(Posted by permission of the Akron Beacon Journal. Bob Dyer won the top humor-writing award in the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition for newspapers over 50,000 circulation. Read more of his columns here.)
Some athletes can play with pain. Others take a powder at the first sign of discomfort.
Now, I’m not saying Beacon Journal food writer Lisa Abraham is a wimp. But she did scratch herself from the starting lineup last week merely because of a sinus infection.
Abraham was scheduled to be a judge at a pickle-tasting competition at Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron. That’s where the judging of various foods has been taking place each week during the Downtown Akron Partnership’s farmers market.
In Abraham’s defense, the woman cares more about food than most of us care about our firstborns, and she wasn’t about to skew the contest results by partaking with a diseased palate.
Fortunately, she was not sufficiently impaired to stay home from work, so all she had to do was walk across the newsroom to find a fill-in.
And who is the first person you think of when you’re looking for someone to nibble on your pickles?
As a last-minute replacement – well, she could have done infinitely better. I have been known to intone “hold the pickles” when ordering a burger, and my own food-preparation expertise ranges from PB&Js to boiled hot dogs.
But I am nothing if not a team player. So instead of fabricating an excuse, I decided to focus on pleasant pickle experiences in my past and suit up for battle.
If nothing else, I figured, I would be able to declare at some point that a particular pickle was “to die for” — a phrase that, for reasons that continue to mystify me, can be used only in connection with food. Nobody ever wants to die for a tee shot or a guitar riff or a watercolor.
But we digress. We were talking about my pickles.
With a hoarse voice that surely was channeled from her hooky-playing days back in grade school, Ms. Abraham offered some parting words of wisdom:
“Don’t be too easy. Don’t be afraid to be the East German judge.”
She told me that pickles should be somewhere between hard and “smooshy,” and that sweet pickles should be sweet but not cloyingly so, and that dill pickles should be dill but not puckeringly so.
Or something like that. It all kind of blends together in the aftermath of consuming 18 different pickles, some of them multiple times.
In a couple of cases, I felt like Andy Griffith and Barney Fife being forced to sample Aunt Bee’s “kerosene cucumbers.” But most of the offerings were reasonably tasty.
My fellow judges were Dave Lieberth, Akron’s deputy mayor, and Alan Medvick, a magistrate in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands’ court.
The pickles were presented in four groups: dill, sweet, hot and “other.” Each pickle was to be graded on “visual appeal,” “texture” and “taste.”
“Visual appeal?” I asked. “I guess I never really looked at pickles that way.”
“Wow, that’s a very beautiful pickle!” quipped Medvick.
“Nice seed placement!” chimed in Lieberth.
As for “texture,” the deputy mayor offered this explanation:
“When your pickle is flaccid, you’ve got trouble.”
Wouldn’t know about that. But I’ll take his word for it.
In all four categories, two of the three judges tabbed the same pickle as the best, so those were instantly declared the winners. My vote was part of three of those victories, which means one of two things: I’m a better pickle picker than I thought, or the other judges are equally clueless.
I’m betting on the latter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you a gigantic gherkin.
They’re to die for.
— Bob Dyer
Since joining the Akron Beacon Journal in 1984, Bob Dyer has earned 51 regional and national writing awards. In 2008, the National Society of Professional Journalists voted him Best Columnist in the Nation. He has been named Best Columnist in Ohio by at least one professional journalism organization for six consecutive years. A native of suburban Cleveland, Dyer was one of the lead writers for A Question of Color, a yearlong examination of racial attitudes in Akron that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. In addition, he has written two books.