Last Chance Foods: Brooklyn Brine

Here’s an economic-downturn story to inspire: Two 20-somethings lose their restaurant and publishing jobs. They start a pickle company. Less than six months and a flurry of media coverage later, they strike a distribution deal with a major specialty food supermarket.

No recession-time fairy tale, Brooklyn Brine is the real deal. Owners Joya Carlton and Shamus Jones recently stopped by the WNYC studio to speak with Amy Eddings about how their burgeoning business grew out of the desire to preserve seasonal vegetables.

Both soft-spoken Joya Carlton, 28, and tattoo-covered Jones, 29, are longtime vegetarians who always felt a special affinity for savory pickled produce. Carlton formerly worked in hard science publishing and documents her adventures in vegan cuisine on her blog, Sword and Bean. Jones, a chef, recalled his first professional foray into pickling, when a forager bestowed him with several pounds of mushrooms at the end of a particularly fruitful season. He ended up putting away several oil-filled jars packed with chantrelles.

This past November, the Rosendale International Pickle Festival supplied a good example of how far the duo has come in such a short amount of time. Brooklyn Brine submitted the maximum allowed three entries: Fennel beets, curried squash and garlic scapes (the flowering stalks that grow out of garlic plants). They walked away with just as many awards.

For those interested in pickling at home, Jones says “meticulous” is the key word. “Identify what kind of flavor profile you want,” he advised. “Spices are as integral as the thing you want to produce. Food science is all about ratios. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but also research all the different variables that can go wrong. It's not something to go into haphazardly.”

While last week, Bob McClure of McClure’s Pickles recommended keeping cucumbers on ice to keep them crunchy in the jar, Brooklyn Brine takes a different approach. Use tannen-rich oak, horseradish or grape leaves, said Jones.

To go beyond the home kitchen, however, takes long nights — Brooklyn Brine starts pickling in a borrowed kitchen at midnight and finishes by 8am — and commitment. “I don’t think any of the people starting food companies in Brooklyn are doing it for fast and easy money or for the fame,” explains Carlton. “It’s really a labor of love.”

Brooklyn Brine’s recipe for “Smoky Lemon and Mint Eggplant Pickles” is below.

“Smoky Lemon and Mint Eggplant Pickles”

By Brooklyn Brine

  • 2 large eggplants peeled and medium diced
  • 1 dried chipotle rough chopped (if in adobe sauce, rinse thoroughly)
  • 1 lemon thinly sliced
  • 1/4 bunch fresh mint
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard seed
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoons black peppercorn
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1. Peel and chop eggplant, cover eggplant with a generous amount of salt and let stand for one hour. Thoroughly rinse eggplant and set aside.
2. Combine water, vinegar, salt, and sugar in a large non-reactive stock pot and bring to a boil.
3. While waiting for the brine to boil thinly slice the lemon with the peel, wash the mint, and thinly chop the chipotle.
4. Divide spices, eggplant, lemon and mint into two sterilized 1/2 gallon containers.
5. Once the brine has boiled for 15 minutes, distribute it evenly in both containers.
6. Refrigerate for three days.