Thursday, August 30, 2012

Winchester Center Bread and Butter Pickles.

On Sunday, Bob and I loaded up the last of my ancestral crap into a U-Haul and drove back to Washington. My house is being sold to a young man who almost certainly cannot afford it. But, hey, at this point, it will be the bank's problem not mine. Now our house looks like a second hand furniture warehouse, although Bob is doing his best to put things up in the attic. I am dithering.
But, Wednesday, I popped out of bed early (early when you are retired is 7:15) and drove off through rush hour traffic to the Bethesda Women's Farm Market. It was time for pickling. The farm market is a remnant of the days when the fields that now hold McMansions were sown with corn, alfalfa, and orchards. There are three or four vegetable purveyors but the rest of the booths sell flowers, photographs, baked goods and Indian food.
The first booth right next to the door is run by a comfortable looking woman who had the most enormous cucumbers you have ever seen. Rather than checking out the other booths, I plunged right in and started loading my bag with these mini baseball bat sized creatures. I bought 12 of them. The recipe called for 25, and I was pretty sure that the author had smaller cucumbers in mind.  With Hewlett's usual lack of specific information, it did not say what size cucumbers. The recipe called for 8 "small" onions. If you remember, I believe that a small onion is about the size of a ping pong ball. Cucumber lady didn't have small onions. She had softball size onions, undoubtedly gotten from a wholesaler. I bought 4.
I got home with my bag of outsize bounty and started to look into the jar question. I have been canning for 35 years. Bob and I used to go out to Prince George's County on Labor Day to pick tomatoes which were then made into sauce and canned. When the children were little I canned massive amounts of apple sauce. So I have canning jars. Sort of.
Sort of means the shelves in the basement are filled with Mason jar boxes. Some of them are full of jars. Some of them are empty. Some of them are filled with bags of lids and rings. It depends on the size. In recent years I have mostly been making condiments and sauces that I canned in the smallest, jelly jar size. And, I gave them away. So in June, when I made apple blueberry conserve, I had to scour the shelves in the pantry for jars. But pint jars we had in plenty. I was able to come up with a full dozen wide mouth pints. I popped the jars into the dishwasher, in order to keep the number of scalds at a minimum. Hint. Canning jars do have to be sterilized, but the dishwasher does an excellent job.
Then, as Hurricane Isaac flapped the trousers of the newscasters in New Orleans and the Republican delegates to the convention flapped their jaws, I pickled. I finally got the last batch sealed and cooled  Thursday afternoon. It's a great feeling.
Since I believe that people want to know the origins of the names of these dishes, here's what I found.
Winchester Center. Connecticut is in Litchfield County. LItchfield County is, in parts even more tony than Berkshire County. The nearest town to Winchester Center is Winsted, a distinctly lower crust precinct of an otherwise elevated locale. Winsted featured prominently on the list of towns my mother hated, along with Golden's Bridge, New York. Winsted had had a flood in the 1950s which swept away half the town. Every time my mother drove through Winsted, on her way to West Hartford, where she used to go shopping, she would express a wish that the flood had swept away the whole thing.
Anyhow, Winchester Center might be very nice. Despite a childhood spent driving though the highways and byways of Litchfield County on my way to field hockey games, softball games and the very occasional birthday party, I never happened upon it. Wikapedia does say that Ralph Nader is from there, although Winsted usually claims him as a native son.
But at some point, a native daughter produced these pickles. Now you know where the pickles were produced, I can also tell you why they are called bread and butter pickles. Maybe. One Wikapedia answer is, that during the Depression they were as common on the table as bread and butter. Another answer, on is that they tasted like bread and butter.
I would go for Wikapedia, myself. They taste like sweet pickles, not bread and butter.
Now, hints for the new canner. If you really think you want to do this regularly, get the equipment. You need a ten gallon aluminum pot with a rack to put the jars in, a jar lifter, which you use to fish the rings, lids and jars out of boiling water, and a wide mouth funnel, which keeps cleanup to a minimum. Most of this stuff should be available in your local hardware store. But don't wait until October. Buy now.
About this recipe. It says clearly, heat until it comes to just below the boiling point. Otherwise, as I can attest, the cucumbers get mushy. I would advise buying the pickle size cucumbers which are available now in farmers' markets. If you use yellow onions which don't seem to come in pingpong ball size, use three to four of the larger ones.
I am not going to reproduce the Ball Corporation's instructions for canning. However, follow their directions. I think it is okay to cut corners by washing your jars in the dishwasher, but sterilize the rings and lids in boiling water. More complete directions are available from Ball on There are many more home canning websites as well.

Winchester Center Bread and Butter Pickles

1 gallon cucumbers (about twenty-five pickling cucumbers)
8 small onions, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup coarse salt
2 quarts ice cubes
4 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons mustard seeds

1. Wash the cucumbers and slice thinly into a large (crockery)  bowl or crock. Add the onions, green pepper and salt. Mix. Top with the ice cubes. (They take the bitterness out of the cucumbers.)Let stand at room temperature eight  hours. Drain. Rinse lightly.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a kettle and add cucumber mixture.Heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, until mixture comes to just below the boiling point. Pack into hot sterilized jars. Seal. (Read the Ball Corporation's instructions on sealing the jars.) Cool. Store in cool, dry, dark place. Makes ten pints.

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