Bread ‘n Butter Pickles

A simple but wholly excellent recipe I got from a close friend of my wife’s family.  Apart from our shared admiration of Scotch we apparently have a similar love of bread ‘n butter pickles. I’m not sure of the original source for the recipe, but thank you to Lani for passing it along to me, and thank you to Richard and Pat with Middle Earth Farms in Amesbury, MA for the fresh ingredients!

Lani’s Bread ‘n Butter Pickles

4 quarts sliced pickling cucumbers (I used a mandolin for the slicing)

6 medium onions (I used Vidalias)

3+ sliced red peppers (I added a lot of extra peppers)

3 cloves garlic

1/3 cup pickling salt

4 cups sugar

3 cups cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp celery seed

2 tbsp mustard seed

  1. Combine cucumbers, onion, peppers, and garlic. Add salt IMG_1828
  2. Cover mixture with cracked ice and mix thoroughly. Allow to stand for three hours then drain and rinse well
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a rapid simmer
  4. Pack sanitized pint jars with cucumber mixture and ladle in vinegar solution, leaving a 1/2 inch of head space. Adjust lids and bands
  5. Process in water bath canner for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool and check for seal.




Winter Provisioning: Sauerkraut

Given my German and Eastern European heritage I pretty much have sauerkraut in my veins.  I love it, but always find the store bought stuff (whether in a  can or bag) disappointing.  Pennsylvania Dutch lore tells us that a meal of pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day will bring good luck in the coming year.  Not sure how that tradition got started, but I keep to it year after year.  Preparing for the New Year’s feast (not to mention hot dog’s, sausages, verenyky and all the other things that go great with fermented cabbage) means making a batch of kraut.  And if you thought the advent of “freedom fries” at the outset of Gulf War II was a new peak of jingoistic stupidity, guess again–during the first world war sauerkraut was temporarily renamed “liberty cabbage.” Anyway, cooler temps outside as well as in the basement (where the fermentation will happen) signals that it is time to start shredding cabbage.

At its most basic, sauerkraut is simple: cabbage and salt.  That’s it.  Shred the cabbage, mix it with the salt and then allow it to ferment in a crock or jars for a few weeks or months.  The art is getting the salt proportion right so that you create a 2% brine solution.  The ratio is 1 tablespoon salt to 1 3/4 pounds of cabbage, or 3 tablespoons per 5 pounds of cabbage (1.66 tablespoons/pound).  Too much salt and the kraut is, well, too salty to eat.  Too little salt and you will not create the briny environment where the lactobacillus thrives and converts the cabbage into kraut.  So, the ratio is important.  This year, I got some cabbages from a local coop that turned out to be the world’s cutest cabbages.

So here is my process:

1. Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage (but keep them for later), halve or quarter (depending on size), and core.  Finely shred the cabbage.  This can be done with a knife, but is is definitely worth investing in a cabbage shredder.  I use this one and it works brilliantly.


2. Add salt and mix.  When mixing, “beat up” the cabbage a little bit.  I use a wooden masher.  Use only Kosher or pickling salt with no additives like iodine or anti-caking agents.  I also added caraway seed this year, but that is optional. For an 11 pound batch I added about 5 tablespoons of caraway seed.

Kosher salt and caraway

3.  Pack cabbage into crock or jars.  My buddy Jay makes huge batches for his family and uses a crock, which is the traditional approach.  I may go that way in the future.  For now I use 1/2 gallon canning jars fitted with airlocks.  I leave a few inches of headspace to allow for expansion when the fermentation begins.  after putting in the shredded cabbage I top it with some of the large outer leaves I removed and then add a glass weight to keep everything submerged.

Jars packed with salted cabbage and topped with a leaf and glass weight.

4. Place in a cool, dark spot and let the magic happen.

Just a couple days in and there are clear signs of fermentation.  Use a drip tray in case brine overflows the airlocks.

It is as simple as that.  If you find that the cabbage does not put off enough liquid after the salt is added, you can always make a brine solution (1 tbsp salt to 4 cups of water) and add it to the jars or crock.  Easy peasy.


Preserving the Harvest: 2018 Edition

This was the first year for our new vegetable garden.  The results were a bit uneven–tomatoes and leeks did great, beans and beets did not.  The weather may be partly to blame as the spring was unseasonably cool and quite wet.  Between what I was able to grow myself and what I was able to purchase from Clark Farms and Brooksby Farms we managed to put up more food this fall than we have in previous years.

