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Sunday, January 16, 2011



Sunday, 7:15 AM.  -.5 degrees, wind NW, calm.  The sky is overcast, with some desultory light in the east.  The down barometer predicts partly cloudy skies.
    Joan watches the food channel quite often and she reports this information to me, so it is second hand but I believe accurate.  There was a program on Vlasic pickles several days ago that reported in detail the almost superhuman efforts being made by this venerable American company to produce the perfect pickle.
    Now I have some experience with pickles, since when I was young, many people made their own pickles, and Joan and I even made a few batches, the five gallon antique crock now sitting in front of the fireplace.  Sure, I can make my own pickles, but generally speaking it is not worth the trouble and there are many very good commercial pickles on the shelves, including Vlasic.
    As a youngster I picked cucumbers for pickling (although everyone called it “picking pickles”), as several families of cousins routinely grew acres of cucumbers to sell to the packing plants. Later, as a young adult, I had farmer friends my own age in central Wisconsin who grew hundreds of acres of cumbers, hiring migrant Mexican workers to help with the harvest.  This was all hand labor, as I assume much pickle production still is. Believe me, stoop labor is the hardest work of all, and I have the greatest respect for the field workers who still do it.
All in all, I know the pickle pretty well, and there is nothing like a New York Deli pickle, right out of the barrel, to garnish a pastrami on rye.
    But the Vlasic company truly seeks the perfect pickle, having elevated its pursuit almost to the level of the search for the Holy Grail.  They have determined that only the exactly sized pickle, of exactly the right maturity and of the perfect genetic heritage, shall be packed in their sacred bottles.  I applaud Vlasic's tenacity in seeking the ultimate pickle to please the increasingly finicky American palette.  The pickle evidently has become to us barbaric American barbecuers what foi gras or the finest Gorgonzola cheese is to the sophisticated Frenchman.  I suppose I should be flattered to be in such august culinary company.
    There is only one, shall we say, fly in the pickle brine.  The perfect pickle is evidently found only in India, and must be flown twelve thousand miles to be properly packed In the good old USA.  Now I am all for the attainment of excellence in most things, but this seems to me a bridge, or a pickle, too far.  The pickle, a simple thing I have known and eaten all my life, has now attained the status of a rare vintage wine, or a rock star, or a flight-for-life across oceans and continents.  Perhaps Air Force One should be employed when not ferrying the President.  We could use the money. 
    I won't try to elevate the Search for the Perfect Pickle to an environmental or economic crisis.  I don’t think it is appropriate or worth the trouble.  Rather, I look at it as the curtain being raised on yet another act in the theater of the American absurd.  E pluribus pickle. 

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