I grew up eating bread and butter pickle sandwiches, in Canada as a child of English heritage. And paper-thin cucumber tea time sandwiches galore. The fragrance of fresh sliced cucumber – well, let’s just say no perfume can match it.
Homemade bread and butter pickles were lined up on a salted butter spread on white Wonder Bread after the Second World War. Later, when Kraft Cheese (Velveeta) appeared, the cheese was spread on the buttered bread and then bread and butter pickles were lined up evenly in rows.
As was the custom and still is, with “English” sandwiches, crusts were always removed. (Continental Europeans were furious at “such waste,” especially in war-torn hungry areas.) The sandwiches were cut in soldiers or quartered triangles. For special occasions, the bread was cut in small circles.
Overseas they are still served crustless at home and in fancy restaurants. In fancy fare, it has been known that the Queen Mother enjoyed gin, as does her daughter, Queen Elizabeth. She might even have spritzed gin over the paper-thin cucumber in her little round tea-time sandwiches or her bread and butter pickle bite-size sandwiches. Gin pairs nicely with cucumbers.
I have written often about food rationing here in Canada after the war, from childhood memories. Recently in an add-on recipe comment I referred to paper-thin fresh ordinary garden cucumber sandwiches as a childhood memory. Again, crusts removed. So delicate, makes me think maybe the English created this as an amuse bouche, because royalty had to be able to swallow bite-size pieces quickly while walking and talking and shaking hands.
Store-bought unsalted butter had not yet been heard of this side of the ocean in my growing up years. A reader informed me she still only buys salted butter and that I am the only one she knows who uses unsalted butter, saying: “It’s a European thing.” The butters are quite different from one another and will affect recipes very differently.
A visit to a family-owned dairy farm sometimes brought homemade butter to the table. Memories of the spotless dairy centrifuge separating the warm milk fresh from the milked cows’ supply, and then a broom handle-like plunger paddle used in a large wooden vessel standing on the floor so as to get enough shoulder strength pressure to pound the cream into butter from a standing position.
Being the curious child that I was, I had to ask if I could try. At grade one age, and being small-boned, I was surprised at the strength I had sloshing the real butter in its natural buttermilk. The next day the butter, buttermilk and milk and cream from the centrifuge would be delivered by the farm owner’s horse and wagon into town, amid large bales of hay and giant blocks of ice, to the local dairy customers.
Thank you for the bread and butter sandwich trip down memory lane, Eric (Food Network and Saveur). Some people make their own bread and butter (sweet) pickles. All the better to enjoy the nearly paper-thin pickles.
Any readers out there remember?
Using your mandolin, slice a fresh firm unpeeled medium-size cucumber lengthwise in see-through paper-thin long strips. Park the cucumber slices in ice water. Let rest a few minutes. Pat dry.
Present a large platter of fresh cucumber English tea sandwiches cut using the ribbon strips rolled a little on one end of each strip tucked in-between the cucumber sandwiches in a decorative manner, interspersed randomly. Spritz when ready to serve with ice cold Hendricks Gin.
Cut medium-size red radishes to bloom as flowers… make four vertical slits in each radish near the outside edge circumference being careful not to cut to the bottom.
Place the cut radishes in a bowl of ice water briefly. The cuts will exaggerate and form petal-like sides, causing the radishes to “bloom” as open flowers. Tuck the crispy cold (patted dry) radishes among the cucumber sandwiches for instant gourmet. A few flakes of Amagansett finishing salt over the radishes enhances the flavour yet again. Just the tiniest spritz of gin wakes up the taste buds when you bite into a radish.
The platter, made in minutes, will disappear even faster. Make plenty. Serve immediately or cover the cucumber tea-sandwiches on a cold metal plate, refrigerated, with moistened layers of clean, never used, muslin or cheesecloth until ready to serve to prevent the thin bread from drying out.
When ready to serve, spritz the cucumber rolls with gin, being careful to not soak the thin bread 4 o’clock tea sandwiches. Add a little fresh ground pepper to the rolls. Toss a few random briny, rinsed capers on the serving plate. You could replicate the texture instead, using roasted, popped chickpeas made in a hot sauté dry pan and sprinkled with coarse salt.
As a complementary side, cut short (four-inch) sliced celery stalks, splitting the cut end into a couple of inches of very thin strips, rest in ice water and the stalks will curl forming a flower-like end.
Stuff the celery channel with my refrigerated overnight warm blue cheese dressing. When cooled, the warm dressing will congeal and become spreadable, almost like a cheese pate. You could pipe the congealed dressing into the celery stalks using a large, ribbed-end in a forcing bag.
This delightful crispy fresh summer plate will become a regular on hot summer days in lockdown but can be served all year round at any time.
Perhaps add a few dollops of my Hendricks Gin cucumber tzatziki to my gazpacho recipe.
At each serving, use a fork to lightly stir to mix, to leave a wave of white swirls, just when ready to eat. Drizzle just a little “limon” or Bacardi Lemon Rum around the perimeter of each bowl.
