Tennessee Mountain Stories

A Passion for Picklin’


I’m not much a fan of pickles, but I realize I’m in the smallest minority – at least that’s the way it seems among all my family and friends.  Recently some friends were over for a meal and asked, “Do you make pickles?”  Well I’m not a very good hand at it but through more of that Christian compassion that brought last week’s beans, I’m well stocked with pickles.

It got me to thinking, is this passion for picklin’ everything a Southern thing?  Or are pickles universal?

Statista reports that in 2017 73 million Americans consumed at least 1 jar of pickles in a year, and nearly 4 million people consumed 6 jars or more.  The United States consumes 5.2 million pounds of pickles each year.

And a little research tells me that pickles are popular the world around.  Historians believe that the Mesopotamians first began pickling about 2400 BC.    At some points in history, pickles were thought almost magical in their benefits to the body.

Well, as with most things, Southerners claimed pickles for their very own and transformed the food.  I found this great article from the State Archives of Florida detailing a handwritten cookbook from the 1850’s or 1860’s with recipes for pickling everything from watermelon rind to cabbage (and that one was new to me).

Then there’s the protein-packed pickled pig parts.  Pickled pigs feet are probably the most popular of these foods but did you know folks also pickle the lips, snouts, ears, and hocks of the hog?  Now this just proves that you can truly use every part of the pig if you set your mind to it! Pickled eggs are also a great source of protein.

What strikes me among this list is the perishable nature of these foods.  Surely pickling was historically very practical.  Vinegar is easily created from fruits that will perish quickly.  And while smoked or salted pork can be made to last for months, it would be pretty hard to cure the feet enough to keep them.  So if you’re wanting to use a whole hog, pickling parts of it makes a lot of sense!

While we seal our pickles up tight in Mason jars, commercial producers actually cure them in open vats stored outdoors.  So even before self-sealing lids and glass jars were widely available, pickles could be put up and kept just in crocks. (Okay I’ve got to research what all you can actually preserve in crocks!)

My family tends to stick with cucumbers, but I can’t wait to hear what ya’ll pickle.  If you leave a comment – and I dearly hope you will – please be sure to tell me where you live or where you’re from as I’m very curious where the customs originate.

By the way, my friends around the supper table quickly put away half a quart of Grandma’s Bread and Butter pickles!  They were so excited by them I sent the rest of the jar home when they left.