by Stef Jantz, Food Columnist

They’re crisp, refreshing, and hit the spot on a hot day.  There’s much to say about a delicious, snappy pickle and loved by many. 

We find out more and more on how to use them in recipes and to utilize the juices as well, but what’s behind those pickled cucumbers?    

Pickles are native to India and go back to 2030 BC in the Tigris Valley.  Pickle comes from the Polish word pekel, meaning to brine.  The word pickle however, is different in many regions across the Middle East, but more widely known as achar in Persian origin that is “powdered or salted meats, pickles, fruits, preserved in salt, vinegar, honey, or syrup.”  

Pickles were favored by Queen Cleopatra and even Julius Caesar.  Caesar was given a barrel of pickled cucumbers during his travels in Egypt in 50 BC and also gave them to his troops believing that it would strengthen them.

Cleopatra favored the treat but enjoyed them more sour and attributed her beauty to them.  Other famous history figures include Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, who enjoyed referring to them in his plays, and Christopher Columbus. 

Amerigo Vespucci helped Columbus get dried meats and vegetables but also many pickles to avoid scurvy.  

In the late 1800s, early 1900s, Eastern European Jews came to New York City and introduced the kosher pickle.  Cucs were washed and piled in wooden barrels with garlic, dill, kosher salt, and clean water, then left for several weeks to ferment.  Pickles were then sold out of a push cart but became so popular that they were sold straight out of the barrel. 

It eventually became a profitable business and is now a compliment to many dishes served in Jewish delis.  Also, in 1851, chemist James Young invented paraffin wax which created the future of pickling.  It allowed others to pickle in mass production and also preserve canned foods.  

Today, we are more familiar with kosher dill pickles that have their own history.  Pickled vegetables were a staple for the Jewish community in Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. 

They were very much welcomed due to the bread and potatoes they always had so it was a new taste that was enjoyed.  It started to become a seasonal tradition to throw vegetables in a barrel of brine, left to ferment for a few weeks, then moved to a cool, dark cellar where it would stay good over the cold months.  

Not only are pickles a beloved treat, but pickle juice has become increasingly popular.  It’s used a lot as a health benefit to stay hydrated, reduce muscle cramps, help control blood sugar levels, and is very helpful with gut health. 

The juice contains large amounts of lactobacillus which is a good bacteria, but make sure it’s unpasteurized so the bacteria is still active.  Surprisingly, it can also deglaze pans, de-grime grills, clean copper, and kill weeds, so it has many uses and I’m sure I speak for many when I say it’s awesome with a  cocktail.  

One thing I will say is that potato salad.  If you’ve never tried it, pour some juice in it while mixing everything else.  It gives it an extra flavor that’s out of this world! 

Try it in other recipes too like using it as a brine, soak cheese in the juices, add to salad dressings, mix a little in deviled eggs, add to pasta salad, egg salad, grilled cheese, dips, hot dogs, and of course the famous Cuban sandwich.