My mother’s homemade bread and butter pickles are the best I’ve tasted. They are a sweet pickle with Indian-type spices. Every summer when I was growing cup, canning pickles and other garden produce was a major summer activity. I have plenty of garden cucumbers and decided to tackle this DIY project myself.
Do cucumbers grow in Louisiana?
Yes, they do. The cucumber is one garden crop that I have been able to successfully grow every year in my spring Louisiana garden. I plant several varieties in March (and usually forget what they are). This year, I missed several of the cucumbers under the thick foliage and they grew quite large. The largest cucumber weighs over one pound. So I have lots of cucumbers to make pickles. I used the larger ones for dill pickles and the smaller ones for bread and butter pickles.
Canning summer produce – Sustainable Agriculture
In years gone by, home canning was a major activity in rural farm areas in this country. My mother grew up on a small Iowa farm. The family was self-sufficient and ate the produce during the winter that was canned in the summer. They lived “off the farm.”
Home preserving is not so common in this day and age — most of American doesn’t live on a farm. But with more interest sustainable agriculture; perhaps there is some value to this “art form”. I tried to pass it along to the next generation by getting my son involved one year; he had fun but who knows if he will continue the tradition. He’s more interested in making wine!
Home canning is a DIY (Do It Yourself) project. Canning pickles is actually quite easy; but it is an all afternoon project and it takes an understanding of what you are doing. Some equipment made for preserving helps make the task easier. The supplies are readily available and I’ve found them at Lowe’s Hardware, Albertson’s grocery store and my local hardware store.
The basic steps are in canning pickles:
- wash (do not peel), slice the cucumbers (and onions, garlic) and let them set in an ice and salt brine for 3 hours;
- assemble canning jars, seals and lids and sterilize them; keep them hot,
- pack the cucumbers in the HOT jars along with a sugar/vinegar brine and seasonings,
- place them in a canner in boiling water, return the water to boil and let boil for 5 minutes. You don’t process pickles in a pressure cooker/canner; just in boiling water.
Learn How to Can
Home canning really hasn’t changed over the years — it’s still the same process that was used when I was growing up. I’ll list the basic steps to canning here. There are plenty of reference magazines on the shelves of stores. For example, Better Homes & Gardens publishes a new magazine every year on “how to preserve”. These magazines give the basics and also lots of interesting recipes for all kinds of garden produce. I recommend getting one of these magazines. I use an very old reference published by the US Dept of Agriculture, “The Complete Guide to Home Canning, Preserving and Freezing.” It is available on-line at Amazon.
The Ball Company makes canning jars, seals and they used to make a home-type commercial canner. To me, Ball mason jars are synonymous with home canning. Their book is an excellent guide to home canning and can be purchased on-line.
A few supplies are needed.
- Mason jars, rings and lids (seals). Several sizes are of canning jars are available: 1/2 pints; pints, quart jars. Always use jars intended for home canning; other jars may break during the canning process.The jars in the photo above (right) are very old, old ones with a glass lid; I wouldn’t use these. Always used new lids (seals) so the pickles make a good seal. The metal rings can be reused, but not the seals. There are two sizes of lids (seals): regular and wide mouth. Pay attention to what you are using. If you are buying a new box of canning jars; the seals and rings are included in the box.
- Home canner – using a home canner is convenient and important. You don’t need the pressure gauge for this project; but canners are heavy duty; they have an insert in the bottom to keep the jars directly off the heat; some have a wire basket to raise the jars out of the hot boiling water (convenient). Here’s my Presto canner.
Handy Gadgets. A few other gadgets, although not essential, make canning easier.
- Mandoline slicer. Using a food processor to slice cucumbers results in uneven slices; many are too thin. I find that using a Mandoline slicer is just right. Slicing the cucumbers is time consuming; but then this is not a fast project.
- Funnel. A wide-brimmed funnel allows you to get the pickling brine into the jar without spilling the syrup down the top and sides – which prevents sealing the jars. I purchased the funnel on the left, the magnet and the tongs as a set.
