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October 12, 2009
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I have heard people say, “Put two Jews in a room, and you’ll get three opinions.”  It truly amazes me that given this truism that Jewish organizations can ever get anything done.

As I have been gearing up for the Professor Ted Merwin lecture this Thursday at SUNY Albany, I entered into a conversation with a member of the tribe and fellow food enthusiast on the subject of pickles.  Thanks to the magic of the Internets, you can read that conversation here.

There are two camps when it comes to the deli pickle: the sours and the half-sours.

I throw my support behind the full sour.  It’s a serious pickle.  It has been soaked and brined, to fully deliver the punch of sour and spice to waken and refresh your palate between bites of fatty corned beef or pastrami.

Biting into a good sour pickle is like a smack in the face.  It fills the mouth with its deliciousness and intensity.  It causes the mouth to water, and implores you to fill your pie hole with more tasty beef fat.

It’s always a difficult question for me whether I want to end my deli experience on the cleansing burn of the pickle, or the fatty unctuousness of the beef.  I struggle with the decision starting at about the halfway point of my sandwich, experimenting with each taste sensation, and trying to figure out which one best suits my current mood.

But I digress.

Sandor makes a compelling case for the half-sour (just in case you were disinclined to click the link above):
The bright taste and snap of the first half-sour out of the barrel is the proof that we know how to survive the winter. It’s a bit of joy that cuts against the rest of the mid-winter “same ol” plate, and a reminder of the freshness of the spring that’s coming. We’ve captured a bit of green youth and kept it glowing in the Sunless Lands.

Subjectively, I prefer the *pop* of the half sour (or new kraut) on my nocireceptors. It keeps the vinegar moving around my mouth. The full sours leave me feeling like I’m eating past the peak. They’re comparable to flat seltzer… it’s wet and has the flavor, but there’s not much life to it. Entropy has set in. It’s a diminishing return. They don’t age, they settle. It’s why we have the phrase “the bottom of the barrel”.

Granted, the downside to receiving the full-sour treatment is that the former cucumber loses a lot of its crunch.  But if I’m at a deli, I am not there for green vegetables and the bright taste of summer sunshine.  I am there for a good (un)healthy dose of the highly salted comfort food of my people.

The sacrifice one makes for “the *pop* of the half sour” is that there is only a hint of the flavor of the brine.  One gets the sense that this is a flavored cucumber and not really a pickle.  There is a pickle inside there somewhere.  It must have escaped the eager grabs of the anxious patrons at the pickle barrel.

The true pickle is waiting in the depths for those patient enough to claim it as their own.  Drink life to the lees.  Go for the gusto.  And even Sandor relents that he would, “Still take a Ba-Tampte full sour over any goyish brand.”

So, to summarize, two Jews discuss pickles and come to three opinions.
Opinion one: Full sours are best.
Opinion two: Half sours are best.
Opinion three: Even with a preference for half-sours Ba-Tampte makes a good full sour.

Maybe Professor Merwin will tell us there is deeper significance to the sour pickle divide.  But you will just have to come to the University at Albany campus at 7 pm on Thursday to know for sure.  Luckily it’s a free lecture, and all the details are conveniently right here.  See you then.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. phairhead permalink
    October 12, 2009 12:06 pm

    i can eat a whole jar of Ba-Tampte. gotta go w/ full sour all the way

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    October 12, 2009 12:45 pm

    1) You’ve assumed that Jewish organizations can actually get things done.

    2) If you (or someone) were to share a recipe, that would mean we wouldn’t have to rely on the more occasional than not trip to NYC where one can actually indulge in “real” sour pickles. Vacuum packed pickles in a jar are far inferior to the “fresh” ones at Gus’s or at Ben’s or at the 2nd avenue deli. Gee..lunch time will be so disappointing.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 12, 2009 3:17 pm

    Mmmm.. .Guss’ Pickles in LES–so very good. Gotta say I like both full- and half-sours. Batampte is the best if you can’t get fresh from the barrel.

  4. October 12, 2009 5:38 pm

    I spent my weekend munching through my tart and crunchy home made pickles. I prefer the full sours, but really, crunchiness is my initial determining factor. I sure wouldn’t want a soggy full sour over a crisp half-sour.

  5. NY Deli Man permalink
    October 13, 2009 12:30 am

    My favorite is when the 1/2 sours start to cure but still are very crunchy. I guess you can call them 3/4 sour.

    Another favorite of mine are sour tomatoes. My grandfather brought them home from a pickle sop on the lower east side. I always went for the red ones that were soft and absorbed more brine.

    and a deli note….

    We did not make our own pickles. I’m pretty sure they came from the Batamte packing facility. They were packed in large blue or gray plastic barrels that weighed a few hundred pounds. The delivery guy was about 6’4″ / 350 lbs…… his nickname was “Tiny”.

    …… The things you remember from 25 years ago.

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