Photo: David Hammond

Given the liberty to do so, young people will make some wild stuff with random ingredients. When I was in single digits, right around this time of year, I decided to experiment with the chocolate and orange flavors I’d tasted in Christmas candies. I mixed a big spoonful of Nestle’s Quik into a glass of orange juice. It was not good.

But you work with what you’ve got, and so some local youngs, mostly on Chicago’s southside, have for some time been combining two easy-access food items, things you can buy at many gas stations and convenience stores: peppermint sticks and dill pickles.  The peppermint stick needs to be straight, with no curl at the end, and it’s good to get a sturdy one; the pickle is usually the kind you see sold in single plastic bags; Van Holten’s “pickle-in-a-pouch” is standard.

Preparation is simple: you gingerly bite off the end of the pickle, just as you might the tip of a cigar, and firmly gripping the pickle, plunge the peppermint stick in dead-center.

Nick Kindelsperger has done some serious research on this bizarre snack for the Chicago Tribune. In his landmark study of this phenomenon, he wrote:

“It’s important to note that most of the people who grew up with the dish consider it routine. About the most descriptive statement I could get was that they liked it, but none put up a passionate defense for or against it. Stabbing a pickle with a peppermint stick was just something many of them learned to do as kids. Personally, I found it a hilarious, absurd creation — a sucker punch of crunch, salt and sugar, with nothing sane to balance it out. You can understand why kids like it.” 

Apparently, this special treat is also found in Texas and the Mississippi Delta, and it seems to have been borne along by African Americans all the way to Chicago. There’s evidence this DIY snack started gaining favor around the Forties.

As this creation is served in no restaurants, I had to make my own at home. I’d purchased a sturdy peppermint stick and a Van Holten’s dill pickle, bit off the end of the latter and shoved in the peppermint stick.

I took a bite.

I will say this: neither peppermint stick nor dill pickle won the battle waged within my mouth. Each is such an aggressive flavor that neither succeeded in being the dominant taste. It was a draw…or perhaps more like mutually assured destruction.

Carolyn (always a sport) took a bite and declared it “Truly awful.”

Another bites (because…I’m a pro) and I could go no further. I gave it a chance and now need never eat it again.

Still, if you’re looking for a fun, novel way to celebrate National Candy Cane Day (December 26) or, belatedly, National Pickle Day (November 14), you could not pick a more celebratory (or at least bizarre) food than the Peppermint-Stick-in-a-Dill-Pickle.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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