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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The pickler's art is not an easy one

     The pickle—perhaps aptly—is forever locked in time. While all manner of ethnic foodstuffs have shed their peddler's rags, polished their diction, and joined haute cuisine, the pickle remains firmly down market, its accent heavy and pungent, its humble origins intact, the eternal sidekick, the permanent garnish.
     Thus pickles are unjustly neglected. Restaurants that ballyhoo purple foam and raw leaves and teaspoons of air fall silent when it comes to pickles. An eatery celebrating its pickles would seem as wrong as a place celebrating its bathroom or its napkins. ("Fine Egyptian cotton, 1500 thread count...")  Nobody wants expensive pickles -- what would those be?  Surely inferior to the cheap ones. In fact, deli diners expect pickles to be free, on the table, in a tub, just another staple of life: salt, pepper, pickles.
     Thus the pickle retains its modesty as a comfort of home. A restaurant pickle can be good. A store bought pickle, even, can be not bad. Claussen pickles are not bad. But just not bad. Like Thanksgiving, you need to make your pickle at home for it to be wonderful, for it to soar and, maybe, touch greatness, whether full sour, half sour, new or properly aged (sweet pickles? Dos ken nor a goy). 
    Because a great pickle is like family: it is an act of love, of duty, consideration and devotion. A pickle is to share. No one makes pickles for his own private use, alone. My in-laws were picklers, and pickled so long and so well that none of us had the foresight to learn the picker's craft at their knee. We thought they would pickle forever—is that not part of the pickle mystique? Pickles endure.
      My wife, boldly tried to fill the pickle-scented void in our lives since my in-laws passing. These were the result -- gorgeous to look at, marinated in extraordinary love. But, alas, a pickle can only go so far on its looks, and affection-soaked though they were, these pickles, like beauty, were deceptive -- pretty, but not so appealing when you got to know them. They didn't taste good. My wife nibbled one and immediately threw them all away. Nobody argued with her. The pickler's art is not an easy one. It is hard-won, and part of the love process is trying and trying until you get something right, then sticking with that. "Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds," Shakespeare wrote. "Or bends with the remover to remove. Oh no!" Her next batch will be better. And if it isn't, the one after that will be. Or the one after that. The pickler's art, like love, requires patience, and persistence. It only looks easy.


  1. I remember a Wall St. Journal article from 30+ years ago about how a pickle company was forced to build a higher wall around the plant because they cured the pickles out in the open & people on the passing commuter trains could see the huge barrels & the process was disgusting to look at!

  2. We had dinner at Big Jones this week. While the fried chicken and corn bread were wonderful, the highlight of the meal was the pickle sampler. As I recall, it included ramps, pearl onions, asparagus, okra, and cucumbers.

  3. Aunt Bee of Mayberry would agree.


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