Etymology: Middle English "pekille"
Date: 15th century
1: a solution
or bath for preserving or cleaning: as a: a brine or vinegar solution
in which foods are preserved b: any of various baths used in industrial
cleaning or processing 2: a difficult situation: PLIGHT <"could
see no way out of the pickle I was in" R. L. Stevenson> 3: an
article of food that has been preserved in brine or in vinegar; specifically:
a cucumber that has been so preserved 4: British: a mischievous or troublesome
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
History: The Middle English word Pikel meant "a spicy sauce
or gravy served with meat or fowl" as early as 1400. The middle
Dutch word pekel referred to a solution, such as spiced brine, for preserving
and flavoring food. After it came to the English language, the connotations
of the word expanded to include brining for preservation, and to the
ingredients that had been treated or transformed in the brine. The Dutch
phrase in de pekel zitten, "sit in the pickle," probably gave
rise to the figurative meaning of being "in a pickle" as being
in a difficult or problematic situation. Modern slang adopted "pickled"
as a synonym for drunk.
Scientifically, a pickle is any perishable ingredient that has been
preserved in a brine. But pickling isn't only about science it's about
tradition, community, economy, responsibility, and family. Our ancestors
- no matter what part of the globe they hailed from - pickled to preserve
fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. They pickled to save money. They
pickled, together with family and friends, to assure safety and make
the most out of their foods. Harsh winters, humid tropical climates,
short growing seasons, poor soil, fast-spoiling staples (such as fish),
even summer abundance and gardening pride - all have spawned the arts
of pickling and food preservation.
The history of New York is steeped in pickling traditions. Though the
pickle pushcarts and wooden barrels on the stoops of the Lower East
Side that used to sell "Pickles for a Penny" are long gone,
the legacy of cucumber pickles lives on in our collective appetites.
Pickles are to New Yorkers what Apple Pie is to Americans - an archetypal
food that illustrates our unique history.
Of the thousand of types of pickles
that converge upon the pantry, refrigerator and supermarket shelves
in New York, all fall into one of these categories:
1. FERMENTED PICKLES: The oldest method of pickling, when a naturally
occurring bacteria transforms the sugars present in the ingredient into
an acid, preserving the food. These are called "processed"
pickles, and though they take as many as five weeks to cure, they last
up to 2 years. They have a very sharp flavor, and their texture is somewhat
softer than other types. Fermentation is the controlled decomposition
of food. In the case of fermented pickles, salt controls the pickle's
texture, limits unwanted micro-organisms, and ensures ingredients don't
ferment too quickly. Dry-salted pickles extract water from the vegetable
itself to produce the brine; brined pickles are covered with salt dissolved
2. FRESH PACK/QUICK PROCESS PICKLES: Fresh Pack includes pasteurization,
and it's one of the most common methods for commercial jarred pickles.
Fresh fruit or vegetables are first bottled, and then heated to at least
160º F, which kills any bacteria. Their shelf-life is about 18
3. REFRIGERATED PICKLES: The most common home-pickling process,
it requires a combination of refrigeration, vinegar, or alcohol to kill
bacteria that could spoil the pickles. This process, also known as acidification,
has the shortest shelf-life. The acid changes the texture of the pickle,
and, overtime, can turn it mushy. Also called fresh pickles, they retain
their bright coloration, and are particularly crisp, crunchy, and fresh
Types of Cucumber Pickles: Pickle
Packers International, a trade association for the pickled vegetable
industry since 1893, identifies types of commercial cucumber pickles
below. In addition to these basics, they note a few trends - Americans
are eating more pickles than ever, and they're gobbling up new and innovative
varieties, from long, thin, flat cuts for stacking on sandwiches, to
fiery Cajun-flavor ones for snacking.
Dill Pickles: This is by far the
most popular variety of pickles, universally revered and enjoyed across
the country. There are a few distinctions within this category:
Genuine Dills are "processed", and dill weed is added to the
tanks during the last stage of fermentation. Their flavor is more concentrated
and sour than other dill pickles.
Kosher Dills are made the same way, but generous doses of garlic are
added to the brine at the end. Just because they're called "kosher
dills" doesn't mean they are produced according to Kosher law -
you have to check the label to see if Rabbinical supervision certified
that particular brand Kosher. Though inextricably linked to a Kosher
tradition in New York, "kosher dill" now refers to a flavor
Overnight Dills are fresh cucumbers that sit in a brine in the refrigerator
for a few days. Bright green and crunchy, they taste fresher and less
SOUR/HALFSOUR: These pickles are refrigerated throughout the entire
process fresh pickles are placed in a non-vinegar brine; the longer
they stay in that brine, the more sour they become. They are crispy
Sweet Pickles: On the other side
of the flavor spectrum, sweet pickles are made with a mixture of vinegar,
sugar, and spices in the brine. Variations include:
Bread and Butter: Circle-cut cucumbers, onions, and chopped peppers
cure in a sweet, tangy brine.
Candied: Pickles cured in a syrupy sweet brine.
Gherkins: Miniature dill or sweet pickles.
For more information about the pickle industry, contact:
Pickle Packers International, Inc.
P.O. Box 606
One Pickle and Pepper Plaza
St. Charles, Illinois 60174 USA
NYFM 2003, Dana Terebelski Bowen and Nancy Ralph