When you think of pickles, you probably think of dill pickles in a big jar. But pickling is an old art that preserves food through the use of a salt water brine. The pickles can be tart or sweet and come in a surprising variety.
- Over 2,000 years ago in the Tigris Valley, people began preserving cucumbers by soaking them in an acidic saltwater brine. Queen Cleopatra supposedly used pickles as a beauty treatment, and they’re mentioned in the Bible.
- These preserved foods were an important food staple for families, especially during the winter when fresh vegetables were scarce. Sailors took them on long journeys to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C—found in fruits and vegetables.
- In the cold climates of Russia, the Ukraine, and Poland, people would place cabbage, beets, and cucumbers in barrels with salt water and vinegar. Within a few weeks, the vegetables were pickled. People ate these vegetables through the long cold winter when little else was available but potatoes and bread.
- Jewish immigrants to New York City began selling pickled cucumbers straight from big wooden barrels. Even today, kosher pickles are a staple in New York delis.
- Cultures around the world pickle fruits and vegetables. Koreans make kimchi; Eastern Europeans gave us sauerkraut; the English brought sweet pickles to the U.S. Italians pickle eggplants and peppers and Russians pickle tomatoes. In the Middle East, pickled vegetables and fruits, including olives, peppers, and lemons, are served at almost every meal.
- Pickles can be sour, sweet, hot, or spicy. Besides salt, many pickles are made with vinegar, sugar, and spices. Chutney is a type of sweet/spicy spread.
Visit PBS to learn more about the art of pickling.