What Makes a Kosher Pickle Kosher?

By | Tagged: culture, History

When we hear the word pickle, most of us think of cucumbers — brined, shriveled, sour, cut into chips and floating alongside red onion half-moons and tomato slices atop a deli sandwich. When my class visited New York in fifth grade, I remember that, over the course of the day, we were given three different food items to sample — apples (for the Big Apple), Chinese food, and a plump kosher dill.

the joy of pickling
We may be forgiven, then, for not knowing about the rest of the spectrum of pickled foods.

That’s why The Joy of Pickling was created. Its chapters touch every arena of cuisine, from desserty pickles (apples, watermelon) to antipasto (asparagus and mushrooms) to main courses — Korean kimchi and pickled meats, for instance. (The original edition, shockingly to us, left out kosher dill pickles, but this edition corrects that oversight. First published ten years ago, a new, expanded and enhanced edition was released this month.

The book’s instructions are clear and simple. I always thought that pickling was highly scientific — like, that you had to add an exact amount of vinegar and modulate the temperature, or else your taste buds would explode — but it turns out, it’s rather easy. Author Linda Ziedrich exercises due caution, and explains what you have to do, whenever it comes to something complicated and number-y, like the acidity of different vinegars (Ziedrich recommends an acidity of 40-60 grain, or 4-6%). There’s even a helpful section on choosing which vinegar you should use to brine — apple cider for a full, mellow taste (though it will darken the color of the food); red wine vinegar will bring a kick of spice to your pickles, the way that Italian food does.

There are so many things inherently Jewish — and, specifically, Ashkenazic — about pickling. The briny taste that instantly calls to mind cold wintry cabins and warm dinners of meat, beans, and sauerkraut cooked over a fire. The concept of “instant leftovers” that you can use and re-use from the moment you twist them open. That swarthy vinegar taste, so lip-smackingly sour and tart and wonderful at the same time. It makes you recoil at the same time as you’re begging for more.

Posted on June 8, 2009

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