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The call of the Koolickle.

thRecently DF came into possession of a special report from the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. “Land of plenty: Will food save the Delta or be its death?” is beautifully photographed and contains fascinating articles about the foods commonly consumed in the Mississippi Delta.

These range from the expected (barbecue, greens, fried chicken) to the surprising (tamales, kibbeh, Italian, Asian, haute cuisine). A supermarket is the only one in the Kroger chain that grinds its own meat, because the kibbeh consumers demand fresh grind of a specific quality.

This isn’t just a travelogue, mind you. The writers focused on nutrition issues, food deserts and health problems. We also learn about prawn farming, soul food, family-run eateries, blues music, restaurants that turned dying cities into Saturday-night destinations.

And we learn about Koolickles, a Delta delicacy also known as Pickoolas: dill pickles marinated in brine, sugar and double-strength Kool-Aid.

This is the home of the fried pickle, so it’s no surprise that gherkins might receive unusual treatment. But Kool-Aid pickles struck me as both horrifying and fascinating. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

Reader, I made some.

Yep. Bought an 80-ounce jar of Mt. Olive big dills and searched in vain for Kool-Aid at a local supermarket. I just knew I’d seen a stand-up display of the packets fairly recently. Finally I sought out a stock clerk.

“It’s all gone to dross,” he said sadly.

Pardon me?

“They’re almost all gone. Just a few left,” he said, leading me to a mournful handful of packets – tropical punch and cherry – consigned to a bottom shelf below containers of Crystal Light and Mio Liquid Water Enhancer. I felt sorry for the orphaned drink mix, but admired the guy for using the word “dross” during his working day.

Define ‘liquidy’

According to the recipe I wanted to use, “fruit punch” is a hands-down favorite. I had to settle for the tropical, but I figured it would be close enough.

So I stirred together the sugar (three cups!) and the drink mix before puzzling over the right amount of water. The recipe said it should be “liquidy.” Betty Crocker never used that word. DF and I erred on the side of a little less liquidy on the theory that pickles – even Pickoolas – should be sharp, not watery.

We put the sliced-in-half dills back into the jar and poured pickle brine up to the top, then gave it a good shake. The result looked like 80 ounces of blood surrounding murky green things.

The recipe said to soak them for five days, which would have been Saturday night. By Friday morning I couldn’t wait any longer, and sliced off a piece while DF was at work. The red color had penetrated about halfway through, and the smell of sugar, vinegar and faux fruit was pretty pungent.

Too late to chicken out now. I popped the two-toned cross-section of cured cuke into my mouth.

And instantly reached for another slice. The flavor was sour and sweet, pickle-y and dessert-y. It was like eating a bread and butter pickle dipped in Hawaiian Punch – and although that combination sounds like one ghastly gherkin, let me assure you that Koolickles are pretty darned good. If you like that sort of thing, which apparently I do.

A finger-staining devotion

Sure, I sort of hated myself for loving them. (Just like with the infamous rhubarb cake.) That didn’t stop me from finishing a big pickle half on the spot, and another one with my crackers-and-cheese lunch. The combination of sour-sweet with mild Monterey jack and crunchy Triscuits was outstanding.

When DF got home he tried a slice and he, too, enjoyed it. But he won’t commit to actual love until he’s let them marinate the full five days.

We’ve already got plans for the leftover brine. Some will be used to marinate chicken thighs (99 cents a pound at a grand re-opening sale) before they’re cooked on the Weber. I’m anticipating a nice caramelizing of all that sugar plus a smoky flavor from the charcoal.

The rest of the blood-red liquid will be recycled, i.e., I’m going to dump in more pickles. Maybe some rhubarb stalks, too.

And yes, I know that Kool-Aid isn’t good for me. But what’s life without a little sin? Especially the kind that stains your fingertips red?

Update: DF froze one of the Koolickles. It was like eating the world’s weirdest sherbet. Still good, though, and very refreshing on (what passes for) a warm day in Anchorage.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve heard of those KoolAid pickles. Since I am allergic to pickles, it won’t work for me. Maybe if I could take pickles and drown in thick cherry liquid, I might not have a reaction. But, is it worth having my throat swell shut? I wonder how these pickles would be in tuna salad, potato salad and other things with diced pickles. Are you going to try any of them in recipes?

    • Donna Freedman

      I think I’ll just eat them as-is, although slicing one on a turkey burger might be fun. Certainly the color would perk up a potato salad.

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