My mom makes the best bread and butter pickles. I bet you think your mom makes the best bread and butter pickles, too. So is it about the cucumbers, the brine or the mom?
I asked around the office and looked around a bit online, and am I’m convinced it’s all about the mom. That’s because there’s so little variation in bread and butter pickle recipes. They all include the same five things in roughly the same proportions:
Cucumbers and Onions
Relatively thin rounds of sliced cucumbers and sliced onions. I usually peel my cukes but that’s up to you.
Plain white vinegar is standard. Some recipes call for blending it with apple cider vinegar.
Salting the cucumbers draws out the their natural juices so they’ll be eager to absorb the brine. This step requires a shocking amount of salt, but most of it gets poured off. Be sure to use kosher or pickling salt, not standard table salt
You may be surprised by the large amount of sugar in these recipes. You can experiment with cutting it back a bit, but I doubt your mom would have done that.
Mustard seeds, celery seeds and turmeric are standard. Don’t use that old stuff in your spice drawer; your homegrown pickles deserve better. Some people add stick cinnamon, whole cloves and whole allspice. Did your mom do that?
Here’s the recipe my mom and I use. It’s from that oldy-but-goodie book published in the mid-70s, Putting Food By, by Ruth Hertzberg, Janet Greene and Beatrice Vaughan. If you’re not up for the canning part, just let the jars cool and then keep them in your refrigerator. I don’t have room in my refrigerator for more than one jar of pickles at a time, so I can my pickles so they can be stored on a shelf in the pantry.
A couple notes. I like to use the milder red or white onions rather than yellow onions. I also like to add a few red pepper slices to each jar for color (see photo, above).
from Putting Food By
- 6 lbs medium cucumbers
- 1 1/2 cups sliced onions
- 1 large garlic cloves, left whole
- 1/3 cup salt
- 2 trays of ice cubes
- 4 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp celery seed
- 2 tbsp mustard seed
- 3 cups white vinegar
Wash the cucumbers thoroughly; drain; cut unpeeled cucumbers into 1/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, combine the cucumber slices, onion, garlic and salt; cover with the ice, mix thoroughly and let stand for 3 hours. Drain off the liquid and remove the garlic. In a large pot, combine the sugar, spices and vinegar and heat just to a boil. Add the cucumber and onion slices; simmer together 10 minutes. Pack loosely in clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom; remove air bubbles. Adjust lids; process in a boiling-water bath (212 degrees F.) for 10 minutes. Remove. Cool. Makes 7 pints.
If you’re not an experienced pickle-maker, you might want to check out the B&B pickle recipe on Simply Recipes as there are good step-by-step photos that give you an idea what to expect at each stage.
Have your own special tweaks on this traditional homemade condiment? Leave a recipe or comment below.