Several years ago, I developed a really good recipe for a chunky spiced applesauce. It has just the right blend of sweet and tart apples, spices, and a touch of fresh lemon juice. Because it is not too sweet, it goes over well with both adults and children, and it is great to use as a lighter substitute for oil in baking.
When I was growing up, my mom always made delicious homemade applesauce in the Fall, when the local orchard was overflowing with bushels of McIntosh, Golden Delicious, and Gala varietals. After preparing a large batch, we would place it in our big downstairs freezer to enjoy year-round. Since I don't have the same amount of freezer space, I decided to take the opportunity to learn how to do home-canning, so that I could not only store the applesauce in my pantry, but give it away as gifts (who doesn't love the gift of homemade food??). I was surprised to find that, with the correct tools and a few instructions, canning is extremely easy. I learned everything that I need to know from a book called The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, and I have been a canning machine ever since, making everything from strawberry-rhubarb jam to southern chow-chow. I think part of the attraction is that it makes me feel like I am living off the land on a farm as opposed to a subdivision in the desert located ten minutes from the Las Vegas strip....
After seeing a large display of Kirby cucumbers at Trader Joe's the other day, I decided that it was time to make my own bread and butter pickles. I was fortunate to marry someone who agrees that dill pickles run too sour, and sweet gherkins are, well, too sweet, so we usually go through Costco's economy-sized bread and butter pickle jar a few time per year. By learning to make my own, and placing them in smaller containers, we wouldn't feel the pressure to eat pickles with everything, in order to go through a multi-gallon container before they go bad. These pickles are great on burgers or sandwiches, mixed into salads, and on their own, so make up a batch for your summertime meals. You can even prepare them without canning (see below)--just eat them quickly! Here are some tips for these sweet and sour sandwich toppers:
- Although it seems like a large amount of salt, the salt brine helps the cucumbers to remain crunchy. Most of the salt is discarded.
- Kirby cucumbers are traditionally used for pickling or slicing. They are small with bumpy yellow or green skin. I found them at Trader Joe's, but they were labeled as "Persian Cucumbers." If you cannot find them, try substituting English cucumbers.
- For uniform sized slices, use a mandoline set at the ⅛-inch thickness level. If you don't have a mandoline, just slice the cucumbers as evenly as you can.
- If you are not canning the pickles for dry storage, or if you are not giving some away, you might want to cut this recipe in half, as it makes a large amount.
- If you like a spicier pickle, then add ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to the mixture, along with the mustard seeds, turmeric, and celery salt.
Bread and Butter Pickles
Makes about 6 pints
1 cup kosher salt
1 ½ gallons water
5 ½ pound Kirby cucumbers, sliced crosswise about ⅛-inch thick
5 cups cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 ½ pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
In a large pot, dissolve the salt in the water. Add the cucumbers, cover, and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
In a large pot, combine the vinegar and sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Drain the cucumbers and add them to the pot. Stir gently and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat.
If you are canning the pickles, ladle the hot cucumbers and their liquid into 6 hot 1-pint canning jars, leaving about ½-inch of space at the top. Close the lids and rings. Process by boiling the jars for 10 minutes. Cool the pickles to room temperature and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.
If you are not canning the pickles, let the cucumbers cool for a few hours in the covered pot. Transfer to containers, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.