“There’s something in the air that makes people want to make pickles,” said Joya Carlton, 28, one of three partners in Brooklyn Brine, a local pickle start-up, sitting in a booth at the Greenpoint Coffee House with her two partners, Shamus Jones, 29, and Josh Egnew, 34, both covered in tattoos.
“We’re getting requests from Philly, Atlanta, California … a Japanese magazine wants to do something on us,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s like, ‘Whooaaa!”
“Working at the markets, people come up to us constantly and they’re like, ‘I’ve been pickling all summer!’ asking questions, wanting to learn,” Mr. Egnew said.
Brooklyn Brine currently produces 3,000 jars a week of inventive products such as pickled curried squash and pickled smoked carrots to sell at local specialty shops like the Bedford Cheese Shop, Urban Rustic, the Greene Grape, and the Park Slope Food Co-Op. (Mr. Jones: “We can’t keep them on the shelves.” Ms. Carlton: “Those people are animals!”) They recently inked a distribution deal that will spread their pickles to 70-odd new stores throughout New England, and may be at Whole Foods soon. Meanwhile, they’ve been inundated with requests from friends who want to help with their canning process, which takes place from 12:30 to about 6:30 a.m. five nights a week in the kitchen of Brooklyn Label, a Greenpoint restaurant. The company, started in August after Mr. Jones was laid off from his job as a chef, is sharing shelf space with a surge of independent labels that include McClure’s, Wheelhouse Pickles and Rick’s Picks.
Ms. Carlton, who was also laid off (from a job in book publishing), suggested that the rise of pickling has corresponded to the rise of unemployment. “There’s this feeling, an instinctual feeling, almost, even for people who didn’t have a mom that pickled,” she said. “It’s almost like we’re talking about a need to save up for the winter.”
‘It’s a political act.’ —Preservation expert Eugenia Bone
Formerly the province of grandmothers, and, in New York, the Lower East Side, pickling is experiencing a youthful Renaissance. Jars of various vegetables in liquid are now ubiquitous at greenmarkets and flea markets, in kitchen stores, at butcher shops, sandwich shops and Williams Sonoma. It’s not just earnest, entrepreneurial young outfits like Brooklyn Brine but a resurgence of pickles on restaurant menus all over the city and a rash of amateur canners stuffing farmers’ market booty into Ball jars in their own cramped kitchens, consulting recipes on Epicurious.com or books like Eugenia Bone’s recent Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods. Pickling is not just a way to be eco- and cost-conscious. It’s almost a religion. “It’s not little Suzy Homemakers at all,” Ms. Bone said. “All the guys, they look like Pan!” (She was referring to the Greek god of mountain wilds, etc.)
THE NEW CUPCAKES?
“I WOULD SAY we’ve tripled our orders of pickles since we opened,” said Mercedez Singleton, manager of the year-old butcher Marlow & Daughters, who compared the current picklemania to that formerly directed at chocolate. “I made them a central display this summer. … I have vivid memories of running out of McClure’s and people having breakdowns over Fourth of July weekend.”
At the new restaurant Rye in Williamsburg, chef Cal Elliot is pickling “red pearl onions, cherries; I pickle ginger, watermelon rind, cornichons with little gherkins,” he said. Also: “pickled shrimp. We make our pickles once a week and we go through them so fast.” Over at Dirt Candy, a haute vegetarian joint in the East Village, Amanda Cohen is doing pickled eggplant in pasta, pickled shitakes in grits and kimchee donuts. Chef Marc Meyer of Five Points, Cookshop and Hundred Acres in Manhattan is pickling whole cherry peppers, cayenne peppers, sauerkraut, pumpkin and Chow Chow—a Chinese relish—as well as cucumbers, i.e., the traditional “bread-and-butter” pickle.