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When it comes to some types of foods, Americans have only one concept of a particular food item associated with

that term, rather than a wide variety of encompassing ideas that may apply to it. The best example of this is the pickle, defined as any food that is preserved with the aid of vinegar and spices. When asked what they thought of when they heard the world pickle, the vast majority of a focus group responded with the same answer; pickled cucumbers, either whole, spears, or slices packed in greenish brine in a jar. However, there are countless varieties of pickled foods existent in the world today and on the shelves of several American grocery stores. Many ethnic food markets, such as those carrying goods from Japan, Italy, and Germany, stock specialty pickled goods popular in those cultures. Also, specialty food producers are always trying to find new objects to use in cooking and preserving. Some communities that are popular with tourism have made many different varieties of pickles for generations. Why is it then, in a world with such diversity when it comes to pickled foods that Americans immediately think of pickled cucumbers, or only know of pickled cucumbers? A simple one-word answer can be found; industrialization. As the American food industry began to grow and become more mechanized and streamlined, there was an attempt to get many products out to consumers that they would have interest in buying. However, early factories had their limitations. Budgets, the abilities of workers, and other factors forced companies to limit what types of products they produced. Even large, successful companies like the H.J. Heinz Company that took pride in producing a wide variety of products emphasized quality over quantity of foods that were produced, and were forced to limit themselves. Also, since the vegetables being used for pickles were now grown on large factory farms, the vegetable selection that companies had to work with became less and less diverse. Pickled goods likely would have been limited to a select few varieties because of this, along with the homogenization of the American diet. In short, the lack of variety of pickles in most American markets, along with the lack of knowledge of other types of pickles

was caused by the modernization of food production, movement of food production to a factory setting, and the establishment of a standard American diet. Pickles have been in existence long before the United States of America, and even the American Colonies were even thought of, and the date of their actual creation is unknown. Many ancient civilizations pickled goods as a method of preservation. However, the roots of the very first American pickles originate in the United Kingdom, the mother country to the United States from the 1600s to the late 1700s and the American Revolution. Pickles became popular in England after salting and other preservation methods began to be more associated with the lower class, and the ever-growing middle class and nobility sought new methods that provided unique and interesting flavors.1 This took place from the sixteenth century all the way into the eighteenth century. Some of the first foods pickled by the English during this time were eggs, a food still consumed in some regions of the United States. Pickling eggs for upper classes became a rather popular business among poorer farm families, particularly when there was an overabundance of eggs in a laying season.2 Other products that were pickled included onions, and, rather interestingly, walnuts, which were blackened in brine first, and then added to boiling vinegar and spices.3 There were also many different brines created during this time. Adding different spices in different quantities created stronger or spicier brines, whereas adding sugar honey to a mixture would make it sweet.4 As the English began their oversea voyages, including the one through with the Americas were settled, pickling became more of a necessity than a luxury for the upper class. Vegetables and fruits such as cucumbers, citrus fruits, and onions were pickled and packed on journeys in an attempt to prevent scurvy, a common disease that occurred when there was a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables on long
1

Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World , (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 96. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid.

journeys at sea.5 Since pickling kept most of the nutrients in the food, it was used for some time along with sun drying as a method of getting nutritious food to sailors so that they could continue their journeys of exploration without becoming ill.6 It was because of this that pickling was first introduced to the Americas. Pickling in America was slightly different from pickling in England, as it was not done out of a desire for new flavor, but rather out of necessity. Families used many different ways to make their harvest last year round, and pickling was a relatively common and simple option, despite being a very strict and careful procedure. Firstly, the food must be softened by some means to allow the vinegar brine to penetrate it and replace the water content within.7 This was done in early America by either soaking the food in salt water or cooking it for a very short time.8 The food is then added to a container, which, in the early United States would have been a stoneware jar, lined with porcelain to keep out harmful lead from the glaze from entering the food.9 Boiling vinegar and spices were then poured over them. It was advised that the housewife make her own vinegar, as general store bought vinegar was not trusted with preserving qualities.10 Vinegar could be made in many different ways, such as fermenting apple cider, or using peels from fruits left to sit in water.11 Sometimes even whiskey was used in the production of vinegars. Sometimes, to keep the color and crispness of pickled foods, grape leaves or alum were added to the product after the vinegar cooled.12 Many different foods were pickled in early America, including mushrooms, watermelon rinds, peppers, onions, cherries, and the ever-present cucumber.13 This was based on whatever was left from a garden after a harvest, and varied greatly with

