Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles

by Shelby Larsson on July 16, 2012

in All Recipes, Barbeque, Condiments

If summer went exactly as planned, I’d spend cool July evenings around a big bonfire in my back yard.  Friends would gather, we’d cook easy summer dishes, grill up some meat and top our burgers and dogs with homemade fixin’s — like these bread and butter pickles.  Unfortunately, we’ve had quite a heat wave so far, so not much eating-outdoors-by-a-giant-fire-pit happening, but Shelby has pulled off the toppings piece of the puzzle, thank goodness.  And she has forayed into canning just in time to meet and celebrate with Food in Jars author Marisa McClellan (you can meet her too at a potluck dinner at Eat Boutique!) -Maggie

Despite being an enthusiastic home cook who enjoys taking on new food challenges, there are a few things that have long intimidated me in the kitchen. For awhile it was baking, then it was grilling. Thankfully, I tackled both of those in recent years and we are currently in the midst of a major grilling summer. But there was one thing that I have been putting off for years: canning.

Each summer, I promise myself that THIS YEAR I will learn how to can. But then the excuses start: not enough room, not enough time, the lack of the right equipment.

So finally, I decided that like with all things, in order to get over my fear and propensity for excuse-making, I would simply need to start small and simple. I set my eyes on one of my summer favorites: bread and butter pickles. I began to research recipes and soon learned that pickles are a great gateway to canning, because you don’t necessarily have to make the full leap to processing just yet. No sanitizing, no boiling water baths required. All you need are a few jars, some cucumbers, spices, vinegar, and the capacity to eat a lot of pickles in just a few weeks time. You see, the one downside of refrigerator pickles is they don’t have the same shelf life as processed pickles– so invite some friends over for a BBQ or plan to eat pickles every day for awhile. For many, this is no problem at all.

Bread and butter pickles, for those who don’t know, are a sweet and sour little pickle that are perfect for burgers and sandwiches of all kinds. Commercial versions of the bread and butter pickle can be awfully sweet, which I don’t always love. This recipe dials down the sugar so it gives some sweetness, but the sour is much more pronounced. I added just a bit of heat with the crushed red pepper, but I’d love to take it step further and add hot peppers in the future. (You see, I plan to be making these again.  And again.)

After a bit of hand-wringing during those 24 hours that I waited to taste the pickles, I was blown away by how good they turned out. Crunchy, lightly sweet with plenty of pucker, I couldn’t wait to put them on everything. And now I can’t wait to start my next canning project.

Sure enough, after this pickle-making epiphany, I quickly got my hands on Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round.   Armed with this guide, I feel like I can finally make the leap into the big bad world of “real” canning, so I too can be one of those industrious cooks putting up pounds of perfect fruit so that we can enjoy that summer flavor all year long.

Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles

Adapted from recipes by Martha Stewart, Marisa McClellan, and Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 2 quarts


  • 2 pounds Kirby (or pickling) cucumbers, cut into 1/8 inch slices
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons coarse or Kosher salt (table salt will discolor your pickles)
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Into each jar, add:

  • 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns


  1. Wash and slice cucumbers; prepare the onion. In a large bowl, toss cucumber slices and onions with the coarse salt to draw out the moisture (this also makes them nice and crunchy). Let them rest on the counter for an hour and a half or in the refrigerator for 3 hours. Rinse the cucumbers well and dispose of any accumulated juices.
  2. In a large pot, add the vinegar, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes and the turmeric. Bring the mixture to a low boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot.
  3. Add the celery seed, peppercorns and mustard seeds to two clean quart-sized jars. Pack the jars with the cucumber slices, leaving about an inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
  4. Using a large glass measuring cup or something similar, begin to carefully pour the vinegar mixture between the two jars, splitting the liquid evenly. Cap the jars and let them come to room temperature on the counter. Once cool, place the jars in the refrigerator.
  5. Let pickles sit for at least 24 hours before eating. They will be good for about 2-3 weeks (if they last that long).

All photos styled and taken by Shelby Larsson.

Quick note: We’re hosting a potluck at Eat Boutique headquarters for  Marisa McClellan  to celebrate her new book,  Food in Jars. If you’d like to attend,  please RSVP here!

Eat Boutique discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers. We share recipes, maker stories and city guides to eating boutique. We host tasting events and markets for food makers, cookbook authors and food fans.  We craft seasonal, regional gift and tasting boxes and sell individual items that you can  order today.

Shelby Larsson

Shelby Larsson, writer, editor, resides in Boston, where she wanders across the city, eating and drinking as she goes. She loves New England (with a particular affinity for Maine), architecture, cities, beer, cheese, and adores cooking up a big meal for family and friends. You can read more about Shelby’s eating adventures on her blog, Lady Gouda.

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  • Tara Bellucci

    Yay, congrats on taking that first step! Pickles are totally a gateway to canning. You’ll be jamming in no time :)

    • Shelby @ Lady Gouda

       Thanks Tara! It was a great feeling to make that first step. I worry that once I fully dive in, I won’t ever be able to stop :)

  • Gwen

    My grandfather used to make these when I was little, I’d love to re-create the recipe. Thank you!

    • Shelby @ Lady Gouda

       Gwen, these were so good, I had several people ask me for the recipe at a BBQ I hosted.  Perfect combo of sweet, sour and a bit of heat. Addicted!

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