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Cucumbers
Photo by Jon Russo

Pekel or a Pokel

Aug 31, 2018
by Ron Skaar

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Cucumbers were first cultivated in Thailand centuries ago and spread rapidly throughout Asia and India. Vinegar has been used in one form or the other for more than 10,000 years. Their pairing goes as far back as 2400 BC when cucumbers were pickled along the Tigris valley.

By 850 BC, Aristotle is phrasing the health benefits of the cured cucumber. They were prized by the ancient Romans who sent their legions off with pickled vegetables. Cleopatra swore that the preserved cucumber was an integral part of her beauty regimen. 

Pickles became a favorite condiment and snack in England during the Middle Ages. Dutch fine food fanciers celebrated pickles as one of their prized delicacy’s. Queen Elizabeth I adored her chefs pickles and during this same time, Shakespeare is turning “pickle” into a troublesome situation.

Amerigo Vespucci was a pickle peddler before emerging as an explorer. He provided pickles for Columbus’ voyages to the New World. Christopher introduced cucumbers to the America’s and by 1606 pickles were being produced at home and commercial sites in Virginia.

Our word comes from the Dutch “pekel” or the German “pokel” meaning salt or brine. Pickling was a necessity and the best way to preserve food over a long period of time. It became an early mobile food filling the stomachs of sailors, travelers and gave families something to eat during the winter months.

Pickled vegetables were a dietary staple for immigrants from Germany, Poland and Russia. The sharp flavor of pickled beets, cucumbers and shredded cabbage provided a kick to the bland bread-and-potato diet of cold weather countries. 

 In the late 19th century, an influx of East European Jewish immigrants, escaping persecution,  brought along the kosher dill pickle with them to New York City. The bright green “half sours” and paler “full sours” were fermented in barrels for weeks or months within dark cellars and then sold on pushcarts throughout the city.

Dill is only one variety of pickle, they can also be sweet, sour, salty and hot or all those together. The popular sweet and sour “bread and butter” pickles have an ironic reason for their name. A married couple who produced and promoted this pickle bartered their product to local grocers in exchange for bread and butter!

Nearly ten pounds of pickles per person are consumed in the United States annually. They can be made with cauliflower, radishes, red onion, green beans, asparagus, an endless variety of vegetables and fruit. The nutritional value of any of these foods is compromised by the amount of sodium used in the pickling process. This recipe is lower in salt but full on flavor.


Refrigerator Dill Pickles

10-12 pickling cucumbers, cut into spears

3 cups water

2 cups white vinegar

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Bunch fresh dill

1/2 head garlic, skin removed and cloves smashed

10 peppercorn kernels

Bring water, white vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in medium saucepan. Swish to make sure salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add cucumbers to jars, not packed tight and add dill, garlic and peppercorns. Finish by adding enough brine to cover spears. Seal with tight airtight lid and store in fridge for at least one week. Last 4 weeks in fridge and recipe makes approximately 2 quart and 1 pint jar.


PHOTO by Jon Russo


 

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