History in a Jar -The Story of Pickles

An article by Tori Avey published on The History Kitchen in 2014

tigriscleopatraIt is rumored that they were one of Cleopatra’s prized beauty secrets. They make apperances in the Bible and in Shakespeare’s writing. Pregnant women have been known to crave them along with ice cream. Pickles have been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as 2030 BC when cucumbers from their native India were pickled in the Tigris Valley. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch pekel or northern German pókel, meaning “salt” or Shakespeare“brine,” two very important components in the pickling process. Throughout history pickling was a necessity, as it was the best way to preserve food for a long period of time. As one of the earliest mobile foods, pickles filled the stomachs of hungry sailors and travelers, while also providing families with a source of food during the cold winter months.

Pickles are created by immersing fresh fruits or vegetables in an acidic liquid or saltwater brine until they are no longer considered raw or vulnerable to spoilage. When we think of pickles, cucumbers commonly come to mind. Pickled cucumbers are often lacto-fermented in saltwater brine. During this process lactic microbial organisms develop, which turn the naturally occurring sugars of foods into lactic acid. In turn, the environment becomes acidic quickly, making it impossible for any spoiling bacteria to multiply. Cucumber pickles can also be made with a salt and vinegar brine, a popular choice for home cooks. The brine, known as “pickle juice,” is sometimes used by athletes to treat dehydration, though it has yet to be proven as a true remedy.

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Kosher dills have a unique history of their own. In The Book of Jewish Food, Claudia Roden explains that pickled vegetables were a dietary staple for Jews living in the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Russia. The sharp flavor of pickles proved a welcome addition to the bland bread-and-potato diet of these cold weather countries. For several generations, it was an autumn custom for Ashkenazim to fill barrels with cucumbers, beets and shredded cabbage. The mixture was left to ferment in a warm place for several weeks, then relocated to cool, dark cellars. The pickles would last through the long cold winter until spring, when new crops of fresh produce were available.

New York 1900When a heavy influx of eastern European Jews arrived in New York City during the late 1800s and early 1900s, immigrants introduced kosher dill pickles to America. Cucumbers were washed, then piled in large wooden barrels along with dill, garlic, spices, kosher salt and clean water. They were left to ferment for a few weeks to several months; shorter fermenting time produced brighter green “half sours,” while longer fermentation resulted in “full sours.” Pickles were sold on pushcarts in the immigrant tenement district of New York City. Over time, Jewish-owned shops selling pickles straight out of the barrel began appearing in droves. Eventually, pickling became a profitable business within the Jewish community. Today, a plate of pickles is usually served complimentary with a meal at the best Jewish delis.

masonHome pickling was made much easier and more sanitary during the 1850s, when two essential canning tools were invented. First, a Scottish chemist by the name of James Young created paraffin wax, which helped to create a seal for food preserved in jars. A few years later, John Mason developed and patented the first Mason jar. Mason’s jars were made from a heavyweight glass that was able to tolerate the high temperatures used in canning and processing pickles.

Of course, pickles aren’t limited to the dill and cucumber variety. They can be sweet, sour, salty, hot or all of the above. Pickles can be made with cauliflower, radishes, onions, green beans, asparagus and a seemingly endless variety of other vegetables and fruits. When the English arrived in the New World, they brought their method for creating sweet pickles with vinegar, sugar and spiced syrup. Eastern Europeans introduced various forms of lacto-fermented cabbage, known as sauerkraut. The French serve tiny, spiced cornichons with heavy pâtés and pungent cheeses. In the Middle East pickles are served with every meal, from peppers to olives to lemons. Russians pickle tomatoes, among other things. Koreans have their kimchi, the Japanese pickle plums and daikon, and Italians pickle eggplants and peppers. Each area of the world has its own beloved variety of pickle.

Dill History

To most Americans, dill weed is invariably paired with pickles. It is no wonder since Americans alone consume more than nine pounds of pickles per person each year. In Europe and Asia, dill has long been a staple herb. Where would seafood be without the crisp flavor of dill?

History

000_dill_01Botanically known as Anethum graveolens, dill weed is a member of the parsley family. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia. The word dill comes from the old Norse word dylla, meaning to soothe or lull. It dates back in writing to about 3000 B.C., where it was mentioned in Egyptian medical texts.

The leaves, flowers, and oval flat seeds of the dill plant are all edible. The plant has thin, feathery green leaves, of which only about the top eight inches are used.

It is very easy to grow at home in the garden or in containers. (If you grow your own, be aware that the mature seeds are toxic to birds.)

Dill weed has a flavor likened to mild caraway or fennel leaves. The plant is, in fact, often mistaken for the feathery fronds of fennel.

Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called “dill weed” to distinguish it from dill seed) are widely used as herbs in Europe and central Asia.

