Bread & butter pickles: spicy, sweet cucumbers

Preserves are terrific partners for good bakes, and these sweet, spiced and crunchy cucumbers are very easy and quick to make. Essentially these sliced cucumbers are bathing happily in a sweetened and spiced vinegar.

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I always get excited whenever I pop open a new jar of home-made preserves, especially in the winter months, with that evocative taste of the summer you get.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe given to me by my dear friend, Ann. An amazing cook, she is always a great source of inspiration.

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 pink or black peppercorns, roughly crushed dill seeds, fennel trimmings or cloves, for example, but I would urge you not to omit the turmeric as it gives a lovely flavour and colour.

Storage:

The pickles need to be kept in a cool, dark place, but as they are fabulous eaten cold, I always have at least a jar in the fridge ready to dive into!

Recipe for bread & butter pickles – fills about 6 jam jars

  • about 1kg cucumbers, sliced thickly (or cut into batons)
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or sliced, optional
  • 100g coarse sea salt
  • about 1 litre cider vinegar
  • 350g-500g any sugar (according to taste: closer to 350g gives a sharper, while suitably sweet spiced liquor)

Spice mixture:

  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, roughly crushed
  • a couple of star anise
  • 1-2 teaspoons 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 5 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 minute or so and then remove from the heat.

(3) Divide the cucumber, onions and garlic into hot, sterilised jars: you will fill about 6 standard jam jars or 2-3 medium kilner jars. Pour the hot vinegar mixture, including the spices into the jars and seal.

(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.

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Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking & eating.

2 thoughts on “Bread & butter pickles: spicy, sweet cucumbers”

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