I think that being able to bake and cook for your own self is very liberating. You are no longer restricted by the nearby restaurants or the frozen food in the grocery store—the world of cuisine is your figurative oyster. This ‘romanticism’ of cooking is probably why I jump into multiple kinds of ethnic foods and genres of cuisine. But being self-sufficient in the kitchen also serves another purpose: it allows you to make a lot of the staple foods from scratch, which are almost always easier to make than you think (and tastier than the store versions).
Pickles easily qualify for both categories and more—they are extremely easy to make and more delicious when freshly made. There are no preservatives floating around in your jar with those crunchy slices. And best of all—when you take the jar out of the fridge and present it as a side dish at a meal, you can mention that you made the pickles yourself. In this day and age, your guests will be impressed. You can comment on how it’s nothing praiseworthy, and that anyone can do it. And you wouldn’t be lying for the sake of humility, either. It really is that easy.
The most important part of making pickles is patience. In order to ensure that signature crunch in every pickle slice, a large amount of the water content in the cucumbers needs to be pulled out of each slice before you combine the cucumbers with the pickling juice. The initial recipe I used mentioned that you needed to check the cucumbers every once in a while and mix them to ensure a maximum amount of crunch, but I left them undisturbed in the fridge for a few hours and still had successful results. Also, the recipe was for canning the pickles—I simply reused a jar of spaghetti sauce that has an air-tight lid. If you don’t have a jar, Tupperware will still do the job of keeping your pickles crispy. (It just won’t look as pretty or old-fashioned.)
Lastly, the amount of red pepper flakes in the recipe is up to you and your taste buds. The original recipe only called for ¼ teaspoon of the stuff, which is way too mild for James and me. For those of you that are squeamish about heat, then go with ¼ teaspoon—it’s a harmless amount, but still gives enough of a kick to balance out the sweetness of the pickles.
Go forth, my friends, and pickle!
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
Spicy Bread and Butter Pickles
- 3 English cucumbers, washed and sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- 1 medium white onion, sliced thinly
- 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tray of ice cubes (2 cups)
- 3 cups white vinegar
- 2 ¼ cups white sugar
- 1 tsp. whole mustard seeds
- ¾ tsp. whole celery seeds
- ¾ tsp. whole peppercorns
- ¼ tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- Place the cucumber and onion slices in a colander.
- Mix the kosher salt into the slices with your hands until the salt is evenly distributed.
- Pour the ice cubes into the colander and mix gently.
- Place a bowl under the colander to collect the draining water and put the colander and bowl into the fridge for three hours. It’s okay to walk away without checking or mixing.
- After three hours, take the colander out of the fridge and rinse under cold water, picking out any of the leftover ice cubes. Make sure you rinse the vegetables at least twice to get rid of most of the salt. Let stand for a few minutes in the colander while you prepare the pickling juice.
- Bring all of the other ingredients (vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, peppercorns, turmeric and red pepper flakes) to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Be careful not to try and catch a whiff of the mix or stand too close while the fumes are rising above the pot—it’ll make your nose run and your eyes water!
- After the mixture has started boiling, place the cucumbers and onions in the pot and allow the mixture to return to a boil.
- When the mixture returns to a boil, turn off the heat and remove the pot from heat.
- Allow the pickles and pickling juice to cool before transferring to jars/containers.
- Pickles will keep for one month when covered and stored in the fridge.