Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Christmas Pickle Story

Did anyone else happen to glance at the calendar and exclaim, "Holy schneikes! Next week is Christmas?!" Well, I did. Luckily, I just came from a visit with the Pittsburgh Pickle brothers. What's that got to do with Christmas? You DO know about the Christmas pickle, don't you? Let me tell you the story....

Legend has it that Germans hid a pickle deep  within their Christmas trees. On Christmas morning, the first child to spot the pickle got an extra present and the first grownup to spot it would have good luck for the new year. Does pickle spotting sound a little bogus to you? Your cynicism is well founded. 

Research reveals that's something the German never did...not one German can be found to substantiate the story. Yet, the Christmas tale - and tradition - continues right here in America. You can even buy glass pickle ornaments for your very own tree at the Heinz History Center! 

Here's my theory. Germans and Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh and Heinz; Heinz and pickles; pickles and Heinz History Center. Full circle! Of course, Heinz pickles are made right here in Pittsburgh, right? Wrong! They moved that function out of Pittsburgh long ago. So who keeps the pickle homefires burning here in the 'Burgh? Well, the Pittsburgh Pickle Company, of course!

The Patterson brothers (John, Will, and Joe who also own the Beerhive), last year founded their pickle business after having made pickles for use in their Strip District hotspot. The pickles were a hit, customers wanted to buy the long green spears to take home, and a spinoff business was born. And let's face it, the brothers not only know a thing or two about pickles, they have good business bones - one brother is a CPA and another an accountant.

Come one, let's take a little tour of the very hands-on pickling process at their facility in Verona. You can tell every jar is packed with not just pickles, but with love.

You can't have dill pickles without dill.

You especially can't have pickles without cucumbers...crates and crates of the green beauties!

Cucumbers, pre-pickling, washed and in waiting. Buckets of them!

Sliced by hand, trimmed by hand, made by hand...gloved, of course.

What goes in the best garlicky dill pickles? Garlic and dill. LOTS of it in every jar. 

And cucumbers...
On go the lids, then into the water bath they go.

After a nice long pickle-hot-tub spa session, the jars come out of the bath, are cooled down quickly and await the appropriate label for the variety of pickle within. This day it was the Dill-Mill variety (kind of sounds like "steel mill" pronounced in yinzer speak), the kind with extra dill and garlic. On other days, it might be the original Pittsburgh style dill that's a little sweet, too. Or maybe their newest, Fire & Smoke, that gets its dark and smoky color from the addition of a whole dried chipotle chile in every jar. The color reminds me of what the night sky above the steel mills used to look like. 

One WHOLE chipotle goes into every jar!

In fact, the entire pickle lineup is inspired by the very real, gritty, hardworking people of our city's industrial (and industrious!) past. You might even say the Patterson brothers embody that very same spirit.  

The brothers generously handed me a trio of jars - one of each variety - as I left after a long, productive morning. And I had plans for those colorful jars of pickles...especially for the Fire & Smoke ones. 

I couldn't wait to make one spicy, smoky Bloody Mary. You can tell by the first pic (at the top of the page) that I didn't wait for long. My Fire & Smoke Bloody Mary doesn't even have hot sauce...the smoky, chipotle pickle juice (and just a smidge of Mike's Hot Honey) gave my favorite brunch cocktail that kind of slow, sweet heat that creeps into quite a gentle warmth. 

Fire & Smoke Pickle Juice Bloody Mary

  • 8 oz V8 original - I use high fiber V8 for a healthy morning drink!
  • 2 oz Pittsburgh Pickle Fire & Smoke pickle juice - drained from the jar of pickles
  • 1/2 t celery salt
  • 1/2 oz Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • just a drizzle of Mike's Hot Honey - check Amazon...amazing stuff
  • 3 oz vodka - I use Pittsburgh's own Boyd & Blair
  • a lemon wheel
  • a nice long Fire & Smoke pickle
Stir all ingredients except for the lemon wheel and the pickle spear together in a cocktail tin. Pour over ice in a nice tall glass and garnish with the lemon wheel and pickle spear. Merry Christmas!

