American Pickle Transcript


GUEST: Chuck

CHUCK: Sometimes the beauty's so great in the produce department that I can't stand it. It's like my heart is just going to cave in.
AB: You know, Chuck, you keep this up and it's your head that's going to cave in.
 C: Hi, Mr. Brown. Beautiful, isn't it?
AB: You're, uh, you're shooting video of fruit.
 C: Oh, vegetables, too. Did you see these cauliflowers?
AB: Yeah, yeah.
 C: So pure.
AB: I, I saw some of those.
 C: So ...
AB: I've got to ask you a question. Why?
 C:  Because they won't last and I want to remember everything.
AB: Well, then, then pickle them.
 C: Oh, come on, Mr. Brown. That's Depression era, Aunt Bee, kind of talk. I'm a high tech kind of guy.
AB: Well, let me tell ya, just because we don't have to preserve pickles doesn't mean we shouldn't preserve pickling. I mean, there are recipes for refrigerator pickles that besides being incredibly simple combine just out of this world flavors and textures.
 C: But I can buy pickles.
AB: Oh, you can buy pickles.

[a fight ensues, AB takes the camera away from Chuck]

 C: Oh. Oh. That hurt Mr. Brown.
AB: That's for your own good, Chuck. Hey, I like your camera. Nice resolution. Listen, let me tell you something. Until you have come in on a hot, July day—having mowed the lawn, of course—and thrown open the refrigerator and cracked open the lid to a jar of pickles that you made yourself and relished that crisp, clean, cool, tangy, tart, sweet, gestalt you don't even know what beauty is.
 C: But what if I get tired of cucumbers?
AB: Well, ksh, just name anything in the produce department?
 C: Cauliflowers?
AB: Pickles.
 C: Carrots?
AB: Pickles.
 C: Pears.
AB: Easy pickles. Believe me, Chuck, if you'll just take a little time to learn a few basic procedures, not only the whole produce section but the whole world will be your pickle and good eats.


GUEST: Deborah Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    "On a hot day in Virginia I can think of nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar kept below the stairs of Aunt Sally's cellar," or so wrote Thomas Jefferson. You know, many of the Mamas and the Papas of this fine country shared our third president's pickle passion: uh, George Washington, John Adams, Dolly Madison, Elvis Presley, all major pickle heads. The king, in fact, liked his dills deep fried. And, lest we forget, those peerless pickle pilgrims, the Pennsylvania Dutch, didn't come up with their concept of the Seven Sweets and Sours until after they settled on these shores.
    So, how is it that America the melting pot became America the pickle crock? I'd love to tell you but I'm not a fermentational historian ...

AB: ... and neither are you.
DEBORAH DUCHON: There is no such thing.
AB: Well, you can't blame a guy for trying.
DD: When the huddled masses started flocking to America they wanted to bring a taste of home and no taste of home is more portable than a pickle. So, the Koreans brought kimchi and the Indians brought chutney and the Germans brought sauerkraut and the Chinese brought pickled vegetables. Oh, by the way, the Chinese learned to pickle vegetables from the Tartars.
AB: The Tartars.
DD: Yes.
AB: I guess that's why tartar sauce always has pickles in it.
DD: That's what they say. And pickles also help stave off scurvy, you know.
AB: Ah, a potentially deadly disorder caused by an acute deficiency of vitamin C. During Columbus' time, in fact, it was the leading cause of death among sailors.
DD: Speaking of Columbus, have you ever heard of Amerigo Vespucci?
AB: Oh, sure. The famed cartographer of Seville known for his early maps of the North American coast.
DD: Started out as a pickle merchant.
AB: Get out of here.
DD: Really. He supplied Columbus with pickles and they end up naming a whole country with him.
AB: Which one?
DD: His name was Amerigo. Put it together, big guy.
AB: I guess it's safe to assume that there were pickles pre-1492?
DD: Oh, yes, but for that you must go to Egypt.
AB: Oh bother.

"Pickle" is thought to be a mispronunciation of "Beuklz",
the name of a 14th century Dutch fisherman known for his pickles.

Cleopatra's Tomb: Egypt - 3:19 am

GUESTS: Roman Legionnaire, Napoleon, WWII Soldier, Mummy

    Oof. Pickling was invented about 4,000 B.C. in India as an effort to preserve food in that very un-food friendly climate. Now, as it gained popularity it migrated East and actually caught the eye of a woman looking to do a little nature cheatin' of her own, Cleopatra. Uh, proof the woman consumed pickles religiously believing that she would somehow absorb some of their preservative powers. There's even a legend that she was buried with thousands of jars of pickles sealed with a curse.
    Well, what I do know is that before the old girl became a pickle herself she managed to introduce them to a few of her friends. For instance — what's this? — ah, hah, hah, hah, her boyfriend, Julius Caesar, late of Rome, found pickles to be so invigorating that he ended up including them in all of his legionnaire's rations. And this began sort of a military, well, tradition that was followed by Napoleon who certainly knew that armies fight on their stomachs and by United States forces which during World War II actually consumed 40% of the nation's pickles.
    Now, as for the curse, that's just silly kid's stuff, but [mummy grabs him] ... AAAAAAHHHHGGGGH.

