15 February 2008

A river of pickle juice?

There are all kinds of pickles, but my favorite is a crisp full-sour - no wimpy half-sours. Bowls of these green gourmet delicacies should appear on the table of all self-respecting delis as soon as diners sit down. The cole slaw provided is just filler!

The Bowery Boys is a blog about New York, covering myriad issues, and a just-posted entry focuses on the Lower East Side's pickle civil war. This one wasn't in our history texts - I might have paid more attention if it had been included.

It offers a glimpse (and even a silent film) of those old days and the environment surrounding our immigrant ancestors in their crowded neighborhoods and, of course, the genealogy of Guss' Pickles.

Pickles were a popular snack in New York as far back as Dutch New Amsterdam. They're New York's first portable food -- long before the knish and the hot dog -- and fairly easy to produce.

With the huge immigrant boom in lower Manhattan, young men in hopes of making a few bucks would operate a pushcart through the streets selling their wares. In the crowded blocks of Jewish Lower East Side, dozens of pushcarts occupied the streets, competing for customers with sidewalk stands and, for those lucky enough to have the money, actual stores!

For a short silent film depicting a police intervention of a pushcart market in 1903, click here. And for more, see filmmaker Ken Jacobs' "Pushcarts of Eternity Street" (2006), here.

Dozens of vendors at the turn of the 20th century sold pickles in the Lower East Side. Izzy Guss, an immigrant from Russia who arrived here in 1910, had a pushcart and sold produce. But he specialized in pickles. Although the competition was fierce -- the area around Essex and Ludlow even called the Pickle District -- Guss eventually bought his own store on crowded Hester Street in 1920, and there, in wooden barrels lining his store front, mastered his recipe for what has become the New York City pickle.

The posting details the decade-old war over this legacy, involving Andrew Lebowitz of United Pickles, the Baker family and Patricia Fairhurst. There are two Guss pickles, one manufacturer has the name, the other the original recipe. In 2007, Whole Foods entered the controversy, as well as the Pickle Guys (former Guss employees).

Will this revolution see rivers of pickle juice in the streets of New York? Read the complete entry here.

And for the National Pickle Tour by Chabad's Pickle Rabbis, click here. This is a twist on Chabad's Matza Factory and Shofar Factory activities.

The recipe is a secret but Rabbi Mendy Margolin will reveal the trick to a good kosher pickle — no authentic kosher pickles contain vinegar. When pressed, Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, Chabad representative in Cypress, CA, is quick to assert that “there is no exact recipe — it is an art.”

The two, affectionately known as Pickle Rabbis, clarify the intricacies of kosher observance through practical pickle-making lessons.

According to Rabbi Margolin of The Traveling Kosher Pickle Factory, five million pounds of pickles are consumed daily.

Rabbi Marcus figured that the public school students he taught at Hebrew High would love to learn pickle-making. The opportunity would allow him to surreptitiously slip kashrut lessons in as well.

What he didn’t count on was the interest the eclectic program would engender among the teens’ parents. Over 200 phone calls poured in as adults vied for the opportunity to pickle their own cucumbers. Organizers had to turn people away as the program spread like wildfire across Southern California.

Since the program began in 2005, some 3,000 people have prepared personalized pickle jars. The Pickle Rabbis, by popular request, launched a 12-stop national tour through the end of March. They expect the Pickle Factory to reach 30,000 people over the next three years.

Enjoy this dill-ectable story and some photos of happy pickle makers of various ages and genders! The family that pickles together .........

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