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What are Bread and Butter Pickles?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bread and butter pickles, also known as sweet and sour pickles, are on the sweeter end of the pickle spectrum, but not quite to the level of traditional sweet pickles. They are often sold in stores as crinkled-cut slices, ideal for topping hamburgers and other savory sandwiches. Bread and butter pickles may also be found in salad cube form for use in cold meat or pasta salads, or even as a finely chopped relish. Some pickle enthusiasts prefer their sweet, tart flavor over the sharp bite of dill pickles.

There are literally dozens of different recipes for bread and butter pickles available, but there are some basic ingredients and methods common to all of them. They begin as thinly-sliced cucumbers, preferably the smaller varieties bred especially for pickling. These cucumber slices are combined with sliced onions in a large metal container. Generous amounts of pickling salt and ice are then added on top to make the raw cucumber slices crisper. The entire batch is covered with an clean, absorbent cloth and is often weighted down to force more moisture out of the cucumbers. This initial brining and crisping process can take several hours to a day.

After the initial brining process has ended, the excess liquid is drained off and the soon-to-be pickles are rinsed off thoroughly. The sliced onions and cucumbers are then placed in a large pot containing sugar, vinegar, and spices such as turmeric, celery seed and mustard seed. Some recipes call for garlic as well, but this may be considered a personal preference. The cucumbers are steeped in this sugar, vinegar and spice solution until the mixture reaches a point just below boiling. After a few minutes, the bread and butter pickles are ready to be canned in jars.

The canning process is considered "hot canning." When the sugar and vinegar solution has cooled sufficiently for safe handling, the contents are poured into clean Mason jars, allowing for a small gap at the top. Once the jars have been filled, they are placed in a hot water bath for at least ten minutes to kill any remaining organisms, and then the lids are added. Bread and butter pickles, unlike some other varieties, can be eaten within a few days of canning, and they do not require a lengthy time on the shelf to intensify their flavor. These pickles are considered to be a good introduction to the world of pickling and canning, since the recipe is straightforward and the results are typically quite satisfying.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon960634 — On Jul 11, 2014

Look in Wal-Mart or Kroger for Famous Dave's Hellfire pickles. They are a hot bread and butter pickle. Delicious.

By anon315276 — On Jan 23, 2013

I love bread and butter pickles, but how did they get the name?

By anon40684 — On Aug 10, 2009

I read that during the depression people said they were so good one could eat them as a sandwich between bread and butter.

By anon35937 — On Jul 08, 2009

My grandmother used to make raw B&B pickles. She prepared the brine and spices, put sliced cucumbers in the jars, poured the brine over the cucumbers, added fresh dill from her garden, then topped it with a bit of homemade bread. She placed the jars under her peach tree for a day or two to "process." She never said why she added the bread, but I suspect it had to do with the curing process.

By anon22138 — On Nov 28, 2008

why are they called bread and butter pickles?

By chefman — On Sep 07, 2008

In the 60's in Philly, we used to go to a luncheonette which served hot sweet and sour pickle chips. The luncheonette closed and I have not been able to find those pickles for many years. Any leads on a source?

By mamalynner — On Jul 05, 2008

But why are they called Bread & Butter pickles?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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