exploring, preserving: past, present

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Beautiful Bread and Butter #Pickles, or 4 Hours of My #Canning Life

bread and butter pickles

My recipe for bread and butter pickles comes from my mother. That recipe stems from a now unlocateable newspaper clipping, and years of adjusting the recipe to family’s tastebuds.  At the end of this post, I will share the recipe with you.

To me, there’s almost nothing more pretty than a perfectly canned pint of bread and butter pickles. This is another preserved item that I simply did not like at all growing up–something about all those onions–and now I just love the taste, texture, colour…everything about it. It’s a recipe that is much more time-consuming than dills, however, because of all the slicing.

Slicing can become dangerous if you’re not careful. I have a wonderful, very sharp, mandoline for slicing the cucumbers and onions. My husband is impressed with how perfectly uniform the slices are (hey, that’s what a mandoline does!).

This is approximately 4 pounds of cucumbers sliced with 3 large sweet spanish onions.

The slicing is what took up an hour of my time. It took about half an hour for me to staunch the bleeding from my thumb, which I nicked on the mandoline while loading it into the dishwasher (sigh). When discussing this injury with my mother yesterday, she proudly proclaimed that this was the first year she had not injured herself while making bread and butter pickles. Oh, the sacrifices we make while canning and preserving!

Because my dominant hand’s thumb was now bandaged and slowing me down, what would have normally taken only an hour or so more than doubled, as I packed 14 pints for processing.

Waiting for processing…mmm!

The turmeric spice is what adds the gorgeous colour to the pickles after they are processed. Lovely as well as flavourful!

I will share the recipe with you in this post–it’s a favourite of my family’s and I hope you will try it and tell me what you think!

Bread and Butter Pickles  (makes 7 pints)

4 pounds cucumbers

3 large sweet onions (Spanish or Vidalia work nicely)

1/2 cup salt (can be adjusted to less if on lower salt diet)

1 quart (1200 mL) pickling vinegar

3 cups sugar (can be adjusted to less if on low sugar diet)

2 tsp mustard seed

2 tsp celery seed (I have sometimes substituted fennel seed, adds similar flavour)

2 tsp ginger (fresh grated is best!)

1 tsp turmeric

Wash, then soak cucumbers in cold water for 4 hours (if coming straight from the garden or storage shed). Alternatively, chill cucumbers in fridge in preparation for slicing. All you really want is cold cucumbers to prevent losing too much juice while slicing.

Slice cucumbers without peeling them. Slice onions after peeling and stemming them.

Prepare jars in your water bath, or sterilize jars and keep them hot in the dishwasher. Keep lids on low simmer while waiting for processing.

Prepare brine by heating vinegar, salt, sugar, mustard seed, celery (or fennel) seed, ginger, and turmeric to dissolve salt and sugar and activate spices. Typically, canning recipes ask for spices to be in cheesecloth bag, but I mix them all in and strain them out later. Save what you strain so you can put a bit of the spices into the top of each jar you process!

Tightly pack jars with sliced cucumbers and onions. Put one teaspoon of strained spice mixture in each jar. Pour hot brine into jars, leaving approximately 1 cm head space. Use rubber spatula or wooden utensil to remove air trapped between slices, and add more brine if necessary to adjust head space. Seal jars finger tight.

Process in lidded, boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove lid, let sit for 5 minutes, then remove. If you remember my past posts about troubleshooting tips, you’ll flip those jars upside down on paper or cardboard (something where leaks are easily noticeable). Leave upside down undisturbed for 12-24 hours. If leaks develop, retighten and reseal. Reprocessing is not necessary if contents are still hot as vacuum will still form in cooling process.


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Lots of #canning, #preserving, and #troubleshooting today!

Tomorrow I will spend some time blogging about my chat with my mom today, and how “I am my father’s daughter” when it comes to apricots. But that’s going to have to wait, because today was a very long day of canning, preserving, blanching, and freezing.

Proof of my exploits are below:

4 quarts of dills, 7 pints of beets, 2 bags of blanched green beans, 2 bags of blanched yellow beans, 2 bags of rhubarb, 3 bags of sour cherries (only one of them pitted…so time consuming!)

The above took me all morning, all afternoon, and an hour after supper. But I didn’t stop there, oh no! Had to get some fruit preserves (not just frozen) into the mix. So for the first time ever, I raw packed apricots (halved and pitted) into light syrup.