Since the proper way to eat soup in a bowl with a spoon is to dip the spoon facing away from you tipped up the far side of your bowl, you will collect the lemon rum edge easily in your first spoonful.
You might enjoy my special gin enhanced tzatziki swirled into my roasted bell pepper soup or even in my roasted tomato soup.
My tzatziki sauce: Wonderful cucumber dip
Grate using a box grater, a third of a cup of seeded cucumber into two cups of full-fat sour cream. Add an eighth teaspoon of fresh, mashed in lemon juice and salt, minced garlic.
Add a quarter teaspoon of your own garden-grown fresh chopped mint or use freeze-dried LiteHouse brand. You could make candied, deep-fried mint the same way you prepare my candied, dried fried sage and store in an airtight container alongside your pantry sage.
Stir into the sour cream mix, a teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar. Finely chop fresh or dried dill and add it just before serving.
As an alternate to balsamic vinegar, stir in a teaspoon of the congealed figgy brandy marinating jus in your black mission fig jar.
Serve the tzatziki with any salad or as a side with roasted or barbecued lamb. Or maybe use as a dipping sauce with your Celebrity brand Canadian white cheddar goat cheese sandwich.
I love my gin tzatziki sauce served in stuffed pita pockets: separate dishes to choose from to build your own personal pita pocket:
Chopped firm red fresh tomato (or any colour)
Brunoised seeded cucumber (spritzed with Hendricks Gin)
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Grated on large hole side of box grater, mixed hard cheeses (try adding Canadian Celebrity brand white cheddar goat cheese)
Full-fat sour cream or my homemade gin tzatziki sauce
Finely chopped marinated red or Spanish onion
Coarsely chopped raw white button mushrooms
Your favourite chutney or salsa
Sauté top grade ground beef or grind/mince your own in your food processor, drizzled with your favourite taco sauce.
A side dish of my tomato butter and a side dish of my spectacular barbecue serving sauce; and a bowl of Elderflower St-Germain Date Confit.
Everything can be made ahead, ready to serve when anyone is hungry. This is a great après ski treat or at poolside, or during or after the game. Create your own celebration. No excuse needed. Great all year round.
Popsicle your salad cucumbers
Using your mandolin, slice a small diameter garden-fresh cucumber in paper-thin slices. Cut the thin slices into quarters. Salt the cucumber slices quite heavily and set aside in a covered glass dish.
Prepare my Hendricks Gin tzatziki, and refrigerate in the coldest part of the refrigerator, covered in a glass bowl.
Rinse the cucumber slices in a colander under gently running cold water. The salt will draw out most of the cucumber excess juices. Pat dry gently tumbling in a clean white tea towel. Spritz just a little Bacardi lemon rum on the cucumber slices to zap the flavour. Add the cucumber slices to the thick cold tzatziki.
Using a tablespoon, fill individual pockets in a popsicle tray, poke in the sticks and freeze overnight in coldest part of your freezer.
A refreshing cold adult treat on a hot summer day. You might consider small individual dipping dishes of my beurre blanc sauce (served cold).
Just when ready to serve, offer just a little cooled grapefruit beurre blanc. Make it in this case by sautéing a small minced pomegranate shell in a 1/4 cup of unsalted butter, heated with a 1/4 cup of Noilly Prat, a 1/4 cup of fresh grapefruit juice (either colour) and let heat through but do not boil.
Gradually add a cup of half and half cream and a tablespoon of sugar and gently stir to combine. One by one add tablespoon-size cubes of very cold unsalted butter. The sauce will begin to thicken as the cold butter gets incorporated. Be careful to monitor the heat. Lift the pot if necessary so as not to burn the cream. Keep it hot but not boiling.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it come to room temperature. Strain them and cool in the coldest part of refrigerator. Just when ready to serve, add a half cup of pomegranate seeds.
(See my grapefruit Carpaccio recipe column add-on comments).
Note: If you have a spiralizer, you could make paper-thin cucumber strings instead of using the mandolin, and even blanch carrot “strings” quickly and toss in ice water, dry and add along with the cucumber to my gin tzatziki, to make these delicious popsicles.
Your friends might want the recipe. A handy take-along conversation treat for a potluck packed in a freezer cooler so long as travel time is brief.
Last but not least: You have a container of frozen compound butter, a variety of choices. Add this to your container. Mash a half pound of cool unsalted butter with two tablespoons of my gin cucumber tzatziki, a teaspoon of lemon zest, and roll in cling wrap to form a log. As usual, when frozen but not yet rock hard, slice in half-inch pieces using a sharp thin knife, and rewrap and freeze hard. Loads of uses in your cooking. (You could add the compound butter slices to your beurre blanc; top ground lamb burgers or use when making crostini or your favourite bruschetta to paint the grilled bread.)
© Spirits in My Kitchen: Lady Ralston – Canadian Cooking with Bouquets and Aromas – Good Food Made Better Adding Spirits