Ask Evan: What are Pickled Limes?

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askevan_header_2We’ve got a new feature on this blog where you get to ask me a question, and I’ll provide the answer.  You can email me a question, leave one on Facebook or add one in the comments section here.

This week’s question is from Diana Davis:

In “Little Women”, there is mention of “Pickled Limes” and how all the little girls at school are just crazy about eating them. In fact, the teacher in the book hates them about as much as teachers hated pogs, because the buying, eating and sharing of them disrupt class. What the heck are they?

Linda Ziedrich, who has a wonderful book on Pickling gives a good description of the salty and sour little things:

“There they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low – importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle – children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just a recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes, too; in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the “unnatural and abominable” substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies.” Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit.

Considering what kids are indulging on now, pickled limes seem tame.

A wonderful website called Food Timeline goes into the history of pickled limes, also siting Little Women.  They also give a few recipes dated to mid-late 1800’s, which includes salting them and soaking them whole in a vinegar solution.