Souvenir Sunday: a 150-year-old pickle

As souvenirs go, this is a winner.

This weekend I visited the Lynden Pioneer Museum in Dutch-themed Lynden, Washington to give my Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau presentation about things museums have that they can’t or won’t show you.

During the event, museum director/curator Troy Luginbill was kind enough to bring out a hidden treasure from the collection that I’d heard about, but never seen: a bottle containing a pickle that is more than 150 years old.

Lynden Pioneer Museum PICKLE

Luginbill found the jar while doing inventory at the museum in the mid-1990s.

“I was cleaning out clothes stored in a dresser in the pioneer bedroom exhibit and as I shut a drawer a clear, blue bottle rolled to the front,” said Luginbill. “I could see something white inside that I thought was going to be horrible and moldy.”

The white thing turned out to be pickle, and from the still-legible label affixed to the bottle Luginbill learned that the pickle had started out as a cucumber planted inside the bottle in the mid-1860s in Wayland, Michigan.

“There’s this thing you can do where you put the flowering end of a plant into a clear bottle so that the fruit or vegetable grows inside. Then you can pickle or preserve whatever you’ve grown right in the bottle,” said Luginbill.

I imagine a child planting the cucumber inside the jar and then choosing to bring the treasure along when the family moved out west. The unusual souvenir was obviously cherished and handed down from generation to generation and then, somehow, forgotten in a dresser drawer that ended up in the museum.

Since its discovery the old pickle has been kept out of view and, for preservation purposes, kept inside one of the museum’s vintage refrigerators that has been humming along since the late 1920s. “We use that old fridge to keep lots of things cool,” says Luginbill, “including staff lunches.”

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