[Mrs. Leopold] said to her daughter, “I don’t know where you learned to use spices in such an original way.” Implying that … spices were common, and that real food, eaten by real people, was either plain American or French.
— Laurie Colwin, “An Old-Fashioned Story”
Only a couple of generations ago, food was such a highly charged litmus test of Fitting In for immigrants. Hard to believe now! New Yorkers, for instance, revel in the ethnic and cultural diversity of their food scene, to the point of being tiresome about who gets credit for ferreting out the latest hidden gem. Chicago was much the same, from what I remember of my time there.
So I laughed out loud at Immigrant Identities, Preserved in Vinegar?, author Jane Ziegelman’s eye-opening paean to the pickle on the OpEd page of the New York Times.
Who knew the lowly pickle was once the equivalent of a culinary stealth warrior to stuffy, anti-immigrant cookery authorities? “The spices in it are bad, the vinegar a seething mass of rottenness,” declared one horrified 19th-century observer.
Holy brining barrel, Batman! Read the whole thing. It’s a hoot.
P.S. I had a very nice pickle (and terrific smoked-meat sandwich) at the legendary Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal several days ago. No seething masses of rottenness were anywhere in the vicinity. If you’re ever in the area and you haven’t yet tried smoked meat (a distinctive and delightful distant cousin to New York-style pastrami), you owe yourself a taste.