In honor of the Fourth of July (and more importantly the Fourth of July Picnic!) I am posting a little tribute to an unsung hero of the picnic table: the pickle. Sure, the pickle is no flag cake, but where would our hamburgers, our hot dogs, our sandwiches and our salads be without pickles, pickled vegetables and relish?
To start off the pickle tribute, we’ll first get the inside scoop about the pickling biz from Rick Field, creator of the crunchy and delicious Rick’s Picks.
How long has your family been pickling?
I started making pickles with my family as a child during summertimes in Vermont. About 12 years ago, I became interested in rekindling this really pleasurable summertime experience. And so I began making the family recipes and branched out from there. For about 7 years, I made pickles as a hobby – and it gradually got more in intense. I officially started the business in 2004.
Do you use original family recipes?
The recipe for the dill pickle – called Slices of Life is the original recipe. The other family recipe, the pickled beans, which we called dilly beans growing up, what I’ve done is made them a little hotter. One of the things we found in the pickling world is that people really tend to gravitate towards things that are hot.
What were difficulties in the beginning?
Scaling something that you do in a very intimate and painstaking way requires a lot of attention. And if you go from making 1 of something to making 100 of something – it’s not necessarily just getting 100 times more stuff, there are some subtleties that go along with that kind of growth and trajectory.
Can you explain some of the basics of pickling to us?
There are lots of different kind of pickles – fermented pickles in the barrel is traditional LES (Lower East Side – NYC) style. Those have a much shorter lifespan and different flavor profile. We do home canning style, which is shelf stable for a couple years.
The art for us is combining three things: a particular vegetable, a water/vinegar combination and a particular blend of herbs and spices. Finding the right harmony of those three pieces goes into every recipe.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of pickling?
People sometimes give us credit for being out in front of certain ideas, and I have to remind that that food preservation has been around for 4,000 years. One of the things we take for granted is this sort of modern grid, especially things like electricity and refrigeration, and that on the timeline of human history is a very recent development. So whether it’s salting or jarring, canning, preserving – there’s lots and lots of way that people have been preserving food. As far as vegetables go – a typical four-season climate will have a run of anywhere from 4 -6 months of vegetable abundance, and then not so much. And so the original reason to preserve things was to create a store of stuff for when there isn’t a lot of stuff.
You recently collaborated on a book with Williams Sonoma: The Art of Preserving. Tell us a little bit about the project.
Williams Sonoma asked me to be the creator and writer of the recipes on pickled vegetables. Covers other things like jams and preserving.
The goal for me was to follow the arc of a growing season and to capture things that could be made all along that timeline starting let’s say now, with asparagus, rhubarb, ramps and goes all the way into late fall – beets and brussel sprouts – to try to reflect the totality of a typical North American growing season.
Why is pickling and preserving a relevant and current trend in the food world?
My view on that is that as a society we’re all staring at screens constantly now. TV screens, computer monitors, blackberries, etc. I think there’s a parallel movement happening, a response to the way society is developing, that makes people embrace these time-honored crafts, whether it’s knitting or pickling or anything in between. There’s a whole spectrum of activities that involve using your hands and producing something tangible and physical that I think is very appealing to a lot of people at a time when our culture is becoming less intimate and more dislocated as a result of all these screens.
As far as pickling goes in particular, we are slowly in the middle of a pickle moment – whether you’re talking about the competitors that I have now that I didn’t used to have, or the fact that tons of chefs in New York are now making something pickled for the cocktails, appetizers, etc.
Where are your ingredients sourced?
Most of what we pickle is sourced out of the core region of New York – a 250-mile radius of NYC. That’s the stipulation of a green market. In the beginning, I had farmers I knew from green market. As volume has increased and price is paramount, you start to gravitate towards farms that are a little larger and farmers that have a specialty in one type of vegetable or another. And so we’ve got a bean guy, we’ve got a cucumber guy, we’ve got a guy who does corn, beets and peppers. We’ve got an okra gal.
One of the challenges of the biz is that ingredients are subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Last summer, in June, it rained 25 days. How do you respond to that? You wait. And you make more stuff in a compressed period of time.
Thanks Rick! Stay tuned for yummy recipes…
Can’t get enough pickles? Tune into Rick’s Pickle blog!