5 6

Stuart Thorne, The History of Food Preservation (New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books, 1986), 19. Ibid. 7 Nancy Torgerson, Food Preservation Before the Mason Jar, (Forsyth, IL: Glimpse of the Past, 1994) 29. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid., 31. 10 Ibid., 30. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid., 29. 13 Ibid.

each planting season. Meats could also be pickled if there was an overabundance of leftover pork or beef, and eggs continued to be used. Finally, the jars were sealed. This may seem like a simple process, but got rather complicated at times. Many different types of seals were used to close jars, including corks, the most commonly used. However, other jars were too narrow to fit corks into, and covers had to be improvised. Everything from leather, to fabric, to cloth, and even animal bladders were used to seal jars airtight.14 There were even special recipes created for cements that were spread over the tops of jars, which varied from region to region, but often included brick dust and beeswax.15 Wax was also used to keep stoppers made from pottery pieces in place.16 These jars were stored in the cellar of a home, or, should a family be better-off, in an icehouse where they would be kept cool.17 It was said, that if pickled properly, these items could last in an icehouse for approximately two years, during which they could be consumed or sold for goods that the family needed.18 Like in England, many Americans enjoyed the taste of pickled goods, and used them as garnishes or in salads alongside meals. While pickling hard vegetables like cucumbers was fairly simple and almost always turned out good results, softer vegetables and fruits posed a problem for early Americans, as not only would traditional brines negatively affect the taste of the fruit, but some softer fleshed fruits such as peaches and nectarines did not hold up very well to the cooking and hot vinegar process.19 Another challenge

14 15

Ibid., 35. Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Janet Bruce, Of Sugar and Salt and Things in the Cellar and Sun: Food Preservation in Jackson County in t he 1850s Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 75, Issue 4, (Publisher Unknown: 1981) 423. 18 Ibid., 437. 19 Ibid.

was the high sugar content of fruit, which would counteract the preserving effects of the vinegar.20 Although they did not keep as long as vegetable, egg, and meat pickles, fruit pickles were still produced and packed in much sweeter and milder brine. A family receipt book, published in 1875 provides a glimpse into the past of pickle making as well. Along with recommendations on how one should plant their garden, remedies for illnesses, and hearty main dishes to feed a family, it also discusses much about food preservation. Foods mentioned as being pickled include green tomatoes, currants, eggs, and different cuts of beef including tongue and dried jerky strips.21 There is also a recipe for making ones own vinegar for use in pickling these many different products. Along with many different recipes for pickles, there are also notes for different types of pickles to make at different times of the year. For example, green tomato pickles are to be made in late spring or early summer, when tomato plants have not yet ripened.22 The fact that pickling recipes are listed at many different times in this book shows their importance. As with many different foods, the production of pickling slowly moved from the home to the factory, with the first factory produced pickles being produced in the late 1800s.23 Although efficient, affordable, and apparently popular, early companies that produced pickles did have their pitfalls. With the small amount of machinery that existed to produce pickles, and the limitations of human staff, which needed to pack and process pickles, companies already began to produce less varieties than home cooks.24 Due to the mad dash to get products that looked appealing out to people, many food companies resorted to using less than savory measures. Some companies, in order to make their pickles and the brine that they were kept in a bright green, added copper salts and even the highly poisonous copper acetate was added to draw attention to the products and make the consumer buy them for their
20 21

