First things first… happy birthday to Callaghan, my excellent partner in crime and goofball extraordinaire!
Welcome to a new week in my little life, where the superficial issue du jour concerns… pickles. Dill pickles. Naturally, I thought, Who better to commiserate with me than everyone who reads this blog?
Dill pickles, which I’ve always loved, were one of many foods that stoked my gustatory homesickness while I lived in France. No matter where we went in that beautiful country, I couldn’t find any dills, and the more I couldn’t find them, the more I wanted them. There seems to be only one kind of pickle over there; the French cornichon is more tart than sour, and its dominant flavor is more tarragon than dill. Unfortunately, I dislike the flavor of tarragon. I missed the kosher dill pickles I’d taken for granted in the States. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any kind of Jewish food in France, including bagels. I’d searched for bagels in vain, too.)
Since I grew up in a house that had a jar of Claussen pickles permanently installed in the refrigerator, Claussen had been my favorite brand of mass-produced dill pickles. But now, I read food labels, so now, I have problems with not only Claussen, but all the dill pickles, apparently.
This brings me to Exhibit A:
These are the jars of dill pickles in our refrigerator right now. Yes. There are four different brands of pickles because that’s how many times it took for me to remember to read the damn labels in the store, before buying them. That’s how not used to reading pickle jar labels I’d been. Now that chemicals are a food group in and of themselves, you have to read ALL the labels. My innocence has been destroyed.
Let’s break it down from left to right, looking at the ingredients lists’ highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):
1). Claussen Kosher Dill Wholes. What’s wrong with them: High Fructose Corn Syrup, “natural flavor.” Major problem: “Dill” does not appear on the ingredients label.
–The words “Contains less than 2% of” prefaces the part of the list that begins with “High Fructose Corn Syrup,” but as far as I’m concerned, HFCS is HFCS, and I strenuously avoid it. I might eat other kinds of junk, but I’m selective about the junk I eat, and one thing I don’t do is cross the HFCS line, ever, if I can possibly help it. It’s basically a poison that causes a chemical chain reaction in your body that leads to visceral belly fat. Want to know how it is that I’m 46 and I eat my fair share of junk and I have minimal belly fat? I avoid HFCS. (Okay, I also work out 4x/week, drink tons of water, avoid alcohol, get as much sleep as I can, and eat more healthy stuff than junk, but still, avoiding HFCS is key.)
–I read somewhere that “natural flavor” comes from either an insect or a gland in the nether regions of a non-human mammal. Either way, pickles with “natural flavor” instead of dill = gross pickles.
Number of ingredients: 13, and this is another issue for me. I’d prefer fewer ingredients on my dill pickle jar label, thanks!
2). Trader Joe’s Kosher Dill Pickles. What’s wrong with them: “Natural flavorings (dill, garlic).” There it is again! Natural flavor. These pickles are slightly better than the Claussen brand because the word “dill” does appear on the ingredients label…
–However, “dill” is merely sub-listed as a parenthetical ingredient after “natural flavoring,” which says to me that “natural flavoring” either includes other things that aren’t explicitly mentioned, OR the “natural flavoring” components are made to imitate the flavors of dill and garlic. Imposters.
–If dill and garlic are actual ingredients, then why not just list them as actual ingredients? SUSPICIOUS.
Number of ingredients: 9 (counting “natural flavoring” as one).
3). Vlasic Kosher Dill Spears. What’s wrong with them: “Natural flavor” (!) and “yellow 5.”
–Again, no dill in the dill pickles. WTF. The telling factor here is the label on the side that boasts “Classic Dill TASTE” – the “taste” written just like that, all in caps. Not real dill, just the taste of dill. At least they’re honest.
–Yellow 5 in pickles? SUSPICIOUS AND SCARY.
Number of ingredients: 8… and 50% of them are chemicals and “natural flavors.” Welcome to the pickle graveyard, Vlasic.
Finally, we arrive at my favorite:
4). Don Hermann & Sons Kosher Dill Pickles (“cloudy brine assures fresh packed.”). What’s wrong with them: Nothing seems to be wrong with these pickles, health-wise. Also, they’re scrumptious. In a blind taste test conducted by Callaghan, I liked these the best by far.
–The only eyebrow-raising ingredient is the first one. It’s “pickles,” which throws me off because why not “cucumbers” as the first, main ingredient (like the Claussen and Vlasic), or “gherkins” (like the Trader Joe’s)? How can you use something as an ingredient that is itself? Don’t you have to start with naked cucumbers or gherkins? I’m confused. But we’re going to give Don Hermann & Sons the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean naked cucumbers or gherkins.
Number of ingredients: 5. Only five ingredients! “Pickles (?), salt, dill, garlic, pickling spices.” Okay, so “pickling spices” could include a hundred different varieties, and if I’m going to be super nit-picky, I’d be more annoyed by the vagueness there. But I’m biased by how incredibly good these pickles are, and also by the absence of vinegar, which indicates that the pickles are naturally fermented.
Don Hermann & Sons. These dill pickles are as good as you’re going to get short of making your own or getting some via bartering with an Amish farmer.
Ironically, the virtues of these pickles also make them unworkable for me. The problem with these delicious dill pickles is that you can’t them take anywhere, unless you don’t mind the whole world knowing that you have them. I tried bringing one to work one day, and it turned into a fiasco.
Packing up my food that morning, I put one of these pickles in a small Ziploc bag, making sure that it was sealed tight. The bag went into one of my cloth lunch bags, and that went into another, similar cloth lunch bag… so I left home with a tripled-bagged pickle, among other things. When I got to work, I put the whole shebang in the corner of my office, as usual.
All morning, all I could smell was the garlicky dill pickle. It was a good smell, but it was absolutely not a smell I wanted in my office. This isn’t going to work, I thought to myself. Must move the pickle. I took the cloth bag that contained the Ziploc’d pickle and put it in the communal refrigerator. But then I remembered how the scent of the pickles hit me in the face when I opened the refrigerator door at home that morning, and as I was working, I kept thinking of that.
Eventually, guilt drove me back to the communal kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door, and sure enough, the boisterous pickle smell rushed out. I took the pickle outside and put it in the trash because I didn’t know what to do with it at that point. Not only was there nowhere to store it in a courteous way, but by then, I was also convinced that if I ate the pickle, I’d smell like it for the rest of the day.
Thus, I still can’t have dill pickles… while I’m at work. I’m keeping the delicious Don Hermann & Sons pickles for weekend enjoyment. The other three jars will go to a food bank.