Food Facts & Lore, Fricassee of Words

Fricassee of Words – In a Pickle

Fricassee: Meat cut into pieces and stewed in gravy.

Fricassee of Words: Musings on food-inspired expressions, words and word play, with occasional bits and pieces of kitchen jargon too.

158 - in a pickle

In A Pickle!

Meaning – Meaning: To be In a quandary.

We seem to be on a roll with articles about pickles. It’s just that one thing leads to another, like one bite in a fresh, crisp pickle leads to another, and another. As difficult as it is to open the jar in the first place, it is even more difficult to be satisfied with only one pickle.

Do you imagine anything when you use or hear the expression, “in a pickle?” We can’t help picture a cartoon of someone literally stuck in the jar. The expression was apparently first used before pickles were what we call pickles today, and it has nothing to do with a jar. Too bad. The image is quite fitting.

Pickle, particularly in Europe, originally referred to a spicy relish or sauce served with meats, presumably to provide added flavor since the freshness of said meats was questionable way back then. The vinegar would have aided digestion as well. This is precisely the image that should come to mind when stating one is “in a pickle,” meaning that the circumstances are as jumbled as a marinated vegetable sauce.

The word pickle comes from the Dutch “pekel,” meaning “something piquant.” This, again, refers to a sauce made with vegetables marinated in a brine. Pickled cucumbers date back to the 17th century. The name pekel, or pickle was used by default since both process and use as a condiment were the same.

The first recorded use of the expression “in a pickle” is attributed to William Shakespeare, in The Tempest (1610), in a dialogue between two characters: lonso – “And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they find this grand liquor that hath gilded ‘em? How camest thou in this pickle?” Trin – “I have been in such a pickle, since I saw you last, that, I fear me, will never out of my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.”

Ionoso uses the expression in the sense we give it to this day, namely, that he finds himself in baffling circumstances. Trin, on the other hand, is referring to his own state of intoxication and possible demise, pointing out that his drunkenness is such that he is indeed pickled, and therefore impervious to scavenging flies should he die in that instant. So it appears it is the flies who may find themselves in a pickle in this case, attracted to an impossible feast.

Another reference worth noticing was penned 50 years later, in the diary of English naval administrator Samuel Pepys. An entry dated 26 September, 1660, reads, “At home with the workmen all the afternoon, our house being in a most sad pickle.” In this case, the expression refers to a sense of disarray.

The expression “in a pickle” is more commonly used in Great Britain; “in a stew” is an American equivalent… though we might have to look this up. As for why the first person can rarely open the jar, but the second person can, we are in a pickle.

Read More Fricassee of Words Articles

You might also enjoy –

Pickles – Part 1 – Fruit Of The Vine

Pickles – Part 2 – Europe to Brooklyn and a Pickle Sandwich

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