Pickle History

Dill Pickles: How Did They Come About?

An introduction to pickles

It seems that pickles have been around since records began. There is evidence to suggest that pickling has been performed (in one way or another) for thousands of years, with evidence of pickles dating back to 2030BC in India. Although many foods (such as eggs, onions, and cabbages) can be pickled, “pickles” commonly refers to pickled cucumbers.

The pickling process is designed to both prolong the shelf-life of a product and also modify its taste. “Pickle” is thought to come from the Dutch word “pekel” or the German word “pókel”, meaning “brine” or “salt”. Both brine and salt, of course, can be instrumental in the pickling process.

It is commonly thought that “pickle juice” (i.e. the leftover brine and herbs juice) can have a plethora of health benefits, though little evidence exists to formally back up this claim. Pickles are also very low in calories; you’ll find only 4 calories in a single dill pickle spear. Though the brine doesn’t add any calories to the cucumber, it does add an awful lot of salt, so take the declaration of pickles being healthy with a pinch of salt… literally.

Historically, pickling presented a way of preserving food naturally and stopping it from going off, as we were yet to invent preservatives or freezers! Transport was much more limited than it is now, and food inevitably became very scarce in the winter months, when little would grow on its own.

So how did we get dill pickles?

In the US, dill pickles are often referred to as “kosher dills”, although there is nothing about them that really necessitates the word “kosher” in their name, as they are not derived from meat or dairy products, among other things. Kosher dills are simply made using traditional Jewish dill pickle 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 Eastern European countries such as Hungary having an abundance of the dill herb, along with other herbs and spices. Dill pickles offered a sharp and tangy accompaniment to their rather bland diet, which saw their popularity quickly skyrocket. In the run-up to the cold, unforgiving winter months, it became a tradition for Jewish communities to pickle many foods for preservation, with “kosher dill” pickles being one of them.

A large migration of Jews into New York City during the late 1800s and early 1900s brought “kosher” dill pickles to North America, with the US citizens soon loving the dill-infused take on a pickled cucumber. Different types of dill pickle were made depending on the fermentation time, and big brands such as Heinz soon looked to turn these salty cucumbers into big business money-making machines.

Despite their transition into big business, dill pickles retain their largely Jewish roots and associations today. Pickles are still a mainstay at many NYC delis in the 21st century, further solidifying their status as a staple of Jewish-American cuisine. Some delis even sell novelty pickle-scented candles!

Though many types of pickled foods exist, dill pickles are among those that have stood the test of time. Dill pickles continue to be a common feature of many meals, often being served with sandwiches and burgers as a palate cleanser or a tasty, tangy addition to the flavor of a meal.

More than half of the cucumbers grown in the US are turned into pickles, while Americans consume over 26 billion pickles per year. That equates roughly to 9 pounds of pickle per citizen every year! One thing’s safe to say – pickles aren’t going anywhere!