The Past, Preservation, and Power of Pickling 

Chef Kevin Callaghan sheds light on one of the world’s favorite snacks.


I love pickles. Love them. As a chef, I’m particularly drawn to them as an acidic counterpoint to flavors—they can really amp up a dish and give it real “pop.” But maybe their most important contribution for me is the preservation of seasonality and the traditions that are at the heart of my culinary ethos. Growing up in the South, pickles of some sort were always on the dinner table in little glass dishes. And, now, it turns out that these delicious morsels are really good for you. Hot damn.

Before modern refrigeration, fermentation and preservation were essential parts of the American diet. The time-honored techniques provided frugality for rural farmers and the ability to successfully transport foodstuffs long distances to American cities. My grandmother “put up” vegetables from her 2-acre garden all summer long. That was her term. Pickles, preserves, chutneys, and relishes filled her pantry. The truth is, I don’t think that she ever thought about the secondary health benefits of fermentation. But she did live to be 98. And that says a lot.

Fermentation is Our Future 

For those of you playing at home, “Gut Health” is definitely the new black. It seems that the research surrounding the positive effects of eating fermented foods grows exponentially week to week. Kombucha, yogurt, and vinegar-based drinks are all the rage. The symbiotic relationship between the gut microbiome and our human-selves—how the health of one supports the health of the other—is revolutionizing the way people think about food. And how they eat. Traditional foods like miso, sauerkraut, and good-old kosher dill pickles are seen in a completely different, more health-centric light.

And the best part is that these foods are delicious. It would be another thing altogether if the road to healthy living required a daily dose of boiled beetle larvae. Somehow, we often think that healthy has to be hard. Or, at least, not very tasty. Thankfully, incorporating delectable fermented foods into your diet isn’t difficult. With the internet, you can have everything that you need to ferment your own vegetables in a matter of days. And then all you need is a good farmers’ market or co-op and patience.

But there is no silver bullet. Instinctually, I feel we all know that. Much of the research continues to point to the sincere importance of continuing to eat a diverse array of seasonal fruits and vegetables—the acclaimed “rainbow.” But don’t get me wrong—the importance of fermented foods cannot be overstated. The evidence is pretty staggering. It’s just that Greek yogurt alone doesn’t promise a long, healthy life. Anyway, that would be pretty boring. Am I right? And while you’re thinking, can you pass the kimchi?

Want more opportunities to learn about Kevin’s cuisine? Visit From the Wanderlust Kitchen on  Wanderlust TV.

After ten years of working in every possible position in the restaurant industry, Kevin launched Acme Food & Beverage Co. in Carrboro. Since that time, Acme has been featured in Bon Appetit, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, The New York Times, Esquire, and many other national and regional newspapers and magazines. Kevin is one of the nation’s leading advocates of sustainable food and local farms.In 2016, Kevin was named by Lululemon as one of their 29 American artists and taste ‘makers,’ and in 2017 was chosen to be a Lululemon Ambassador. For the second year in a row, Kevin has been named the Executive Chef of the Wanderlust Festivals.