IT’S time to stand up for gherkins. For too many years this splendid vegetable – or fruit, to be precise – has been maligned in the British press. Legions of journalists have used the gherkin as a stop-gap measure to fill newspaper columns in times of adversity. The hour has come to redress the balance and embrace the gherkin; it’s time to gaze out across a vast desert of prejudice and cry out from the crucifix: “Yes, I’m Spartacus. And I also love gherkins . . .”
As a redundant and somewhat embittered journalist I’ll let you into a trick of the trade. Certain times of year, and certain perennial subjects, dictate certain types of story appearing in your newspapers and on the television news. For instance, the run-up to Christmas produces a welter of stories about Brussels sprouts and why people buy them, cook them, then scrape them into the bin at the end of the Christmas Day meal.
No one likes sprouts, we are told every year. We buy them because, like turkeys and chestnuts, they are part of Christmas.
This isn’t news because it isn’t true. The overwhelming majority of people who buy sprouts eat them because they enjoy them. But the stories are resurrected every December. The maligning of sprouts has, in itself, become a pre-Christmas tradition through a mixture of lazy journalism and a pressure on news-editors to generate content when the rest of the world has closed down for the festive season.
The result is an ingrained hostility towards Brussels sprouts, a sort of resigned acceptance that at Christmas they must be bought, cooked and at least nibbled. It’s like in the old days when Friday night was cod-liver oil night. You held your nose and got it over with because that’s how it worked.
In the real world, things are different. There were thirty tenants on my allotment site in North Yorkshire, and nearly every one of those tenants grew sprouts, were proud of their plants and looked forward to eating the produce. When my newspaper printed its traditional sprouts horror stories, I’d be greeted by grunts and hostile comments from my fellow gardeners: “More bollocks about sprouts, eh? Can’t be much proper news about. You lot got nothing better to do? How much does that paper cost these days? Bloody 70p? I’ll be cancelling my bloody copy.”
Daily Express: Wind warning – Britain grows some super-sized sprouts
Daily Express comment about sprouts: Things we love to hate
Daily Mail: Is this the cruellest Christmas prank ever? Jokers dip Brussels sprouts in chocolate and then put them in Ferrero Rocher wrappers – before offering to innocent pals
Daily Mail: The BBC unveils its new Christmas hero – an animated brussels sprout (but will anybody like it?)
Irish Examiner: Bear Grylls reveals his unappetising childhood diet – including stewed Brussel sprouts
Outside the festive season, and for the rest of the year, broccoli becomes the fall guy. On how many occasions have you heard breakfast-time television presenters utter a sentence like this: “Scientists have discovered health-boosting properties in the humble broccoli – but how many children actually like it?”
Broccoli is instantly demonised. Kids eating their breakfast cereal are thinking: “Whoa . . . Those little green trees that mum gives us are actually broccoli, and that’s rank.”
All around the nation, farmers, allotment holders, greengrocers, vegetable wholesalers and members of the public blessed with the capacity to think for themselves are shouting at their televisions: “You stupid plank. Can’t you for Christ’s sake think of something original to say about broccoli, something not so cringingly stereotypical and mind-numbingly predictable, before I come round there and stuff a parsnip up your nostril?”
But the damage has been done. Broccoli has had its place in the vegetable hate pantheon reinforced by a middle-aged man in a cardigan and a bubbly young woman on a sofa.
New Zealand Listener: Is the goal to get your child to eat that piece of broccoli or to create lifelong habits?
Superfoodsrx.com: How to trick kids into eating broccoli
Daily Express: Broccoli, spinach and apples – the best diet for your dog
And so we arrive at the gherkin. As maligned vegetables go, this little brother of the cucumber family has really had it rough, a state of affairs brought about exclusively by its inclusion in the McDonald’s burger.
Naturally, the press has fallen upon the gherkin with the latent energy of a bruised tomato hitting a pavement, simply because it is green – which implies healthy – and looks a bit like a willy. It is now mandatory for an article about McDonald’s products to make reference to the gherkin, and even question its existential right. This corrosive practice has tainted public opinion. The unassuming gherkin has become a leper without a colony.
Daily Mail: Competitive eater Adam Moran, has set a new world record by eating a belly-busting 17 Big Macs in under an hour. Speaking about the challenge, he said: “It was enjoyable for about seven Big Macs, after that it became exponentially less enjoyable with every bite. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the volume that got me, but the flavour of the gherkins. Had I ordered them without gherkins I might have downed a few more.”
Yahoo Answers: Im confused what is the green thing on the maccas burger – a gherkin or pickle? Or is it both
Digital Spy: So why do they put them in there? Is it some sort of legal requirement? I mean, no one eats them right?
Unspecified site: Did you know that a McDonalds Hamburger has that much sugar in it that if the gherkins weren’t placed their [sic] by the store, they would have to class the hamburger as a confectionary item according to the food standards agency’s policies!
Fairfax Digital: Who likes gherkins? Not many of us, if the soggy green circles left in burger wrappers or stuck to the windows, roof or floor of the average McDonald’s are any guide
I’ve been growing and pickling gherkins for quite a few years, partly in protest at media hostility and the tribal mentality of an unimaginative though vocal section of the public; partly because I’ve visited Poland several times, a country where pickled gherkins are held in national esteem; and partly because they are a delicious accompaniment to meat dishes – and delicious on their own.
My wife refers to gherkins as wallies, a term she picked up while living in London during the 1960s. Apparently, immigrants from eastern Europe during the late 19th Century imported barrels of pickled olives and gherkins. “Wallies” is assumed to be a corruption of “olives”, but the term became associated with the gherkins.
So the gherkin has been part of our culinary heritage for far longer than its association with the Big Mac. Its ridicule in the media and popular culture is a recent development, easily eclipsed by its appreciation by generations of food lovers.
The pickling season has arrived in Andalucia with the ripening of my first gherkins grown in Spanish soil. A departure from tradition is the addition of white wine vinegar instead of the malt variety, which I can’t find anywhere. Early tastings indicate a rather subtle improvement. I can live with that.
Si, soy Spartacus. Y tambien me gustan los pepinillos.