Pickles for Old Fans, New Converts

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Photo by Sophie Barbasch


Pickle festivals rarely take themselves too seriously--they aim to celebrate the joy and the absurdity that go along with the age-old craft of food preservation. The Ninth Annual New York City International Pickle Day, held this past Sunday on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was far more ambitious than most other pickle festivals.

Planned by the New York Food museum and co-sponsored by the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, the pickle festival had three important objectives: to recognize the Lower East Side's pickle heritage, to promote the "rebirth" of the Lower East Side, and, of course, to showcase local producers in what is becoming a more and more crowded artisanal foods marketplace each year.

The New York Food Museum addressed the pickle's Lower East Side legacy with timelines and picture displays, as well as with "Pickles: A Time-Space Odyssey," a chart of pickle-themed historical events that stretched as far back as 2400 B.C., when anthropologists believe ancient Mesopotamians first used pickling as a form of food preservation. The Odyssey also covered how Christopher Columbus brought pickles to the New World and how Guss' began a few blocks away from the Pickle Day grounds back in 1910.

"There's some sort of deep connection going on with pickles now," said Katy Tackett, known in the blogosphere as Pickle Freak.

Despite its lofty goals, Pickle Day was rife with the usual pickle fanfare. Horman's Best Pickles were back for another year serving pickles on a stick, while children had half sours painted on their faces and roaming costumed kosher dills entertained the lines of attendees. The usual chocolate-covered pickles were present, and Peanut Butter & Co. served peanut butter and pickle sandwiches to eager and hungry pickle enthusiasts. The homemade pickle ice cream of last year, however, was conspicuously absent. So, too, was the musical quartet that blows pickle brine bubbles.

Nevertheless, with its bike valet sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, a plethora of free samples, plus hip and ironic t-shirts and buttons, Pickle Day was, if anything, a celebration of the youthfulness and recent novelty of home preservation in a street fair well suited to the Millenial Generation.

"There's some sort of deep connection going on with pickles now," said Katy Tackett, known in the blogosphere as Pickle Freak. "It's a result of the dovetailing of the economic recession and the make-it-yourself movement coming out of Brooklyn," added Jen Catto, another pickle blogger known as Pickle Girl. Or as Liz Alpern, pickle lover and Jewish food enthusiast, put it, "there's an upsurge of food production from people my own age and I f--ing love it."

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Photo by Sophie Barbasch

Like any industry event, the familiar faces--such as Rick from Rick's Picks and the McClure's Pickles guys--were there showcasing their innovative products, including Rick's Smokra (smoked paprika okra pickles) and McClure's spicy pickles. Adamah, the non-profit Jewish farm from Falls Village, Connecticut, whose slogan--"Young Jewish Farmers Changing the World One Pickle at a Time"--produced its fair share of smirks, was back again with their Old World-inspired lacto-fermented full sours and half-sours, reminding festival goers that the Jewish pickle tradition is alive and kicking.

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Jeffrey Yoskowitz is a writer based in the New York area. More

Jeffrey Yoskowitz is a writer based in the New York area.

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