Ibid. Family Receipts Book, (Buffalo, NY: D. Ransom, Son and Co., 1875). 22 Ibid. 23 Stuart Thorne, The History of Food Preservation (New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books, 1986), 79. 24 Ibid.

perceived freshness.25 This process soon proved detrimental to the success of the companies that participated in this, as not only did the Pure Food and Drug Act force them to eventually eliminate the substance, but it also reacted violently with their preserving kettles, causing them to erode.26 In the midst of all the turmoil that other pickle companies faced with poisonous additives, faulty equipment, and other results of their attempts at an easy way of producing pickles, H.J. Heinz and his company took a very different approach. From the time that his company was begun in the 1890s, Heinz always prided himself on quality and truthfulness in distributing his food products to the public. He is quoted as saying that we are giving you quality, the best that money can buy, when referring to the customer.27 Never once did Heinz add anything that may affect a customers health to any of his 57 varieties of product, including pickles, nor did he attempt to hide the appearance of his products behind thick tins or covered glass, always placing his pickles in clear glass jars.28 Although he sold his products at a time when many consumers were questioning about the quality of canned and therefore pickled goods, Heinz was still successful as he created a sense of trust with his customers.29 He was one of the few entrepreneurs that held tastings of his products on several occasions as one of his methods of instilling trust in the consumer.30 In keeping with his standards of cleanliness and quality, he required that each of his salesmen and women have regular manicures, always wash their hands, and even keep a special, sanitized and standardized tasting set for exhibitions and grocery store displays.31 Heinz brought foods like pickles back into the American household, after many other companies and their faults caused customers to remove the products from their homes. He prided himself on his trademark 57 varieties of products, which, although a large variety of products overall, only included a couple of
25 26

Ibid. Ibid., 80. 27 Gabriella M. Petrick Purity as Life: H.J. Heinz, Religious Sentiment, and the Beginning of the Industrial Diet, History and Technology, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Routledge Taylor and Francis Group: 2011), 37. 28 Ibid., 38. 29 Ibid., 39. 30 Ibid., 46. 31 Ibid., 54.

different kinds of pickles, including dills, sours, and bread and butter cucumber pickles.32 Heinzs logo in fact is a cucumber pickle. It is unknown whether or not Heinzs logo and few varieties of pickles contributed to the eventual lack in variety of pickled goods in supermarkets, but the logo, along with the quality of the products, likely made consumers more likely to buy his products, and associate pickles with the cucumbers that Heinz produced with such pride. As Heinz produced pickles in factories, and as the nation grew more and more industrial, many immigrants arrived in the Americas, bringing with them pickles of their own. One of the most predominant pickle cultures still to this very day is that of the Japanese. The small Japanese populations continued to make tsukemono, or mixed vegetable pickles, in their own homes as many early Americans did, for large corporations were not willing to produce their products.33 They also pickled plums for use in tea ceremonies and other cultural events. Referred to as umeboshi if dried, and umezuke if not dried after the pickling process, these plums are served as a side dish with rice and were eaten for ceremonial and health reasons.34 Perhaps the only mainstream Japanese pickle that survived the homogenization of the American died is gari. Gari, a strong pickled ginger is commonly eaten alongside sushi to this very day, and is used both as a palate cleanser between different kinds of sushi, but also as a condiment.35 Another culture that produced pickles that stood the test of time is the Italian culture, particularly in the Midwest and New York. These people took recipes from their home and actually adapted them to fit not only the narrow variety of vegetables offered in America, but also to more closely fit American tastes.36 Giardiniera, a condiment still sold in some markets, is a combination of

32 33

Ibid., 55. Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World , (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid.