The Kitchen

[Alton is reading,
On Food And Cooking: The
Science and Lore of the Kitchen
by Harold McGee]

    "Any food impregnated with and therefore preserved by an acid is a pickle." Now, there are hundreds of world pickle styles but only 2 true pickle schools. Now, fermented pickles such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kosher dills derive their particular piquancy from naturally occurring bacteria which migrate into their brine and produce lactic acid. Now, this lactic acid also serves as a kind of, oh, microbial bouncer preventing other less friendly bacteria from crashing the crock, so to speak.
    Now, these pickles are easy to make, mmm, and sublime to eat but they do require about the same level of maintenance as an ant farm which is more than some people can handle. For them there is infused pickles.

    In the infusion method, you bring the acid to the party instead of waiting on a billion bugs to produce it.


    Down pickle. Then all you have to do is bring said acid to a boil, add whatever flavors you want to bring to the party and the acid charges rapidly in to the target food rendering it a pickle in hours or days ... up pickle ... instead of weeks or months like fermented pickles.
    Now, let's meet the acids.    

The Expression "in a pickle" was coined by Shakespeare in "The Tempest".*

Kroger: Alpharetta, GA - 10:40 am

    Vinegar. Besides deserving a show of its own is yet another example of good food gone bad in a good way. After all, vin means wine in French and aigre sour, again French. 

vin = wine
aigre = sour

    Simply put, vinegar is what happens when aceto bacteria go on a drinking binge. They gobble up all of the alcohol in wine, beer, what have you and turn it into acetic acid. Now this takes a good bit of time, so the bacteria construct a colony called a 'mother,' which looks like a big jellyfish, and once it's finished converting the alcohol in one container it can be moved to another and then another and another so it's an immortal jellyfish.


    Now, any alcoholic beverage will do. Uh, for instance, distilled white vinegar is made from grain alcohol which as any frat boy can tell you doesn't taste like much. Neither does this [white vinegar] really. I sometime use it if I'm trying to preserve the color of a particular pickle but other than that it's, well, it's best for cleaning windows.

grain alcohol

white vinegar

    Of course then there are wine vinegars. Red wine begets red wine vinegar. White wine begets white wine vinegar sometimes even champagne vinegar. Sherry begets sherry vinegar and on and so forth.

red wine vinegar
white wine vinegar
sherry vinegar

    Now, the one kind of odd bird here is, of course, balsamic vinegar which is definitely different. But, most commercial versions are nothing more than red wine vinegar with some caramel added for flavoring. The real stuff? Well that's another thing all together. See, the real balsamic vinegar actually begins with high grade white wine vinegar. Then, through a very long and tedious and did I mention long aging process is miraculously converted into a thick, brown, syrupy, sweet elixir.
    What does this got to do with pickles? Ha. Absolutely nothing. Stuff makes rotten pickles.

"Real" Balsamic Vinegar

    Truth is pickle making, I use two vinegars primarily:  apple cider vinegar and rice wine vinegar.

apple cider vinegar
rice wine vinegar

    Now as the name suggests, cider vinegar is made from hard apple cider. And besides its subtle apple flavor I like it because it is very food friendly because it's balanced. Its acidity doesn't overwhelm its sweetness. Another thing I like is that because it's got the same acid level as this white distilled vinegar, I can switch them out for each other in recipes. Gives you a little bit more versatility.

hard apple cider


    Now, the other vinegar that I'm fond of, rice wine vinegar, is derived as the name would suggest from rice wine. It's a little different, though, because it doesn't really have a flavor of its own, just a subtle sweetness and a very low acidity. That means that it's great for making, well, subtle Asian-style pickles or for cutting the acidity of harsher vinegars in certain pickle recipes. The down side is that you cannot interchange these for any of these other vinegars, okay, because of the lower acidity.

rice wine vinegar


    Same goes for homemade vinegars which are great on salad but due to their unpredictable acidity have no place in pickling.

don't pickle with
homemade vinegar

    Okay, end of lecture.

Once opened, a bottle of vinegar will begin to lose its flavor after six months.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Paul, Unwitting Test Subject
            B.A., Sinister Sibling

    As Caesar's legions knew all too well pickles can be produced with straight vinegar and they taste something like this.