- Tongs – (show in above photo at the bottom) – allow you to easily grasp the canning jar into and out of the boiling water bath without burning yourself or dropping the jar. I highly recommend one.
- Magnet – This allows you to easily grasp the lids (seals) out of the boiling water to place on the canning jar.
The recipe used by my mother (and grandmother) is out of the US Agriculture book. It’s a sweet pickle with some Indian spices which gives it a unique, delicious flavor — I’ve never found a pickle like this in a grocery store. I add lots of onions; I like them pickled, too.
The pickling brine is salt/ice with onions and garlic. The pickling syrup is vinegar, sugar, and spices – celery seed, mustard seed and turmeric. Don’t omit the yellow turmeric; it gives the yellow color and unique flavor to sweet pickles.
Make the pickles
I suggesting getting everything ready, first. This includes sterilizing the jars and seals. I use a dishwasher on high heat setting.
It takes some planning to coordinate things.
- The cucumbers soak in a salt bath for 3 hours hours, so I do this in the morning.
- I takes about an hour to get the water in the canner to a boiling temperature; so I get this started after lunch.
- Keep the mason jars hot. If you place a cold mason jar in boiling hot water in the canner; it can easily break (Ouch, what a mess). Plus keeping the jars hot keeps them sterile. So I might run the jars again through the dishwasher on rinse cycle when ready to pack the cucumbers in the jars.
- You need a burner to get the brine to boiling, a burner for the canner and one to keep the seals hot. So I put the seals on the stove in a small pot as the last step.
This recipe uses 6 pounds of cucumbers. This made about 20 jars of 1/2 pints. I would prefer smaller cucumbers; but only had large ones this year. Don’t use soft cucumbers, they will be mushy. Old cucumbers will be bitter. I prefer varieties of cucumbers which don’t have alot of seeds.
The sliced cucumbers,onions and garlic soak in a salt and ice bath brine for 3 hours — they are pickled!
The drained and cucumbers are packed into sterilized, hot jars. I deviate from the recipe here; the recipe calls for mixing the cucumbers and pickling spices, vinegar and sugar in a pot of the stove. I bring the sugar, vinegar and pickling spices to a boil and then pour over the cucumbers in the jar to about 1/2 ” from the top of the lid. For this batch, I actually had to make up a second recipe of the sugar/vinegar and spices — this batch made more jars that the recipe calls for.
Add the vinegar, sugar and pickling spice mixture into the jars within 1/2″ of the top; wipe the rim of the lid clean (if needed) add the lid (seal) and ring and tighten.
Place in the canner with at least one inch water covering the tops of the jars. Return to a boil (this can take awhile) and boil 5 minutes.
Remove from the canner; allow to cool on a rack; you will hear the lids “pop” as the pressure changes. Don’t tighten the rings. After they cool check to see if the jars are sealed.
And you are finished! What an accomplishment. The pickles keep for a year or more (they won’t last that long); they make great gifts. Enjoy!
Crosscut Pickle Slices
- 4 quarts of cucumbers, medium size (about 6 pounds) sliced
- 1 1/2 cups onions (about 12 to 15 small white, about 1 pound), sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 quarts of ice, crushed or cubes
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp celery seed
- 2 Tbsp mustard seed
- 3 cups white vinegar
Method and Steps
- Wash cucumbers thoroughly, using a vegetable brush, drain on rack. Slice unpeeled cucumbers to 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices; discard ends.
- Add onion and garlic.
- Add salt and mix thoroughly; cover with crushed ice or ice cubes; let stand 3 hours.
- Drain thoroughly; remove garlic cloves.
- Combine sugar, spices and vinegar; heat just to boiling.
- Add drained cucumber and onion slices and heat 5 minutes.
- Pack hot pickles loosely into clean, hot pint jars to 1/2-inch of top.
- Adjust jar lids.
- Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes (start counting as soon as water in canner returns to boiling).
- Remove jars and complete seals if necessary.
- Set jars upright to cool.
Reference: “Making Pickles and Relishes at Home” March 1970 as republished in “Complete Guide to Home Canning, Preserving and Freezing” US Dept of Agriculture, 1973 copyright, Dover Publications, Inc.