Pickle experts inspire interest in a dying art

Catherine Groux

Nothing says summer quite like a cold, crunchy pickle. However, many feel the art of pickling is slowly dying.

Pickles have a long history. The ancient Mesopotamians ate them, Aristotle praised them for their healing powers, and Thomas Jefferson declared them to be the best thing on a hot day in Virginia.

Pickling was formerly done to keep food edible during the long winter. Since that’s no longer necessary in a world of refrigeration and preservatives, many find it easier to buy a jar of pickles than to make their own.

Ilysse Siegan-Messier of Hull grows cucumbers and other vegetables in her backyard and said she can pickle almost anything.

She grew up eating the pickles her grandmother made, and said she feels the hobby is becoming less and less common.

“I know one other person (who makes pickles), and I know a lot of people,” she said. “People need to get back to that.”

Dan Rosenberg, founder of Real Pickles in Greenfield, also said it is becoming hard to find people who pickle.

“Very few people still know how to do it,” he said.

There are advantages to making, rather than buying, pickles. The main one is cost.

“What you pay for a jar of pickles is ridiculous,” Siegan-Messier said.

Pickle-making offers other benefits as well.

“It’s the fun in doing it and giving it to friends and saying, ‘Yeah, I made this and I grew it, too,’” she said.

Others believe the spirit of pickling is alive and well.

Rabbi Mendy Margolin, for one. He isn’t called “Rabbi Pickle” for nothing.

Originally from New York, Margolin has visited more than 14 states to teach how to make both the kosher and non-kosher versions.

A kosher pickle, he said, is made with brine – a water and kosher salt solution – rather than vinegar. Koshers also contain simple ingredients such as garlic, pickling spices, dill and, of course, cucumbers.

The rabbi’s most recent stop was in Hull, where he attracted about 40 people eager to make their own kosher pickles. Gazing at the crowd around him, he said pickles will always be of high interest to Americans.

“We hear so much about it,” he said of pickles. “We see them and everybody likes them. We see them in the deli and so it’s interesting. It’s exciting.”

Although he had never made pickles, Philip Furman of Hull was inspired by the demonstration to continue a tradition that began with his Polish grandmother.

“Hopefully, this will be a future for me,” he said, holding the jar of pickles the rabbi helped him make. “Hopefully, it will turn into a hobby.”

Reach Patriot Ledger writer Catherine Groux at cgroux@ledger.com.

Easy pickles

Make your own  kosher pickles with a recipe from Rabbi Pickle.   

What you’ll need: a covered container tall enough to stand the pickles up vertically with a cover on end, 2 cups spring water, kosher salt, pickling spice, garlic, fresh dill and kirby or Persian cucumbers.

Add 2 cups of spring water to the container tall enough for the pickles to stand vertically.

Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the water. Stir the salt to make sure it has dissolved.

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons pickling spice. This amount can depend upon personal preference. The ingredients of the pickling spice can also depend on preference. While it must contain mustard seeds and coriander, some like to add cloves, cinnamon, chili peppers, etc.

Add 2-5 unpeeled garlic cloves to the mixture. Again, the amount depends on taste preference.

Add fresh dill to the container, making sure the brown roots are cut off. The amount of dill added depends on preference.

Add the thin and small kirby cucumbers. Because these can be hard to find, mini, or Persian, cucumbers also can be used. The rabbi recommends adding as many cucumbers as can  fit in the container.

Make sure the tops of the cucumbers are fully submerged in the liquid. Cover the container.

The cucumbers should be refrigerated for about three days, and under the right conditions they can sit for up to three months. The longer they are refrigerated in the liquid, the more sour they will be.