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Like caraway, the fernlike leaves of dill are aromatic and are used to flavor many foods such as gravlax (cured salmon) and other fish dishes, borscht and other soups, as well as pickles (where the dill flower is sometimes used). Dill is best when used fresh as it loses its flavor rapidly if dried; however, freeze-dried dill leaves retain their flavor relatively well for a few months.

Dill seed, having a flavor similar to caraway but also resembling that of fresh or dried dill weed, is used as a spice. Dill oil is extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant. The oil from the seeds is distilled and used in the manufacturing of soaps.

Dill is the eponymous ingredient in dill pickles: cucumbers preserved in salty brine and/or vinegar.

Salad Eden Rock / Salat Eden Rock

A classic salad recipe recipe found in “Norsk Ukeblads Store Salatbok” (Norsk Ukeblad’s Big Salad Book) published in 1984
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Eden Rock, St Barths is a luxury resort in Saint Barthélemy in the Caribbean, jutting out on a craggy quartzite bluff overlooking the Baie de Saint Jean on the central north coast. The resort is very popular with the rich and famous.

The resort was established in the 1950s by St Barth’s politician Rémy de Haenen (d.2008) who sold it to the Matthews family in 1995. It was reportedly frequented by Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes; Garbo once checked in for three days under the alias of Suzy Schmidt, but loved it so much that she stayed for three weeks.

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Pickled Watermelon Peel / Syltet Vannmelonskall

A surprising recipe  from “Nye Mesterkokken”
(The New Master Chef) published in 1974
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There is certainly news for most people that the fine peel of watermelons can be used as a substitute for pickled gherkins. This is not difficult to do, and they taste really good, just like old-fashioned pickles.

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Old Fashioned Chicken / Gammaldags Kyckling

A traditional Swedish recipe found on recept.no

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Chicken fried in a pan and served with a lovely creamy sauce. Add boiled potatoes, real old fashioned pickled cucumber along with a good jam or jelly and you got a classic.

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Mandarin Rice With Crabs / Mandarinris Med Krabber

A recipe from “MENU – Ris & Pasta” published by the Danish Lademann in 1976

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Sour Pickled Plums / Sursyltede Plommer

A recipe found on dinmat.no – Source: Stavanger Aftenblad. Foto: Kim Holthe/Opplysningskontoret for frukt og grønt

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As you might have noticed, Scandinavians like sweet things with their meat dishes. Cranberry jam, red currant jelly, rowanberry jelly, sweet mustards and now you can add sour pickled plums to that list – Ted

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Swedish Pickled Sliced Gherkins / Inlagd Skivad Västeråsgurka

A traditional Swedish pickle recipe from Manfreds Matblog

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004_vesteraas gurka3Manfred writes: I’m really weak for different types of pickles and when I get time to do any myself, it gets extra good! Pickled gherkins are a favourite, and once when I travelled for work in Poland I explained in a restaurant kitchen that I wanted an appetizer consisting of Polish traditional milk pickled gherkins with sour cream, Russian caviar and honey. The combination is amazing … and should you go past an inn on the road to Jaroslaw ask for a Special … The recipe here can be described as a fast variant of a pickle … but still miles away in taste from mass produced!

A recipe for Prudy and everyone else who loves pickles!

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Beef à La Lindstrøm / Biff à La Lindstrøm

A traditional Swedish recipe found on the recipe pages on the Norwegian local paper Varden

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traditional badge3Time for a truly traditional Swedish dish here on RecipeReminiscing now. Beef á la Lindström is actually thought to have Russian roots (the originator Henrik Lindström grew up in St Petersburg), and you can certainly trace the use of beetroots and capers in the meat to eastern- and central European cooking.

But today Beef á la Lindström is considered to be an ultra classic Swedish dish, and at the Witt Hotel in Kalmar where Mr Lindström first introduced it about 150 years ago it’s still on the menu every day.

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Boiled Beef With Spicy Herb Sauce / Kokt Oksekjøtt Med Krydret Urtesaus

Recipes from “Kokekurs I Bilder” (Cooking Course In Pictures) published by Norsk Kunstforlag in 1968

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Pickled Beets / Syltede Rødbeter

A traditional Norwegian pickle recipe found on the popular food site MatPrat

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Pickled beets are classic accessories to many Norwegian dishes from kippers to hash, and you would find it in a separate bowl on most Norwegian Christmas tables. And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to serve homemade beetroot "just like grandma made ​​them" …

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Biksemad – Danish Fry Up

A recipe from the Danish “God Mad – Let At Lave” (Good Food – Easy To Make) published by Lademann in 1973

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Køttbullar Med Gräddsky – Swedish Meatballs In Cream Sauce

A recipe from “Kulinarisk Pass” (Culinary Passport) published by Tupperware in 1970

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