Sow-ah pickles

Many eons ago, when I was a mere slip of a 22-year-old girl, I worked at a very popular restaurant and bakery called Edibles in Brookline, MA. It would seem that the owners named it this way only to subject the waitstaff to the endless comments of jokers who could not resist remarking on the establishment’s name emblazoned on our t-shirts.

Hey, it was a paycheck.

It was also a real slice of life. The staff was young, good-looking, and artistic: the budding film director, the modern dancer, the punk band manager, the Jungian psychoanalyst who read our dreams. Then, there were the customers. Alice was a 70-something lady who always ordered lunch for two–with her invisible companion. There was the endless parade of rock stars (Joe Perry, Michael Stipe, Aimee Mann) who lived or landed in the neighborhood and came in for some vegetarian fare before the gig at The Rat. And there was Sidney.

I had become adept at politely rebuffing the advances of forward customers, but Sidney had a singular style. About 80 years of age, no more than 5’3″, with a still-dark combover, Sidney was nattily attired in baby blue sport shirt and matching white belt and loafers. The belt hovered somewhere above where I imagined his navel to be. His standard line, after I turned down his weekly offer of a trip to Florida, was: “What did you have for breakfast this morning, sow-ah pickles?” How could anybody resist such suavity?

I did resist, but I have never forgotten him.

Little did Sidney know, but I prefer half-sour pickles. Also bread-and-butter pickles, especially with a tuna sandwich. Most b&b pickles are made with gallons of corn syrup, however, making my teeth hurt when I bite into one. So, as I began to dabble in canning this summer, I thought I would start sweet. But not too sweet.

Here’s the recipe I started with, from Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler.

Not-So-Sweet Bread and Butters


2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups brown rice vinegar
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
1/3 cup kosher salt
6 pounds cucumbers, ends trimmed, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
2 white onions, thinly sliced

Per jar:
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1/2 tablespoon brown mustard seed
2 teaspoons chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon celery seed

Bring the vinegars, water, sugar,and salt to a boil in a large nonreactive pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Place garlic and spices in each jar (which you have already sterilized). Pack cucumbers an onionsin as tightly as possible without crushing. Pour in the boiling brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Make sure the cucumbers and onions are submerged in brine.

Check for air bubbles, wipe the rims, and seal. Process for 10 minutes. Yield: 6 quarts.

Note: Detailed and simple instructions for canning are included in this wonderful book, which is a great primer for the uninitiated and skittish canner, like me. I cut this recipe in half, but did not have nearly enough brine.  Easy enough to prepare more.


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