You may be wondering what that milky liquid is my cucumber slices are floating in. That would be "pickling lime," something I drove all the way to the farm supply in Annapolis for a couple of years ago after spending half a day on the telephone trying to find some closer to the District of Columbia.
Apparently, pickling is not a huge pastime here in the nation's capitol. But we are making pickles as fast as we can, trying to keep up with the cucumber plants in our kitchen garden about a mile from the White House.
Do not confuse pickling lime with pickling salt. Pickling lime, also known as "hydrated lime" or "slaked lime," is used to increase crispness. The last time we used it was to make our pickled green tomatoes last fall. It mixes readily with water, but never seems to dissolve completely. You have to stir it occasionally. If you can't find pickling lime in the local hardware store or farm supply, you can easily get it online, along with pickling salt.
My memory of bread and butter pickles is eating them straight from the jar out of the refrigerator, like some kind of candy thief, or in the approved method: with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch. They were a rare pleasure--I don't know why, perhaps because they were always hidden behind other stuff in the fridge--and stood out because they were cut into rounds with those funny little crinkles. We tried cutting ours with crinkles on the mandoline, but the slices weren't thick enough and tended to fall apart.
This recipe from "Fancy Pantry," by Helen Witty, is supposed to yield six pints. I cut it in half and still wound up with five pints, and used every bit of brine filling the jars at the end.
12 firm pickling cucumbers, 5 to 6 inches long
4 quarts cool water
1 cup pickline lime
1 1/2 quarts cider vinegar
5 to 6 cups sugar, to taste
1 tabespoon pickling salt, or other non-iodized salt
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teasoon turmeric
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Scrub cucumbers well and slice cross-wise 1/4-inch thick (I sliced mine closer to 3/8-inch).
Measure water into large bowl (not aluminum) and stir in pickling lime. Add sliced cucumbers, stir, cover and set aside overnight or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
Drain cucumbers in a colander, then return them to rinsed-out bowl and rinse them at least three times in cold water, stirring them to eliminate all traces of pickling lime. Drain again and cover with cool water to a depth of an inch or two. Set aside for 3 hours.
Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard see, celery seed, turmeric, peppercorns, cloves and ground ginger in a saucepan (not aluminum). Heat to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves, then boil uncovered for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, drain cucumbers well and return them to bowl. When syrup has boiled 5 minutes, pour it over the cucumber slices. Stir slices gently, then push them under the surface, cover the bowl and set aside overnight.
Transfer cucumbers and syrup to a preserving pan (I used my enameled Dutch oven) and cook everything, covered, over medium-high heat, stirring gently occasionally, until the cucumbers are translucent, about 40 minutes.
Using tongs arrange the pickle slices in 6 hot, clean pint canning jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Divide the spices from the syrup among the jars, then add boiling-hot syrup to reach 1/4 inch from the rims. Remove any air bubbles (poking around with a chop stick, for instance) and add more syrup, if necessary. Seal the jars with new two-piece canning lids according to manufacturer's directions and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Cool, label and store the jars.
Let the pickles mellow for a month, then chill them before serving.