Today I just made the best homemade pickles ever. The secret? English cucumbers plus a flavorful pickle brine. I just couldn’t pass up blemish-free, organic English cucumbers which I noticed during our most recent shopping trip to Costco’s. Sold in two pound bags, this was a larger quantity that we could possibly eat. Call it an impulse purchase. I have never seen such long cucumbers. I decided that these long, cylinder cucumbers — uniform in size with small seeds — would make perfect pickles. So, here I am making pickles in September. I used a recipe which is sweet and flavorful. These pickles turned out to be crisp and delicious! Holiday presents, perhaps?
Pickles in September
The cucumbers in my Louisiana garden usually ripen in May. That’s also when the best cucumbers are available in farmer’s markets here in the South. So, I usually get out my home canner and do the entire canning process in early sumner. However, I just couldn’t pass up these cucumbers; even for English cucumbers they were straight and long. (Only a home pickler canner would appreciate this fact.) This two pound bag made a small batch of pickles — four pint-size jars;. Very easy for any home chef. I’d suggest that if you have ever wanted to try making homemade pickles; this recipe is the one to try.
Rather than pickle spears — which are cut into lengthwise strips, I cut these cucumbers into crosswise slices to make “pickle chips.” Plus, I added onion slices. These are “bread and butter” style pickles. They are crisp, sweet.
The brine is a flavorful combination of sugar, vinegars and spices. It is just the right balance between sweet and sour. These pickle chips are not “hot”; they have just right amount of spice.
Since my plan was to store these pickles for several months, I got out my home canner once again to process the pickles so I could store them at room temperature. It’s really not that difficult — this is a small batch of pickles yielding four pint-size jars — and I did everything while watching a Monday night football game which rambled along in the background.
However, it is also easy to skip the canning step and store the pickle jars in the refrigerator. In this case, use the pickles withhin a month or two.
Mastronardi Produce of North America
I like to know all about what I am eating and so I researched where these English cucumbers were grown and the story of their producion. I was facinated with my “find.” These English cucumbers are organic; they were grown in a greenhouse in Mexico around Laredo, Texas. They are a product of Mastronardi Produce of North America’s and are packed under the SUNSET® brand. Apparently, flavor matters to the Mastronardi family, and much of their research involves developing produce varieties with superior flavor.
I discovered, according to internet sources, that Mastronardi Produce is “the leading greenhouse grower of gourmet vegetables, including world-class tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers” in North America. The company prides itself on developing vegetables and produce which are both flavorful and high in quality. The size of their greenhouses and company’s operations are staggering, in my opinion. Their greenhouses are now located in eight states across the country, Canada and Mexico totalling over 5,000 acres of greenhouse productive growing capacity All their produce is organically grown. The process is hydroponic– no soil in their greenhouses! The plants are fed with nutrient-rich water.
The Mastronardi’s are a fourth generation Italian family-owned company and have been in business since the 1940’s. Paul Mastronardi is the currrent CEO. “His great grandfather, Armando Mastronardi, immigrated to North America in the 1920s and purchased his own farm in Leamington, Ontario. In the 1940s, Paul’s grandfather, Umberto Mastronardi, traveled to Holland and brought the knowledge of greenhouse technology back with him, where he then built the first commercial greenhouse in North America.” (see references) This family business hasn’t stopped expanding. The company conducts research which has resulted in better varieties of tomtaoes, cucumbers, strawberries and other produce. They are developing sustainable greenhouse growing practices. Will all our produce be grown this way one day???
How do the Mastronardi’s cucumbers rate? I’m about to find out as I make my small batch of “pickle chips.”
One of the vegetables which Grandfather Mastronardi researched in Holland in the 1940’s was the English cucumber. He brought back seeds for these cucumbers from Holland and further refined the cucumbers here. The English cucumbers which I purchased at Costco’s were the longest cucumbers that I’ve ever seen — about 18″ in length. They were stragiht and firm, without “bumps” on the skin. The seeds were small (important for pickles).
In addition to the cucumber slices, I added onion slices and garlic to the jars. I love pickled onions; especially when combined with this wonderful pickling brine. Plus, garlic. Yum.
