Few foods could be considered more a part of Americana -- we've been eating pickles since Christopher Columbus discovered America. Since then, the pickled cucumber has evolved into a favored snack and recipe ingredient that is available in more than 36 varieties.
Pickle history began sometime around 2030 B.C., when inhabitants of Northern India brought cucumber seeds to the Tigris Valley. Soon, cucumber vines were sprouting throughout Europe. Shortly thereafter, people learned to preserve the fruits of their labor by pickling them in a salty brine. By the 17th century, the crunchy pickled cucumber had made its debut in the New World. Early colonists grew so fond of them that in 1820, Nicholas Appert constructed the first pickle plant in America.
In fact, America was named for a pickle peddler -- Amerigo Vespucci. He was a ships chandler, outfitting vessels scheduled for long explorations with vitamin C-packed pickled vegetables -- particularly cucumbers -- to prevent scurvy among crew members.
Through the years, pickles enjoyed a flourishing reputation. From continent to continent, the world's most humorous vegetable made an in-dill-able impression on monarchs, presidents and even military men. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, believed they contributed to health and beauty. Queen Elizabeth I developed a passion for pickles, as did Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Troops under Julius Caesar and Napoleon relished the thought of having crunchy pickles at meal time, and during World War II, the U.S. government earmarked 40 percent of pickle production for the Armed Forces.
Pickles also played a part in folk medicine. Many people believed that sour pickles helped balance the acid-alkaline content of the body and destroy bacteria in the digestive tract.
Now in their 4,000th year, pickles are big business. They grow in more than 30 states, with Michigan and North Carolina the prime purveyors of pickled produce. And because Americans are so passionate about pickles, pickle packers everywhere continue to work hard to produce pickle products to please even the pickiest palate.