Festival Celebrates a Famously Jewish Food

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The pickle bar at Hymie’s | Selah Maya Zighelboim

UPDATE: This event has been rescheduled for Oct. 14 due to inclement weather.

“I need tickets. This is a big Dill!!”

“Yesssssss.”


“Thank you to everyone working on this event to give us the best Dilly Dilly experience possible.”

Hundreds of posts on Pickledelphia Pickle Festival’s Facebook page — some accompanied by images of pickle products like pickle sunflower seeds and a pizza topped plentifully with pickles — express excitement and delight for the upcoming event on Sept. 9.

“It just shows you how passionate people are [about pickles],” said Kevin Baxter, managing partner of Digital Force Agency, a digital branding company that organized the festival.

More than 52,000 Facebook users have marked themselves as either interested in or going to the event, which will take place from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Piazza at Schmidt’s Commons. Baxter said they expect 3,000 attendees. Children under the age of 10 are not permitted.

Cultures around the world have pickled a variety of different foods throughout the ages, such as cabbage and mango. And the pickled cucumber might owe some of its fame in the United States to the Jewish people.

“Pickles maintain their popularity in America partially because of the deli,” the late Gil Marks wrote in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. “After all, what would a pastrami or corned beef sandwich be without a pickle?”

Tablet magazine has called pickles one of the 100 most Jewish foods, and the Jewish deli experience has become synonymous with a bowl of sour and half-sour pickles on the table, like chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant or bread at an Italian one.

People have been pickling for thousands of years, long before Jewish delis started cropping up in New York City and even before the birth of Ashkenazi culture.

According to an article from The Forward, pickling has a long history among both Jewish and non-Jewish people in Eastern Europe. It was a successful way to preserve food for long periods of time. Cucumbers were a cheap option for pickling. They could be pickled in the spring and then last all year.

“Every culture has different kinds of pickles, different kinds of things that they pickle,” said Ted Merwin, author of Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli. “It makes sense that, for Jews, it would be one of the most common, one of the most easily obtainable kinds of foods. They did it with meat, and they did it with fish. They could have easily done it with other vegetables too. Why particularly pickles? I don’t know, but pickles became very iconic.”

When the Jews arrived in the New World, they took their pickled cucumbers with them and turned it into a quintessential part of Jewish-American culture.

Merwin noted a scene in Crossing Delancey, where a man sells pickles out of a barrel.

“When you see him in that movie,” Merwin said, “you know you’re on the Lower East Side of New York.”

In Merion Station, Hymie’s Delicatessen is known for its pickle bar, which offers a variety of different pickles, including pickled tomatoes, alongside different salads. Hymie’s also sells about 50 to 60 buckets of pickles a week, Hymie’s owner Louis Barson said.

Before Hymie’s installed the pickle bar, Barson said most customers requested an extra pickle on their plate with their sandwiches.

“Nobody wanted to eat a corned beef sandwich without a nice, good, juicy pickle — or pastrami [sandwich],” he said. “They always wanted their pickles.”

At Pickledelphia, attendees can expect to find a pickle-eating contest, games and plenty of pickle-themed food and drinks. These include pickleback shots — a shot of whiskey and a shot of pickle brine, pickle margaritas, pickle bloody marys, pickle egg rolls, pickle ice cream and more.

Pickledelphia will also offer some more standard festival fare, such as burgers and fries, “if pickles aren’t your thing,” Baxter said.  

The festival does not mark the end of Philadelphia’s pickle celebrations.

Digital Force Agency intends to turn Pickledelphia into a yearlong brand, beyond just the one-day festival. This will include selling pickle-themed merchandise and perhaps even having a monthly “Pickle in a Box” filled with pickle-related products.

“We quickly became aware that pickles were going to transcend way above just a food,” Baxter said. “It became a culture.” l

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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