Bread and Butter Pickles really are one of those synonymous Great Depression recipes. The origins are likely from the 1920s, a few years before the crash and subsequent depression.
QUOTE: Bread-and-butter pickles are a marinated pickle produced with sliced cucumbers in a solution of vinegar, sugar, and spices which may be processed either by canning or simply chilled as refrigerator pickles. The origin of the name and the spread of their popularity in the United States is attributed to Omar and Cora Fanning, a pair of Illinois cucumber farmers who started selling sweet and sour pickles in the 1920s and filed for the trademark “Fanning’s Bread and Butter Pickles” in 1923 (though the recipe and similar ones are probably much older). The story attached to the name is that the Fannings survived rough years by making the pickles with their surplus of undersized cucumbers and bartering them with their grocer for staples such as bread and butter.
It makes sense that after a plentiful harvest and a glut of cheap vegetables available in stores/markets, people started preserving without the need for refrigeration for leaner months during the winter and of course, this behaviour came into its own during the Great Depression and WW2 (however home canning dated back into the 1800’s). When nothing much else was available, some salty and sweet pickles sandwiched between bread and butter was much welcomed and enjoyed.
Bread and Butter Pickles were in many recipe books in North America during WW2. I have a strong nostalgia for these pickles as when I lived in Canada, a small group of volunteers would congregate in the Lions Club community kitchen in Mahone Bay to make hundreds of pickles and jams to fundraise for the Mahone Bay Settler’s Museum. I loved the times I helped out with this amazing bunch of women and the smell of processing Bread & Butter Pickles still remains with me.
So I HAD to include them on my blog, they are absolutely worthy. I have just eaten a bread and butter sandwich filled with the pickles and it was delicious.
The original recipe was said to contain just cucumbers, onions and green peppers as the main vegetables. The recipe has changed in the last 100 years but the one below I have based on a handwritten note I found online from someone’s Grandma during WW2 in North America.
- 8/10 small firm cucumbers (or 4/5 large firm cucumbers)
- 4 cups of white vinegar
- 2 cups of sugar ( you can use a little less)
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tablespoons of kosher or pickling salt
- 1 large mild onion
- 1 green pepper
- 1 red pepper
- 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons mixed or black peppercorn
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds (I didn’t use as I had none)
- 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves (I didn’t use as I don’t like cloves)
- Chop the cucumbers into 1cm or 1/4 inch slices after having removed and discarded both ends.
- Chop the peppers into long slices
- Chop the onions into very thin half-round slices
- In a large bowl mix the chopped vegetables above with the kosher or pickling salt (table salt will make the pickling brine cloudy)
- When all the vegetables have been mixed thoroughly, cover with some cling film in contact along the top and place on a cold shelf in your fridge for 2-4 hours so the liquid will leach from the vegetables making them crispier for pickling.
- After 2-4 hours you need to thoroughly rinse the vegetables several times in copious amounts of cold running water to remove as much salt as possible. Set aside to drain while you make your pickling brine.
- Get a large stockpot and fill with water, enough to cover the jars you will be using for the pickles as you’ll need to place the jars in once you have filled them. Bring to the boil. You can boil your empty jars in this for 5 minutes before filling or alternatively rinse the clean jars and place on a tray in a preheated oven (160 C) for 15 minutes until hot. You should always ensure that your jars are hot when you add in hot liquids.
- Place jar lids in a bowl of boiling water ensuring they are covered. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan put in your vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds, peppercorns, ground turmeric, celery seeds and ground cloves (if used).
- Bring to a very gentle simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and ensure everything is well mixed in.
- Fill each jar with a mixture of the vegetables.
- Add in the hot brine leaving a head-space of about 1/2 inch to allow for expansion during the processing in hot water.
- Clean top of each rim of the jars with some kitchen roll and white vinegar.
- Place lids on jars, finger tight. Do not over tighten however they should be firmly on.
- Place jars into stock-pot (not directly onto the bottom, you can stand them on a silicon muffin tray or place a damp tea towel in the bottom of the pot).
- Simmer for 15 minutes for 500 ml or less jars and longer (about 25 minutes) for 1 litre jars.
- Remove from pot with a jar lifter and place on a tea towel and leave undisturbed for a couple of hours. The lids will depress and form a safe seal.
- Once cooled, clean up the outside of the jar, label and place somewhere out of direct sunlight for storage.
- Leave pickles for at least a week although I opened up a small pot the day after pickling and they tasted great!
- Makes 8 smaller pots or 4 large ones!