Pickle History

Dill Pickles: How Did They Come About?

An introduction

Pickling and food preservation has been around for a long time. There is evidence to suggest that pickling has been performed for thousands of years, possibly dating back to 2030 BC (I read this on the Internets so it must be true). Although many foods can be pickled, most people think of “pickles” as pickled cucumbers.

The pickling process is designed to both prolong the shelf life of a product and make it a bit more delicious. “Pickle” is thought to come from the Dutch word “pekel” or the German word “pókel”, meaning “brine” or “salt”. Both brine and salt are instrumental in the pickling process.

Some say that “pickle juice” has health benefits, though there is little evidence to back up this claim. Pickles are very low in calories; you’ll only find about five calories in an average spear. Though the brine doesn’t add any calories to the cucumber, it does add a lot of sodium, so take the declaration of pickles being healthy with a pinch of salt… literally.

Without preservatives or freezers, pickling was a great way to keep food edible and it still is.

How did the US get dill pickles?

In the US, dill pickles are often referred to as “kosher dills”, although there is nothing about them that is truly “kosher”, as they are not derived from meat or dairy products. Kosher dills are simply made using traditional Jewish recipes that were popularized in New York City around 120 years ago.

The “kosher” dill pickle initially became very popular with Jewish communities living in Eastern Europe, with countries such as Hungary having an abundance of dill along with other herbs and spices. Dill pickles offered a unique accompaniment to their rather bland diet. In the cold, unforgiving winter months, it became a tradition for Jewish communities to pickle many foods.

The migration of Jewish people to NYC brought dill pickles to North America, and the US went cray for that dill-infused goodness. Different types of pickles were made and big brands such as Heinz looked to turn them into money-making veggies.

Despite their transition into big business, dill pickles retain their largely Jewish associations today. Pickles are still a mainstay in NYC and pretty much any deli, further solidifying their status as a staple of Jewish-American cuisine.

Today, it’s hard to find a fast food joint or bar that doesn’t have pickles somewhere in their menus. Some create their own pickles and offer them up as an appetizer. Deep fried is my preferred method, though a house-brined plain ol’ pickle is pretty awesome too.

More than half of the cucumbers grown in the US are turned into pickles, and Americans consume over 26 billion pickles per year (or so I’ve heard). That equates to roughly 9 pounds of pickles per person every year (math totally not checked here).

One thing’s safe to say – people love pickles, unless you have an unfortunate pickle allergy. Otherwise, you have no excuse.