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Posts Tagged ‘sandwiches’

My husband is a world-class sandwich maker. Like Dagwood Bumstead in the old Sunday funny papers, Tom assembles exquisitely complex, delicious sandwiches from things he finds in the refrigerator. He claims sandwich making is the most important branch of architecture.

Though Tom’s constructions aren’t quite the skyscrapers that Dagwood’s were, the demands of art require us to keep a lot of ingredients available for inspiration to work on. The foundations are most often either White Bread Plus, the wonderful sandwich bread I make from a recipe in Joy of Cooking, or a good baguette. The fillings can be fish, flesh, or fowl; any number of cheeses; lettuce, arugula, watercress, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños. And the crowning glory of the sandwich: the condiments.

That means mustards and mayonnaises, often homemade, Tom’s own doctored ketchup (Heinz, dosed with various zingy additions), Indian chutneys, Mexican hot sauces, Japanese pickled ginger, Greek pickled peppers, French cornichons; and – you knew I’d get around to the topic eventually! – my own bread and butter pickles, made from fresh Kirby cucumbers.

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We’ve never cared for store-bought bread-and-butter pickles. All the brands we tried were much too sweet for our taste. When I started making my own, we didn’t care for the results of the recipes that I tried, either – also too sweet. I didn’t want a really sour pickle – I could buy good ones of those – but I also didn’t want something that tasted as if it should be topping a dish of ice cream.

The recipe I finally evolved is more work than most, but it produces exactly the kind of pickles we like. I make them every summer, and when I’ve processed the jars in my steam canner, they sit happily in the pantry for use throughout the year.

I start a day in advance by blanching small, firm Kirby cukes in boiling water. I slice them on the 2-mm blade of the food processor, along with some onions and a little bell pepper. I salt the mixture, weight it, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I begin by sterilizing mason jars and lids in boiling water. I drain the cukes, rinse them, and thoroughly drain them again.

Then I prepare vinegar, sugar, and spices for the pickling mixture. For each pound of cukes I use ⅓ cup of dark brown sugar and ½ cup of my own red wine vinegar, plus mustard seed, celery seed, and ground allspice. (Many other recipes I’ve seen call for as much as twice to three times the amount of sugar. Ugh!) I bring the mixture to the boiling point, stir in the sliced cucumbers, and bring it just to the boil again.

I put one little dried hot pepper in the bottom of each jar, ladle in pickles and their liquid, close the jars and set them up in my steam canner, and process 15 minutes. When they come out of their steambath, each jar gives a satisfying little klonk, which means it has formed the vacuum necessary to preserve its contents without refrigeration.

I get a lot of pleasure out of making these pickles. The only really hard thing about this whole procedure is that we need to wait six weeks before they’re ready to eat. That’s particularly bad right now, because we finished the last jar of last year’s pickles a while back, and my culinary master architect is deeply distressed to be without this key ingredient for his extravagant sandwiches. We may have to cheat a little and open one jar early.

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