This cucumber pickle recipe became so popular in the US that it picked up the name ‘bread and butter’ because it was on everybody’s table. Make it just once, and you’ll find out why! Sweet and crunchy, bread and butter pickles are a quick and easy way to deal with a glut of either cucumbers or courgettes, and your friends and family will love them. The process uses glass jars with two-piece metal lids, and although the jars are quite expensive they can be used again and again. As the pickle mix is acidic, this recipe doesn’t have to be done in a pressure cooker.
Despite what you may read elsewhere, you don’t have to pick the cucumbers small for bread and butter pickles. Provided they’re really fresh, straight off the vine, it doesn’t matter if they are fully grown so long as they’re not over ripe. In this recipe the cucumbers are marinaded with the onions, salt and ice, and the syrup is prepared separately. The ice is the secret to keeping the cukes crisp rather than slimy. The recipe below fills nine ¾ litre jars.
Cucumber pickle marinade:
12 cucumbers (or courgettes, or a mix of the two)
8 red onions (yellow can be used but red onions are sweeter)
(This fills three large saucepans leaving enough room for the ice on the top)
8 trays of ice cubes or a similar amount of crushed ice
1.5 cups (375ml) of pickling or sea salt
Cucumber pickle syrup:
1.5 L of cider vinegar (‘regular’ vinegar can be used but isn’t quite so tasty)
4 cups (1 litre) sugar
5 tbsp yellow / black mustard seeds
3 tbsp turmeric
4 tbsp celery seeds
Prepare the vegetables
Wash the cucumbers, cut off their ends, and cut them crosswise into 3mm slices. Slice the onions thinly. Mix them with the cucumbers in large containers, sprinkling the salt over them as you do so. Fill the containers leaving enough room for a layer of ice at the top, then cover them and place them in the fridge. The mix should sit for no less than four hours, but can be left overnight. Just prior to being added to the syrup it should be drained and rinsed a couple of times with cold water.
Prepare a hot water bath:
Fill a very large saucepan with enough water to eventually cover the pickling jars by a couple of centimetres. It’s a good idea to get this going right at the start – water takes a lot of heating! If you leave it until after preparing the syrup, the pickles will have time to cool right down again and may become soft.
Make the syrup:
Simply combine all the ingredients and bring carefully to the boil. While you’re waiting, prepare the jars.
Jars: There are two types of jar available: narrow neck, and wide. Wide necks are easier to deal with when filling, and later when you’re trying to get a forkful of pickles out onto your plate. Wash the jars with very hot water. Rinse them thoroughly, making sure there’s no soap left in them at all. Leave them filled with clean, hot water until required.
Jar lids: Put the lids in a saucepan of boiling water, then turn the heat off – but keep a lid on the saucepan to keep everything hot. Lids should not be reused and should be fresh each time you make pickles.
Check the screw caps. Don’t use any which have dents around the top as they won’t apply an even pressure all around the rim of the jars, making them unlikely to seal properly.
Pack the jars
Add the drained vegetables to the syrup and bring it almost back to the boil. Use a slotted spoon to pack the hot vegetables loosely into the jars, then ladle the syrup into them until they are filled to the bottom of the neck. Give them a gentle shake to settle the contents, and use a chopstick or wooden spoon to help release any trapped air pockets.
Wipe around the rims of the jars with a clean damp cloth. Using tongs, lift the lids out of the hot water and place them on the jars without touching their undersides in the process. Adjust the screw rings so that they’re firm, but do not over-tighten them. This allows expanding air to escape during the water bath process.
Using the jar tongs, place the filled jars in the hot water bath and add more hot water as needed so that they are a couple of centimetres below the surface. Bring the temperature up to between 82 and 85°C (180-185°F) and hold it there for 30 minutes. Leave a cooking thermometer submerged in the water so that you can easily check the temperature.
After 30 minutes, carefully lift the jars out of the water using the tongs. Set them to one side to cool. Within a couple of minutes you should hear a distinctive ‘click’ as the cooling mixture contracts slightly and creates a slight vacuum beneath the lids, pulling them into a concave shape. That’s known as ‘sealing’. When sealed, the jars of cucumber pickle should keep unopened for several months. Once opened, they should be moved to the fridge and used within a few days.
If one jar doesn’t seal properly and you have another batch to process, it can be put back in the water for a second attempt. First, carefully remove the lid and check to see if there is any obvious reason for it not sealing – for instance, a bit of onion lying on the jar rim. However, if it still doesn’t seal after the second attempt it’s probably best put in the fridge (when cool!) and use it first.