Monday, July 6, 2009

Sweet pickles or how to use up a few cucumbers

My mom always made 14-day pickles and I still make them but they take so long I try to can enough to last a couple of years. So on the "off" years I've been making Helen Witty's bread-and-butter pickles with onions from her "Fancy Pantry" cookbook. We really like their sweet crunch and any extra pickling juice goes over a jarful of sliced onions that I stash in the fridge for use in salads or on sandwiches.

This weekend I put up 25 pints of bread-and-butter pickles minus the onions as these jars are intended for my mother's pantry instead of ours. She doesn't do much canning anymore but likes to keep her pantry shelves full of good things my sister or I have put up.

The recipe is easy and though timing plays a part, it doesn't require a do-or-die schedule. Also, I use Witty's ingredient list as written but I play fast and loose with the directions because I rarely have ONLY a dozen cucumbers ready for pickling at one time. I most often prepare my cucumbers by washing, slicing and putting into a clean food-safe 5-gallon plastic bucket. Pour clean water by measured gallon over the cucumbers and then pour the water off and mix up lime and water as needed to cover cucumbers using Witty's proportions of 1 cup pickling lime to 1 gallon cool water. And add the sliced cucumbers to the lime-water mixture. This way I'm sure to have enough water to cover any amount of cucumbers I have on hand.When it comes time to mix up the pickling liquid, I multiply the ingredient amounts so the yield will be about two-thirds of the amount of water required to cover pickles in the first step. If I have any liquid left over after canning, I pour it over onion slices and store the mixture in the fridge to use fresh.

Extra-Crisp Bread and Butter Pickle Slices
from "Fancy Pantry" by Helen Witty

12 firm, fresh pickling cucumbers (6-inches long)
1 gallon cool water
1 cup pickling lime
64 ounces apple cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 tablespoon fine non-iodized salt
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1-1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 quart of sliced onions, cut 1/4-inch thick

Wash cucumbers. Cut off and discard both ends, then cut cucumbers into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Measure cool water into a ceramic, stainless steel or other non-reactive container (do not use an aluminum container) and stir in the pickling lime very thoroughly. It will not dissolve completely. Add sliced cucumbers, stir, cover, and set aside overnight or for up to 24 hours. Stir them once or twice.

Drain the cucumbers into a colander. Return them to the rinsed out container and rinse them in three more batches of cool water, stirring them well as you do so. Drain them again and add cool water to cover them by an inch or two. Set them aside for three hours.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and other seasonings in a non-reactive saucepan. Heat the mixture to boiling, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then boil it, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the cucumbers well and return them to the first container along with the sliced onions. When the syrup has boiled 5 minutes, pour it over the slices. Stir the slices gently, then push them under the surface, cover the bowl with a towel, and set it aside overnight.

Transfer the cucumbers and syrup to a large preserving pan and cook the whole business, covered, over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally (be careful not to break the brittle slices), until the cucumbers are translucent, 20 to 30 minutes.

Using a funnel, spoon, long fork or tongs, arrange the pickle slices in 8 hot, clean pint canning jars, leaving about 1/2-inch of headspace. Divide the spices from the syrup among the jars, then add boiling-hot syrup to reach 1/4-inch from rims. Remove any bubbles and add more syrup, if necessary. Seal the jars with two-piece canning lids and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Cool, label and store the jars. Be sure to let the pickles mellow for 4-6 weeks, then chill before opening.

If you're new to canning or using the water bath method, please refer to the latest Ball Blue Book of Preserving or the USDA-funded website, National Center for Home Food Preserving, for detailed directions.

Besides pickles, I put up cucumbers by drying them. They make a tasty vegetable cracker substitute similar to zucchini chips -- DS even prefers the cucumber chips to the zucchini chips. And they are wonderful to use for making cucumber dip. Just grind up a couple tablespoons of dried cucumber slices and add the powder to sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese or your favorite blend of the same. It also makes a delicious cucumber spread for sandwiches in the middle of winter.


Anonymous said...

wow! i had never heard of drying cukes! amazing business. must try!

Carolyn said...

Have to say I didn't think of it myself. Mary Bell mentions it in her recent "Food Drying with an Attitude" cookbook and I read of it even earlier in one of the Bread Beckers' recipe collections.

Really good to use in the garden off-season for making tzatziki with the added plus that it doesn't get watery as when made with fresh cucumbers.

linda said...

That recipe looks great. Do you pretreat the cucumbers before drying?

Carolyn said...

No, I don't pretreat the cucumbers before drying, Linda. I usually peel them, tho, as you may note in the picture. Not necessary except if the peels are bitter or that's one's preference. And they could be chopped or shredded before drying, too. I find them most versatile and easiest to dry on my dehydrator shelves if I slice them.

I'm putting up more cucumbers today -- some in the dehydrator and some are going into a batch of freezer pickles. Part of next week's harvest will be a new-to-me dill recipe, I think.