Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 21 15:07:19 UTC 2009

This puzzled me when I was living in Chicago a couple of decades ago.
Someone explained, at the time, that it was just short for "pickling
cucumbers". In fact, the store signs and weekly circular entries in the
Northeast are mixed, including "pickles", "pickling cukes" and "pickling
cucumbers". It's more consistently "pickles" in the upper Midwest (I've
lived/shopped in the Chicago and Madison areas). As this rarely came up
in conversation, I have no idea how much it's used in speech, but it is
noticeable around Chicago and in the Madison area. I've heard it around
Boston, but don't have any idea how much or what the alternative use is.
But, generally, "cukes" refers to the thick waxy monstrosities, so they
had to be distinguished from the "pickling" varieties and the thinner,
longer, ridged varieties that seem to go under "hot-house", "seedless",
"burpless", "Dutch", "Holland" or "English" cucumber names. There is now
a new trend with what appears to be the miniature version of the long
ones. The names for those are usually "Middle Eastern", "Persian",
"Asian" or "Japanese" cucumbers (although Japanese and Middle Eastern
varieties are technically distinct with very different flavor, the
appearance is similar). This leaves the short, slightly thicker, pimply,
light-colored varieties for "pickles", although I have occasionally have
heard them identifies as "gherkins" or "baby cukes" (the latter also
used for the Asian varieties sometimes, e.g., in Costco).

Small note: The Middle Eastern/Asian names may well be derived from the
association with the stores that started carrying them in the US first
(ethnic stores, often Lebanese, Armenian, Japanese and Korean) or from
actual marketing efforts. Not entirely so for the long ones, but the
labels may well have been derived from marketing literature. I certainly
have not kept track of distribution and doubt this is DARE material.

Second note: As far as the actual origins are concerned, Middle Eastern
and Asian names seem quite appropriate--many expats identify them by
their own place of origin. The "hot-house" version, I believe, was
developed in Holland, although, at this point, it's hard to tell. It
would be interesting to go through the old seed catalogs to find out
more details. Incidentally, the tomatoes that are now sold on branches
(equivalent of Dutch "trostomaten") go alternately by "cluster",
"hothouse", "Dutch", "tomatoes-on-the-vine", "Holland". In my memory,
when they first appeared in the US, they were indeed Dutch-grown.

Humor note: I have a friend whose entire family (and, at least, some
friends) in the middle PA and in IL/WI border region refers to
"gherkins" as "jerkins". Not sure how far this goes.


Joseph Salmons wrote:
> Don't bother with OED but do check the Dictionary of American Regional
> English ... it's "widespread, but chiefly Nth, N Midl" with a map
> (showing a very broad distribution). This usage is definitely around
> in Wisconsin, including Madison.
> Joe
> On Aug 21, 2009, at 7:21 AM, Steve Kl. wrote:
>> Out of curiosity, what part of Michigan are you from (I assume
>> Michigan
>> because of 'chartermi')?
>> I grew up southwest of Flint, my grandparents were farmers. My
>> father had a
>> huge garden and we grew tons of cukes, but I never heard any of them
>> call
>> small cucumbers pickles. Are you up near the Thumb? For some reason
>> I have a
>> vague recollection that were large cucumber crops up that way, and I'm
>> wondering if this is a term that people who deal with cucumbers in
>> large
>> quantities used.
>> On Fri, Aug 21, 2009 at 8:03 AM, David Metevia <djmetevia at chartermi.net
>>> wrote:
>>> I don't have access to the OED at the moment, but looked at m-w.com
>>> for a definition of pickle.  In my part of the world, folks regularly
>>> refer to small size cucumbers as pickles.  A gardener grows these
>>> pickles; the farmer's market sells these pickles.  They are referring
>>> to the raw vegetable. Presumably this is an extension of the word as
>>> the intent is that the cucumbers will be further processed into
>>> pickles.
>>> Yet, the MW definition only gets as close to that meaning as the
>>> final
>>> product:
>>> 3 : an article of food that has been preserved in brine or in
>>> vinegar;
>>> specifically : a cucumber that has been so preserved

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