Today I am going to tell you about pickles. And I'm going to tell you about how much I love pickles. I love them this (I am holding my arms as wide as they will go) much. I love pickles of all kinds: carrots, beets, cucumbers, cauliflower, shallots, you name it. If it has been soaked in vinegar chances are I love it. I even love the name. It's fun to say. "Pickles".
I was first introduced to vegetable pickles, other than the cucumber variety, by an ex-boyfriend who worked at a great restaurant. One bite of their housemade pickled okra and I was hooked. Then my horizons expanded even more when I moved to NY and ate a little dish of pickled vegetables at The Spotted Pig in Manhattan. They were crunchy, spicy, and had just the right amount of nose-wrinkling vinegar to set my little heart a flutter.
Then came pickled onions at the greatest holiday party I've ever attended, made (both party and pickle) by my friend Katie. If I remember right they sat atop miniature french toast topped with barbequed duck and were amazing!!!
Two summers ago in NYC I went to a fantastic market event called the New Amsterdam Market. It was a food lover's paradise with stands selling everything from wild foraged herbs and roots to basil goat cheese ice cream to little ham and pickle sandwiches.
Those little sandwiches from Marlow and Sons were quite possibly the tastiest little sandwich to ever cross my lips. They were little brioche buns slathered with sweet cream butter and topped with a shaving of ham and a little stack of bread and butter pickles. I stood in line for 20 minutes for one of those little guys and let me tell you, it was worth it. I was practically heartbroken when I found out that they didn't sell the pickles by themselves. But, with a little interregation, I learned I could buy some of the pickling spice at their shop in Williamsburg. And so a few months later when I and Katie, of pickled onion fame, found ourselves ducking into the little storefront on a drizzly winter day, all I could think of was pickles. Sure enough up on the counter were little bags of pickling spice which I hurriedly purchased lest anyone else walk through the door with visions of pickles in their head.
The sad part of this story is that the little bag of spices sat forlornly in my spice drawer, untouched, for the entire next summer. I don't know what was the matter with me. I had wanted these pickles for so long and then when there were cucumbers to make them with I never did. I do have to admit that part of the hang up was that beyond having the pickling spice, I wasn't sure how to make a pickle. Do you use all vinegar? Vinegar and water? Sugar? Salt? Both? How much spice do you put in? How long do they sit? I guess, for whatever reason, finding the answers to these questions seemed an insurmountable task.
This summer the cucumbers are back and they are even better because they are in my backyard and are growing like crazy. I've picked at least 10 over the last two weeks. As luck would have it, about the time I had 5 cucumbers piled up in my produce drawer, a post appeared on Smitten Kitchen for none other than pickles. Bread and butter pickles to be exact. To know that Deb had made them and undoubtedly made any necessary revisions to the recipe was all the motivation I needed. I followed her advice for reducing the sugar by half, doubled the amount of brine, and substituted a fairly equal amount of my beloved pickling spice mix for her spices, and lo and behold I had me some pretty tasty bread and butter pickles! Now for those brioche buns and ham . . . .
Marlow and Sons Wannabe
Bread and Butter Pickles
1 pound cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium sweet yellow onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 c Diamond kosher salt or 2 Tbsp Morton or other kosher salt (why the difference? see here)
1 c sugar
1 c distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp pickling spice
(mine was composed of mustard seeds, whole coriander, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, crushed bay leaves, and whole allspice. I don't have exact proportions since I purchased the spice but if you were trying to make your own, which I will undoubtedly be doing once I run out of this little pouch, I would work through the list above starting with mustard seeds being the spice highest in quantity and ending with whole allspice being the least. I would suggest starting with 2 Tbsp of mustard seeds and working your way incrementally down the list so you end up adding a teaspoon or so of whole allspice.)
In a medium bowl combine the cucumbers, onion, and salt. Mix well and cover the mixture with ice. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours. In a non-reactive pot bring sugar, vinegar, and spices to a boil. Drain the cucumbers and onions. Add to the brine, stir well, and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from the heat and spoon the pickles and spices equally into 2 pint jars. Pour brine over to cover (I initially followed Deb's sugar and vinegar amounts but ended up way short of covering the pickles in the jar and made nearly another full batch to top them off. I have adjusted this recipe so you should have enough on the first try.) Let cool to room temperature, cover, and place in the fridge. You can store the pickles in an airtight container for up to three weeks in the fridge. The cucumbers will begin tasting pickled in just a couple of hours.
Don't be afraid to eat some of the pickling spice clinging to your pickle especially the mustard and fennel seeds though I might steer clear of the alspice or clove as they could be too overpowering. Also be forwarned that too many peppercorns on one little pickle sets a person's mouth on fire. I speak from experience.
Yields: 2 pint jars