Food Snob Chronicles — Food Lore: Bread & Butter Pickles

Food lore fascinates me – whether it’s a modern tale, such as emergency workers using Coca Cola to clean wreck scenes of blood, or ancient legends of native-Americans eating hot peppers to protect themselves from poison.

But I also dig the name game. And this week’s culinary mystery surrounds Bread & Butter Pickles. Where in the Sam Hill did these little partly-sour mostly sweet cukes get their name?

A quick search of the Internet will yield thousands of so-called authorities bringing up the Great Depression. As their stories go, people were broke and so they made sandwiches of bread, butter — and these pickles. Sounds good and it might’ve happened here and there. But that ain’t it.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that our friends across the pond deserve the credit. After all, the Brits were eating cucumbers on dainty little sandwiches long before the days of Downton Abbey or Howard’s End. Still … Sorry, England. Not your concoction.

Keep dredging and you’ll learn that a home-chef came up with the recipe that he sold at a roadside stand during the summer months. His profits for said pickles were his ‘bread and butter.’ Yeah, right.

In fact, Bread & Butter pickles have nothing to do with bread & butter – neither the food, nor the financial colloquialism. Sort of.

Though someone (somewhere) was preserving cucumbers with vinegar and sugar way back when, bread & butter pickles as we know them came from the Fannings. Yep. Those Fannings.

Cora and Omar Fanning were short on cash. (I can relate.) But this was back in the 1920s – when bartering was more common. As the story goes, Cora Fanning had one helluva recipe for sweet and sour cucumber chips. It had supposedly been in the family for generations. So what did they do? Why, they traded, of course — groceries for pickles. Her Bread and Butter pickles. Funny thing is, those pickles were crafted from the small (non-marketable) cukes that Omar grew for market.

Did you know? Mrs. Fanning’s Bread ‘n Butter Pickles in 2012 became a part of the B&G family of products (Trappey’s, B&M Baked Beans, Ortega). The company bounced around somewhat prior to that acquisition, including being owned by GFA Brands (Smart Balance Popcorn).

The Fannings’ trademark registration for Fanning’s Bread and Butter Pickles was finalized in March, 1924. The rest, as has been said, is history.

Classic Bread & Butter Pickles

Classic Bread & Butter Pickles — Slightly sweet and oh so sassy

Classic Bread & Butter Pickles — Slightly sweet and oh so sassy

Per pint —

2 TB – Plain salt
1/4 cup – Vinegar
1/4 cup – Water
1/4 cup – Sugar
1 TB – Pickling spice
1 tsp – Mustard seed
1/2 tsp – Turmeric

1/2 – Small onion, sliced

About 3 – Small pickling cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 – Fresno pepper, seeded and sliced (optional)

Combine first seven ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.

In a pint-sized canning jar, place sliced cucumbers, onion and pepper (if using). Vegetables should not come past the lower part of the jar’s rim. Pour hot liquid mixture into jar. It should reach the bottom of the rim. If not, top with water.

Cap and seal accordingly. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes. Pickles should be ready in about two weeks — and throughout winter. Tastes better cold.

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Comments

  1. Very interesting! If I ever get around to making my own pickles, this will be the recipe I use.

  2. So, just out of curiosity, where did ‘Where in the Sam Hill’ come from?

    • adamjholland says:

      I’ve actually researched that, Christiane, to no avail. Even The Dictionary of Cliches does not include a reference. (Yes. I own that book.)

  3. Love the history behind these tasty treats!

  4. Bread & Butter pickles are my favorite. I can’t eat a hamburger without a few on top. Just a question on the prep – do they have to be processed that way? Do you think keeping them in the fridge would work without the processing? I never trust myself with canning & am afraid of poisoning people (old memories of my mother warning me about doing canning right or risk botulism).

    • adamjholland says:

      I wish I liked them as much as I do a sour salty dill.~ And there are refrigerator versions out there. Don’t sue me if you use this recipe in the fridge — then need surgery. I’m just saying… ;-)

      • Oh I’m not the suing type at all. Dills are good, don’t get me wrong, but bread and butter pickles – my knees go weak. Oh wait, that could be the next thing that goes!

  5. I love food history! If only I loved history when I was in high school…

    Anyway – love the pickles!!!

  6. Well hats off to the Fannings. My favorite pickles, except I like a little heat in mine. I’m not familiar with a Fresno pepper. Is it hot? I must try this recipe simply for lore’s sake.

    • adamjholland says:

      The Fresno is a medium-hot pepper and the heat varies. It’s similar to the Jalapeno, except the walls are thinner (better snap) and it doesn’t have such a pronounced flavor.

  7. I’ve always wondered where that name came from – since bread and butter are not sweet but these pickles are. I love it! Your picture of these pickles looks so beautiful, it makes me want to run out and make some of my own!!

  8. Certainly this will add a deliciously tangy taste to a panini sandwich.

  9. My grandmother made the best! Where in the Sam Hill did the “Sam Hill” saying come from? Made me smile….I haven’t heard that in a long time…er, at least since my mom’s last visit. Lol

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