For a few years of my life, I worked in a deli. And that meant that pretty much the whole time, my hands smelled of pickles. I did not like that. Before that time, I had always hated pickles. And nothing has changed since then. Why would it? Pickles are still awful. I’ve never gotten my head around the fact that people take cucumbers — which are very tasty — and turn them into pickles — which are not. So let us consider the pickle from my extremely objective point of view.
The modern pickle is actually a pickled cucumber. Pickling is a process whereby edible foods are transformed into inedible foods. The economics of this process is unclear to me. I think it has to do with the supply side of the chain and not the demand side. In general, people who came in the deli wouldn’t have been unhappy if there had been no pickles. But as a deli, you want to give the customer something on the side of her sandwich. Sure, you could give her some potato salad, but that’s costly. You could give a slice of cucumber, but that has a problem: you have to slice it, more or less at the time. That’s where pickles come in: they are pre-sliced and they last many months.
As with many culinary delights and monstrosities, we Americans can thank and blame the Jewish culture. (For the record, kugel and latkes are two of the most delicious food in all the world and proof that Dr Atkins was evil.) I learned all about it in a Mental Floss article, Why Does Your Sandwich Come With a Pickle? According to it, eastern European Jewish immigrants brought the pickle with them to New York. So pickles became a thing at Jewish delis, and soon it spread out to other delis and then across the nation so that now the most repeated phrase in the English language is, “No pickles!”
According to the article, there is a reason for eating pickles with your sandwich: they work as a “palate cleanser.” That may be the case. I know that whenever I go wine tasting, they provide pickles to eat between each variety. Just kidding! They don’t do that because it is a totally ridiculous idea! Indeed, the article references another article regarding this “fact.” So I read that article: it didn’t say a word about it. Again: because it isn’t true! And think about it: it doesn’t make sense. Why would you need a “palate cleanser”? The thing about a sandwich is that all parts of it taste the same. What’s more, if pickles are a “palate cleanser,” then why are they so often put on sandwiches? But whatever; if people want to justify their love for an awful food, who am I to complain?
That other article is, Deli and Pickles — a Love Affair. And it provides some information that goes along with my supply side theory of the pickle market, “It is only reasonable that when those food traditions began to expand to the masses through deli restaurants, they included the pickles that were also commonly manufactured by Jewish immigrants.” And that’s what it comes down to. Pickles are cheap and easily available.
You may like pickles. It’s all right to admit it: we value diversity around here! But if you do, it is probably nice, crisp, and fresh pickle slices. You don’t actually like the kind of pickle chips that are an American staple. You don’t think pickles on a sandwich really improve the flavor of said sandwich. If you eat sandwiches with pickles on them, it is out of habit. But I will admit this much: pickles go along with beef a lot better than turkey. Yet at the deli, most people still got pickles on their turkey sandwiches. And every time I had to put pickles on a turkey sandwich, I felt like I was defiling it. But if a customer liked corned beef, well, it couldn’t get any worse.