May 15-24 is designated as International Pickle Week, although the days add up to 10 instead of a traditional week. International Pickle Week was first celebrated in 1948. Pickles themselves date back so far that no one can say for certain when they first appeared. The estimate for the origin of vinegar-altered cucumbers dates back more than 4,000 years. The fact that Pickle Week is an international celebration may be due to the variety of cultures that endorse the tasty treat. From the days of Cleopatra to now, the pickle has been a treat for the ages.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers, not only drafted the Declaration of Independence, he was inspired by pickles as well. "On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally's cellar." George Washington joined Jefferson as a pickle devotee, and so did John Adams and Dolly Madison.

In colonial America, homemakers were expected to "put down" pickles in stone crocks and "put up" pickles and relishes in glass jars. The pickle patch was important to comfortable living. Each generation of pioneers treasured pickles because they were the only green, juicy vegetable treat that could be used throughout the year. In 1659, Dutch farmers grew cucumbers in what is now Brooklyn. The cucumbers were sold to dealers who cured them in barrels and sold them on the street.

Some pickle trivia: In 2030 B.C., cucumbers from India were brought to the ancient Middle East, where they were preserved to be eaten later as pickles. Cleopatra gave credit to pickles for a portion of her beauty. Julius Caesar and Napoleon both thought pickles added vigor, so they shared them with their armies. Cucumbers were brought to the new world by Christopher Columbus. Queen Elizabeth liked pickles. The famous feast of King John included pickles. And in 1820 a Frenchman, Nicholas Appert, was the first to pack pickles in jars for commercial sale.

For more fun reading and other activities, try these Web sites:

   • We love pickles

   • Pickles in History

   • Pickles — Kids Corner

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Shakespeare has written about the pickle in "The Tempest," finding one of his characters to be "in such a pickle." The United States Supreme Court has designated pickles a "fruit of the vine," although most people probably think of them as a vegetable. National Football League teams and college football teams use pickle juice as a way for their athletes to avoid cramps. It doesn't matter if the pickles are sweet or dill, the effect seems to be the same.

The pickle got its name in the 1300s because Englishspeaking people couldn't quite pronounce the Dutch name "Beukelz." William Beukelz was a fisherman who pickled fish. The mispronunciation stuck, and the name is pickle still.

The pickle has 36 basic varieties, and pickle juice contains salt, calcium chloride and vinegar. . Some pickles are so spicy as to bring tears to the consumer's eyes, and some so sugary no candy is sweeter.

So don't get yourself in a pickle! Whether you slurp a little juice, devour the dandy dill or swallow a candy sweet, make sure you celebrate the 56th festival.