What tickles your fancy gastronomically speaking? It might be chocolate, cheese or even avocado toast if you are trendy. But only pickles can pickle your fancy. And there has never been a better time to be a pickle aficionado than right now.
Pickles are front and center of limited time offers at fast food restaurants this summer. Just this past Monday Kentucky Fried Chicken (commonly known as KFC) debuted pickle fried chicken. Apparently KFC customers were demanding more and more pickles on their chicken sandwiches, so KFC decided to top its sandwiches with a special sauce. No, it isn’t the same special sauce that McDonald’s uses on its Big Macs. It’s (GASP!) pickle sauce. What’s so special about this sauce? Well, it tastes like pickles, although no pickles were harmed in the making of the sauce which is prepared with dill and vinegar flavors, onion, garlic, buttermilk and a black and white pepper blend. But, alas, the DILL-icious sauce is only around for a short time, which will leave its fans in a pickle once the promotion ends.
Sonic is also cashing in on the public’s fancy for pickles but in a vastly different product. Their summer special is not a sandwich topping but a pickle juice slushie. Yes, you read that correctly. A pickle juice slushie–as in frozen pickle juice. Cringe if you like, but I’m predicting the drink will be a big hit. Why do I say that? Because one of the most popular items on the menu when I worked the concessions stand for my kids’ middle school band years was frozen pickle juice. The juice was even more popular than the pickles themselves which we also sold.
But it isn’t just fast food restaurants that are cashing in on the pickle craze. The Pickle Juice Company is marketing Pickle Juice sports drink. The salty stuff in this beverage is supposed to help with muscle cramps by replenishing low sodium levels. Forget water breaks on the football field; we’re probably headed to an official time out for a pickle juice break.
The popularity of pickles comes as no surprise to me. My family has always been big pickle lovers. When I was growing up, Mom would routinely have a small bowl of pickles on the lazy susan in the middle of our table at each meal. Even my daughter jokingly remarked that her oldest son is definitely related to her because he adores pickles. He’s in gastronomic heaven when he can make himself a pickle sandwich.
So what’s the big DILL–er, deal, with pickles? They are not a Johnny Come Lately on the food scene. In fact, they’ve probably been around longer than most anything else on a fast food restaurant menu. Christopher Columbus stocked pickles on the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria for its passengers to eat to prevent scurvy. This would have been way back in 1492 according to the well known poem about these ships sailing the ocean blue. Kentucky not yet being in existence then, the pickles would not have been served as a topping for a KFC sandwich.
Pickles may have been the secret ingredient to the Roman army’s success at world conquest. Julius Caesar ordered pickles be added to the Roman Legions’ diet because they were thought to be invigorating. We may not be in Rome, but a great many of us are doing as the Romans did and eating pickles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that in 2014, the average American consumed nine pounds of pickles each year. And pickles are most often consumed as a sandwich accompaniment.
What exactly is it that we are eating when we pop those green things in our mouths? A pickle is a cucumber that has been “pickled” in a brine, vinegar or other solution and left to ferment for a period of time. Dill pickles are the most popular type of pickle. Kosher dills are made with a hefty addition of garlic and dill to the salt brine. The demand for pickles is so great that pickling cucumbers are grown in over thirty states in the U.S. That’s a lot of pickle patches!
It’s possible that some people have consumed so many pickles that their brains have been pickled. Demonstrative exhibit A for my proposition is the existence of the “Kool-Aid Pickle.” Yup! Someone actually thought that pickling cucumbers in a mixture of brine and Kool-Aid would produce a DILL-icious treat. The Kool-Aid pickle is a particular fancy of those living in the Mississippi Delta region. Doesn’t that sound like a must try snack, y’all?
Big fan of pickles that I am, I did run across a must try pickle recipe some time back. I mean who could pass up the opportunity to whip up a batch of dill pickle soup? I couldn’t, but I should’ve. The recipe reviews were very positive, so I just had to try it. I was puckering up while eating the soup, but it wasn’t because I wanted to deliver a kiss of delight as a thumbs up. Most of the soup pot ended up down the drain rather than down in my stomach.
Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t we just eat pickles as pickles instead of turning them into some crazy menu item? Call me a pickle purist, but with the average dill pickle only being 15 calories, there’s lot to be said for simply consuming a plain pickle. Mmmm! A crisp, cool pickle. That pickles my fancy!
Just WONDER-ing: Would your world be less green without pickles? Are you going to try KFC’s pickle fried chicken? Sonic’s Pickle Juice Slushie? What pickle related treat would you like to see on a menu?