Good morning Everyone!
Consider, for a minute, the humble pickle. How did a transmogrified cucumber come to be one of the standard items in most American refrigerators?
In our house, the word “pickle” means only one thing – kosher dill pickles, preferably made by Vlasic although we will settle for Mount Olive. We have at least one family member (Kayla) who loves pickles just a bit too much. The child actually drinks (when she can get away with it; both parents forbid her from doing it whenever we can catch her at it) the juice from the pickle bottle and would willingly include a pickle as a staple at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I know this because I caught her eating two large kosher dill pickles for breakfast the other day.
After I waved Kayla off her third helping of pickles that day, I started wondering about their history – how did someone discover how to take a cucumber and transform it into a pickle? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be lost in the mists of time. Pickling is an ancient form of food preservation, and as early as 4000 years ago, people in India were soaking cucumbers in a water/salt mixture with spices to make pickles. The Romans learned about cucumbers and pickling from India, and carried the idea with them as they proceeded to conquer a good bit of the known world.
In most parts of the world, the term “pickle” refers to any food that has been preserved in brine, vinegar or in rare cases, a lye solution. However, here, in both the United States and Canada, “pickle” most commonly refers to the dill pickle so beloved by my child, which is created by fermenting/soaking cucumbers in a briny mixture that include a lot of dill and some garlic, among other spices.
A number of famous people have either liked or used pickles to their advantage – Julius Caesar is rumored to have liked pickles, while Christopher Columbus fed his sailors pickles to help ward off scurvy. Pickles are mentioned twice in the Bible at Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8.
Vlasic pickles have been around since before World War II. The original Vlasic entrepreneur, Frank Vlasic, came to America in 1912 from Poland. He started a milk and cheese business, which his son, Joe, carried on. Joe decided to expand the family business from just milk and cheese to include Polish pickles. Vlasic pickles as a brand though did not truly take off until during World War II, when Joe decided to market his pickles in glass containers. Now, Vlasic pickles are the top-selling brand of pickles in America.
So, in one of those odd twists of fate we often find, a food invented in India,carried by Romans throughout Europe, carried by Europeans to the New World and perfected by a Polish immigrant’s son in the bustling city of Detroit became an All-American food that is a staple at American picnics and barbecues. A better example of the concept of the American melting pot would be hard to design!
Have a great day!