Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Pickles, Beyond the “Pickled Peppers”

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
-“Peter Piper” Lyrics (Roud Folk Song Index number 1945)

With a preschool child in the family, the tunes of nursery rhymes runs through out most of the time. Consequently the well-known alliteration tongue-twister English rhyme was a challenge for both the child and the parents, especially the latter.

Interestingly although John Harris (1756-1846) had published the earliest version of this tongue twister in Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation (London,1813); this rhyme was apparently known at least a generation earlier. The subject of the rhyme as asserted by few authors was Pierre Poivre, an eighteenth-century French horticulturalist and government administrator of Mauritius, who once investigated the Seychelles’ potential for spice cultivation.

Following the train of words and thoughts, “pickles” was the food-based research over the weekend. The food preparation technique of “pickling” is the process of preserving or extending the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar or vinaigrette. Typically changing the texture, taste and flavour, there are a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, meats, fish (and even eggs) which can be pickled and varying methods to chose from. Preserving perishable foods for months, the pH of pickles are maintained at 4.6 or less, which kills most bacteria. Additional antimicrobial herbs and spices like mustard seeds, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, may be added. The flavours of the final product of “pickle” depends mainly on the acidity or salinity of the solution, the temperature of fermentation, and the exclusion of oxygen. Although used in moderation for the fear of acidity and spiciness linked to carcinogenic properties, pickles have been a part of the food culture from the beginning.

As far as origins are traced, “pickles” or similar forms had made their appearance as early as 2400 BC with archaeological evidence from the area of Mohenjo Daro civilization (Tigris Valley) of northwest Indian Subcontinent. From being Cleopatra’s prized beauty secrets or in popular writings, “pickles” were the earliest foods considered as a necessity for long sea voyages, road travels, for soldiers or simply to preserve food for the harsh seasons or periods of time.

Though “pickle” had early roots, from an etymology point, this late Middle English word (c.1400) came probably from the Middle Dutch of pekel or East Frisian päkel or German pökel, all meaning “brine”. Going further beyond, the word is of uncertain origin or original meaning.

Pickles aren’t limited to being salty or spicy alone, they can be sweet, sour, hot or a combination of them. Each area has their own method of pickling, most handed down from one generation to the next, as a family tradition. South Asian pickles (popularly known as achar or achaar in most areas, term of ?Persian origins) are varied in their making, include seasonal vegetables, fruits and meats, generally mixed with salt, spices and vegetable oils; set to mature in a moistureless medium. Moving on to Southeast Asia (Singapore, Indonesian and Malaysian) pickles, or “acar” were typically made of cucumber, carrot, bird’s eye chilies, shallots, papaya and pineapple; seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. Further east, Koreans have kimchi while the Japanese pickled plums and daikon.

Whereas in the Middle East pickles from peppers, olives to lemons; while in mst of Western Asia pickles (called torshi in Persian, tursu in Turkish and mekhallel in Arabic) are commonly made from turnips, peppers, carrots, green olives, cucumbers, cabbage, green tomatoes, lemons and cauliflower. Eastern Europeans introduced various forms of lacto-fermented cabbage, known as sauerkraut. In Russia, the leftover brine (called rassol in Russian) is used for cooking traditional soups, like shchi, rassolnik and solyanka. When the English and the Europeans had arrived in the Americas; they brought their method for creating sweet pickles with vinegar, sugar and spiced syrup. Pickled cucumbers (most often referred to simply as “pickles”), olives and sauerkraut are most commonly seen in the United States and Canada.

Combining all these methods, “pickling” is indeed an art, with each area, region, country or community having their own special technique of making them. Little wonder that although the National Pickle Day is celebrated by foodimentarians ( primarily in US) on November 14th, the National Pickle Month (July) is indeed to explore and recreate these “global” pickles dishes. With rain on and off, there’s nothing more creative than “recreating historical foods” diverse and variant in their own style.\