Kosher Dillin': The Jewish history of Pickles

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October 6, 2022

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Did you know that pickles are an essential part of the Jewish immigrant experience in the U.S.? Watch and find out.

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No meal is complete without a pickle, they are a staple in the Jewish culinary universe, if you are Jewish you got brine in your blood that is why we're here at the pickle guys today.   These guys know everything about pickles.

“Everybody loves a pickle you can't go wrong you want a sandwich, you need a pickle, you want tuna fish, give me a pickle, you want a pastrami sandwich, give me a pickle.”

Meet Alan Kaufman, he's the owner of the Pickle Guys in the Lower East Side and he's a pickle expert. 

“Because on Essex Street we have been here since 1910, I love this job and every time I give somebody a pickle they bite into it and they go, “Wow! this is the best pickle I ever had.”   It's a great feeling, makes me feel proud so I've been here like 42 years and  I'm sort of like the mayor.” 

Mesopotamians pickle food as far back as 2400 BC. Queen Cleopatra even credited pickles in her diet with contributing to her health and legendary beauty. They were such a central part of society that Julius Caesar and other Roman emperors gave pickles to their troops to eat in the belief that they would make them strong. 

 “If you wanted to have a vegetable in the wintertime you had to have a pickled vegetable, you couldn’t just have a regular cucumber. It became a staple with your food so that's why pickles have been around for a long time.  The reason this area is so famous for pickles is people came here from Eastern European countries during World War I and World War II and they brought over what they knew how to do and one of the things they knew was how to make pickles.  They would sell a pickle for a nickel and people felt like they were home.  So if you want a real good kosher pickle you gotta come to the Lower East Side,  come to where the root start.”

And now a lesson in pickle making from Alan Kaufman the pickle guy.

“In order to be a good pickle maker you have to have two things.  A strong back and a weak mind.  When we make pickles we don't do them in small quantities we actually make barrels of pickles, basically we take cucumbers, we pour them into a barrel and then we take water make salt water product known as brine and we take the brine and we cover the cucumbers and then we add pickling spices and then we add fresh cut garlic and then we let it sit there one to ten days is gonna be a new pickle very fresh.  

If you let it sit there for about two weeks it becomes a half sour pickle, then if you let it sit there for a month it becomes a three-quarter sour and our best selling item in the whole store is a sour pickle and to make a sour pickle takes us three months!  We put them in a barrel we label, we seal it we don't open it up for at least three months, like fine wine, I have customers that come here and they thank me for still being here and not letting the store ever close I think in the future I know I'm gonna finish on my lifetime here I have other guys here that work for me they'll probably get the business and hopefully they'll keep it going and they'll add their own twist to it I would like it to see go on forever because to me this is sort of like a Living Museum it's the last of the last and if you want to see how your grandparents used to eat this is how you got to do it.”

There you have it the history of this briny little bad boy!

Make your own pickles at home with this recipe. 

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