“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.”

Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume


Tom Robbins certainly has it right about the beet – what other vegetable bleeds red blood when sliced? But this summer I was reminded of the sheer persistence of the humble pickle.

You see, I absolutely love the sour-tang-crunch combo of a pickle atop a piece of sharp cheddar on a crispy cracker, my very favorite trail lunch. Years ago my sister and I would pack pickles on backpack trips, double and triple bagged in a fruitless effort to manage the exuberance of the juice from these tiny, seemingly innocuous strips, only to finish the trip with pack, clothing, yes, even sleeping bag reeking of pickle. I turned my back on pickles for two decades, for better-behaved fare like peanut butter, energy bars and macadamias.

This year, packing lunch food for an early-season hike, I opened the fridge to be confronted with the label of our favorite mega-jar of dill slices. Hmmmm, I thought, surely my years of experience with packaging and sealing and storing of trail meals would give me a new edge over the exudations of pickles – perhaps I could restore my lost favorite trail lunch to my repertoire. Experimentation ensued.

First, I laid out the pickle slices on several layers of paper toweling to drain the juice for an hour, then triple bagged them using the latest and greatest zip loc bag technology. But no, just a few hours later upon unzipping the top of my pack, that telltale vinegar and dill aroma vented forth – I didn’t need to look to know that the juice had oozed out of its triple-bags and over all the contents of my lunch sack (not to mention my socks).

Undaunted, before my next trip I drained the juice from the pickles, and THEN hauled out the old Seal-A-Meal vacuum sealer and sealed them up tight. Or so I thought. Yet again, as soon as I pulled the sack with my lunch out of my pack that afternoon, it was as if the force of vacuum itself could not daunt the positive energy of the pickles – pale green juice had spread through the vacuum bag and again permeated the lunch.

So last week I tried one last time. I wrapped the pickles in several layers of paper toweling, and THEN slipped them into triple zip locs. Upon arriving at our lunch spot I eagerly pulled out the sack…sure enough, no leaks, no pickle-iferous coating on my sandwich and apple. Was this victory? Down within their zip locs, within pale-green-sodden paper toweling, my pickle slices were limp, subdued, vanquished. The flavor was still there, mostly, but it was a pyrrhic victory – I had succeeded in conquering the pickles, but at the high cost of their exuberance (and essentially any remaining crunch). I was immediately struck that victory at such a cost was not worth it.

Next time, peanut butter.

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