August 19, 2009

The Pickle in Me

I woke up with it and by mid afternoon I had a full-blown craving for a nice crisp dill pickle. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of focus. Thinking it merely a strange, but temporary condition I carried on as if nothing was out of the ordinary. But it didn’t go away. It was only on the first day my two week vacation that buying the perfect pickle had risen to the top of my to-do list.

Half Sours on the right and the more pickled Dills on the left. The choice was mine.

I surveyed the choices in the refrigerated section of my local kosher market. Dill, garlic dill and half sours —it had been so long since I’d eaten one of these I couldn’t remember which one I was craving. My sister had worked in a kosher deli when we were teenagers. I thought of calling her.

Garlic seemed too over the top and half sour, just barely a pickle, seemed more like a cucumber really. I wasn’t in the mood for a cuke. I picked a jar of the plain dill and made my way home. With a nice thinly sliced turkey sandwich on the side this would make a perfect lunch.

As I opened the jar and removed the pickle I heard myself saying out loud “Please let this be the one. The perfect one.” The closer to satisfying a craving, the more intense that craving becomes. I knew what I wanted and now I had it. “What are you talking about?” my wife asked.

As I slid the pickle into my mouth my taste buds went on high alert. It tasted perfect. But then I bit down, my palette meeting the pickle’s center. Mush. The inside of the pickle wasn’t merely soft, it was mushy! I bit down again, rolling the pickle around my mouth just to make sure. How could this be? There were bendable pickles but mushy ones? My disappointment was audible. This was not right. “I’m taking this back,” I said. Reading the determination on my face, my wife made a safe retreat out of my way.

As I pulled into the store lot I wondered what reception I would get with my return. I imagined talking to an unsympathetic and surly Israeli who would bat my dismay to the floor. Instead, I met Iris. Formerly from the Lower East Side of New York, I immediately let Iris know I was from the long lost LA Jewish tribe. What do those chosen people from California know? Taking my hand she led me back to the refrigerated case and immediately began my pickle lesson.

“Are you pregnant?!” she asked, laughing. Well, the thought did occur to me. “You know, I was in LA last year,” she continued. “I was staying with some nice people. But they weren’t Jewish. So I was a little leery about taking them to a kosher Persian Mexican restaurant just off Pico. I figured, if they didn’t like the food I could eat the leftovers myself. You know what? They loved the place. And there weren’t any leftovers.”

She ran over the choices in front of us. “I like the half sours but with a bit more pickling. Here’s what you should do: when you get home unscrew the top and place the whole jar in a bowl. Let them sit at room temperature. Some brine will drip out. That’s what the bowl is for. Every now and then just pour it back in the jar. I like to let it sit for a couple days.”

But I wanted my pickle now. And I couldn’t wait a couple days for it to mature. Yet I still wasn’t sure. “Well, come over here to these barrels,” she said. “These are the dills and those are the half sours. You want a taste? Mario, cut this man up a couple slices of each for him to taste.”

To evaluate each pickle’s flavor I rolled both samples around in my mouth before chewing. Definitely the half sours. Crunchy, they had the taste I craved and they were pickle enough for me. So Iris picked out two really nice ones, covered them with brine, and warned me not to let them dry out.

Never underestimate the power of a craving. But if it hits you, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing. There aren’t enough Irises in this world to set us straight every time.

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