For a blog that calls itself “Protopian Pickle Jar,” it occurs to me that I rarely post about fermented vegetables.
However, last week, I got a real hankering for pickles. Not just any pickles from the grocery store, mind you, but an authentic deli-style, non-vinegar based lacto-fermented pickles. Like the kind that used to come from a pickle barrel on the Lower East Side. Or that we would make in the Picklearium (aka Center for Cultural Proliferation) at Isabella Freedman and devour off the IF salad bar. Surprisingly, these are kind of hard to find. They do sell them in the “refrigerated kosher section” at the grocery store. I bought 2 jars and started eating them almost immediately upon returning home.
Maybe it was all the salt-loss from our 105 deg F heat index weather. Maybe my gut microbes were calling out for replenishment. Maybe, as my grandma would said, I was in search of a “cheap drunk,” that the biting taste of fermented pickles provides.
Internet-provided potential pickle-hankering insights:
In her Tablet Magazine article, “A Barrel Full of Jewish Flavor,” Marjorie Ingall provides some context for the yearnings of her pickle-fiend children.
But not everyone viewed pickles as a benign and tasty foodstuff. …WASPier Americans saw the pickle as morally suspect. [Jane Zigelman] quotes physician and author Dr. Susanna Way Dodds, who wrote in 1883: “The spices in it are bad, the vinegar is a seething mass of rottenness … and the poor little innocent cucumber … if it had very little ‘character’ in the beginning, must now fall into the ranks of the ‘totally depraved.’ ”
Jews did not get this memo. When Lower East Side public schools let children out at lunchtime, kids ran en masse to the nearest pushcarts. Social service workers were horrified. “Pickles were seen—by a nation on its way to Prohibition—as a compulsion for those too young to drink alcohol,” noted Ziegelman. They were often classified as a “stimulant,” along with coffee, tobacco, and whiskey. … The City’s Board of Education established school lunch in large part to wean immigrant children away from their degenerate pickle lust.
Mmmm, degenerate pickle lust.
But there may also be a serious psychological component to my yen for fermented veggies.
Peter Andrey Smith, in the New York Times Magazine, examines how bacteria in your gut can affect your mood. In the study of “psychobiotics,” scientists recognized that communities of microbes living in our not only do things like create vitamins, but they also secrete neurotransmitters that can affect our moods. Nurturing the bacteria that release these chemicals may help alleviate depression and anxiety in their human hosts.
In addition, researchers at William and Mary found an association between increased consumption of fermented foods and reduction of social anxiety in genetically-prone young adults.
While there is much research to be done in this intersection of psychology and delicious, delicious fermented foods, I can testify that I was a pretty happy human when consuming vast quantities of fermented vegetables from the Isabella Freedman salad bar. (I see a potential sociological/microbiological study to be conducted by generations of future Adamahniks…)
Finally, the New York Times Video profiles Sandorkraut: A Pickle Maker, a short documentary (~12 min) by Ann Husaini and Emily Lobsenz about legendary (in Adamahnik-circles) pickling enthusiast and writer Sandor Katz.
I first became aware of Katz’s work at Adamah (his book, “Wild Fermentation” is recommended reading for incoming cohorts.) The filmmakers explain, ” While empowering his followers to try their own hand at fermenting, he is not only reinvigorating an ancient cultural practice, but also reminding us what it means to be in a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms that have evolved alongside us throughout history.”