Possibly among the most versatile foods in history with textures ranging from soft and sinewy all the way to rock-hard crunchy, and flavors from pungent garlic to candy-sweet, the ubiquitous pickle has its day of decoration each November 14th. And when you think about it, holiday or otherwise, who isn’t tickled by crisp, crinkly (or other!) pickles?
By way of pickle history, archaeologists and anthropologists have found evidence that ancient Mesopotamians actually pickled thousands of years ago. Mentioned in the Bible, coveted by Cleopatra for what she thought it did for her looks, praised by Aristotle, provided to his sailors by Columbus to ward off scurvy, referenced in Shakespearean plays (both literally and metaphorically, as to be “in a pickle”), regarded by Napoleon as a health benefit for his troops, and relished by Thomas Jefferson, the pickle has taken its rightful, resourceful place in the world for thousands of years. In 1809, confectioner Nicholas Appert won the equivalent of a $250,000 prize from Napoleon who’d been seeking ways to effectively preserve food, like pickles, which Appert did by canning–a process that removed air from the product as it was boiled and sealed.
In some parts of the world, pickles are regarded not only as a tasty repast but as aids in the courting process. In the Pacific Islands, natives are said to pickle some foods in banana leaf-lined holes in the ground, preserving them in the event of storms that may wipe out other food sources. In Fiji, a man cannot acquire a bride unless he shows her parents his plentiful pickle pits.
Today, some believe in terms of a go-to snack and meal accompaniment of choice, pickles could rival French fries and potato chips–only they’re healthier! Eaten by themselves or chopped into chicken, tuna, egg, macaroni or potato salad, pickles add color and crunch. Prepared in a basic brining solution with vinegar, salt, water, peppercorns, garlic, and spices (brining solutions can very and include sugar, etc.), resulting gherkins, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, sour or half-sour pickles, and sweet pickles all occupy a place of honor on the plate and palate. Many home cooks look forward to the pickling process, and even for the uninitiated this recipe may entice them enough to make National Pickle Day a day of culinary discovery!
Basic Dill Pickles
Ingredients and equipment:
7 wide mouth quart jars, lids and rings
Fresh dill, heads and short stems
7 pounds of pickling cucumbers
8 1/2 cups water
2 1/4 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup pickling salt
Wash jars in hot, soapy water or sterilize in dishwasher. Fill with hot water and set aside. Fill a canning kettle half-full with hottest tap water; set on burner over high heat.
In medium saucepan fit lids and rings together, cover with water, bring to a simmer. In large saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and salt to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside.
Fill jars by placing a layer of dill and a garlic clove at the bottom of each. Tightly load cucumbers into each jar all the way up to the neck. You may have two layers. Add a little dill at the top and more garlic if desired. Pour in the brine adding 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Add lid and ring to each jar, tightening securely. Place jars into canner with water just to the necks of each. Bring water almost (not entirely) to a boil (about 15 minutes). Remove jars and set on a dish towel, covering with another. Let cool. Store in cool, dark place for six weeks to three months depending on how mild or piquant you like them.