Pickled food

Poisonous Pickles

Vegetable substances, preserved in the state called pickles, by means of the antiseptic power of vinegar, whose sale frequently depends greatly upon a fine lively green colour; and the consumption of which, by sea-faring people in particular, is prodigious, are sometimes intentionally coloured by means of copper. Gerkins, French beans, samphires, the green pods of capsicum, and many other pickled vegetable substances, oftener than is perhaps expected, are met with impregnated with this metal. Numerous fatal consequences are known to have ensued from the use of these stimulants of the palate, to which the fresh and pleasing hue has been imparted according to the deadly formulæ laid down in some modern cookery books, such as boiling the pickles with half-pence, or suffering them to stand for a considerable period in brazen vessels.

Dr. Percival [106] has given an account of "a young lady who amused herself, while her hair was dressing, with eating samphire pickles impregnated with copper. She soon complained of pain in the stomach; and, in five days, vomiting commenced, which was incessant for two days. After this, her stomach became prodigiously distended; and, in nine days after eating the pickles, death relieved her from her suffering."

Among many recipes which modern authors of cookery books have given for imparting a green colour to pickles, the following are particularly deserving of censure; and it is to be hoped that they will be suppressed in future editions of the works.

"To Pickle Gerkins.[107]—"Boil the vinegar in a bell-metal or copper pot; pour it boiling hot on your cucumbers."

"To make greening.[108]—"Take a bit of verdigris, the bigness of a hazel-nut, finely powdered; half-a-pint of distilled vinegar, and a bit of alum powder, with a little bay salt. Put all in a bottle, shake it, and let it stand till clear. Put a small tea-spoonful into codlings, or whatever you wish to green."

Mrs. E. Raffald [109] directs, "to render pickles green, boil them with halfpence, or allow them to stand for twenty-four hours in copper or brass pans."

To detect the presence of copper, it is only necessary to mince the pickles, and to pour liquid ammonia, diluted with an equal bulk of water, over them in a stopped phial: if the pickles contain the minutest quantity of copper, the ammonia assumes a blue colour.


[106]Medical Transactions, vol. iv. p. 80.

[107]The Ladies' Library, vol. ii. p. 203.

[108]Modern Cookery, or the English Housewife—2d edition, p. 94.

[109]The English Housekeeper, p. 352, 354.