FALMOUTH — An introduction to the science of sour things generated a level of excitement here Wednesday that seemed more suited to a Justin Bieber concert.

“I love pickles,” 11-year-old Jasmen Libby of Pownal said breathlessly, squirming in her seat at the University of Maine Regional Learning Center at Tidewater Farm.

A couple dozen children and some of their parents participated in “pickle labs,” an educational program offered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service of Cumberland County during school vacation weeks.

Four master food preservers introduced participants to the sights, smells and tastes of various pickled and sour foods: bread-and-butter cucumber slices, sweet corn relish, dilly string beans and fermented cabbage, better known as sauerkraut.

Children learned how pickling developed as a method of food preservation long before modern refrigeration, and how it still plays a role in keeping foods edible and tasty.

Kate McCarty, one of the master food preservers, explained how ship captains often served pickled foods, which are high in vitamin C, in part to keep passengers and crews from getting scurvy and dying on long trips across the Atlantic.


“So pickles were really valuable when you were sailing from Europe to the New World,” McCarty said.

The children learned basic laboratory procedures, such as how to test pH levels — pickles are highly acidic — and how to dissect items to study their component parts.

They cut cross sections of pickles, noted the seeds inside and sketched a slice, labeling each part.

They also learned about the various spices and flavorings that go into pickle recipes, including sugar, salt and vinegar. It was the first time that some of the children had seen pepper corns, mustard seeds, bay leaves, and whole allspice and cloves.

The two-hour labs, held in the teaching kitchen at the year-old University of Maine Regional Learning Center on Clearwater Drive, off Route 1, attracted participants from as far away as Bridgton, Auburn and Oxford.

“We home school and we have a big garden,” said Julie Gordon of Oxford, who brought her 11-year-old son, Silas, and her 5-year-old daughter, Rosemary. The family strives for self-reliance and sustainable living, even harvesting edible plants from woods and fields near their home.


“I made pickles for the first time last summer,” Gordon said. “I wanted to learn more about the science of it and I wanted them to learn about it.”

Jessica Libby, a Girl Scout leader who lives in Pownal, brought her daughter, Jasmen, and several other girls.

“I wanted them to know how their grandparents did things,” Libby said. “I’m sure they’ll look at pickles a lot differently now.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]


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