April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The weather can be fickle, farmers use a sickle, feathers are used to tickle and nearly everyone loves a pickle. That said, nobody likes to be in a pickle.

The precise origins of the phrase “in a pickle” are not clear. Some scholars trace it back to Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Where should they find this grand liquor that hath gilded ‘em? How camest thou in this pickle?” (Act 5, Scene 1) Regardless of its origins, it is a timeless expression with modern-day applications. For example, if you accidentally invite mortal enemies to your home for Shabbos lunch, you are in a real pickle. If you are invited to competing bar mitzvahs on the same Shabbos and on opposite sides of the town, you are in a real pickle. If the kiddush at shul is phenomenal but your spouse has prepared a wonderful lunch at home and has specifically asked you not to ruin your appetite, then you certainly are in a real pickle.

The origins of the pickle itself also are not clear. For the record, pickles were not invented in London’s Piccadilly Square or Italy’s Spezzano Piccolo. The Torah does mention cucumbers: “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Bamidbar 11:5) In addition, the Talmud mentions “pickled vegetables” (Avodah Zara 35b and 39a). It also states that “one does not fulfill the obligation [of eating bitter herbs on Passover] if they are pickled in water or vinegar.” (Pesachim 39a) The Talmud also mentions a “woman who pickles a vegetable in a pot.” (Berakhot 20a)

Pickles come in many varieties like full sour, half sour and dill. Some vendors try to cater to individual tastes by also offering pickles that are a quarter sour or three quarters sour. That said, such precision can go way too far. For example, it would be ridiculous for a pickle vendor to sell pickles that are three-eighths sour or seven-tenths sour. In addition, if ordering a pickle requires you to solve compound fractions, then you probably need to find a new pickle vendor.

A pickle can be eaten with nearly any meal or cuisine. In that way, pickles easily blends in, like the way (i) uber nerds blend in at Comic-Con, (ii) uber geniuses blend in at NASA and (iii) young and single Orthodox Jews blend in on the Upper West Side. Other things in life do not easily blend in like (i) a break-dancer in a ballet, (iii) a pacifist in a rugby scrum or (iv) an Ashkenazi Jew in a Sephardic minyan.

A pickle can be a very good thing. For example, enter any classic kosher deli and one of the delicacies to hit the table first will be a bowl, plate or bucket of pickles. The best part is that they invariably come before the meal begins and even before you have placed your order. In that way, the pickles are not an appetizer; they are more like the Jewish version of amuse-bouches, which is French for “mouth pleasers” and generally refers to pre-appetizers, served gratis and without ordering. I know some deli patrons who just eat the free pickles and walk out. I do not recommend doing that because while it may leave you with a good taste in your mouth, it will leave the restaurant owner with a bad taste in his.

Types of pickles include the cornichons, which are tart French pickles, and bread-and-butter pickles, which are pre-sliced and marinated in vinegar, sugar and spices. As the legend goes, the inventors of the bread-and-butter pickles sold them during the Great Depression in exchange for bread and butter. This begs the question: Instead of making pickles, why didn’t they just spend their time making bread and butter?

One of the most famous pickle establishments is Guss’s Pickles, which used to have a store front on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Out front stood large barrels filled pickles and the pickles would be sold by the jar or in singles. However, schlepping all the way downtown to buy a single pickle makes about as much sense as schlepping all the way across town to buy a single shoe or all the way uptown to buy a single sheet of toilet paper.

Final thought: Did you hear about the guy who wastes hours and hours every day making pickles that nobody eats? They say he has too much brine on his hands. And did you hear that this pickle maker filled barrels of pickles that were too heavy to lift? Apparently, they were way too cucumbersome.

By Jon Kranz

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