Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have been known to obsess about certain foods as well as having a few food routines once I find something that I love or crave. I could eat a tuna fish sandwich for lunch or have pineapple greek yogurt mixed with dried cranberries and almonds for breakfast every day of the week, for at least a week. Yes, I know this sounds a little boring or even a little rigid considering how many different food options there are and how many recipes I have, but sometimes I go through periods of craving certain foods. And at the moment I am craving pickles. (No, I am too old to bring any mini-me's into the world.)

Until I started making Bread and Butter Pickles, I don't think I really liked them. The only pickles to be found in the refrigerator were Dill Pickles and when making potato salad there would be sweet pickles. But once summer comes and the pickling cucumbers are available at the Farmer's Markets and farm stands, there are usually several jars of Bread and Butter Pickles just waiting to be eaten or given away to friends and neighbors. There is something slightly addictive to the crunch and sweetness of these pickles. I love eating them all by themselves or putting them on burgers or sandwiches. And other than tomatoes as a condiment, I generally eat my burgers and sandwiches with mayo only. For me, these pickles transform a perfectly grilled hamburger into something so amazingly delicious that a hamburger without them, well is just another hamburger (yes, a bit of boring one).

Years back it was almost impossible to find Vidalia onions at grocery stores or farmer's markets in the midwest. I once remember on a road trip driving through Georgia on the way back from Florida and feeling compelled to bring Vidalia onions as a food 'souvenir'. Thankfully they are now readily available across the country. When making Bread and Butter Pickles I like the pickling cucumbers but the Kirby cucumbers work well too. When making pickles, more specifically when making these pickles, I always double the recipe. With a relatively short summer pickle season, more is better.

These are not thinly cut cucumbers (like the zucchini pickles), they are little more substantial in thickness. They are cut into 1/4 inch slices. I often get out a measuring tape to make sure my visual memory of a 1/4 inch is an actual 1/4 inch. Once I get the first 1/4 inch slice cut, the cutting is so mindlessly easy.

But the onions are a different story. They are cut very thinly. I like rings of onions in my Bread and Butter pickles so after removing the skin from the onion I slice it whole (versus first cutting it end to end). It is a little easier to cut a half of an onion, so feel free to have onion half-moons versus onion moons in your pickles.

The sliced cucumbers and onions are placed in a medium to large sized bowl and mixed with 1/4 cup of  Kosher salt (Diamond brand only). Not all Kosher salts are created equally and if you use Morton Kosher salt, your pickles will have a saltier flavor (not necessary a good thing here).

Once the Kosher salt is mixed in with the cucumber and onions, they are covered with a layer of ice and allowed to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, the cucumbers and onions are drained in a colander. As much as you might be tempted to, they are not rinsed. Just drained.

The brine is made with white distilled vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, coriander, celery seeds and ground turmeric. All of these ingredients are mixed together in a medium sized saucepan (you will be adding the cucumbers and onions to the pan so it needs to be large enough) and brought to a boil. After it reaches the boiling point the drained cucumbers and onions are added to the brine and it is brought back to almost another boil. Upon reaching that point, the saucepan is removed from the heat and pickles are allowed to cool.

The pickles will take on a richer color after they are allowed to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. So don't be alarmed if they don't look like Bread and Butter pickles at this point. They will, they just need a little time in the refrigerator to crisp up and slightly change their color.

I love the Weck canning jars when making pickles or preserves. There is something about these jars that makes anything put in them look both homemade and gourmet. And I have convinced myself I think that beautifully packaged food tastes better (okay now I am sounding a little like Martha Stewart, but we really do eat with our eyes!)/ I have usually found the Weck jars at Williams-Sonoma but they are also available on Amazon

Bread and Butter Pickles (adapted from 'The Dispatch Kitchen")

Ingredients (I doubled the recipe, but am showing the single batch version)
1 pound pickling or Kirby cucumbers (sliced 1/4 inch thick)
1 large sweet onion, very thinly sliced (Vidalia or Spanish onion)
1/4 cup Diamond Kosher Salt (the salt brand is important here, if using Morton they will be too salty in taste)
1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar (I used the 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds (if using ground coriander, use 1 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon celery salt

1. In medium to large sized bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well.
2. Cover the mixture with ice. Let stand at room temperature for two hours.  Drain and set aside while making the brine.
3. In a medium sized pan (non-reactive if possible), bring sugar, vinegar, and spices to a boil. Add the drained cucumbers and onions to the vinegar mixture and bring almost back to a boil.
4. Remove from the heat and cool.
5. Put pickles and onions in canning jars and pour brine over to fill.
6. Store pickles in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.
7. Pickles will last up to three weeks in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

My niece spent five days with me last week. The week was memorable not just because she turned 18 (on the Vineyard aka Martha's Vineyard), but because of the time we spent together going to beaches, biking, sharing meals, shopping (of course), sightseeing, playing Yahtzee on the front porch, and geocashing (there is an app for everything these days). It was both exhausting and energizing in good ways to have her here with me. One's perspective cannot help but change when you spend time with an 18 year old, particularly one who will be going off to college out east in just a few weeks. It is not the same, but this shift in perspective has parallels to the shift I experienced going off to college.

When you see or experience something from a different lens it causes you to think. Think why did you believe or not believe something, think how it was that you were clued-in or clueless about something, and think just how good it can feel to be validated every now and then. But most important, that view through a difference lens allows you to see firsthand just how dynamic life is (even when it seems static). As much as I would like to think I was perceptive growing up, my years in college afforded me so much more than a degree.

It may be as simple as looking a view on a gray day versus a sunny day for one to see what your eye may have missed, to appreciate the beauty of both views, and to know time and patience really can lead to new, different experiences or perspectives. But in order for this to happen, you have to really be open to possibilities, open to seeing things or others differently, even more open to seeing similarities and not only differences, and last but not least, open to putting acceptance ahead of judgement. As different as predictability and possibility are, I hope I can always value and balance both of them. Because sometimes I really do crave how a change in perspective can change my view of the world.

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