The pickling brine defines the flavor of the “cured” pickles. I decided to use a brine which was sweet and flavorful with traditional spices to make “bread and butter” style pickles.
The brine includes both apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar. I used a 1:1 ratio of sugar to vinegar.
The spices in my recipe are mustard seed, celery seed, mustard powder and a bit of coriander seed. The coriander gives hint of an anise flavor. The mustard powder gives a little “bite.” However, I omitted tumeric which is often included in “bread and butter” pickle recipes. (It imparts a yellow color.) Blending spices for pickles and chutneys involves creativity and the spices which you select depend upon the flavors that you want to achieve. For example, my “Spicy Christmas Chutney” included cinnamon, ginger and cayenne pepper. The current pickle recipe is just a nice middle-of-the-road spice blend for “bread and butter” pickles.
Here we go: Get the supplies ready
Since my plan was to process these pickles in a home canner, I got the supplies ready first. It can take half an hour or more for a large canner full of water to boil. Start early — fill the canner up with water andI bring water to a boil on the stove. Then just let the canner sit on a back burner while you get the cucumbers ready to process. I also got the canning jars ready ahead of time — by washing and then sterilizing them in the dishwasher on a rinse cycle, “hot” drying cycle. I recommend getting canning jars specifically made for this job — you know the lids fit and the jars are less likely to crack while processing in boiling water. I got brand new seals and rings sterilized and ready to go
The lids for canning have two parts — seals and screw-on rings. Aways use new seals. The rings can be reused. I sterilize these by boiling them for 5 minutes in a small saucepan. Set these aside until ready to use.
The canner which I am using is a Presto-brand 16-quart home canner. I get it out once or twice a year for my canning projects. If you are interested in home canning, I highly recommend getting this particular canner brand. It wasn’t expensive and isn’t too large. It can accomodate pint size jars (but not quart jars) and fits on a burner on your stove. (And that is so important.) It has an insert which keeps the jars off the bottom of the canner.
No canner? Then, substitute a ,arge, tall stock pot with a colander insert. It can accomodate 4 canning jars which are one pint size.
Here is the last “must have” item for home canning. These gadgets are so handy. The set includes tongs, a magnet on a stick and funnel which fits the canning jars. (Available where canning supplies are sold.) Some sets also have a fourth piece which allows you to get air bubbles out of the jars.
Making the pickles: After getting the supplies and canning jars ready, the rest is easy.
Step one: First, get the cucumbers and onions ready. Cut off both ends of each cucumber. Enzymes in the blossom end can make the pickles soft and the stem end can be bitter (in my experience). Slice the cucumber and onions into thin slices.
To slice the cucumbers about 1/8″ thick — not too thin — I use a mandoline slicer with hand guard, pressing down hard as I slice.
Let the cucumber and onion slices “steep” in a brine made of pickling salt and ice water for two hours to help the cucumbers “crisp.” (Plckling salt is very similar to Kosher salt.) Drain and rinse the cucumbers and onions. Drain again.
Step two: Make the pickles
Bring all the the pickling brine ingredients to a boil in a large pot. These are the apple cider vinegar, distilled white vinegar, white sugar and all the spices.
This pickling brine fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma!!
Add the cucumber and onion slices. Bring back to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.
Step three. Fill the sterilized jars with the pickles, onions and brine.
Add the cucumber and onion slices to fill up the jars. Then add pickling brine to fill within 1/2″ of the jar top. (Use the handy funnel wihch came in the canning supply set.) Try to get all the mustard seeds in the bottom of the brine into the jars.
Add a large garlic clove to each jar.
Wipe off the tops of the jars with a damp paper towel to remove any debris.
Add the seals and rings. Here is where we use the magnet on a stick. This useful gadget makes it possible to pick the seals and rings out of the boiling water without scalding yourself.
Step four: Process the jars in the Presto canner in boiling water for 5 minutes. (If you are making refrigerator pickles — boil them for 5 minutes rather than 3 minutes. Fill the jars and skip step 4; let cool — the jars are hot! — and store in refrigerator.)
