Florida Family's Legacy: A 135-Year-Old Pickle

Oct 9, 2011
Originally published on October 9, 2011 4:39 pm

Here's a partial list of things that happened in 1876:

It was, of course, the nation's 100th birthday. George Armstrong Custer met his fate at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call. A giant squid, 18 feet long, washed up on a beach in Newfoundland.

And James Boyle's great-great-grandmother grew a very special cucumber in her Illinois garden. She put the sprouting vine in an old medicine bottle, so the cucumber grew inside it.

"She pickled it, and corked it, and it has been in the family ever since," Boyle tells Robert Smith, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered.

You read that right — the Boyle family, now of North Port, Fla., has been passing down this historical pickle ever since 1876.

"It's still got the juice inside of it," Boyle says, "with the original cork, and it's got the brown label on it that says it was grown July 15, 1876."

Boyle says he's aware his family treasure isn't exactly commonplace.

"You know, a lot of people talk about heirlooms, you know, jewelry and necklaces and stuff like that," Boyle says. "But why would somebody pass down a pickle? That's just weird."

"Midwesterners are farmers and I don't know if that's what they did for fun back then," he adds. "But it's a fun thing."

Boyle says he's planning to pass the pickle on to his kids, unless someone makes him a better offer. In the meantime, any danger that someone will eat the elderly pickle after all these years?

"Um, no."

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ROBERT SMITH, host: So, while we're on the topic of really old food, let's move from ancient desserts to a finely aged appetizer. In fact, this delicacy has been waiting in a bottle for someone to eat it since 1876, 1876. Just to give you a sense of how old this food item is, it could have been the final snack for George Custer at Little Big Horn. This food could have been gnashed on by Alexander Graham Bell as he invented the telephone.

ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL: Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I have something delicious to eat.

SMITH: So what is this 135-year-old appetizer? The world's oldest pickle.

JAMES BOYLE: It looks like a cucumber, which it is. It looks like a pickle that you can buy in a store in the, like the bigger ones.

SMITH: James Boyle of North Port, Florida, owns the historical pickle. And actually, we're not sure it's the oldest. Guinness doesn't exactly keep track of such things.

BOYLE: And it's still got the juice inside of it. It's in a old medicine bottle from back then with the original cork. It's got the brown label on there and it's written down that it was grown in the bottle July 15, 1876.

SMITH: Now how does a scrumptious pickle last an entire century without someone wanting to relish it? I don't know, I think that joke worked out better in 1876. Well, there is something very special about this old pickle. It was grown inside the bottle. In the bottle. Boyle's great grandmother in Illinois put a medicine bottle with a narrow neck around a baby cucumber and it grew in there.

BOYLE: And she had pickled it and corked it. And it has been in the family ever since.

SMITH: That's how it survived. You couldn't get it out of the bottle to eat it even if you wanted to. Wait, does anybody actually want to eat it?


SMITH: Boyle doesn't know the name of his great grandmother. All he knows is this pickle, passed down, you know, I'd say lovingly but, well, you should really take a look at the pickle.

BOYLE: You know, a lot of people talk about heirlooms, you know, about jewelry and necklaces and things like that. But why would somebody pass down a pickle? That's just weird, you know, weird or whatever. But, you know, Midwesterners are farmers, and I don't know if that's what they did for fun back then or we don't know any of that. But it's a fun thing.

SMITH: And I'm sure his kids are really stoked knowing that someday they, too, will inherit the family brine.

BOYLE: If they want it or, you know, it's sitting around. If somebody wants it and the price is right, you know, I'd probably sell it.

SMITH: Make him an offer after you check out the picture of the pickle on our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.