As a small child I spent many weekends staying with my grandmother and some of my earliest memories are helping her to bottle fruit and vegetables at the end of the summer, ready for the winter. The shelves of her larder groaned with the jewelled colours of fruit in kilner jars. For decades I’d look back on it and think how distant and archaic it seemed, now whether through nostalgia or the practicality of wanting to make the most of my produce and preserve the flavours of summer, I find myself doing the same.
I’d never grown cucumbers until this year, and after the disappointment of a few rather bitter specimens earlier in the summer I’d left many of them hanging on the frame they were growing up. Today I decided to tackle them to see if they were worth eating or needed to be thrown away. They were rather a motley selection but none of them was bitter in the slightest.
The Indian Summer having given way to distinctly autumnal weather I decided to try a recipe that my brother-in-law had made nearly a decade previously, which had been a favourite in his family, called Bread and Butter Pickles. Being a thoroughly modern family the brother-in-law is now an ex and lives in another part of the country, but I remembered the key ingredients as being cucumber and onion so I trawled the internet and came up with something that sounded familiar, which I adapted.
Bread and Butter Pickles
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) of sea salt
600ml cider vinegar
2 cups of sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
2 star anise
2 tsp black mustard seeds
3 cm stick of cinnamon
Quarter tsp of ground turmeric
Peel the cucumber and slice into rounds about 0.5cm thick. If they’re really big cucumbers cut each round into half-moons. Finely slice shallots. Of course you could use onions, I just like the size and colour of the shallots, as well as the flavour.
Thoroughly rinse and drain the cucumber and shallot mix at least twice if not three times to get rid of the salt.
Put the vinegar in the bottom of a large preserving pan with the sugar (not sure what the weight was as I measured the sugar out American style in cups). I used preserving sugar, but only because I had some left over from making damson jam a couple of weeks ago, granulated or caster would be fine. Add all the spices and heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved.
Meanwhile sterilise your preserving jars – I put mine in a cold oven and heated it to 180/200C for about 20 mins, but you could do it in a water bath or even in the dishwasher on hot. Put the lids, rubber seals etc into a saucepan of water and bring to the boil then turn off the heat. Leave them until you’re ready to use.
When the sugar is totally dissolved add the cucumbers and shallots and bring to the boil.
Boil very briefly – say 1-2 mins – you don’t want the cucumber to go soggy and disintegrate. Using tongs or good oven gloves take the preserving jars out of the oven/water bath and fill with the cucumber/shallot mix. Leave 1-2 cm gap at the top of the jar. Fill with the vinegar syrup so the pickle is covered. Put on lids.
My grandmother would have used things like this in sandwiches with cheese or with plates of cold ham, but I think they’d be good with burgers too. My three jars aren’t exactly an industrial quantity of preserves to keep us in fruit and veg through the winter, but with the pungent smell pervading the kitchen and The Archers on in the background, I could almost have been back in my grandma’s kitchen.