Pickles! If you’re a word nerd like me, occasionally you find yourself over at the Online Etymology Dictionary, where you can you look up the origins of words. Since we’re talking pickles today, I thought I’d share with you the history of “pickle”:
“c. 1400, ‘spiced sauce served with meat or fowl’ (early 14c. as a surname), probably from Middle Dutch pekel ‘pickle, brine,’ or related words in Low German and East Frisian (Dutch pekel, East Frisian päkel, German pökel), which are of uncertain origin or original meaning. Klein suggests the name of a medieval Dutch fisherman who developed the process.
The meaning ‘cucumber preserved in pickle’ first recorded 1707, via use of the word for the salty liquid in which meat, etc. was preserved (c. 1500).”
That’s the noun, of course; the verb “pickle” came into use in about the 1550s. Related is my new favorite thing to say, “piccalilli,” from 1769, meaning “pickle of chopped vegetables.”
And that’s where I’m ultimately headed. July is National Pickle Month, but there are so many more pieces of produce you can pickle besides cucumbers. At its essence, pickling is simply the process of preserving edible products in an acid solution, usually vinegar, or in salt solution (brine). Usually, pickles refer to vegetable products, but sometimes, fish, eggs or meat are also subjected to pickling. (With meats, the process is usually called “curing” instead.)
According to the Encyclopedia of Food and Health, most major vegetables can be preserved by pickling, either commercially or in households. Cucumbers, cabbage and green olives account for the largest volume of vegetables and fruits commercially pickled in Western countries. Capers, garlic, onions, carrots, cauliflower, beans and other vegetables are also pickled, albeit in lesser quantities. In Asian countries, fermented vegetables are very popular too, and scientific research is concentrated on kimchi, the general name given to a group of acid-fermented vegetable foods that have a long tradition in Korea.
As your garden inches closer to harvest time, you may consider pickling as a way to preserve things you don’t eat fresh. Good choice! It’s very easy to do. A “quick pickle” involves just boiling water, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices before covering your produce with that liquid and waiting a few hours. Epicurious has a great quick pickle brine recipe to get you going here. As for the spices – that’s up to you. There’s a lot of ways to play with your preserves!