Ah, the lowly pickle.
Pickling began about 4000 years ago in India using a cucumber that is native to that country. Designed as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use or for long journeys, especially by sea, pickled food was not only practical, but quite delicious. Spicy sauces made to accompany meat dishes were called ‘pickles’ but it wasn’t until the 17th century that brined vegetables like the cucumber or gherkin came to be called pickles. The word pickle comes from the Dutch or Low German pekel, meaning “something piquant”.
The process of pickling preserves food by anaerobic fermentation in brine to produce lactic acid. Alternately, marinating and storing food in an acid solution – usually vinegar – creates a pickling effect as well. Antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are often added, which in turn add to the flavor. In some cases the nutritional value of the pickled food is increased by introducing B vitamins that are produced by the bacteria.
While pickles are a delicious addition to almost any meal, it is not considered auspicious to find one’s self “in a pickle.” To be in trouble or have a dilemma is considered being in a pickle, an allusion to being as disoriented and mixed up as the stewed vegetables that made up pickles (the sauce kind, presumably). The phrase appears to have been coined in the 15th century, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the almost identical saying, in a stew, came to be.
I can attest, however, that being in a pickle can at times become a favorable circumstance. This morning, for instance, while wracking my brain for a suitable topic for today’s challenge post, I said to myself, “Well, isn’t this a fine pickle!” It was at that point that the proverbial light bulb flashed on in my brain and how P came to be for Pickle today.