Preserves are terrific partners for good bakes, and these sweet, spiced and crunchy cucumbers are very easy and quick to make. Essentially these are sliced cucumbers, bathing happily in a sweetened and spiced vinegar.
And it is always exciting to pop open a new jar of preserves, especially in the winter months, with that evocative taste of the summer you get.
I make several batches of these pickles throughout the year, especially in the summer with the cucumbers from the greenhouse, but even an otherwise tasteless shop-bought cucumber gets perked up with the sweet, sharp and spicy liquor.
What’s in a name?
Whatever you want to call these – bread & butter pickles, dill pickles or even the duller sounding pickled cucumbers – they are wonderful to eat.
An easy eat!
Honestly, these pickled cucumbers are so addictive to eat. They are quite perfect in any (or all) of the following ways:
- with slices of bread (buttered of course!)
- with cheese (a few popped inside a toasted cheese sandwich is magnificent!)
- chopped and used in pâtés (it is excellent added to mackerel pâté by the way!)
- straight from the jar!
They are at their best eaten cold, straight from the fridge, so do keep a jar in the fridge.
They can be eaten as soon as they have cooled down but they really benefit from a couple of weeks of maturing so that the cucumbers take on more of the spices.
Waste not, want not!
Not only do I use the whole of the cucumbers, including the end bits, the gorgeous vinegar that remains once you have eaten the cucumbers from each jar can be boiled up and re-used in other preserves, or can go towards the next batch of these pickles.
Ringing the changes
I always add some onions and garlic to these pickles, which give nice extras to munch on, but they can be omitted.
However, vegetables such as french beans, cauliflower and carrots (all chopped fairly small) are wonderful additions: just salt and rinse them with the cucumbers.
Courgettes in place of the cucumbers are also excellent pickled in this way.
You can also vary the spices or add herbs such as dill seeds, fennel trimmings or star anise, for example, but I would urge you not to omit the turmeric as it gives a lovely flavour and colour.
The pickles need to be kept in a cool, dark place for up to 4 months, but I always have at least a jar in the fridge ready to dive into.
Recipe for bread & butter pickles – fills about 7 jam jars
- about 1.5kg cucumbers, sliced about 5mm thick (or cut into batons)
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or sliced
- 60g fine sea salt
- 500ml cider vinegar
- 350g-500g granulated sugar (according to taste: closer to 350g gives a sharper, while suitably sweet spiced liquor)
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon pink or black peppercorns, roughly crushed
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, roughly crushed
- 6 whole cloves
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (smoked chipotle chilli is wonderful!)
- 1 level tablespoon ground turmeric
NB: the amounts of these spices are merely a guideline and you do not need to use exactly this variety of spices: any combination, or even using just one or two, works well
(1) In a large non-metallic bowl, mix together the cucumbers, onions, garlic and salt. Allow to stand for at least 4 hours, but ideally overnight. Rinse well in cold water several times and drain off the excess water and pat them dry using a clean tea towel.
NB: there will be some of the salt inside the cucumbers but the sweetness of the pickling liquor will counteract this.
(2) Put the remaining ingredients, including the spices, in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the vinegar simmer for a few minutes and then remove from the heat.
(3) Divide the cucumber, onions and garlic into hot, sterilised jars: you will fill about 7 standard jam jars or 2-3 medium kilner jars. Pour the hot vinegar mixture, including the spices into the jars and seal.
NB: the sterilising of the jars and the hot spiced vinegar will help the cucumbers keep well for about 4 months.
(4) Keep in a cool, dark place until you want to eat them: ideally the fridge if there is room – at least for a few jars so you can enjoy them cold.
NB: feel free to pack in the cucumbers as tightly or as loosely as you want – just ensure the vinegar can circulate. Any surplus vinegar can be stored in a clean jar until you want to use it in another preserve.