The story starts approximately 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia when, in an effort to preserve cucumbers, people started putting them in acidic brine. There is no current knowledge about how these methods came to be, but here in 2022, pickles are still a beloved snack by many, with Americans alone eating an estimated 20 billion pickles every year. Pickles are so popular they even get their own holiday, with National Pickle Day celebrated each Nov. 14.
The word “pickle” originates from the Dutch word “pekel,” the original name for pickles and Dutch word for “brine.” Throughout history, significant figures such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte are cited as being big fans of pickles. Cleopatra said pickles were a staple in keeping her health and beauty at their best while Caesar and Bonaparte believed they gave one strength, therefore giving them to their soldiers.
It wasn’t until 900 C.E. that dill, which originates from Sumatra, entered the pickle equation after arriving in Western Europe from its homeland. Fast forward to 1492 when, before becoming a famed explorer, Amerigo Vespucci worked supplying ships with preserved food prior to long journeys. He earned himself the title “Pickle-Dealer” due to his assistance in stocking Christopher Columbus’ ships with pickles. Centuries later in World War II, pickles still left their mark when the U.S. government included pickles in soldiers’ rations, sending 40% of the nation’s pickles to the battlefield.
Pickles have been around for a long time and to show appreciation for them, the Pickle Packers Association started National Pickle Day. The national holiday began in 1949 during the association’s National Pickle Week celebrations, and in the modern day, it is held annually on Nov. 14 to commemorate people’s love of pickles.
“I love getting (pickles) with my dad,” Samantha Kruse, a junior studying strategic communications, said. “(We have) always wanted to go shopping for giant jars of pickles, whether it’s the giant pickles that have been cut or the deli sliced ones–I love them.”
After a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bagel Street Deli, 27 S. Court St., was able to host its annual Pickle Fest again last March 18. Pickle Fest is over 20 years old, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the Athens tradition became a charity event. Anyone can participate, they just have to pay $5, which is then matched by Bagel Street. The winner of the contest then gets to choose where the money is donated and gets to have a personalized bagel-wich temporarily added to the restaurant’s menu.
“I didn’t even have an order (from Bagel Street), I kind of just always got a bagel and cream cheese,” Annie Spies, a senior studying visual communications of multimedia and 2022 Pickle Fest winner, said. “But once I created this order, I’m (now) obsessed with it. So my go-to, “Annie’s Avo,” is pesto, feta cheese, avocado, tomato, sprouts, balsamic vinaigrette and salt and pepper.”
Caedon Ly, a fifth year student studying civil engineering, has been working at Bagel Street for a little over three years. Ly has experienced Pickle Fest both before and after the break it took due to COVID-19. As a result, Ly said because Bagel Street’s expansion happened during that time, it was great to see the restaurant was still jam-packed with people even though they were in a bigger space.
Madeline Melragon, a junior studying commercial photography, participated in Pickle Fest with a group of friends and said when they all arrived to participate, there were people packed to the door. There was also a competition already going, the winner of which threw up pickles following their victory.
“I would say if anybody is thinking about participating, I would recommend definitely at least doing a little training beforehand,” Ly said. “Other than that, I would recommend people keep coming here, it’s a great atmosphere.”
A love for both pickles and Bagel Street brings a lot of people to Pickle Fest. Kruse recalled seeing posts about the event from friends at Ohio University before coming to college, so experiencing the exhilarating, hyper energy of Pickle Fest in person was a lot of fun.
“The best thing about Pickle Fest is the community and getting your friends and acquaintances and everybody else together rooting on pickle-eating contestants,” Kruse said. “It really brings people together, so that was really cool.”