An old joke from New York City’s Lower East Side: A woman asks a street-side vendor how much for one of his pickles. A nickel, he replies. “And for this pikele?” she asks hopefully. “This pikele,” he says, “will cost you a nikele.”
Both the past and present of the New York pickle were on display last Sunday as the Lower East Side celebrated its sixth annual International Pickle Day, with dozens of booths offering up both salty tales and briny treats along a specially cordoned-off block of the neighborhood’s Orchard Street.
Under one tent was 89-year-old Irving Greene, a lifelong briner whose father started the family’s pickle business in 1902. Beginning humbly with just a couple of barrels that he’d cart door to door, the family’s Universal Pickle Works ultimately came to be the supplier of such pickle-centric redoubts as Junior’s in Brooklyn and Grossinger’s in the Catskills.
A few steps farther were New York-based artisanal picklers Jon Orren and Rick Field, both of whom started pickling companies in recent years. The new lines offer far more than just cucumbers. Orren’s Wheelhouse Pickles features pears preserved in rice wine vinegar and turnips in gin. Field’s company, Rick’s Picks, which operates out of his Brooklyn kitchen, has won a host of prizes for such creations as his wasabi green beans and his rosemary beets.
Other booths, which offered such foods as Korean kimchi and pink-hued Mediterranean turnip, served as reminders that pickling, which has its roots in ancient Mesopotamia, is hardly the domain of just Eastern Europeans.
A nickel may not get you far very in the pickle world of today — a jar of Wheelhouse pears will set you back $8.50 — but at Pickle Day there was little need for haggling. There were enough free samples for everybody.