Artisanal pickling currently serves as both an easy punchline and the catalyst for serious-minded articles examining a “craft-centric economy.” In certain parts of Brooklyn, small-batch pickles have become as ubiquitous as skinny jeans and wayfarer sunglasses. Rick Field, the founder of Rick’s Picks, has been making artisanal pickles since 2004 — way before it was considered cool.
Last Chance Foods asked Field (pictured below) why pickling has snowballed in popularity in recent years.
“A lot of people have pickling in their background, whether it’s something that they did in a foreign land before they came to New York, or something that they just plain did or experienced with their family,” he said.
Another motivation, according to Field, is many people’s desire to engage in tactile activities that are comparatively rare in modern life.
“I think, you know, as a culture right now, in our daily lives, we go from ... screen to screen to screen,” he said in reference to the pervasiveness of computer, television, cellphone screens. “It’s a very passive lifestyle that many of us lead. So being able to embrace things and touch them and experience them tactilely is really meaningful to people in the 21st century.”
Field knows the feeling. A former television producer who worked for VH1 and for "Now with Bill Moyers" on PBS, Field grew up making pickles with his family during summers in Vermont.
“I didn’t set out to conquer the world one pickle at a time,” he said. "I just wanted to kind of rekindle the fun that I’d had [with my family].”
Founders of McClures and Brooklyn Brine also left jobs in creative industries to join the artisanal pickle movement. Like Rick’s Picks, the companies have become relatively well-known brands in the market.
Field also points out that home pickling is comparatively easy and inexpensive to do.
“The barrier to entry is very low,” he said. “Basically, the most expensive proprietary piece of equipment you need to make pickles is a $4.99 jar lifter.”
Since going commercial, Field’s company has taken off and now boasts a wide range of pickled products — from traditional cucumber pickles to relish and pickled corn. He explains that part of his mission is to make pickles more than just a sad, forgotten addition to sandwiches and burgers. Field challenged those in his office to make dishes that would comprise a full-course meal using their products.
One easy way to do that is to use the brine.
“The smokra brine is wonderful to marinate beef brisket,” Field said. “It’s also a great alternative to a traditional secondary ingredient to a bloody mary. The Wasabean brine is nice to marinate salmon. Of course there are the whiskey aficionados who like to do a pickle back, a shot of pickle brine after a shot of whiskey.”
Creativity is also key to what goes into a jar. After all, more often than not, you can pickle that.
“As an experiment, we did a jar of pickled CDs,” said Field, of his time at VH1. “We like to say they’re very popular in karaoke bars in Kyoto, Japan. I pickled a jar of CDs, and I also pickled some Verizon bills once. That’s was very satisfying.”
For those desirous of getting in on the trend, try Rick’s recipe for pickled rhubarb, below.
from "The Art of Preserving" by Rick Field and Rebecca Courchesne
Sweet-tart rhubarb makes an excellent pickle when preserved in a tangy brine with sprightly spices. The crisp rhubarb retains its texture and is quite chewy. If you prefer a softer result, blanch the rhubarb in boiling water for a minute, drain, and let cool before packing in jars.
- 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) rice vinegar, preferably yuzu rice vinegar
- 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) sherry vinegar (7 percent acidity)
- 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) unsweetened cherry juice
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1-inch (2.5-cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into slivers
- 36 cloves garlic
- 3 lb (1.5 kg) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into
- 4-inch (10-cm) pieces
- Makes 6 one-pint 16– f l oz /500-ml) jars
Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids (see page 228).
In a large nonreactive saucepan, combine the rice and sherry vinegars, cherry juice, and chili powder. Add 3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, place a pinch of ginger slivers and 6 garlic cloves in each jar. Pack the rhubarb pieces snugly into the jars, making sure that none stick up above the fill line.
Ladle the hot brine into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch (12 mm) of headspace. Remove any air bubbles and adjust the headspace, if necessary. Wipe the rims clean and seal tightly with the lids. Let the jars stand undisturbed for 24 hours and then store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.