Lower into the jars into the canner filled with hot, boiling water. Place the lid on the canner, loosely. The jars should not touch each other and the water in the canner should cover the jars by 1 – 2 inches. (Make sure to have the rack in the bottom of the canner.) Bring water back to a rolling boil — one where bubbles rapidly come to the top of the water. Process for 5 minutes.
The third gadget in the canning supply set is the tongs. Never misplace the tongs. The water in the canner is steaming hot and the jars are slippery. I must stress how important it is to use caution when.home canning to avoid scalding yourself. The long tongs make it easy to grab the jars and move them in and out of the boiling water.
Step five: We are done!
Carefully remove the jars from the canner water bath and transfer to a tray lined with a cloth kitchen towel to cool. Why a kitchen towel? The jars are wet. Check the seals. Date and label. If sealed properly, store at room temperature. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator.
It is best to let these pickles (or really any home prepared pickles) “cure” for about two weeks before using the pickles. The flavor develops fully. It is hard to wait — but it definately makes a difference. Patience!
How do I rate Grandfather Mastronardi’s English cucumbers for making pickles? These pickles are delicious! They are mild and sweet, crisp with good flavor. They will make great holiday gifts.
Just a note here about English cucumbers. With greenhouses and hydroponic-grown cucumbers, the season for fresh, ripe cucumbers is greatly extended. Costco’s purchases their inventory in bulk — which allows them to sell it at lower prices. When that item is sold out, many times it is not replaced. I would be surprised if found these same cucumbers at Costco’s in December. Luckily, you can purchase English cucumbers from many other sources. Just make sure the cucumbers are a good quality!
Enjoy this recipe. This pickle recipe is one of my best ones yet! It is a variation on my mother’s “Bread and Butter Pickles” which we loved so much when growing up.
For all my “Home Canning and Preserving” projects, here’s a link to my Recipe Page:
The Best Pickles Yet: English Cucumber Pickle Chips
- 2 lb English cucumbers (3 very, very long English cucumbers)
- 2 medium white, sweet onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
- 1/4 cup pickling salt
- 1-1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 tsp mustard seed
- 1 tsp celery seed
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 4 large, peeled garlic cloves*
Method and Steps:
- Wash cucumbers; trim both ends off cucumbers and discard. (Do not peel cucumbers.) Then slice cucumbers into 1/8″ thick slices using a mandoline slicer on the thickest setting — press down hard on slicer.
- Slice the onions crosswise into thin slices.
- Combine the cucumber and onion slices in a large, nonreactive bowl. Add the pickling salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover.
- Let the cucumber and onion slices soak for 2 hours; then drain and rinse. Drain again.
- Bring the sugar, both white and apple cider vinegars, mustard seeds, celery seed, dry mustard powder and ground coriander seeds to a boil in a large pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the drained cucumber and onion slices. Bring to a boil again and boil for 3 minutes, stir frequently.
- Meanwhile, have 4 pint-size sterilzed, hot canning jars ready. (Let the jars sit in boiling water for 5 minutes or wash in dishwasher on hot cycle.) Sterilize new seals and rings by boiling them in a small saucepan for 5 minutes.*
- Using a funnel made for canning, pack the cucumbers and onions into the hot, sterilized jars. Fill the jars to within 1/2 inch of the top of each jar with pickling liquid, distributing mustard seeds and spices among jars.
- Add a garlic clove to each jar.
- Run a knife around the inside sides of each jar to remove any air. Wipe rims of jars with damp paper towel to remove debris. Add sterilized seals and screw on rings.
- Add jars to boiling water bath of canner. Jars should not touch. Water should cover the lids by two inches. Make sure insert is in bottom of canner.
- Loosely cover the pot and bring the water to a rolling boil. Process for 5 minutes in the water bath — counting time from when water comes to a rolling boil.
- With tongs made for canning, remove the jars from the canner and let cool down on a cloth-lined pan.
- Date and label.
- Check to make sure that the jars are sealed completely. Refrigerate any jars which are not sealed. Store jars which are sealed properly in a cool, dark area.
- Let the pickles “cure” for 24 hours to two weeks before using.
*NOTE: 8 jars which are 1/2-pint size can be substituted. Increase garlic cloves to 8 cloves.