Thursday, July 9, 2015

IN PRAISE OF PICKLES

In the "olden times," as my children used to say when I spoke of the 1930's and 40's (and they envisioned me crossing the prairie in a covered wagon), people in this country spent a lot of time canning, preserving, baking.... and pickling food. My Grandfather Paul, who had serious digestive problems, favored a supper of clabber and cornbread with a pickle alongside, the latter of which he said made his digestion better. He wasn't far off course because recent studies praise the pickle for its place in digestive health and as a food that fights cancer.

We're not talking about pickles made with vinegar or sugared up to please consumers' taste buds. We're speaking of fermented pickles that have been eaten for hundreds of years in Russia, Germany, Poland, and New York City—the ones that have good bacteria. It seems that when cucumbers are fermented, lactic acid is made, and this acid lowers fat in the bloodstream, lowers high blood pressure, and improves circulation. And, as my grandfather discovered, real pickles that are fermented in a gallon crock and later refrigerated encourage a healthy digestive system as they re-introduce Lactobacillus acidophilus in the system. Add spices like dill and you have flavonoids, which are healing. If your recipe includes mustard seed, this ingredient also aids digestion.

The first cucumbers appeared in Mesopotamia and were cultivated in India, and the Romans introduced them to European countries that began pickling them. Cleopatra is reputed to have enhanced her beauty by eating a number of pickles daily, and Christopher Columbus fed his crew pickles to ward off scurvy. During the 17th century, Dutch farmers in Brooklyn grew cucumbers and sold them to dealers who processed them in barrels and produced pickles. Pickle vendors, who sold the kosher variety for a penny a pickle during the 19th and 20th centuries, abounded on the East Side in New York City.

I'd been reading about kosher dill pickles and their contribution to digestive health when I remembered Grandfather Paul's nightly supper and decided to buy a jar of the fermented kind at Mooney's here in Sewanee, Tennessee. Digestive disorders are rife in my family, and I'm one who tries to stay out of pharmacies and doctor's offices, so the idea of eating something tasty to treat my ailing digestive system had real appeal for me. For several weeks now, I've been getting my dose of probiotics via the kosher dill pickle at two meals a day. And perhaps some would say that I'm playing with placebos, but my digestion has improved.

If you've read this far and like pickles, be sure that you get the real thing—the kind that are kept in the refrigerated section of a store and the labels on containers list only a few simple ingredients: cucumbers, water, salt, garlic, and spices. No vinegar!

Further claims made by the picklers in this country: fermented pickles heal skin problems, lessen asthma and auto-immune disorders, and the turmeric powder used in some fermenting recipes lowers the rates of Alzheimer's disease. A good kosher dill pickle will also cure the hiccups!


And just for fun, we retirees recommend the antics of Earl and Opal Pickles, a couple in their seventies, who are always "in a pickle" (a phrase Shakespeare coined) in the comic strip entitled "Pickles."
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