National Pickle Day

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Cornichons of the world, unite! It's National Pickle Day!

That said, the good folks who "created" this "holiday" did so, I fear, out of a misguided allegiance to a condiment, which they claim is a traditional American accompaniment to that most American of foods, the burger.

Well, phooey on that. Every day is National Something Day, if you check out the calendar. November 14th is also National Guacamole Day, Friday was National Pizza Day, (also National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day), and tomorrow's National Raisin Bran Day. A lady who runs a Bed & Breakfast site claimed November 12th as National Indian Pudding Day (whatever that is, Indian Pudding, I mean).

Cornichons.jpgA pickle for a burger, folks, is a cucumber dill pickle, sometimes called an icebox pickle or a bread-and-butter pickle. A real pickle is a cornichon, a gherkin, and its history is far more glorious than immersing a small cuke in a brine of salt, vinegar and sugar. First of all, you have to pick the little suckers while they're still babies. I recall doing this once with Jean-Paul Kissel, who ran a restaurant on Second Avenue is what wasn't yet called Belltown, La Rive Gauche, now Tula's Jazz Club. (Jean-Paul's older brother, François, owned the iconic Brasserie Pittsbourg.) We spent a day stooped over young cucumber plants in the Skagit Valley, snapping fruit the size of your pinkiy from the tiny bushes. I was crippled for weeks and left with undying admiration for the brown-skinned people who do this for a living. As a French chef, Jean-Paul knew exactly what to do with the crop we'd harvested: he brined them with white vinegar and tarragon, then served them with his housemade pâté. If he'd been the type to serve sandwiches like a jambon-beurre on a crusty baguette, your basic French ham sandwich, he would have brought out some pungent French mustard and a jar of cornichons. Or a pot-au-feu, the French version of a New England boiled dinner, mustard and cornichons as well, one of my favorite meals.

Those are the traditional uses of a French cornichon. But where does that secondary meaning come from? The one that causes French people to smirk when they read the title of this blog?

If you know a bit of French slang, you recognize the term "con." It's a vulgarity, roughly equivalent to "asshole," and unfit for public utterance (in mixed company, at any rate). Yet it's an indispensable epithet. Faire le con means to act like a dick, a term you'll need to use sooner or later. But you don't have to be a complete dick about it; you can say "faire le cornichon" instead.

Upper class mamans teaching their children good manners instruct them, as mothers do everywhere, "Now, now, Marie-Claire, shake hands and say 'bonjour monsieur' to our visitor, don't be rude." Ne fais pas le cornichon.

So there we are, advice for getting through the coming week: National Fast Food Day, National Homemade Bread Day, even National Vichyssoise Day. (And note that it's vichy-swahz, not vichy-swah. Pronounce the zee, you dick.)

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One of my favorite memories of my Grand-mere from Saint-Leonard is of a little platter of delicacies that she would put out when we came to visit:

Smoked oysters, a rough tapenade en croute, and cornichons.

(My mouth is watering even as I type! *grin*)

Thank you for reminding me of them!

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on November 14, 2010 9:00 AM.

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