I tend to go to the Greenmarket and buy items with high ambitions in mind, particularly at this time of year. I have vague notions of canning and otherwise preserving the season's bounty to tide us through the cold hard winter, forgetting that this sort of Little House on the Prairie exercise is not, strictly speaking, necessary in this age of plenty. But that does not stop me from purchasing with abandon.
So, after a week of less time at home than I had anticipated, this weekend I was left with a refrigerator that was filled to bursting with my produce haul from the weekend prior. So, as difficult as it was, I refrained from making my weekly pilgrimage to Union Square on Saturday and vowed to do something with what I already had.
The first order of business, perhaps because they were taking up the most room, was to address my considerable stash of Kirby cucumbers. Kirbies, the quintessential pickling cucumber, simply cry out to be drowned in some sort of vinegar or brine concoction, doing otherwise would be sacrilegious. Not just because they look so cute in a pickle jar and keep a nice crunchy texture, but also because they are totally underwhelming eaten raw.
As I already had a fairly respectable store of sour pickles (thank you Michael Ruhlman), it was time to move on to one of my all time favorite varieties, bread and butter pickles. Now I've gone through quite a few recipes for these over the years, mostly from trendy preserving and pickling books that seem to have grown out of this recent hipster DIY canning movement, and frankly all of them were disappointing. I ended up with mushy pickles, with overly piquant pickles, with bright orange pickles...none of them achieved that sweet/sour/aromatic crunch that I yearned for.
Since bread and butter pickles hearken from another age (I feel as if they would be made by a grandmother, although neither of mine has ever come within ten feet of one), I figured my best bet would be to consult a cookbook from another age. Hence I turned to The "New" Doubleday Cookbook, copyright 1975.
I believe my mother bought the book for me when I was leaving for college in an effort to ensure that I would eat well while I was away. I salute her effort, but the idea that a mere cookbook could work against the forces of the frozen yogurt bar in the dining hall and the myriad options for late night cheesesteaks is in retrospect a bit funny.
But now that I am older and wiser (and I no longer have the metabolism of a collegiate athlete), I do actually use the book. And once I discovered the fabulous bread and butter pickle recipe, it won a spot on my heavy rotation bookshelf in the kitchen, from whence I pulled it to give you the seminal recipe for Aunt Florrie's Bread and Butter Pickles.
Aunt Florrie's Bread and Butter Pickles
From The New Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson & Elaine Hanna
Yields 6 quarts (96 servings)
4 quarts paper-thin unpeeled cucumber slices
8 medium-size white onions, peeled and sliced paper thin
2 medium-size sweet green or red peppers, washed, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped (I usually omit this ingredient)
1/2 cup pickling salt (I use Kosher)
1 quart cracked ice
5 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons mustard seeds (I use brown mustard seeds)
1 teaspoon celery seeds
5 cups cider or white vinegar (I prefer cider, but both are good)
Mix all vegetables, salt, and ice in a very large colander, weight down, pressing out liquid, set over a large kettle and let stand 3 hours, in refrigerator if possible. (I tend to put the colander in my sink, set a plate over the cucumbers and place a tea kettle full of water on the plate to weigh it down). (Note: If kitchen is warm and you haven't refrigerator space, add more cracked ice after 1 1/2 hours.) Meanwhile, wash and sterilize 6 quart jars and lids (I usually just run them through the dishwasher).
Mix sugar, spices and vinegar in a very large enamel or stainless steel kettle. Drain vegetables well and add to kettle. Heat, uncovered, over moderate heat just to the boiling point, moving a wooden spoon through mixture occasionally but not actually stirring. Ladle boiling hot into jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops, wipe rims, and seal. Cool, check seals, label and store in a cool, dark, dry place. Let stand 4-6 weeks before serving. If you don't want to hassle with the actual canning/sealing part of this recipe, just keep the jars in the fridge. They last for ages.