Among many Christmas traditions, there is one that always stands out in my family: the Christmas pickle. While many believe it is a German tradition, its origins are a bit of a mystery. The legend goes that the first child to find the hidden pickle ornament on the Christmas tree would be blessed with good fortune in the coming year and an extra present. Whether it is truly German or not, the Christmas pickle has become a beloved tradition in many households.
Why Pickles at Christmas?
The Christmas pickle is a German-American Christmas tradition, but it is not so much about eating pickles. Instead, it involves hiding a decoration in the shape of a pickle on a Christmas tree. The person who finds the pickle ornament is said to receive either a reward or good fortune for the upcoming year. While many believe this tradition originated in Germany, it’s now thought to be a German-American tradition that began in the late 19th century. Interestingly, a poll reported by the New York Times found that 91% of Germans were unaware of this legend.
The tradition has a few different origin stories. One suggests that the Christmas pickle tradition began in the 1890s, around the time when glass Christmas tree decorations were imported from Germany to the US. Another story tells of a Bavarian-born soldier during the American Civil War who, while starving, begged a guard for a pickle on Christmas Eve. The guard gave him the pickle, which the soldier believed saved his life. Upon returning to his family, he started the tradition of hiding a pickle ornament on their Christmas tree each year. Another tale from Berrien Springs, Michigan, speaks of St. Nicholas saving two Spanish children trapped in a barrel of pickles by an innkeeper.
In essence, while the Christmas pickle tradition involves a pickle ornament and not the consumption of pickles, the stories and legends surrounding it have made it a cherished holiday custom in many households.
My Personal Christmas Pickle Recipe
But why limit the Christmas pickle to just an ornament? This year, I decided to bring the tradition to our dinner table with a delicious Christmas pickle recipe.
- Fresh cucumbers (about 10 medium-sized)
- 4 cups of water
- 2 cups of white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of salt
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons of dill seeds
- 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional for a spicy kick)
Preparing the Cucumbers
Start by washing the cucumbers thoroughly. This is crucial as we want to ensure there’s no dirt or impurities.
Then slice off the ends of the cucumbers. This helps in better absorption of the brine. You can either slice the cucumbers into rounds or long slices or even keep them whole, depending on your preference.
Making the Brine
Combine the water, white vinegar, salt, and sugar in a large pot.
Bring the mixture to a boil, ensuring the salt and sugar dissolve completely. Once boiled, remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature.
Packing the Jars
Add a teaspoon of dill seeds, half a teaspoon of mustard seeds, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes if you’re going for that spicy kick.
Tightly pack the cucumbers into the jars, ensuring about an inch of space at the top and pour the cooled brine over the cucumbers, making sure they are fully submerged.
Seal the jars tightly.
Store the jars in a cool, dark place for at least a week. This allows the cucumbers to absorb the flavors and turn into delicious pickles fully.
After a week, you can start tasting. If you prefer a stronger flavor, let them sit for another week.
Once the pickles have reached your desired flavor, store them in the refrigerator. Serve them as a side dish, add them to sandwiches, or simply enjoy them alone.
You can experiment with different spices or use other vegetables like carrots or beans. The key is to have fun in the process.