Pickles are one of humanity’s oldest friends right up there along side dogs and alcohol. Whoever figured
out you can throw something in saltwater to make it last a long time is ten times the hero whoever
discovered fire was. Just think of it. Early humans were busy molding mud huts, hunting mammoths,
making stone tools, just figuring out how to plant stuff in the ground, and someone probably was so busy
with all this other stuff they forgot about that jar of cucumbers in some sea water they were going to make
some kind of soup from. They go a week without remembering it, then they check back, and surprise
surprise it is still edible, and not only edible, but delicious!
Since that day, pickles became a mainstay method of food preservation. We use the word preservation,
but really all we are talking about is controlled rotting in a brine solution. The high salt, high-acid solution
of a brine works to damage the cell walls of whatever is being pickled, allowing the water to leave being
replaced by the denser brine in a process called osmosis. This changes the look, texture, and flavor of the
pickle. While you can just make a pickle using a simple water, vinegar, and salt brine, adding spices and
herbs will greatly improve the flavor.
The pickle, of course, we in the States are most familiar with is the humble pickled cucumber. We really
only deal with a couple of varieties of this guy, namely the kosher dill, the hot and sour, and the bread and
butter. Some of these are worth more than others, but I guess it goes without saying we all have our
preferences. They all have their expected place and use, though. And like any pickle, they are never too
far away from a deli.
The Kosher Dill is my personal favorite American cucumber pickle. They are usually robustly sour, but
have an uncommon savory richness that can be hard to explain. The brine for these pickles usually
contain a hefty amount of dill seed and dill sprigs, along with black and red peppercorns, mustard seed,
and other spices. The key ingredient that makes a kosher pickle kosher isn’t actually anything religious.
The kosher title means garlic was added to the brine, a fine addition arguably first introduced by various
Jewish deli mainstays in New York.
Hot and sour pickles are made to be more about the hot and less about the sour. They are brined in a basic
spiced brine like most any other pickled cucumber, but what really sets these apart from the rest of the
barrel is the generous use of chili peppers in the brine. A mixture of both fresh and dried ripened cayenne
and other variety peppers make these pickles into firecrackers waiting to explode on your first bite. Some
people find it addicting.
Bread and butter pickles are mentioned last for a reason. I don’t like them. They are way too sweet. They
have no balance of flavor; I think they were made when someone was trying to make the next big candy
craze after the kool-aid pickle never caught on. I wonder why? No small wonder you can get someone to
buy a novelty food once, but fool-me-twice? I guess some people put them on a burger where the ketchup
and mustard can work to stretch its flavor out a bit, but why not just use a good pickle in the first place?
This is just a short primer on the beautiful pickle. I hope you do appreciate them like the world has
throughout history. Remember them next time you are hungry for a sandwich; any deli experience is
incomplete without one of them.