PAUL: [eating a straight vinegar pickle]

    That is why most of the pickles on this planet are produced with a hybrid liquid, a combination of vinegar, salt, water and sugar. Sure, there are herbs and spices to be dealt with but they must remain shrouded in mystery for the moment. What's important is that the final nature of a pickle is greatly determined by the proportions of these humble elements.


Water is a crucial pickle ingredient.
If you don't like the flavor at the tap - use filtered or bottled water.




    For instance, let's say that each of these sterilized jars contains half an onion sliced thin and 2 medium cucumbers sliced thin with either a knife, a V-Slicer or a food processor.

1/2 a yellow onion
2 med.

1/2 a yellow onion
2 med.

    I happen to like my pickles on the sweet side but sour is the preference of my brother. Why let my, uh, doppelganger into the house? Well, to help me to prove a point that by making miniscule alterations to the pickle's DNA we can produce radically different results. Ironic, don't you think?

    We both begin with a cup of water. Besides taking the bite out of vinegar's bite the additional liquid will help keep the infant pickles submerged.

1 cup H2O

    We both follow that up with a cup of cider vinegar but my brother also adds half a cup of champagne vinegar. As for the sugar, a cup and a half for me, a measly half cup for him. As usual, we're pushing opposite extremes of the same envelope. Salt, a mere pinch of kosher for me, two tablespoons plus two teaspoons for dark man over there.

1 cup cider vinegar


1/2 cup champagne vinegar

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of
kosher salt

2 Tbls + 2 tsp kosher salt

    Now the spicy stuff, whole yellow mustard seeds.

There are two common varieties of mustard seed: white (yellow)
which are the most common, and brown which are smaller, but stronger.

    The sweets get half a teaspoon, the sours a whole teaspoon.

1/2 tsp
mustard seed

1 tsp
mustard seed

    For color and flavor, ground turmeric ...

Like its cousin ginger, turmeric comes from a rhizome.
But unlike ginger it is almost never sold fresh.

... half a teaspoon for the sweets but a mere quarter for the sours.

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp turmeric

    Celery seeds ...

Most celery seed comes from lovage,
a cousin of common celery native to India.

... half a teaspoon for me a full teaspoon for him.

1/2 tsp
celery seed

1 tsp
celery seed

    Same goes for the pickling spice, a teaspoon for him, a half for me.

1/2 tsp
pickling spice

1 tsp
pickling spice

Pickling  Spices: a mixture of whole or coarsely ground allspice,
bay, cardamom, clove, coriander, ginger and mustard seed.

    Now, we bring this to a boil and then simmer it for a full four minutes just to wake up the flavors.

bring to boil
simmer 4 minutes

The word "kosher" added to a pickle means
that garlic has been added to the brine.

The Kitchen

    Four minutes of TV time is up. It's time to pickle. Oh, I forgot. B.A. over there likes to add 4 cloves of garlic, crushed, straight to the jar.


4 cloves garlic crushed

AB: Can we do this now? Thank you.

    The trick, now, is to pour very slowly and very, very gently over the pickles. Now, uh, in about half an hour you may notice that they have shrunk up enough to take up a little bit more of the liquid. But for now, just bring it right up to the top. Please do not splash. And be careful if you have a white counter because this stuff can stain it. There. Wait until it cools completely, top it off again and into the refrigerator.
    How long will these keep in here? Well, 4 out of the 5 microbes we polled say they can't stand the acidity in the there, but there are a few strains of mold and yeast that can live in there. So, you really shouldn't look at beyond 3 months. Personally, I've never kept any longer than 2 months but they didn't go bad, I, I ate them. Anyway, a good rule of thumb is if they start to grow fuzz, throw them out. Oh yeah, uh, 3 to 5 inch pickling cucumbers are best for this but anything from, uh, English cucumbers to even zucchini makes a swell Bread and Butter pickle.
    Infusion is a method which works and plays well with others. My brother, for instance, will convert this innocent looking of half pound of mini-carrots into combustible comestibles he calls, Firecrackers. While I elevate this humble sliced Bartlett pear and red plum into a cooling dessert pickle possessing hidden talents which I'll release on the Unabomber when he least expects it.


Summer Fruits


    We start as before with a cup of water and a cup of sugar.

1 cup H2O
1 cup sugar

    Now, since I'm building a subtle, yet sweet pickle a cup of rice wine vinegar will be pressed into service while my brother who can't even spell subtle goes with a cup and a half of cider vinegar.

AB: Boil'em if you got'em.


1 cup rice
wine vinegar


1 1/2 cup cider vinegar

Gas ranges are rated by British Thermal Units (BTUs)
or, the heat required to raise the temperature of one pint of H2O by 1°F.

