling boil, and then boiling the sealed mason jars in a water bath for 10 minutes, while I instead boiled the cucumbers and pickling solution for ten minutes, then packed them in sterilized mason jars, and finally proceeded directly to cooling the jars, over concerns that, not having used the water bath method before, I would suffer jar breakage.

Tasting a leftover pickle that didn’t get bottled, I could tell that it tasted roughly like what I knew bread and butter pickles should taste like.

The whole process, including cleaning up, took about two and a half hours, and produced five jars of about 450mL each. I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy it was.

My mom was thrilled to learn that I’d conducted my experiment, and anxiously awaited my next visit so that she could try the results.

In the meantime, I had a nagging guilt about not following the instructions and not treating the filled jars in a water bath. The following week, when I happened to be back at the grocery store, I happened upon another display with more pickling cucumbers, and yet another imp convinced me to buy a three-litre basket of cucumbers.

This time, I decided to follow the recipe a bit more closely, given that I already had what I considered to be an otherwise successful batch of pickles in sealed jars already in storage: While I decided to continue omitting the turmeric, mustard seeds, and celery seeds, I sliced the onions thinly and into coins; I brought the cucumber slices, sliced onions, and pickling solution to a boil; then I immediately packed the sterilized mason jars with the mix; and then boiled the sealed jars in a water bath for ten minutes. I did not have any jar breakage. The second basket I’d purchased seemed to have more cucumbers than the first basket (16 cups of sliced cucumbers), and I produced seven 500mL mason jars, as well as one 250mL mason jar.

In the meantime, my mom had made some pickles using some instructions she’d received from a friend, involving the use of pickling solution saved from a number of previously consumed jars of pickles, and some English cucumbers she’d purchased.

The following week, I visited my mom, bearing a jar from each batch, and we set up a taste-test. Fortunately, I am not outright averse to bread and butter pickles; they just aren’t something for which I’ve acquired a taste – yet. 🙂

We had four jars of pickles to compare, which we rated as follows by preference (1 – liked the most, 4 – liked the least):

1: My batch #2 – perfect, and crunchy (refrigerated)

2: My batch #1 – almost as good as “my batch #2”, but not crunchy, at least not enough, and otherwise very good (not refrigerated)

3: Current roadside stand pickles – okay, but not as good (refrigerated)

4: My mom’s recycled pickling solution experiment with English cucumber (refrigerated) – fourth place, and okay but decidedly unremarkable.

We came up with a suspicion afterwards: Since “my batch #1” wasn’t refrigerated while the others were, we wondered if that could have made a difference in the crunchiness.

I received a phone call a couple of days later about “my batch #1”: After refrigeration, they were declared a complete success, since they developed a certain crunch in the fridge.

So my experiments seem to have been successful, at least until and unless I find some spoilage in the jars of “my batch #1” after a few months, if they last that long, and of course which I am not expecting to occur anyway.

And, who knows? Maybe I’ll develop a taste for my bread and butter pickles!

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