Wherein the Egyptians knew the value of a pickle-fresh complexion.
There’s nothing quite like a good pickle—not merely as floppy green planks beside your sandwich, but also as a terrorist-destroying antihero. Whether jazzing up a chicken salad or slaughtering rats and henchmen, it seems there’s little a marinated vegetable can’t accomplish.
Even so, the ancient Egyptians and Romans knew pickles could do more than construct an exoskeleton of cockroach and rat parts: pickles were an essential part of the beauty regimen for one of history’s most famous women.
We Can Pickle That
The first pickles were created in Mesopotamia over 4000 years ago, moving from India (where pickling preceded the cultivation of cucumbers by over 1000 years) through the ancient Near Eastern world.
Pickles have therefore been a central part of the Egyptian diet for millennia, eaten by both royalty and commoners. The ancient Hebrews apparently even complained after leaving Egypt about missing their pickles: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick” (Numbers 11:5; the beloved cucumbers were fermented in brine to remove bitterness). Granted, the biblical account then depicts the whiney pickle-lovers being wiped out for their ingratitude, but you have to say they did at least enjoy a good nosh.
While modern westerners tend to think of pickles primarily as mini cucumbers forked from a jar of brine, Egyptian (and other Mediterranean) pickles both were and are made from a wide variety of vegetables: onions, turnips, carrots, beets and other vegetables. A crunchy bowl of torshi accompanies many meals.
How Camest Thou in This Pickle?
Cleopatra knew pickles were good for more than food: they were also an essential part of her beauty regimen (along with sour donkey’s milk and dried alligator poop). Cleopatra’s first Roman sweet patootie, Julius Caesar, was himself so impressed by pickles that he (and later Tiberius) gave them to his soldiers to increase their strength. Perhaps, instead of the traditional story of Cleopatra first meeting Caesar by being smuggled to him rolled inside a carpet, she instead lounged between two gargantuan pickle slices like this sandwich.
I may not be able to see modern cosmetologists creating lines of pickle-powered skin cream (although, since they’re already making cosmetics from kelp and seaweed, perhaps they could create a lotion that makes you smell like a burger topping), but I’d love to see the strength-enhancing aspects of pickles be promoted. Ah, if only “Macho Man” Savage had lived to smash through a wall and growl, “Snap into a gherkin!”
Image: Cleopatra and Caesar by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1866) (Source)