The last 2-weeks have been filled with choices, but in this moment, there I was scanning the pickle section in a local mega-grocery store.
Why? I’d been asked what I wanted for dinner and the home version of a BBQ rib sandwich is not the same without fresh cut onion and sweet pickles.
So there I am hunched, quite literally ‘in a pickle’ as I scanned one pickle option after another as only America could offer. Gherkins, dills, kosher, candied and bread-and-butter were all there. Garlic and hot peppers jumped in the already muddy pickle juice clouding the solution to a very specific mission I was on for my Other Half.
‘Sweet Pickles’! That all I wanted. Why is this so not easy?!?
I’m a simple man, but for all the choices clamoring for my attention, only one jar carried the word ‘sweet’ and even that, was followed by another word, ‘gherkin’. Was this a trick or could this be the one from the many? And why were the contents of the jar whole, not sliced? Why was Gherkin sweet but not so for the Dill? My pickle safari was bagging more unknowns than results as I paced back and forth in the aisle.
Typically, this is where I call home and ask for clarifying information. Not this time. Not for pickles. I went to college.
Being bound to a home culinare is not all good-eating with dessert. While not involved in Production, Procurement is very much my space. My farmer roots uniquely suit me to be the one squeezing produce and sniff-checking for quality. So I do – choices to be made.
Just yesterday, I spent nearly 2-hours of my Saturday doing errands around the county while being on the hunt for a source of a particular Pancetta (3 oz.). I know, it’s just fancy bacon from Italy, right? Oops, did I use my outside voice? Big mistake. “No Dear, it’s not just bacon.” So regardless of my own unvoiced opinion of what’s good enough for me, I go the extra mile because I love him. Disclaimer made, pin no medals on my chest. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge feeling the screams welling up inside me under the burden of time and effort involved in fulfilling such precise specifications. I want it to be right and all of that starts in bringing home just the right raw product destined to go into his cooking – Chicken Picatta or XxRib sandwiches – all must pass muster.
Back to the pickle aisle…
Continuing to pace up and down as if ‘sweet’ is going to jump off the next train from Hogwarts and magically appear on the shelf, I see midgets and there, sweet relish. Cool. I wonder where they keep the sweet pickles they used to dice into the relish? And who is this Gherkin character? Can I call him? 10-minutes later, I asked the store clerk who looked at me like I was nuts. To her credit, she asked another co-worker who proved to be just as perplexed by my specific questioning on all that is sweet in Pickle World.
For all that came the inevitable point of diminishing returns. I heard my right and left brain arguing…’just pick one’. They were right. I knew all I was going to know in that moment and it came down to acting on a hunch. “Sweet Gherkin. You’re coming home with me.”
Walking into our kitchen, I was prepared for a full accounting of having done the best I could. Beginning with just holding up the jar, I was stunned at not having to utter one word more…
“Oh cool. Those will work.”
“But they aren’t sliced like the ones you use”
“That’s ’cause I slice them…they come whole. You’re fine.”
Sometimes, educated guesses prove to be good calls. And sometimes, educated guesses prompt me to want to learn more about a topic so the next time I’m confronted with it, I can do better than guess.
Since that fateful day, I’ve learned the expression of being ‘in a pickle’ goes back to relish…a chopped up mélange of pickled vegetables used as a sauce for meats. Author Sam Dean says it well (bon appetit – August 30, 2012), “Like the veggies in the relish, if you’re in a pickle, you’re in a state of jumbled disarray”. Base runners caught between two bases are said to be ‘in a pickle’. The Dutch refer to the pickling (or brine) process for preserving food (e.g., food storage solutions for sea voyages – c.1400) and then there’s Shakespeare’s use of pickle (The Tempest – 1611) which equated being pickled with being drunk and well before him? There’s an old story (Morte Arthure) circa 1440 that allegedly details King Arthur’s diet:
“He soupes all this sesoun with seuen knaue childre, Choppid in a chargour of chalke-whytt syluer, With pekill & powdyre of precious spycez.
[He dines all season on seven rascal children, chopped, in a bowl of white silver, with pickle and precious spices]
As charming as that last reference was, I’m still not sure I’ve done all I can to equip you for Jeopardy, so let me finish out the tease with the statement there are no sweet pickles…just cucumbers undergoing different treatments to arrive at different ends — some of them sweet. Chowhound tells us, “According to the Pickle Primer by Pickle Packers International, there are four main categories of pickle (Dill, Sour/Half Sour, Sweet and Pickled Peppers) with countless variations. Pickles are often produced in three methods: refrigerated, fresh-pack, or processed (which implies there is curing or fermenting involved).” The light bulbs over my head went ‘ding’. I had been fixed on the wrong thing. It’s not the pickle, it’s the process!
Time to bring this home…we all face choices. Last week, mine was having gone through all the testing RE: ‘ground-breaking surgery’ only to learn the procedure to get at my tumor was ‘high-risk, medium benefit’. Translated? I was not a viable candidate for the procedure.
Enter more choices based on what the testing revealed. Result is in the next week or so, I enter a new round of treatment; this time a choreographed combination approach of chemo and radiation – every day for 4 ½ weeks. Then? We’ll know more and make new choices based on what we’ve learned…just like you do in your life – every day.
What have I learned? Was I disappointed at not being viable? You bet. And it took me a few days to bounce back. But being caught in a pickle and torn between multiple choices isn’t a bad thing if you’re open to letting it teach you things. In my humble opinion, I still say smarter is always better.
So for just a little time in the grocery, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to the next time Life asks me to find sweet pickles. Bring it on. I relish the process.
LANDSLIDE (Orchestra Version) (Live) Stevie Nicks
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Thomas Jefferson Pickle graphic and quote: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/650839?ref=pickles and http://www.thefiftybest.com/food/best_pickles/; Origin of the phrase, “In a pickle”: https://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/pop-culture/article/origin-of-the-phrase-in-a-pickle; https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/in-a-pickle.html; https://www.knowyourphrase.com/in-a-pickle; https://www.etymonline.com/word/pickle; https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/23131/where-did-the-phrase-in-a-pickle-come-from; http://www.funtrivia.com/askft/Question15595.html; Chowhound: https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/181695/what-is-the-difference-between-sweet-pickles-and-bread-and-butter-pickles/. GINGER finds pickles in Berlin pic: http://gingerclare.blogspot.com/2009/09/pickles-galore.html; In a Pickel by Nancy Merkle (Painting): http://small-impressions.blogspot.com/2010/12/in-pickle.html;
History of Pickles by Tori Avey: http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-pickles/; Choices Like Success (pic): http://likesuccess.com/55927; Really cool site by Beloved Shirts – check out the Pickled Tee Shirt @ https://www.belovedshirts.com/products/mens-pickles-tee.