This recipe is a composite of multiple recipes I found on the Internet plus my own recipe from the past. The major changes to my old recipe are that I added calcium chloride (for crispness), I increased the liquid brine volume and I pasteurized during the pickling process instead of allowing the brine and cucumbers to boil. Pasteurizing the pickles also improves crispness vs canning, and I further opted for vacuum sealing and refrigeration instead of canning. My goal was to create very tasty extra crisp pickles that are not made limp by canning/boiling them. I made multiple experimental batches and the recipe shown below is the final recipe for you to use. You will be highly pleased with your results.
You can buy the food grade calcium chloride for this recipe online at www.bulkfoods.com ... It is very inexpensive and useful in different recipes, so it is a good idea to have this product in your food pantry. This chemical is used exclusively today commercially to make pickles crisp. The calcium combines with the pectin in the vegetables to create the crisp effect. Just remember that many chemicals used by the food industry to accomplish food preservation or control of food texture or color retention can be quite poisonous if used to excess. This means that you are to follow the given recipes in Food Nirvana exactly. Do not decide, without the proper university education and professional experience with the use of specialty chemicals, to vary the amounts of the food preservation, texture or color retention chemicals referenced in this and other Food Nirvana recipes.
A most important consideration beyond the use of specialty chemicals is the area of food handling and food processing. For example, I am a strong proponent of using vacuum sealing, where appropriate, to preserve food quality and to make the life of the chef easier and the products made less expensive. I do not can products anymore unless vacuum sealing followed by refrigeration or freezing fails to provide the quality I demand or the safety essential in making any food I plan to serve to other people. Yet vacuum sealing has it's own limitations depending on the product being considered. In general, if refrigeration of vacuum sealed perishable foods does not provide excellent shelf life then I will opt to freeze the vacuum sealed product, or avoid vacuum sealing altogether and opt to can the food item, or, as needed, always prepare the food item from fresh ingredients.
It turns out that the kinds of pickles I make lend themselves very well to vacuum sealing and refrigeration. The sterility of the initial product, due to pasteurizing, and the preservative effect of vinegar (and sometimes salt), make vacuum sealed pickles have a very long refrigerator shelf life, until opened. Then, the pickles should be consumed within a few days, as I do not yet use any commercial preservatives to inhibit bacteria or mold that can ruin a product within a week once it is exposed to air.
6 lbs. of 4 to 5 inch long pickling cucumbers, washed and cut into 1/4 to 5/16-inch-thick slices, with the thin slices at the ends of each cucumber discarded
8 cups of thinly sliced onions, quartering the slices, separating the pieces and packing them loosely in a one quart measuring cup
One large sweet red pepper, cleaned and either diced or cut into short narrow strips
1/2 cup of Kosher or canning salt
Crushed ice or ice cubes (roughly one gallon of ice cubes or crushed ice)
4 cups of white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup of water
4 1/2 cups of sugar
3 tbsp. of mixed pickling spices (I prefer the McCormick® brand of pickling spice)
¼ cup of yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon of food grade calcium chloride (do not exceed the amount shown)
Combine the sliced cucumbers, sliced onions, diced red sweet pepper and Kosher salt in a very large bowl and mix well by hand.
Cover the mixture with crushed ice or ice cubes, about two inches thick.
Let the mixture stand at room temperature for two hours.
Bring the sugar, vinegar, water, calcium chloride and spices to a boil in a large pot on high heat.
Drain the salty liquid from the cucumbers and onions and pepper pieces. A double rinse with fresh water using a colander and the large mixing bowl, rinsed and then filled almost full of water, with agitation, is recommended to remove the salt brine from the vegetables. Salty bread and butter pickles are yucky!
Add the cucumber mixture to the vinegar mixture gradually, mixing after each addition, and bring the temperature up to 180ºF on medium heat. Stir often with a large wooden spoon to mix the vegetables thoroughly with the brine and to get even heat distribution, for at first the combination of brine and vegetables has relatively little liquid content for the volume of cucumbers in the pot. I use a candy-making thermometer to monitor the temperature and I control the temperature by varying the amount of heat and covering most of the top of the pot with a lid part of the time. Note that it is normal for the temperature to fluctuate plus or minus 3 degrees from the 180 degree goal temperature each time you stir the pot contents. Adjust the heat as necessary.
Hold the mixture at 180ºF, within a plus or minus 3 degrees range, for thirty minutes to pasteurize the pickles, and continue to stir once every three to four minutes during this period for even heat distribution and to expose all the cucumber slices to the brine equally.
Remove the pot from the heat and let the contents cool to room temperature, covered with a lid.
If you plan to vacuum seal the pickles then chill the covered pot in the refrigerator overnight.
Vacuum seal the bread and butter pickles and brine in one pint or three cup vacuum sealing bags and keep the bags of pickles refrigerated until they are used.
The pasteurized, refrigerated, vacuum-sealed bread and butter pickles should be eaten within one year.
Note: You can decide to can the hot pickles immediately after pasteurization as an alternative to vacuum sealing. If you do, use one pint canning jars and can the sealed jars of pickles and brine under boiling water for ten minutes.