Warts and All—
A Penchant for Pickles
by Lynn Kerrigan
Many historic figures, including Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, liked pickles. What's not to like? They come in a tremendous variety of flavors—sweet, sour, spicy and garlicky. They're crunchy. They add texture and spice to potato salad, sandwiches and a host of other dishes. And, they're cute. Today, more than fifty different types of pickles are available on grocer's shelves; dill leading the pickle pack in popularity. Plus, there's an ever growing collection of different cuts like spears, slices, slabs, and dices to provide new serving options and texture possibilities. But what is the perfect pickle? According to Pickle Packers International, Inc., the trade and research association founded in 1893, the perfect pickle should exhibit seven warts per square inch for American tastes. However, Europeans prefer wartless pickles.
5 Million Pounds a Day:
The American palate is particularly fond of pickles. They consume about nine pounds per year or 106 pickles per citizen, according to Pickle Packers, Intl.
Pickles in history:
Pickles date back forty-five hundred years to Mesopotamia where it is believed cucumbers were first preserved. Cleopatra, a devoted pickle fan, believed they enhanced her beauty. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were pickle fans. America's namesake, Amerigo Vespucci, hawked pickles in Seville to seafaring ship captains to help fight the sickness known as scurvy. Julius Caesar and Napoleon rationed pickles to their soldiers on their various military campaigns as did the U.S. government earmarking 40% of pickle production during World War II for the army, navy and marines.
Where Do Pickles Come From?Pickles begin life as cucumber seeds. One pound equals about 17,000 seeds. Take a pound of seed, add water, fertilizer, sun, and an acre of soil, and you'll harvest several hundred bushels of cucumbers. The seeds are a special pedigreed strain developed to produce straight, thin skinned, pickling cucumbers—not the large size cucumbers found on the produce shelves of your grocery store. Research, spearheaded by seed companies and universities, continues to breed improved pickling cucumbers.
- Pickles are mentioned at least twice in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8) and history records their usage over 3,000 years ago in Western Asia, ancient Egypt and Greece.
- In the sixteenth century, Dutch fine food fanciers cultivated pickles as one of their prized delicacies.
- In colonial America, the pickle patch was an important part of life. Pickles were highly regarded by America's pioneers because, under frontier conditions, pickles were the only zesty, juicy, green, succulent food available for many months of the year. In colonial times, homemakers were expected to "put down" some pickles in stone crocks, and to "put up" some pickles and pickle relishes in glass jars.
- In 1659, Dutch farmers in New York grew cucumbers in what is now Brooklyn. These cukes were sold to dealers who cured them in barrels and sold them from market stalls on Washington, Canal and Fulton Streets. These pickle purveyors started the nation's commercial pickle industry.
- In 1820, Frenchman Nicholas Appert was the first person to commercially pack pickles in jars.
- In 1900, Henry J. Heinz erected one of New York's first large electric signs at Fifth Avenue and 23rd St. It featured a 40-foot long pickle and 1,200 light bulbs.
- Pickles are technically a fruit.
- The word "pickle" was first used to indicate preservation of foods in brine. I have no idea how it came to signify that one was in a jam—as in "she's gotten herself into a fine pickle."
- The average dill pickle has only 15 calories.
- Pickles are fun and easy to make at home. You may want to tinker with the following recipe to please your own palate. For instance, I like a more spicy pickle and may cut the sugar to 1/2 cup and add a few garlic cloves.
Easy Refrigerator Pickles
Mildly sweet; stay crunchy up to about 3 weeks.
9 pickling cucumbers or 3 large cucumbers (do not peel)
1 medium-sized green pepper (seeds removed)
1 medium-sized onion
1 tablespoon table salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
Wash vegetables. Slice cucumbers into spears, slices, pickle chips--anyway you like. Chop pepper and onion and place along with sliced cucumbers into a 1-1/2 quart size jar or bowl. Add salt and celery seed. Stir gently and let stand one hour. Combine sugar and vinegar in separate bowl stirring to dissolve. Pour over vegetables and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate. Pickles are ready to eat in one day. Store covered in refrigerator.
Yield: 5 cups
Famous Pickle Lovers
- Queen Elizabeth liked pickles. And Napoleon valued pickles as a health food for his armies.
- Samuel Pepys' Diary mentions a glass of "Girkins" as something to be highly appreciated.
- George Washington was a pickle enthusiast as were John Adams and Dolly Madison.
- Pickles inspired Thomas Jefferson to write the following: "On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally's cellar." I'm still trying to track down Aunt Sally's recipe.
- In 850 BC, Aristotle praised the healing effects of cured cucumbers.
- Pliny's writings mention spiced and preserved cucumbers; in other words, pickles.
- The Roman Emperor Tiberius consumed pickles on a daily basis.
Pickles Web Site
Mt. Olive Pickles
This month's free recipe offers:
Radish Recipes to Rave About
To expand your imagination about those cherry-red morsels, the Radish Council offers a recipe leaflet full of new ways to use fresh radishes. "Turkey Pita Pockets with Radish Confetti" and "Crunchy Radish-Olive Nachos" are just two of the exciting ideas in this collection. For a free copy, send a self-addressed, stamped, business sized envelope (#10) to: Radish Council, 49 East 21st St., 8th FL., New York, NY 10010.
Family Fun with Fresh Tomatoes
To encourage aspiring junior chefs in your family, the Florida Tomato Committee created a new recipe leaflet: "Family Fun with Fresh Tomatoes." Your children will find super fun, easy recipes like "Fresh Tomato Confetti Pizza" and "Awesome Chunky Tomato Soup," along with tips on preparing tomato garnishes like Tomato Butterflies and Tomato Pinwheels. Each recipe gives step-by-step directions and also lists necessary utensils so your young ones, along with help from a grown-up, can start cooking! For a free copy of the leaflet, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Florida Tomato Committee, Dept. BT, PO Box 140635, Orlando, FL 32814.
Text Copyright 1996 Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
Page Copyright © 1996—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.