Touche pas à nos cornichons!

cucumber-150595_1280[Leave our pickles alone!]

Alas, but it’s too late. Authentic dill pickles are no longer made in Canada.

My mother used to grow rows of cucumbers in her garden, plus a short row of dill. She would pick and wash the cucumbers and layer them in an earthenware crock with a few sprigs of dill scattered across each layer, then a layer of coarse pickling salt, then more cucumbers and dill and so on. When the crock was full, she would pour in white vinegar until everything was immersed, then she would place a lid on the crock. When the pickles were ready to be eaten they were crisp, tangy, with just enough dill to enhance the flavour. That is the taste of real dill pickles that I grew up with.

As my mother grew older, she developed arthritis and was no longer able to do all the baking and preserving that she had once done. No matter, by this time we could buy Bick’s pickles at our local grocery store. This was a family run enterprise in Ontario that made pickles that tasted just like the ones my mother used to make.

I’m not sure just what happened, but I suspect the younger generation of the Bick family wanted to enjoy the fruit of their parents’ labours, without performing the labour themselves. In any case, they accepted a buyout offer from a multinational company. The pickles still tasted as good, so why should we worry?

Then the multinational discovered they could get pickles from Asian countries at a lower cost than producing them here in Canada. They closed the Canadian pickle factory, but the pickle jars still look the same. What is inside the jar is another story. They taste like they have been marinated in swamp water. Please forgive my cultural snobbishness, but these are not the pickles my mother used to make.

I read recently in Marianne, a French news magazine, that the same thing has happened in France. The last pickle factory, also owned by a multinational, closed in 2009. But here the story begins to differ, in a way that give me some hope for us here in Canada. Henri Jannequin and his family decided to start producing authentic dill pickles from their farm. Their cucumbers are grown with no pesticides or insecticides, and they use no preservatives in their pickles. That sounds just like the way my mother made pickles. Their pickles are sold under the label Maison Marc and are available in France in fine grocery stores and are served in better restaurants and even in the Élysée (the presidential palace). The price is 8 € for a small jar.

Why couldn’t that be done in Canada? Cucumbers and dill will grow anywhere, what’s needed is an entrepreneurial vision coupled with a willingness for hard work. I suspect there is a market out there just waiting for pickles “just like Grandma used to make.”

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