Once upon a time, before canning was invented, before there was reliable fast air and sea transportation and before refrigeration, people only ate what was in season. They found that there were times where there was plenty of choice, and times virtually nothing grew, and was ready to eat. This is when they risked going hungry or living on a very limited diet of bread, dairy and meat. Some of which were really reserved for the rich.

People would gather as much as they could in times of bounty when the fruit and vegetables were ripening, eat what they needed, and store the rest for the lean months. Storing food without refrigeration was obviously a challenge so people learnt to preserve their fruits and vegetables in other ways. One of the most common ways was through pickling. Pickling is a way of preserving food through anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar. Whilst, it does give the item pickled an acidic, salty or vinegary flavor, it drastically increases the shelf life of the produce and would see these people through to the next harvest, and maybe even beyond.

Many methods used by our predecessors have fallen away as new technology is introduced. Few people use a horse and cart to get to work, they use a car. People don’t send a telegram, they send an email. So why in the age of agricultural advances when we can grow fruit and vegetables for a longer period of the year, we can freeze or refrigerate them till the next harvest time and we can ship from other countries, do we still bother to pickle fruit and vegetables? It just doesn’t seem to be logical!

One of the reasons for pickling is that some fruits or vegetables are inedible if we do not process them in this way. The humble olive, one of the first fruits to be cultivated many centuries ago, is sharp and inedible from the tree. Only by removing this sharpness by the use of brine, can we change its status to being edible.

The other reason is that we like our traditional foods and that includes recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. So whilst it may not be necessary to preserve foods in the same way anymore, the effect it has on the taste is what we crave. There are many companies that pickle vegetables, most keep it simple to appeal to the mass market but there are also some companies such as Pri-Chen based in Israel who share their family’s secret recipes handed down from generation to generation and even innovate to provide people with a more authentic, tasty culinary experience.

If we didn’t pickle our foods we would certainly not starve and we would still have a great choice of fruit and vegetables throughout the year. We now no longer pickle through necessity but through choice. We just love the taste of our pickled olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and chillies!