Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Who invented the pickle?

Here you see my candied cucumber curls and a jar of fourteen-day pickles. I just put the peaches in this line-up because they're pretty.

I've had cucumbers (and watermelon rinds) in some stage of pickling off and on for the last month, and I can't help wondering who comes up with these formulas. My mother's fourteen-day pickles, for instance. Who figured out that seven days of soaking in brine was exactly the right length of time? Or that fresh alum-water needed to be poured over the cucumbers for exactly four days?

My sister and I agreed recently that a person could no doubt fudge on those times by a day or two either way.

My Ball Blue Book has a recipe for watermelon rind pickles, but I recall years ago using a recipe that required a lemon, and the lemon actually did impart some of its flavor to the end product.

Once again I thank God for the Internet, because I googled up a recipe that suited me.

What on earth do people do without the Internet?

As of tomorrow, my pickling will be over for the year; possibly for the rest of my life, because who knows what sort of wild hair will overtake me by then? (By the way, where did the expression "take a wild hair/hare" come from? Hmmm.)

Until this season, I had not made pickles for at least twenty years.

There are two reasons why I will not buy brand new quart canning jars, even though I could use some now: first, I gave dozens of them away last year, and I refuse to re-buy something I gave away; second, who knows if I'll want to can anything next year?

And now, on to the history of the pickle. Here's what Professor Google taught me today:

The history of pickles stretches so far back into antiquity that no definite time has been established for their origin, but they are estimated to be over 4,000 years old.

In 2,030 B.C., cucumbers native to India were brought to the Tigris Valley. There, they were first preserved and eaten as pickles.

Cucumbers 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 850 B.C., Aristotle praised the healing effects of cured cucumbers.

Cleopatra attributed a portion of her beauty to pickles -- though we're not sure which portion.

Pliny's writings mention spiced and preserved cucumbers; in other words, pickles.

The Roman Emperor Tiberius consumed pickles on a daily basis.

Julius Caesar thought pickles had an invigorating effect, so, naturally, he shared them with his legions.

The enjoyment of pickles spread far and wide through Europe. In the thirteenth century, pickles were served as a main dish at the famous Feast of King John.

Pickles were brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus, who is known to have grown them on the island of Haiti.

In the sixteenth century, Dutch fine food fanciers cultivated pickles as one of their prized delicacies.

Cartier found cucumbers growing in Canada in 1535, and they were known to the colonists of Virginia as early as 1609.

Queen Elizabeth liked pickles. And Napoleon valued pickles as a health asset for his armies.

Samuel Pepy's diary mentions a glass of Girkins as something to be highly appreciated.

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. As it turns out, these pickle purveyors started the nation's commercial pickle industry.

A fondness for pickles has always been a national characteristic of the American people. It's a good thing, since our country's namesake, Amerigo Vespucci, was actually a pickle peddler in Seville, Spain. He supplied ships with pickled vegetables to prevent sailors from getting scurvy on long voyages. While Columbus is credited with discovering America, Vespucci was apparently a better PR man. We're named for him. We became the United States of America -- instead of the United States of Vespucci. And that's probably a good thing, too.

George Washington was a pickle enthusiast. So 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."
We're still trying to track down Aunt Sally's recipe.

In colonial America, the pickle patch was an important adjunct to good living. Pickles were highly regarded by all of America's pioneering generations because, under frontier conditions, pickles were the only zesty, juicy, green, succulent food available for many months of the year.

In colonial times, and, much later, on farms and in villages, homemakers expected to "put down" some pickles in stone crocks, and to "put up" some pickles and pickle relishes in glass jars.

In 1820, Frenchman Nicholas Appert was the first person to commercially pack pickles in jars.

1926, however, stands as perhaps the most momentous date in pickle history. You see, in that year, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company was founded.


I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

I'm so glad you did your post on pickles today. What a fount of info you are! Such fun to read it all and now I want a pickle. None around here so at lunch time I'll have to find some.

Lindie said...

I haven't made pickles for almost 20 years also! I have one lone cucumber vine in my courtyard, lots of flowers but only one cuc so far. I got my favorite pickled watermelon rind recipe while I lived in TX and I even pickled okra there. I miss all that but not the work!

MoxieMamaKC said...

Thank you for the pickle lesson! I love history and you just filled up my "Did You Know" mental jar for at least a week!

Sharlene said...

I'm pickled pink by all that info on pickles.

Adirondackcountrygal said...

I've never pickled or canned, but my mother did. I love the bread and butter pickles. I have a strange side effect when I eat pickles however, my eyelids "sweat".