A somewhat more recent effort:
Used to be everybody made pickles. Most featured cucumbers, but there were pickled beets, pickled carrots, and pickled green beans too. Believe it or not I never saw a zucchini until I was pretty close to adulthood, but that soon joined the pickle lineup as well.
It was quite an undertaking in earlier days, and certainly still can be. My favorite aunt sometimes makes sweet pickles that take nine days. I tried making them once.
And only once.
I have a hard time waiting for bread to rise, let alone spending nine days in a pickle. They are, however, spectacularly sweet and zingy and crunchy…probably my favorite pickles.
The history of pickles goes back a long way. Curing food in a salt solution, that is brine, preserves it. Over longer term storage, fermentation in pickles also helps prolong shelf life. Up until relatively recently in the tapestry of time, we did not have refrigerators or freezers to keep food from spoiling. Even canning is a fairly new process. However, fermenting and pickling were early discoveries.
According to the Pickle History Timeline from the NY Food Museum, ancient Mesopotamians pickled food at least as early as 2400 BC. Cucumbers were later brought from their native India to the Tigris Valley around 2030 BC. They were mentioned in the Bible…twice…and revered by Romans as strength enhancing food. Julius Caesar is said to have fed them to his troops. Napoleon did the same, and offered a large monetary award to anyone who could find a way to preserve food safely. “The man who won the prize in 1809 was a confectioner named Nicholas Appert, who figured out that if you removed the air from a bottle and boiled it, the food wouldn't spoil.”
Cleopatra considered them an important part of her beauty routine.
You are of course familiar with the name of our amazing nation, and the continent upon which we reside-America. It was, according to many sources, named after a navigator called either Amerigo or Americus Vespucci, who wrote of his travels here in books published in the early 1500s. Due to some confusion at the time, map makers thought he had discovered the new lands and named them after him.
Mr. Vespucci was a pickle peddler in Seville, Spain before he got the urge to wander, and indeed packed plenty of pickles in barrels on his ships. It is said that his sailors probably avoided scurvy because of this.
That other famous explorer, who missed getting much other than a city in Ohio named after him also brought pickles along on his voyages and is said to have grown cucumbers for the purpose on Haiti.
Shakespeare liked pickles and mentioned them frequently. Thomas Jefferson was a fan as well. He said of them, “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."
Elvis Presley liked them fried.
Pickles were produced commercially as early as 1606 in Virginia.
Mason jars revolutionized home canning of pickles. They were invented by a tinsmith named John Landis Mason in Philadelphia in 1858. Made of heavier glass than regular jars they stood up better to the stress of hot processing.
In 1893 Pickle Packers International was formed to represent the pickle industry and its workers. It still exists and its website, Ilovepickles.org, offers recipes and information. The organization’s membership represents 87% of the pickling cucumbers grown in North America, and, “PPI’s presence is world-wide, with members from 16 countries, including Belgium, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Holland, India, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United States, and United Kingdom.”
Pickles were rationed during WWII.
Today, China is the world’s largest producer of cucumbers, followed by Iran, Turkey, and the Russian Federation, with the USA coming in fifth in production.
Technically the cucumber is a fruit, having grown from a flower, and in fact, by botanical definition, it is actually a berry, as are tomatoes, eggplants, and grapes.
However, you may be comforted to know that the USDA lists pickles under vegetables. Here in America we consume more than 2.5 billion pounds each year. Florida is our top cuke state with 33% of cucumber production taking place there, although they are grown in over 30 states.
In 2013, in New York, 3,100 acres were planted to the knobby green critters. The state ranks 7th nationally in production and acreage, and the harvest was valued at nearly 17 million dollars that year. NY grows 6% of the national crop and 5% of those cukes or thereabouts go into pickles.
Americans consume more than 9 pounds of pickles per person annually and buy them roughly every 53 days, unless of course they make their own. 67% of American households participate in pickle consumption. Although there are hundreds of varieties of pickles with many vegetables involved, cucumber dill is the number one most popular. Pickles are fat free and low calorie, with the average dill having only 40 calories.
Although not in any way inclined toward nine-day pickle production, (although I have always been happy to eat them) and having had terrible experiences with canning anything but jams and jellies, I can still turn out refrigerator pickles like Cleopatra’s cooks.
Liz grows the cukes, as I have black thumb in that department, or they arrive with favorite visitors. I boil up some vinegar, sea salt and sugar and let the resulting brine cool. Pack garlic and dill heads and clean, sliced cucumbers in jars, dump on the liquid, and screw on the lids. Let it all set in the fridge for a few days, and hey, presto! We get to participate in a tradition that has been handed down nearly as long as civilization has existed. I do love a good pickle and I guess I am in good company.
There are a couple of jars pickling in the fridge right now in fact.