In the long and varied history of preserving, the sweet/tart/spicy delectation of the American groaning board called bread and butter pickles is an inspired
offering. It probably derives from the British tradition of tea sandwiches, an ever-popular version being slices of cucumber between slices of buttered bread, maybe with a sprig of watercress. It is surmised that at the finish of cucumber season, cucumber “chips” were sweetly pickled to preserve them and used as accompaniment to the bread and butter, which was supra-seasonal, as much a part of the table setting as salt and pepper. It remains a curiosity how the sliced cucumbers for the tea sandwiches came to be sweetened when pickled.
I make a big batch of bread and butter pickles for Thanksgiving and holiday gifting every year. It’s a slightly untraditional rendition because I like “extra celery” in the form of thinly sliced ribs. Since the holidays are coming right up, further adventures along the Kale Trail will be momentarily interrupted to bring you this recipe in time for the end of November when, this year, Thanksgiving and the beginning of Hanukkah share the same day. It’s adapted from one Susanna and I originally developed for our Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook. I’ll be back with more kale in December, as a restorative smoothie to soothe and a kale mash to supplant basil pesto in winter.
Makes 6 about cups
2 medium yellow or white onions, halved and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced crosswise, optional
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons celery seeds
2 cups apple cider or malt vinegar
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 packed cups dark brown sugar
1. Combine the cucumbers, onions, celery, and salt in a 3-quart glass bowl and toss to mix. Cover and microwave until the cucumbers are slightly wilted and have begun to sweat, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove, uncover, and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir to mix. Cover and microwave until the liquid is steaming hot but not quite boiling, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove, uncover, and let cool completely. Refrigerate overnight before serving. The pickles will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
A Cooking Note: The pickles can also be made more conventionally: Combine the cucumbers, onion, celery, and salt in a large bowl and toss to mix. Set aside to wilt for a few hours. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, cool, then refrigerate as above.