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June 18, 2024 6 mins
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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to brain Stuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey brain
Stuff Lauren vogelban here. The word pickle, aside from being
delightful onto itself, is both a noun and a verb.
To pickle is to preserve a food in an acidic solution.
This a makes the food taste more sour and or puckery,

(00:23):
and b makes it last longer. You can pickle any
number of foods, but today we're talking about what probably
comes to mind first for most Americans when you say pickle.
A pickled cucumber, be it whole or in spears or slices.
They're a staple on sandwiches and as a deli side
or straight out of the jar. We're not judging the

(00:45):
average American eats about nine pounds of them each year.
But how did the pickle originate? And perhaps more importantly,
how did the dill end up being a staple of
the deli sandwich. Pickled cucumbers have been around for thousands
of years, eating back as early as two thy four
hundred BC or so, which is when cucumbers began spreading

(01:06):
their way across Mesopotamia in order to preserve a crop,
which if you've ever grown cucumbers, you'll know, tend to
produce a lot of fruit all at once. People found
that they could cover the cucumbers in a salt water brine,
and a few weeks later the cucumbers would be tart
and wouldn't spoil. Oh, what's going on here is that,
as we've talked about before on the show, a bacteria

(01:28):
live in the air and on surfaces all around us,
and many of them are harmless or even helpful. So
if you set out a loosely covered container of cucumbers
in brine, the lactic acid bacteria that live everywhere will
set up shop in the container. The salt solution draws
out some of the sugars and the cucumbers. The bacteria

(01:48):
eat the sugars and poop lactic acid. The lactic acid
infuses the cucumbers, and after a few weeks you've got pickles.
The acid both makes the pickles tasty and discourages other
less friendly microbes from growing, and so the pickles don't
go bad the way that fresh cucumbers would. The English
term pickle likely originated from Germanic words meaning salt or brine.

(02:12):
Anthropologists think that Cleopatra attributed the nutrients and pickles to
her beauty, and that they were a favorite food of
many notable figures throughout history, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte.
By the age of exploration and colonization, many sailors brought
pickles on their ships to help prevent scurvy on the
high seas of The guy behind America's name, Amerigo Vespucci,

(02:34):
was a pickle salesman and the supplier for a good
chunk of the ships sailing at the time. During the
Victorian era in England, pickles were a status symbol for
the wealthy, as was the pickle caster, which was a
piece of luxurious serving were used to hold pickled produce
of pickling cucumbers was common among families of private gardens

(02:54):
throughout the eighteen hundreds, and pickles were often an essential
part of daily meals. The popularity of pickle casters grew
between eighteen sixty and eighteen ninety, resulting in more intricate
designs featuring flowers and gargoyles. Worked in ceramic or glass.
They were often displayed proudly at the center of the
dining table, but the pickles in those casters were mostly

(03:17):
pickled at home until one H J. Hines. Yes that
Hines introduced one of the first commercially produced pickles in
eighteen sixty and hit big at the eighteen ninety three
World's Fair by giving away tiny pickle shaped pins. This
was part of a marketing campaign Hines used to introduce
the company's fifty seven varieties of pickles, preserves, and other

(03:40):
jarred foods. It's still considered one of the most successful
marketing campaigns in American history, and you can still get
a pin through the Hinz History Center or sites like eBay.
Other big names and pickles came along shortly before and after,
including Klausen in eighteen seventy, mount Olive Pickles in nineteen
twenty six, and Lassic in nineteen forty two. But okay,

(04:04):
why did the dill pickle spear end up being served
with the deli sandwich? That practice started when Jewish immigrants
began opening delis in New York City around the nineteen thirties.
During the harsh winters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
the pickles had played a crucial role in staining Jewish
communities in Eastern Europe. Eating pickles provided them with vital

(04:25):
calories and a source of vitamin C. During the heightened
antisemitism and deadly pogroms of the time, waves of immigrants
fled to the UK and the US, and here many
set up shop In New York, opening businesses like delis.
Many offered dill pickles as palate cleansers to customers because
the acidity from the pickle provides a sharp contrast to

(04:48):
the fatty meats of the sandwiches, they also add nice crunch.
Once the pickle became a popular side in New York,
it caught on across the US because they're easy and
inexpensive to prepare and tasty. Today, pickles are so common
as a side item with sandwiches most restaurants and delies
don't even list them on the menu. A pickling, of course,
is not just limited to cucumbers, though you can also

(05:10):
pickle fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and eggs, anything you want really.
A kimchi and sauerkraut are both made using the salt
brine method, and brining isn't the only method of pickling.
As a shortcut, you can cover your cucumbers and vinegar
diluted with water instead of a brine. These are sometimes
called quick pickles or refrigerator pickles. Vinegar is just a

(05:32):
fruit or vegetable juice that's been fermented to produce alcohol
and then expose to another type of acid producing bacteria
which eat alcohol and poop acetic acid. So you're just
buying your bacteria poop ready made when you pickle with vinegar.
And of course you can add all kinds of seasonings
to your pickles. A deli dill pickles usually involve a

(05:52):
bit of white sugar, mustard seeds, and a hafty dose
of dried and or fresh dill for a bright herbal pickle.
Bread and butter pickles often have lots of white sugar,
plus onions, garlic, celery seed, and something like turmeric to
give them that yellow tint, yielding a sweet and sour
pickle with a savory twist. But the possibilities are as
endless as the pickles possible lifespan. The oldest known pickle

(06:16):
was first pickled in eighteen seventy six and has been
passed down from generation to generation. Today's episode is based
on the article What's the dill? The History of the
pickle on how stuffworks dot com, written by Murial Vega.
Brain Stuff is production by Heart Radio in partnership with

(06:37):
how stuffworks dot Com and is produced by Tyler klang A.
Four more podcasts from my heart Radio. Visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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