How Pickles Went From Briny Cukes to Shiny Dukes

A tale of myth, magic, and marketing

Call it what you want: whether pickle, gherkin, or greeny-bumpy, this sour, salty sortie into the gourmet is a delicacy throughout the Western world. The world-famous Robicheaux's Steakhouse, situated in the heart of the affluent Miami-Dade area, serves kosher dills with their popular fifteen ounce sirloin, while Chef Q. Ng of Birmingham, Alabama's trendy kitchen Nanjidesuorokaijamiroquai serves a special deconstructed version of bread-and-butter pickles, completely separated into its constituent bread and butter parts. But believe it or not, pickles were, until very recently, a staple of the masses. In the past hundred years, clever advertisers have worked with international pickle cartels to elevate the brined preserve to an almost royal status.

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"Pickles were, until very recently, a staple of the masses."


From Curiosity to Bonanza

Pickles were originally discovered by accident. In 1724, during one of a number of failed experiments that sought to produce a longitudinal clock, natural philosopher Sir Gordon Dorne dropped a cucumber into a bottle of the brine he used to wash his gears and springs. Because all of his clocks were rusted and broken, Dorne was unaware that months had passed before said cucumber was discovered. Although an account of Dorne's "saltee Bryne-flesh" appears in an edition of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, the foodstuff did not catch on for another hundred years.

The modern pickle would finally come into its own after 1830. That year, Sal Raczewyégjk, a struggling Polish door-to-door cucumber salesman, started selling paper bags filled with cucumbers preserved with seawater. Raczewyégjk's "sea-cucumbers" were a commercial failure, although they did become the world's first underwater invasive species.

The following year, Joseph Pickle, inspired by the sea-cucumber he saw in his travels through Europe, introduced Pickle brand brined cucumbers to the American market. Improving upon Raczewyégjk's design by adding flavorings such as honey barbecue and spicy habanero and selling his product in jars instead of paper bags, Pickle's pickles were the pick of the litter. Within a year, pickle mania had spread across America and western Europe. Cheap, reliable, and interestingly tangy, the pickle became the everyman's food. They were instrumental in the lessening of Ireland's suffering from famine, despite the fact that pickle mash was less than appealing. As the high tide of preservatives washed over the world, corporate consolidation had led to a near-monopoly on the pickle, with manufacturer PeKiers controlling over 90 percent of global market share and making a hefty profit.

By the turn of the Twentieth century, however, the pickle had grown stale. Younger consumers who were not alive to experience the 'Pickle Age' had little personal connection to the food. The gherkin became cliche, surpassed by new and exciting dishes like garlic bread, boiled radishes, and lard. If PeKiers was to continue its operations, it would have to completely redefine the pickle.

Pickles Are For A Very Long Time

Enter Dale Frurroughs: the greatest salesman of his generation. Born in a storm drain outside of Kansas City, Tennessee in 1889, the young man grew up selling suspender wax on the street before saving enough money to buy a mule he rode to New York. Arriving penniless in 1905, Frurroughs started writing ad copy for the booming sauerkraut industry. At age 20, he was approached by PeKiers, by this time a corporation racked by debt and on the brink of insolvency, to create a series of newspaper ads for their pickles. Begrudgingly motivated by a check for 27 cents (at that time an astronomical sum), Frurroughs went to work. He recreated the pickle as a classic and timeless piece of sophistication:

"PeKiers pickles are the epitome of luxury. Endowed with a not-entirely-unpleasant flavor and a brilliant green hue, they complement any refined dinner or cosmopolitain gathering. Place a jar in the parlour or smoking-room to enhance the milieu."

These ads, along with the now-famous tagline Pickles Are For a Very Long Time, completely saved PeKiers and the pickle industry. PeKiers soon organized a worldwide pickle cartel to restrict production and drive prices up. 

Still intact today, the PeKiers cartel controls world pickle prices and creates artificial scarcity. Their advertising department exploits human emotion, jealousy in particular, to sell price-inflated preserved cucumbers to schmucks. Upper management concerns itself solely with profit, aiming to top revenues year by year. There is no doubt why PeKiers remains one of America's favorite corporations.