Seattle author relishes chance to see 150-year-old pickle at Lynden museum

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 11, 2013 

150 year old pickle

This pickle in an old apothecary bottle is estimated to be about 150 years old. The fruit has turned white after spending decades in pickling fluids.

LYNDEN PIONEER MUSEUM — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

LYNDEN - Harriet Baskas is thrilled about what she will see when she speaks at Lynden Pioneer Museum on May 25. It's something she has seen in pictures but never in person.

It's a pickle about 150 years old.

"I'm so excited about it," said Baskas, a Seattle writer who travels the state for Humanities Washington with her program "Hidden Treasures in Washington's Museums."

Troy Luginbill, director of the Lynden museum, found the pickle inside a corked apothecary bottle while going through storage in the 1990s. A label on the bottle indicates the pickle was grown in Arkansas and pickled in the 1860s. How the pickle landed in Lynden remains a mystery.

Luginbill said the pickle began as a cucumber flower inserted into the light-blue jar with the plant's roots outside. When the cucumber reached adulthood, the stem was snipped off and pickling ingredients were added.

Since then the juice has leaked out, leaving behind a 7-inch-long cuke bleached white by the pickling fluids. To preserve the relic fruit, the museum applied a wax seal to the top, sucked out the air, and keeps the bottle in a refrigerator. Luginbill's fingers remain crossed.

"We're still not entirely sure how to preserve it," he said.

Baskas became interested in such oddities while gathering information for a book about Northwest museums. When she visited museums, including small ones where visitors are rare, she asked staffers and volunteers to show her their favorite items.

The workers, presumably thrilled to have someone to talk to, often showed her things tucked away in storage. That's when she learned there's a world of museum objects that seldom see the light of public display.

Some are too valuable to show in a low-security setting. Others raise cultural, philosophical or political hackles, such as a quilt made from Ku Klux Klan outfits, or Bing Crosby's toupees that upset the crooner's widow when they were put on display.

"What museums will tell you is that they just don't have room, but there are all of these other reasons," Baskas said.

Recent discoveries she hopes to talk about in Lynden include a loaf of petrified bread, and a machine that cleaned eggs with sandpaper. (The Lynden museum has one, too, Luginbill said.)

Baskas' talks elsewhere have featured the Lynden pickle, but only in photos, not in the bleached-white flesh.

"I'm really excited to see the pickle," she said.

PEOPLE WHO DRAW PEOPLE

Also on May 25, Bellingham artist John McColloch will lead a caricature workshop for people who want to hone their skill of drawing people without leaving the customer ready to punch the artist in the nose.

"Everyone has something unique about them," he said. "You try to portray it in a positive light."

When I think of caricatures, I think of an artist's large-head, small-head drawing that showed me as a youth on a skateboard being chased by a horde of girls, even though I was never good on a skateboard and was never chased by girls.

McColloch, a Bellingham illustrator with more than 30 years of experience, said caricature encompasses a much wider range of styles, and benefits from a tactful approach with the public.

"The first time I sat down and drew somebody, it was horrible," he said. "No. 1, don't take yourself too seriously. Have fun with it."

If you have basic drawing skills and have the gumption to draw people, sign up for the workshop soon; space is limited.


COMING UP

What No. 1: "Hidden Treasures in Washington's Museums," a presentation by Harriet Baskas. Admission to her talk is free.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday, May 25.

Where: Lynden Pioneer Museum, 217 Front St.

Details: 360-354-3675, lyndenpioneermuseum.com

What No. 2: Caricature workshop with John McColloch.

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 25.

Where: 5581 Noon Road, Bellingham.

Register: To reserve a slot, send $50 to: Egress Studio, 5581 Noon Road, Bellingham, WA 98226.

Details: 360-398-7870, akboyle@egressstudio.com.

Reach Dean Kahn at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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