Saturday, August 4, 2007

Quite A Pickle

Those who know me, especially those whose restraining orders have lapsed, are well aware of my fondness for pickles. In fact, it would not be out of place to say I have an obsession with them; a rather strange and disturbing one, perhaps, but isn't that what obsessions are all about?

Everyone knows what a pickle is, of course. Or do they? Sure, they're a delectable and crunchy snack, a perfect accompaniment to a hamburger hot off the grill or a plate of smoked tongue, but they're so much more. Take some time with me to explore the world of the pickle. Next time you bite into one, you might just thank me.

1. The Origin of Pickles

For many thousands of years, pickles were thought to have been the gift of a beneficent visitor from the stars. Even today, books such as "Pickles of the Gods" and "The Pickle has Landed" recount the legends that gave rise to the naming of the constellation Cucumberis Vinegaris. Pickles were further shrouded in superstition by the early growth of the Catholic Church and its Sweet and Sour Liturgy, an offshoot of the Old Testament story of the pair of breeding pickles thought to have been stolen by Eve as she fled the Garden of Eden.

By the 1600's, however, scientists were gaining a better understanding of the pickle. The first breakthrough is generally considered to be Copernicus's "On the Acidity of the Beet" in which he explored the relatively recent development of the vinegar-soaked root vegetable. Viewed by a wary Church as an infringement on the Divine Rite of Canning, the beet's popularity proved so great that they were ultimately recognized by Pope Clement VI, albeit as a pale imitation of the venerated pickle. Copernicus used this opening as a way to explore the relationship between pH and deliciousness, the first step in what would prove to be a lengthy journey.

It was only a few short decades later that Galileo broke further with the Church. Although the general population was initially scandalized by experiments in which he dropped pickles from various heights, they soon came to recognize that the lack of any divine retribution suggested perhaps pickles were indeed of this earthly plane.

Scientific advancements came more quickly after this. Louis Pasteur realized the health benefits of brining milk. Marie Curie identified the first pickle isotope. Einstein's famous theory, T=VDC (Taste=Vinegar*Dill*Cucumber), paved the way for the development of quantum gardening and space travel. It had truly become the Age of the Pickle.

Today, although we know that pickles are not of extraterrestrial origin, many questions remain. How do pickles thrive in climates ranging from Alaska to Oman? Where did they get the unerring directional instincts so critical to the annual Great Migration that continues to thrill pickle watchers around the globe? When did pickles develop their skills at macramé and motocross? Why are pickles crunchy even though they're immersed in liquid?

Scientists continue to look for answers. In the meantime, the rest of us must be content with sharing the world with these wondrous creatures.

2. The Art of the Pickle

Pickles have been an inspiration to more than just scientists. Often called The Plantable Muse, pickles have also given birth to more than their share of artistic masterpieces.

a. Visual Arts

The earliest known representation of the pickle can be found in the caves at Lascaux, France. Thought to have been drawn some 20,000 years ago, these scenes depict early man stalking some of the enormous pickle herds that roamed the earth at that time.

In Asia, pickles soon found their way into the work of the early origami masters of the 6th century. This was followed in Europe with the paintings of the Renaissance Masters, the most famous of which, Rembrandt's "The Pickles at Emmaus," remains a staple of introductory art appreciation classes due to its intoxicating and original use of flavor. More recently, they have found their way into works such as Joan
Miró's "Carnival of Pickles" and Henry Moore's sculpture, "Reclining Pickle."

b. Literature

Pickles as a thematic element have long been a favorite of Western writers in particular. Thucydides "Pickles - Thank you Zeus" was the #1 Grecian bestseller in 435 B.C. Two centuries later in Rome, Plautus composed the Pickle Trilogy, a series of comedic pieces still performed on community theater stages around the country. Subsequent authors followed in their footsteps, as with Shakespeare's tragic "Is That A Pickle In Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?" and Edgar Allan Poe's opus, "Quoth the Pickle, Nevermore."

