Limed Yum-Yum Pickles

limed yum-yum pickles
“Young ladies’ dreams are sometimes made of bread and butter and pickles, eaten in the pantry after everybody is gone to bed.” —Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, vol. 35 (June 1847): 287.

Summer seemed to vanish suddenly a few days ago, when a mid-afternoon thunderstorm dumped two and a half inches of rain here in less than two hours, and a total of nearly five and a half inches by sunrise the next morning. Such storms are nearly unheard of in western Oregon, where rain rarely falls at all in summer. While the lights flickered and the house shook, water poured from the clogged gutters over the doors and windows.

The next day dawned damp and autumnal: The black walnut tree began shedding its leaves—which floated gaily toward the house gutters—while three apple trees dropped their fruit, and the fall crocuses popped out of the ground in bright pink patches.

Yesterday summer was back: The sky was a cloudless blue; the weather was warm and dry. Today is just as sunny. To celebrate these last days of summer, here for you is one last summer pickle, the yum-yum.

I learned about the yum-yum from Randal Oulton, a Canadian who writes the food encyclopedia Yum-yums (or yum yums, without the hyphen) are just like bread-and-butters but often even sweeter. Their name is apparently of older origin; Rowat & Co of Glascow, Scotland, was making Yum-Yum Mixed Pickles, and supplying them to Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the international maritime industry, in 1900 or soon thereafter. In the United States, Yum Yum Pickles made by a company called Bayles were sold in Los Angeles, Omaha, and Ocala (Florida) between 1903 and 1910. I don’t know exactly what either of these pickles were made of.

However yum-yums may have changed over time, their name caught on, especially in Canada. There a company called Bick’s, owned by Smucker Foods, still produces Yum Yum (without the hyphen) Pickles. Bick’s Yum Yums look just like b&bs.

The term bread-and-butter pickle is said to have originated in the early 1920s, when Cora Fanning, of Streator, Illinois, traded jars of her sweet pickle chips to a local grocer for groceries, including bread and butter. I suspect that this story is apocryphal. According to a 1929 article in the Journal of Home Economics, bread-and-butter pickles was by then a generic term, favored because the pickles were “extensively eaten with bread and butter.” It was as natural then to call sweet pickle chips bread-and-butters as it is to call them hamburger pickles today.

I made some yum-yums recently with my own b&b recipe, except that I increased the sugar to the same volume as the vinegar—which in fact is in keeping with typical b&b recipes. And I made one other major change: I treated the cucumbers with mineral lime. Liming pickles is a mostly Southern tradition; as far as I know it has never been popular in Illinois, Canada, or Scotland. Liming makes cucumber slices firm—almost brittle—and inflexible, so that more pickling liquid is needed to cover a given volume of cucumber slices. I wanted to determine just how much more liquid I would need.

I also wanted to test a tip from Tom Peter, who is starting a pickle business called Crisp & Co. Tom said that the time the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends for soaking pickles in lime—12 to 24 hours—was much longer than needed. Tom was right; my cukes got rigid with only a two-hour soak.

Note that Jarden, the owner of Ball and Kerr products, no longer sells pickling lime. I found pickling lime packaged with the Mrs. Wages label at a local farm-supply store.

I made one final change to my b&b recipe: Because I was out of celery seeds. I used lovage seeds instead. The flavor of the two is very similar, although lovage seeds are larger.

Yum-Yum Pickles

Use cucumbers that are no more than an inch in diameter, and discard their ends.

1 gallon water
½ cup pickling lime
¼ cup pickling salt
3 pounds 3/16-inch cucumber slices
3½ cups cider vinegar
3½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon celery or lovage seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 pound shallots or small onions, sliced into thin rounds

Put the water into a large pot or bowl, and stir in the lime and salt. The salt should dissolve; the lime will not. Add the cucumbers. Soak them for 2 hours.

With a Chinese wire strainer or a slotted spoon, lift the cucumbers from the lime water, and spread them in a broad-based colander. Rinse them well with running water. Rinse the bowl or pot, and return the cucumbers to it. Cover them with water and ice cubes. Leave them for 1 hour.

Rinse the cucumbers and the container as before, cover the cucumbers with water and ice as before, and let the cucumbers soak for another hour.

Soak the cucumbers once more in water and ice for an hour. Drain the cucumbers well.

In a large nonreactive pot, bring the vinegar, sugar, turmeric, and spices to a boil. Add the cucumber and shallot or onion slices, and slowly return the contents to a boil. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to pint or half-pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. You should have about 6½ pints. Divide the liquid evenly among the jars. Close the jars with two-piece caps, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.