many kinds of pickled vegetables, and was served on Italian beef sandwiches at restaurants. Also, another pickle often included in salads of all types, but particularly at Italian restaurants and even in mainstream chains is the spicy pepperoncini pepper.37 This homogenization of the meaning of pickles transforming from any pickled good to simply pickled cucumbers can also be seen in a 1958 Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corporation Home Canning book. In this book, there are many different pickles and other recipes that can be made using Kerrs glass jars. With few variations, the vast majority of the pickle recipes call for cucumbers.38 There are also some pickles inspired by Americanized versions of immigrant cultures, such as the Chinese, Indian, and Japanese.39 Also, the pickles that arent cucumbers still mostly hold their own on shelves to this very day, including pickled green tomatoes and banana peppers. Still, the overwhelming majority of these products are vastly consisting of cucumbers, spices, and vinegar, hinting that by the 1950s, American perceptions of pickles were already becoming plain and homogenized. As one continues to travel past the homogenization of the American diet in the 1950s, there are some bright spots hinting at resurgence in the diversity of pickles, however, these did not really come to the forefront since they were part of a small, still growing movement known as organic farming. A book called Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow, Naturally, published in 1973, shows both organic farmers and people who did not wish to buy grocery store pickles loaded with preservatives how to create pickles in their own home in the way that early Americans did before mass production.40 The book not only discusses cucumbers, as they had pretty much become the only food associated with pickling by this time, but also recommends substitutions of other vegetables should the reader not have a supply of organic cucumbers on hand, including green beans, artichokes, onions, and green tomatoes.

37 38

Ibid. Kerr Glass Corporation, Home Canning Book, 1958. 39 Ibid. 40 Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow, Naturally, ed. Carol Stoner, (Rodale Press, Inc, 1973).

Carrots, beets, okra, watermelon rind, and even the troublesome peach make a comeback in this book. However, since the organic foods movement is still growing to this very day, and did not have much of an effect on large corporations until recently, these types of products remained off the shelves of the grocery store and were produced by hand by individuals who were tired of monotony in the pickle world, or were simply looking for a way to preserve their harvest in a natural way without harsh additives. Looking at the websites and varieties offered by pickle companies today, one cannot see many pushes for change in variety. For example, the Mt. Olive pickle company, although they have adapted pickles into small packs for lunch boxes, and offer many varieties of cucumber pickles, only offer some varieties of non-cucumber pickles, such as pepperoncini and banana peppers, with products like chow chow, a chopped mixed vegetable pickle remaining discontinued by the company.41 Another mainstream company, Vlassic, only offers three simple varieties of product: cucumber pickles, pepper pickles, and pickle relish, with no other types being mentioned.42 Sadly, it is only small companies such as Ba-Tempte that have any inkling of variety when it comes to their pickled products. They not only pickle cucumbers, but also peppers, tomatoes, sauerkraut, beets, and even mixes, such as the deluxe mix, featuring sauerkraut, onions, peppers, and cucumbers.43 Another small company that produces varieties of pickles is linked to the Amish culture of Central Pennsylvania; Jake and Amos. This company pickles just about any vegetable imaginable, from cucumbers, to garlic, to tomatoes, and corn, and also offers pickled eggs and salad mixes.44 Being based in an area where the old ways of pickling are still popular and utilized by a large percentage of the

41 42

http://www.mtolivepickles.com/products/product-styles/ http://vlasic.com/products.html 43 http://batamptepickle.com/products.php 44 http://www.jakeandamos.com/

population, the company can afford to have such a wide variety. Overall, still, the American pickle diet still remains homogenized. Pickles were heavily affected by industrialization. To this day, many Americans only think of pickles as cucumbers packed in green brine and served alongside a sandwich. However, pickles started out as much more than that. There were many different vegetables, fruits, meats, and other products that were pickled, and different cultures had their own varieties that they brought to America when members of the culture immigrated. Some companies still produce a large variety of pickles today, either being specialty food producers, or highly associated with an older style of life. However, overwhelmingly, America has made its own narrow definition of the pickle as a result of its own continuing progress.