The following is just a brief history of the pickles and its connection to the Jewish community as a staple food of this community’s diet.
The History of Pickles
Pickles have a very long history and are found across all cultures. The earliest known examples are cucumbers that are known to have been pickled some time around 2030 BC in Mesopotamia, when inhabitants from northern India brought cucumber seeds to the Tigris valley.
Pickles are mentioned at least twice in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8), were known to the ancient Egyptians (Cleopatra attributed some of her beauty to pickles), and Aristotle praised the healing effects of pickled cucumbers. The Romans imported all sorts of foods from the countries they conquered, pickling them for the journey in vinegar, oil, brine and sometimes honey. Garum or Liquamen, a fermented, salted fish-based condiment was a dietary staple and has been found as far north as the Antonine Wall.
Notable pickle-lovers from history include: Emperors Julius Caesar and Tiberius, King John and Queen Elizabeth I of England, Samuel Pepys, Amerigo Vespucci, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte.
The English word 'pickle' derives from the Middle English pikel, first recorded around 1400 and meaning 'a spicy sauce or gravy served with meat or fowl'. This is different to, but obviously related to the Middle Dutch source, pekel, meaning a solution, such as spiced brine, for preserving and flavoring food.
"Pickled cucumbers achieved great popularity in many parts of Europe and the Middle East, but arguably nowhere more than among Eastern European Jews, who ate them with black bread and later potatoes as the bulk of their diet," says Rabbi Gil Marks, author of Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World (Wiley Publishing, 2004).
The Jewish love of pickles dates to the ancient world. Throughout recorded history, both the elite and impoverished masses relied on pickles, there was a wide variety of pickled produce was standard fare in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. While wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites lamented the loss of the cucumbers they enjoyed in Egypt.
Until recently, sauerkraut (pickled fermented cabbage) was a mainstay throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Over the centuries, Ashkenazi Jews filled wooden barrels or ceramic crocks with cabbage, cucumbers or beets, leaving them in root cellars to ferment in salt brine seasoned with spices.
In recent decades, Jews have rarely frequented the Lower East Side, and the Pickle Guys along with a couple of pickle stores remain to carry out its tradition as New York City’s pickle capital. To the Jewish people, there's nothing like the snap of a pickle from home, wherever home might be. And this is what we have to offer at the Pickle Guys: exquisite home made old fashioned pickles.