6 pints of halved and pitted apricots, raw packed in light syrup. Not sure if they’ll seal properly, it’s my first time raw packing fruit…


While I was canning my beets, I noticed that after they came out of the canner all the jars had this cloudy film all over the glass:

Cloudy film coating the pint jars after processing

No, it’s not because they’re hot and it will disappear when it cools. No, it’s not because they’re not sterilized or cleaned. It’s either my canner starting to age and the metal reacting with the minerals in our tap water (leaving a filmy calcified deposit on the glass), or there were more minerals in the tap water today than other days.

No worries…the cloudy film easily wipes off to reveal the pretty preserves beneath!

A quick rub with a damp towel, and the processed beets are revealed!

As you must realize from the top two pictures, I have a lot to talk about–blanching, freezing, pitting fruits (is it really worth it or not?). But that, my friends, will wait for more blog posts starting tomorrow. It’s been a long and successful day of canning, and I’m tired! More blogging tomorrow after a good night’s rest!

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“Grandma’s Dill Pickles”: Day Two

This dill pickle recipe sounds time-consuming (two days effort), but Day One really didn’t have much to do–layering in a crock with brine (see “Grandma’s Dill Pickles” for Day One info).

Day Two: it’s important to get those pickles out of the crock before 18 hours is up, or they’ll be oversoaked and go limp in the processing stage.

What’s Needed for this recipe: pickling vinegar, pickling spice, mustard seed, garlic, distilled water, coarse (pickling) salt, sugar. (Not pictured: fresh dill weed.)

Pickling spice is called for in this recipe from Bernardin. You can either purchase the spice premade or mix your own (that’s for another post!). I chose to purchase the premade just to see what the taste difference might be. I prefer, however, to mix my own because it lets me control the flavours I like.

This is the purchased pickling spice I used. You can see the bay leaves, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and other spices in the mix.

It’s worth highlighting the difference between pickling salt and other salts out on the market. Pickling salt has less additives than normal table salts, sea salts, or other salts on the market. It is the iodization process and the addition of other salts than sodium chloride that allow table salts to flow better and to provide the addition of a few minerals into our diets (such as iodine). This too prevents pickles from maintaining their crispness.

Be careful which salt you purchase for pickling! Make sure the label highlights its use in pickling–if it doesn’t mention that, it’s not the right kind of salt!

Always check the label of your purchased salt–it should mention that it is usable for pickling. Reading the list of ingredients will also tell you if there are no chlorine/iodine additives.  Kosher salt is another acceptable salt as it does not have the additives that regular table salts and sea salts have.

Also important to the canning process is to make sure everything you are using is at the same temperature before processing canned goods. Jars and lids should be cleaned, sterilized, and kept warm. (Keeping them in a hot dishwasher, or keeping them in the hot water of your canner, works great.)

The brine created for this pickle recipe comes from dissolving sugar into vinegar and distilled water and boiling pickling spice with it. The recipe called for placing the pickling spice in a cheesecloth bag so its easily removed later. I didn’t have cheesecloth but it’s just as easy to strain it out after.

Sugar dissolving in vinegar and water, with pickling spice mixed in.

Once the brine is hot, your canner water is hot (this can just be tap water as it’s what is used in processing, not what ends up inside the canning jars), and your jars are hot, it’s time to fill those jars!

Pickles in quart jars waiting to be processed.

It’s important to have the lids on tight, but not too tight. Processing involves boiling these jars for 20 minutes, so the contents inside heat and expand. The lids should be finger tight. You will see some bubbles coming out of the jars as processing occurs, because the small amount of air (head space) left in the jars is escaping as the contents expand a bit.

Five quarts of dill pickles processing in the canner.

After processing, the jars are pulled out of the water and left to cool. It’s important to check them as they cool, tightening the lids throughout the cooling process.

Five quarts of dill cooling on cork trivets. Yum!

So how much time did this take me? Day One only took about 15 minutes of prep time. Day Two was more prep time as it involved making a brine (15 minutes), preparing jars and canner water (15 minutes), prepping the jar contents (10 minutes), and processing the jars (20 minutes).  All in all, though, I think this was well worth the effort. Making your own batch of dill pickles is not only immensely satisfying, it also allows you to control the content–sugar, salt, flavourings. (Have you ever looked at a store-bought jar of pickles? They typically come from India, and have an extremely high salt content.)

So many more things to talk about: how salt and sugar are important in the process of preserving (but you can play with amounts or remove and replace with other salty/sweet additives!), always use rubber/wooden utensils when preserving, how to choose good produce for pickling….

Enjoy your day, and thanks for following my blog!