Monday, September 15, 2008

Pickled in New York

I swear I am not making this up: There is an International Pickle Day festival and we were there this past weekend in New York City. This celebration of brine and fermentation is presented by the Lower East Side Business Improvement District and the New York Food Museum. An entire block of Orchard Street is given over to pickles, and we traveled there from the District of Columbia to take it all in. As you can see, we were not alone. In fact, more impressive than the pickles themselves were the crowds that jammed the vendor booths, vying for a taste.

This is a casual event, with lots of different pickles to sample and most for sale. In fact, Pickle Day seemed more like an advertisement for the numerous different pickle businesses located in and around New York, from big, established firms to home-based artisanal picklers such as you might see at the local farmers market.

We were astounded by how many otherwise normal looking individuals swarmed over the pickles. Would you be able to identify these people as pickle lovers if you had not caught them in the act?

There were even some two-fisted pickle eaters. No dainty nibbling here. We're talking about some aggressive pickle noshing.

At any given time, there were several dozen pickle aficionados in line waiting patiently for a free sample. Here, The Pickle Guys were giving out a choice of "new," "sour" and "hot" pickles from plastic barrels. The Pickle Guys normal work out of a store on Essex Street in New York, operating "under the rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Fishelis." They sell a wide range of pickled vegetables, as well as numerous types of herring, white fish, lox, sauerkraut and olives. "We ship nationwide!" is their rallying cry.

The "hot" pickles were prepared very simply, with crushed red pepper.

Like this gentlemen, one of the McClure pickle clan, vendors at the Pickle Day festival take their pickling seriously. I could not help but notice the incredible whiteness the McClure pickles had maintained in the jar after brining. I was advised to try putting my cucumbers on ice for 24 hours before processing them. And for $10 a quart, you could take home the real deal.

Tasting consisted of spreads such as this one, where the pickles were cut into small pieces and displayed with toothpicks. It was no easy feat squeezing through the crowds to get at the pickle platters, and the pieces were small enough that they were not always so easy to spear with a toothpick.

Here is some of the international flavor represented at Pickle Day: kimchi. I had been hoping for lots more pickles from different countries. Most of the vendors are occupied with American-style variations on the cucumber.

We sampled many different pickles and of the lot we were most impressed with this simple offering: pickled cantaloupe. Whoever thought of it was a genius, and we could not decide how you would get the melon to a pickled state without turning it to mush. Somehow, they did.

Over the crowd noise, if you listened closely, you could hear a bit of music. These guys were playing the theme from "Zorba the Greek." Not sure why. There wasn't anything Greek going on at the time.

If sampling pickles stimulates your appetite, there were also food vendors who took advantage of the situation to make some brisk sales. Here, sausages and--what else?--sauerkraut.

Like I said, you can find just about everything pickled at the Pickle Day festival. Among the more unusual items, we tasted pickled pears and pickled garlic scapes.

Maybe you are wondering how I came to be here? Turns out the organizers had been monitoring my many recent posts on pickle making and sent me an invitation. We turned it into a road trip. Who knew that New Yorkers were so crazy for pickles?


Julia said...

Wow! That looks like great fun! Should we be looking for pickled melon recipes on your blog soon? I'll be sure to mark this on my calendar for next year...

Mosby said...

Are ya kiddin' me? There are two things I miss about NYC: Bialys and the bucket of pickles at burger joints and delis. My grandmother would take us to Bubba's on 8th street where I'd order a salami on rye and a birch beer. While I waited for my 3" thick sandwich, I'd eat most of the bucket of pickles, skipping the pickled tomatoes. Gods, I'm drooling just thinking about it! The closest I've come is Bubbie's Pickles. And, sadly, no one south of Newark knows what a byali is.

Joanna said...

If it weren't for the photographs, Ed ... I think I would have thought you were making it up ;)

One thing I've found so interesting about your pickle posts is how different the American tradition is from ours. I'm tempted - but it'll have to be next year, because I'll have to grow those little cornichons, as you can't buy them round here.

Chutney - now THERE'S a thing ;)


Pattie Baker said...

Ed; What a very cool opportunity for you and your family! Blogging has its rewards!

Nicole said...

I am hoping to go next year since I was too busy finishing my pickling last weekend to go to NYC and I will actually be up there this weekend.

Ed Bruske said...

Julia, I am definitely on the make for a pickled canteloupe recipe. Meanwhile, I hope to be pickling watermelon rind before the season ends.

Mosby, I have to admit I didn't know what a bialys was and that got my wife howling. She started a quick research project and now I know. (Sorry, I grew up in the wilderness outside Chicago.)

Joanna, one of our favorite things in the world--next to sweet pickled green tomatoes--is our green tomato and apple chutney. And we made a fresh tomato chutney over the weekend to go with our curried fish. But do tell: how is your pickling method different?

Pattie, I'm sure the reason we ever found out about the pickle festival is that the organizers have established a Google alert for us pickle bloggers. Technology is grand, and to think John McCain invented it. Or was that Al Gore?

Nicole, I urge you to go. It was great fun, then you can away a couple of blocks and have lunch in Chinatown.