A post about pickles

Pickles in jars
Pickles!! by M Prince Photography (2014) CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/p3cNV5

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.”

Teva Pants

flowers growing out of planters made out of blue jeans
by Craig Sunter (2014) CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.
https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3836/14213287070_b0b36eb817_k.jpg

Today’s Horoscope (read while eating breakfast):
Five Star Day! … If you are single, you could meet someone who knocks your socks off. A new beginning becomes possible.

Me: “I’ll wear my cleanest pair of Teva pants!”

I realized recently that Teva pants make up the bulk of my wardrobe. (For my UK Readers: Where ever I have “pants,” mentally replace with “trousers,” if you prefer. I realize “pants” can mean something different.) By “Teva Pants,” I refer specifically to pants that I have worn in the capacity as a farmer/gardener/outdoor Teva (“nature”) educator.

Most of these garments are made of quick-drying synthetic material that is opaque to UV rays and mostly impervious to bugs (especially when the cuffs are tucked into socks.) These are  good for most weather, with addition of warm layers when it’s cold. I also have 2 pairs of ancient L.L. Bean flannel-lined pants that have helped me survive a New England winter. Teva pants are comfortable, allowing me to run, jump, squat, crawl and other bodily contortions without limiting my range of movement. They protect me from sticks and rocks and thorns and sun.

Some of my Teva pants have been purchased new from fancy catalogs and sporting goods stores, others have been picked up at thrift shops. Most of them have multitudinous pockets, which are extremely useful when out on the farm or in the woods. It is also very important to check the pockets of your Teva pants before washing, because God only know what will turn up in there (interesting rocks, magnifying glasses, rubber chickens, used hankies, multi-tools, popsicle sticks, yarn, film canisters, sharpies, etc.) My Teva pants have been washed a lot. They bear the record of hard use. Mysterious stains and wear marks offer clues to the liberal splotches of mud, blood, goat poop, chicken poop, tree sap, strawberry jam, rust, dust, paint, grease and grime that have coated them at various times.

Teva pants are rarely flattering. Aside from being beat-up hard-working pants, shoving stuff in the pockets tends to ruin the nicest of silhouettes. If by chance my Teva pants were becoming, I would retire them as Teva pants and save them for trips into town.

As an educator, I managed to shower at least once a week and put on clean, non-Teva clothes. As this usually coincided with the occurrence of Shabbat on Friday nights, so it wasn’t unusual to hear “You look so nice! You took a shower and put on clean clothes!” as a completely sincere compliment offered to housemates. One of my colleagues termed these “Shab-servations,” since they weren’t really compliments intended to flatter, merely observations of the fact that people tended to clean up before Shabbat.

Even when I’m not working as an environmental educator, I still love to wear my Teva pants out in suburban Kansas City. My well-meaning family members have tried to discourage this practice. They may have a point.

Teva pants don’t belong at a fancy dinner or job interview. Teva Pants are probably not appropriate to wear on a date (unless its a hiking date.) Teva pants do not tell other people, “This is an important person.” Instead, Teva pants favor function over fashion. They may be frumptastic, but Teva pants don’t care. They have rocks to climb and chickens to feed, slugs to examine and kids to teach. In my ideal job, I would wear Teva pants every day.

Edit December 22, 2016: It’s not just me! Writer Stephanie Land on her beloved, beaten-up Carhartts.