    All right, bring on the flavor packs. My brother's cruel carrots receive a teaspoon of onion powder—not onion salt—a half teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt and a teaspoon of chili flakes, the fiend.
    I've decided to side step spices in lieu of fresh flavors added directly to the fruit, say, half a lemon sliced perilously thin,  and a tablespoons worth of slivered, fresh ginger. Now, we just put that right back into the jar. And then of course, the pièce de résistance fresh mint. One big, ol' sprig right down the middle. 

1/2 lemon,
slice thin

1 Tbls
ginger root,

1 sprig mint

1 tsp
onion powder

1/2 tsp
mustard seed

1 1/2 tsp
kosher salt

1 tsp
chili flake

    Now, since I'm not going to be opening up any spices I don't have to wait for this to come to a boil.

Unless whole spices are called for,
refrigerator pickle brines only need to simmer.

    It only has to be hot enough to melt the sugar. So, pour just as we did before, nice and slow and all the way to the top.

    Now let this cool down for an hour to two on the counter, then refrigerate for two days to a week before enjoying either alone or with ice cream, heck, even angel food cake.

cool then refrigerate
2 days to a week


2 dry

    Now, why a hot infusion? A hot infusion speeds the pickling process but cold infusions have their uses, too. Take, for instance, cauliflower. I mean, come on, let's be honest. Cauliflower just doesn't taste like much. It's one of the reasons it makes great pickles, curried pickles, no less.

    Start by heating a tablespoon of canola oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Then, crush a teaspoon of cumin seed along with a teaspoon of coriander seed. Now, coriander grows up to be cilantro but they don't even taste remotely alike. Go figure. Add these to the pan along with a couple of teaspoons of curry powder, a teaspoon of minced, fresh ginger and a clove of garlic, smashed.
    Now, cook these stirring often until the oil colors and the kitchen starts to smell like an Indian restaurant then toss in a head's worth of cauliflower florets, washed of course.

1 Tbls canola
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed

2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ginger root, minced
1 clove garlic, smashed

cook until fragrant

1 head cauliflower florets

    In the mean time, combine a cup of H2O, 1 cup of rice wine vinegar and half a cup of cider vinegar along with 3 tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of pickling salt. Place the lid on securely, I might add, and shake to combine.

1 cup H2O
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 Tbls sugar
1 tsp pickling salt

    Once the cauliflower has softened a bit add it to the jar, cool, chill, wait a week for the magic and then serve our grilled lamb which you can check out at

Leftover pickle brine can be added to
marinades, salad dressings, or mayonnaise.

The Kitchen

    While we're on the subject of pickling salt, it's important to note that it is chemically identical to kosher salt. They are both pure salt. Neither has any iodine added or any anti-clumping agents. But there is a distinct physical difference. Pickling salt is a much finer grind than kosher salt and that is relevant to the cook.

Coarse Kosher Salt
Canning, Pickling Salt

    For instance, pickling salt is great on popcorn. Kosher salt isn't. Pickling salt will clump up like a rock on a very humid day. Kosher salt won't. Pickling salt dissolves quickly and cleanly in cold liquids like our brine over there. Kosher salt only melts in very, very hot liquids. And, last and by no means least, any given volume of pickling salt weighs about a third more than the same amount of kosher salt.
    For instance, say that you've got a recipe that calls for 1/4 cup of pickling salt. You think, well that's no problem. I don't have any pickling salt hanging around the house so, uh, I'll use the same amount of kosher salt. Well, believe it or not, that is a problem because guess what. That's not apples to apples. In fact, if you have a recipe that calls for a teaspoon of pickling salt, you need to use a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt.

Americans consume some 20 billion pickles a year.

The Kitchen (A week later)

    Well, here we are a week later and we're highly enthused about our infusions.

AB: Why don't you go ahead and try those fruit pickles there.
BA: [tries one]

    My secret weapon, of course, the juice. Now that it's all minty and mellow it's good for a lot of things. Heck, throw it on the rocks with some club soda and you've got some nice summer spritzer or you could even, uh, pop it in the ole ice cream maker and sorbet, tangy, sweet, perfect summer dessert.

AB: Beat that.
BA: [pours some of the Firecracker brine into AB's beer]

    Well, there's proof. One man's good eats is another man's, ... well, come to think of it that's probably pretty good.

BA: [indicates to try a Firecracker]
AB: Oh, thank you. I will try one. See you next time on Good Eats. [grimaces,

BA: Now that's what I call good eats.


GUEST: Pennsylvania Dutchman


Pickle Development

*The Tempest, Act V, Scene I

ALONSO: And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded 'em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin.

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Last Edited on 08/14/2012