Pickle History

Pickled cucumbers are a favorite food in many cultures, including America. The origin of the first pickle is lost in the sands of time, but archaeological evidence dates them back to 2400 in Mesopotamia. From these origins, pickles spread quickly through Asia, Egypt and Greece.

Napoleon Bonaparte Sketch

These days the word pickle brings to mind spicy, sweet, or sour pickled cucumbers. However, at the time pickled cucumbers originated, ancient man used the process of pickling to preserve many types of food including fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and fish. The brine solution that imparts the sour taste to pickled cucumbers also works to inhibit the growth of bacteria. While many cultures still pickle various types of foods, most have not caught on the way pickled cucumbers have. This may be in part because when pickled whole cucumbers are easy to hold while eating.

In Asia, the cucumber was often used in kimchi, a pickled dish still eaten today that also often uses cabbage, eggplant, and radishes. Ancient Egyptians loved pickles and Cleopatra claimed that pickles helped her maintain her beauty. Aristotle talked about the positive health benefits associated with pickled cucumbers. Other famous pickle fans include Julius Cesar, Queen Elizabeth I, George Washington, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the case of Napoleon Bonaparte, his love for pickles and his belief that pickles offered health benefits led to advances in preservation. Because Napoleon wanted to provide pickles to his troops, Bonaparte offered a cash prize to anyone who discovered a method that would allow long term preservation that allowed soldiers to take pickles into the field. In 1809, a man named Nicholas Appert discovered that using a water bath to process the glass jars of pickles killed off bacteria and allowed for longer storage of food. The water bath method is still used today when making many types of pickles and other preserved foods.

The pickling of whole cucumbers eventually led to pickling chopped cucumbers in relish, chutney, and a Pennsylvania Dutch dish called chowchow. Many of these special recipes were brought to America by the Dutch who also helped to popularize dill pickles in America.

It is fitting that pickles are so popular in America, because America actually gets its name from a pickle maker turned navigator named Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci sailed with Columbus and loaded the boat with hundreds of barrels of pickles to help prevent scurvy among the crew.

Pregnant Woman with Pickle

Today there are many folk-ways about pickles. Perhaps most prevalent among them is the notion that pregnant women crave pickles. This has been reinforced in stories and even advertising. The Vlassic Pickle Company, originally based in Imlay City, Michigan, even adopted a stork as its mascot to associate the company's product with the fairy tale deliverer of babies to pregnant mothers. Another prominent U.S. pickle manufacturer is Clausen which specializes primarilly in a chilled product.

There are as many types of pickles in the world as there are cultures and many of them are easy to make in the home kitchen. With the right equipment, even the most novice canner can make pickles including dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, or relish. These pickles and relishes can then be used in many recipes and dishes to add a unique flavor.

<< Home Page for Pickles | Different Kinds of Pickles >>

Resources:

NY Food Museum: Pickle History Timeline
This Country of Ours: The Story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
BBC:H2G2 Pickles

Destinations:

History of Raspberries

History of Yogurt

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