Most people lose their pickle virginity to the McDonald’s cheeseburger. The ritual of opening the sugary bun and picking out the lone slice of pickled cucumber, drenched in tomato sauce and decorated with finely diced onion is entrenched from a young age. The only unhappy part of the Happy Meal. It’s a strong taste for kids to handle. Whether you throw it at the window to make it stick, fling it to your dad with disgust or leave it to soak into the Monopoly game board tray-liner, the pickle is usually a no-go until you’re an adult. But some people never grow out of loathing pickled cucumbers.
Owner of The Beaufort Bar in Carlton, Dave Kerr, hated pickles for most of his life. “I had to clean them off windows at McDonalds and I just never understood the appeal,” he says. “But as with any food, if you try something enough times, you can learn to love it.”
And learn he did. It took putting deep-fried pickles on the menu to get him to join #teampickle and now Kerr spends a lot of time stealing pickles from the prep station “much to the disdain of chefs that spend hours a week making them”.
It seems pickle-haters don’t understand what they’re missing out on. “Most people either love them or hate them simply because they haven’t had a good pickle to start with,” says Shaun Williams, co-owner of CBD cafe Bowery to Williamsburg. “They get turned off before getting the chance to taste one of the nicer varieties.” He tried close to every kind of pickle available in the city before opening his New York-inspired cafes in Melbourne. Bowery’s take on the Cuban sandwich has fried egg, ham hock, mustard, Swiss cheese and of course – pickles. It’s available at 7.30am every morning.
All the burgers at Tuck Shop Take Away come with pickles. “I cringe when people order a burger without them,” says co-owner Karina Serex. “Pickles and onions on a burger are like salt and pepper … they are a must!” While there’s also beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese, “Tuckshop sauce” (and maybe bacon and an egg) on their Minor burger, pickles play a very important role. Serex believes pickles enhance the burger as a whole. “The sour, tart flavour is there to balance out the sweetness, meatiness, saltiness and cheesiness.” It’s pickle maths; anyone who orders a burger sans-pickles is destroying the precious burger taste equation. While you may not like the taste of a whole pickle by itself, eating them in a burger is where they work their magic.
However, if you do want to work your way up to scoffing whole pickled cucumbers like they’re chips, how about turning them blue and super sweet? In America’s deep south, dill pickles become “Koolickles” when they’re left to soak in sugar and Kool-Aid for a week, then served on a stick. Koolickles made with raspberry flavouring shine bright red. You can turn your pickle all different colours of the rainbow.
There are also pickle health benefits. Pickles can help with nerves around social situations. Researchers at William & Mary College in the US found that people who eat fermented foods such as pickles had fewer social anxiety symptoms. “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety,” says Matthew Hilimire, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. You can imagine throwing around the phrase: “I’m gonna be a bit late to this networking function, just have to neck this jar of pickles!”
Whether you’ve got a pickle tattooed on your back or just want to dip your toe into the pickle-flavoured ocean, here’s a pickle dish tailored to your pickle-experience level.
Where to find entry-level pickles
McClure’s garlic dill pickle potato chips, at Smith Street Alimentari in Collingwood
Minor burger, at Tuck Shop Take Away in Caulfield North
Deep-fried pickles followed by a pickleback (a shot of whisky chased by a shot of pickle brine) at The Beaufort in Carlton
Reuben sandwich at Miss Ruben’s Canteen in Ripponlea
Cuban sandwich at Bowery to Williamsburg in the CBD
A special thanks to Senserrick Grocer for supplying the pickles.