The Perplexing Problem of the Pickles that Wouldn’t Bounce

The year 1948 was monumental. Harry Truman won an upset victory over Thomas Dewey; Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated; the Marshall Plan was approved; and Alger Hiss was accused of spying for the Soviets. With these headline-grabbing events dominating the news, it is understandable if you missed another of the year’s big stories: the case of Connecticut’s pickles that failed to bounce.

Pickle packers Sidney Sparer and Moses Dexler fell under scrutiny for selling rotten pickles “unfit for human consumption.” The men were arrested and charged with violation of Connecticut’s food safety laws.

Reporters questioned the state’s Food and Drug Commissioner, Fredrick Holcomb, about the regulations and how the state went about determining the fitness of the pickles under its jurisdiction. Holcomb attempted to simplify the complicated process for the reporters by telling them a simple way to judge good pickles from bad pickles. He said if you drop one from a height of one foot, if it is good, it will bounce. If it doesn’t bounce, don’t eat it.

As it turned out, Sparer and Dexler’s pickles did not bounce; they splatted. They were fined the maximum penalty of $500, and their unbounceable pickles were destroyed.

Connecticut’s laws for pickle fitness do not actually specify the bouncing requirement, but it has been part of the state’s food regulation lore ever since.

Read more fun facts about food.

Read about some of the silliest laws on the books.

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