About one half of the produce grown in the United States is thrown away; food is cheap and people only want to buy produce that is pretty.  This wastefulness is a boon to those who don’t mind a little bit of effort.  While my garden managed to produce perhaps 30 pounds of tomatoes, that would hardly be enough to get us through the winter.  Busy families such as ours need a healthy supply of tomato sauce on hand for quick dinners.  Yes, I know that one can buy tomato sauce pretty cheap, but I like tomato sauce to actually taste like tomatoes so I prefer to can my own fresh.  To augment what we grew ourselves, I bought an addition 50-60 pounds of “seconds” from Clark Farms and Brooksby Farms at just under a buck a pound.  I volunteer every Saturday morning at the Marblehead Farmer’s Market; at the end of market, Bill Clark from Clark Farms was happy to sell me (at a steep discount) all of the damaged or split tomatoes that nobody else wanted.  Sauce tomatoes don’t need to be pretty! Similarly, Brooksby sells off their tomato seconds (in 20 pound boxes) at the end of the season.  Not only do they offload their not quite so pretty tomatoes, they also sell peach seconds in the summer and apple seconds in the fall.  I skipped the peaches this year as I still have some left from last season, but did cash in on the tomatoes and apples.

This fall we put up:

15 half pints of corn relish (recipe below).

16 quarts tomato sauce.

10 pints dilly beans

10 pints pickled beets

6 pints pizza sauce

7 quarts apple sauce



The only thing left to make is my sauerkraut; I’ll wait until the weather is a bit cooler lest the fermentation go nuclear in my basement.

Now for a little taste of home:

Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Relish

Kernels from 12 ears of corn

2 medium red onions, diced

6 red bell peppers, diced (I had 4 large and 2 small ones)

3 green bell peppers, diced

4-5 ribs celery, diced


1.5 cups sugar

6 c. vinegar (white or cider or a combination)

1 Tbsp ground mustard

1 Tbsp brown mustard seed

1 ½ tsp yellow mustard seed


Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer for ½ hour or so.  Adjust sugar and mustard to taste.  Pack into clean pint or ½ pint jars and process in a water bath for 1/2 hour.  This batch made 16  one half pint jars plus a pint.

If you don’t have mustard seed you can substitute with more mustard powder.  Some versions of this recipe will also include a small head of cabbage, shredded.  I like it with cabbage (shred it finely like you would for kraut) but Hilary is not a fan so I left it out this time.  Most recipes also use almost twice as much sugar, but I think it makes it too sweet but, of course, make it to your taste.  I’ve wanted to try adding jalapeno peppers to it but haven’t done that yet.  After tasting this batch I think I will increase the mustard powder next year.

Corn relish is great by itself or on hotdogs and hamburgers

And as they say in Berks County, PA, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”


Pickled Beets

Since the beginning of June I have been volunteering at the Marblehead Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.  Having grown up among corn fields, dairy farms, and sprawling vegetable gardens in rural Pennsylvania I have an affinity for people who live close to the land.  I’ve enjoying getting to know the farmers and when I buy my produce, it is nice to know whose labor I am supporting.

Every year my wife and I look forward to the arrival of fresh beets to the farmer’s market.  We will typically make several batches of beet salad throughout the summer, but when the market closes at the end of the season we typically don’t buy beets again until the following summer.  This year, I decided to pickle some to enjoy throughout the year.  A couple weeks ago, I bought several bunches of beets from Bear Hill Farm, located in Tyngsboro, MA.  The farm has been in the same family since 1917.  The beets were handed to me directly by the man who grew them, and my money went directly into his hand. It doesn’t get much more simple and direct than that.

The recipe I used came from Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrick with one minor alteration–I halved the amount of sugar.  Here was the process for those of you following along at home.  It of course starts with the beets.  After trimming off the greens (reserved for other use, beet greens are good braised) I scrubbed them down–about 7 pounds of beets all told.



We then boiled the beets for about 15 – 20 minutes, after which we plunged them into the sink filled with cold water.


We trimmed off the ends and removed the skins–I used a paring knife and scraped them while my wife and daughter found that the skins were pretty easy to rub off using a damp paper towel.


I used a mandolin to get a consistent 1/4 to 3/8 inch thickness while slicing.  The larger beets I first halved and then sliced.  While prepping the beets, I also had the pickling solution simmering on the stove.  Cider vinegar, water, salt, and sugar (I halved the amount in the original recipe) as well as cinnamon stick, whole cloves,  and allspice berries tied in a cheesecloth pouch and steeped in the simmering liquid for 10 minutes.


While the liquid simmered we packed the sanitized pint Mason jars with the beets.


After the jars were packed we added the hot pickling liquid (after removing the spice pouch) leaving about 1/2 inch of head space.


We affixed the sanitized lids and rings and processed the jar in a boiling water-bath for 30 minutes.


The lids all sealed properly so I moved the jars to the basement.  A week later we opened one to test them out–I am very happy with the results, and I am very glad we decided to halve the amount of sugar originally called for in the recipe.  In future batches we may increase the amount of vinegar and reduce the water content to balance the sweet and sour flavors a bit more.


Ingredient list:

7 Pounds beets

2 Cinnamon sticks, broken

1 Tablespoon allspice berries

1 Teaspoon whole cloves

1 cup sugar (we used 1/2 cup)

1 cup brown sugar (we used 1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons pickling salt or pure Kosher salt (non-iodized and free of any additives such as anti-clumping compounds)

4 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

Made about 7 Pints