In modern times, the pickle has remained the focus of many of our best-known writers. Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Pickle's Nest" is a scathing indictment of lat 20th-century America and served as a launching pad for the career of Jack Nicholson. Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Pickle" explores the power of love in an unconventional setting. Thomas Pynchon's "The Dilling of Lot 49" still confounds readers more than forty years after its publication, while Ireland's Roddy Doyle perfectly captures the joy and pain of adolescence in "Paddy Pickle Ha, Ha, Ha."

c. Music

Pickles have a shorter history in the musical tradition, but no less of an important one. First referenced in Shostakovich's "The Limpid Pickle," they gradually became part of the mainstream as evidenced by their presence in such modern classics as "Luck Be a Pickle Tonight" and "Sgt. Pickles Lonely Hearts Club Band." With Brian Eno's 2004 development of the electric pickle, we can be sure to see these trends continue.

3. Pickles at War

Pickles have also had a significant impact in many of history's great conflicts. Many of the wars of the Ottoman Empire were triggered by perceived insults to the proud tradition of Turkish vinegar distillation. Our own War of Independence was triggered by King George's imposition of a pickle tax. The Boxer Rebellion in China arose from native anger over foreign control of China's caper industry, while World War I was, of course, largely the result of a series of misunderstandings related to European cucumber tariffs.

At the same time, pickles have been a constant comrade in arms of the American soldier. Whether attached as a rudimentary bayonet to the makeshift arms of the Civil War soldier or included in a box of C-rations as a quick pick-me-up, it's clear that pickles have become a force for democracy and one of the major factors in post-Cold War military planning.

4. The Future of Pickles

What does the future hold for our vinegary friends? Will there ever be a pickle on Mars? When will the first pickle be elected to Congress? Only time will tell. For now, we can only dream, for as the old saying reminds us, "God Pickles, Man is Fickle."


Adorable Girlfriend said...

I much prefer a cuke. I prefer things raw and unmarinated.

Damn you, pickles!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

deep-fry those briny m*****puckers

Anonymous said...

"the relationship between pH and deliciousness"


As for the arts, let's not forget the many interpretations of "Madonna with Pickle" or as some call it, "Madonna in a Pickle". Personally, I think she was with a pickle which got her into a pickle that only the Holy Spearit could step in and change.

Righteous Bubba said...

If Andres Serrano gives you a pickle DO NOT EAT IT.

Kathleen said...

your tribute to the noble pickle is inspiring.

As a TV/Media scholar, I would expand on your discussion by including the modern pickle's work in Hollywood. Whom among us hasn't wished our family was like the tv classic 'Leave it to Pickle'? or wanted to move to a quirky small town like 'Pickle Fences' I know many a pre-teen who has become addicted to the WB's 'One Tree Pickle'.

And to think that we might never have been blessed with the talent of actor/singer Will Smith, if he hadn't had 'The Fresh Pickle of Bel Air' to launch his career.
This is to say nothing of the wold-wide popularity of Picklemon, the trading card game, though I am not qualified to comment adequately on international pickles.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen! Your comment reminded me of the modern day classic, "Harry Pickle and the Sorcerers Brine".

Anonymous said...

I just saw The Gourd Ultimatum this weekend.

SPOILER (yes, sometimes brine doesn't work, maybe not concentrated enough)


The main character finally traced his history to a kosher deli in Manhattan.

Snag said...

Whenever I start to despair at the amount of time I spend on something like this, I am comforted by the notion that there are others who also find it worth their while.

Bless you all.

fish said...

Whenever I start to despair at the amount of time I spend on something like this, I am comforted by the notion that there are others who also find it worth their while.

This is a very strange conclusion to draw from this crowd. Particularly the one that named a radish after you...

fish said...

You should probably submit this as an entry to wikipickledia.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

No, No, snag.

Your neighbors pay us to keep you occupied. Saves wear and tear on their lawns and offspring.

Kathleen said...

the modern day classic, "Harry Pickle and the Sorcerers Brine".

True, though I prefer "Harry Pickle and the Chamber of Vlasics"

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. It's an EB filmstrip, I could hear the alert tones to advance the frame!

I wonder what Santa Clausen is bringing Snag this year. What was that World War Pickle movie? Hamburger Dill?

Also, lest we not forget Harry Potter and the Half-sour Prince.