 If you're having a big group of guests over for brunch, John shared the Beerhive's recipe for a nice big batch of Bloodies:

Pittsburgh Pickle Big Batch Bloody Marys

  • 46 oz can of tomato juice
  • 3 oz lemon juice
  • 3 oz lime juice
  • 2 t fresh minced garlic
  • 1 oz Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T horseradish
  • 1.5 t sriracha
  • 1.5 t salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 Pittsburgh Pickle Company pickle spear for garnish
Mix all but the pickle (of course) in a large container. For each drink, pour desired amount of vodka into a glass, add the mix, add ice, and add the pickle spear. Enjoy.

On Christmas morning (next week...eek!), I hope you're lucky enough to find a pickle in your tree and even luckier to find a jar of Pittsburgh Pickle Company pickles!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Traveling The Bourbon Trail...Finally!

No recipes for you this week, folks, Kimber and I have been traveling! Finally I made it to Kentucky to tour the bourbon distilleries between Louisville and's been a dream for quite a while. So come on, buckle up your seat belt and join us on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky!

After a 6 hour drive, we headed straight to El Camino outside of Louisville for a late brunch. I mean, who could resist Mexican Tiki?!

Kimber's chilaquiles with chorizo. Magnifico!

Once fortified, we headed for our first stop on the Bourbon Trail, Woodford Reserve. This is an elegant spot to learn about and sip a little bourbon. 

Waiting for the tour to begin.....
Even the room with copper pot stills were elegant!

Barrels as high as the eye could see.

Finally...our first taste of bourbon and the first of many Kentucky Bourbon Creams to come.

What next on our first of three days? Dinner, of course. We checked into our centrally located hotel - halfway between Louisville and Lexington so we could bop back and forth easily - and hit up the OBC (Old Bourbon Country) Kitchen. 

Bourbon and honey thick-sliced bacon and the peanut butter dip. Heaven for Kimber!
Having checked out restaurants ahead of time, the OBC stood out because of its bourbon selection and small plates...especially the Bacon in a glass with peanut butter dip. And then there was the Surry-ano ham (Virginia ham from Berkshire hogs akin to a Spanish ham) that was like butter!

Despite the name, the Sweet Potato Pie was well-balanced and not cloying at all as a result of an acidic sweet potato shrub. Not to mention, we encountered one of the most knowledgeable and affable bartenders on the trip. Thanks, Adam!

Our next, and last for the evening, stop was the Buffalo Trace Distillery and the Ghost Tour. We didn't see any ghosts, but we did sample bourbon and a delightful Bourbon Cream that puts Bailey's on notice that there's a new kid in town! And the distillery is the only place you can buy it. Came home with three bottles...two for gifts. (Really they are.)

Fireside in the Blanton mansion at Buffalo Trace. 
Up bright and early on Sunday, once again we set out on the Trail in search of bourbon enlightenment. The historic Spanish Mission-style site of Four Roses was our next destination. 

Did you know the origin of the distillery name and logo is actually a love story? The founder, Paul Jones, Jr., fell in love with a southern belle, proposed to her by letter, and awaited her answer. She replied that if she accepted his proposal of marriage, she would be wearing a corsage at the grand ball they would both be attending. When she descended the staircase, she was wearing a corsage made of four red roses...thus the logo and legend were born.

From there, we'd intended to tour the Wild Turkey facilities, but despite their advertised hours, we (and others behind us from the Four Roses tour) arrived to find the distillery closed, orange cones blocking the entrance to the gift shop and start of the tour, and we were forced to turn around Turkey-less. Wild Turkey turned out to be the Wally World of distilleries. There should have been a giant turkey at the driveway entrance that said "Sorry folks, distillery's closed!"

We stopped for a nosh along the way, then set the NAV for what we'd been told was the epitome of bourbon bars in Bourbon Country...Haymarket Whiskey Bar And Bottle Shop. "They" were right. There's nothing I like better than a dive bar with an amazing selection of bourbons and one of the most informed and friendly bartenders ever encountered. The bartender being Dave. If (no, WHEN) you make this trip, do NOT miss the Haymarket! It's dirty, gritty, and on just about every "best of" list in the U.S. Those lists are spot on.

There's nothing like an authentic Kentucky Mint Julep made and consumed IN Bourbon Country!
For you fellow bourbon fans, a little detail of a very special bottle of Angel's Envy.
The front of that beautiful of my favorite bourbons.

Monday. Our last day of the trip and there's SO much we have left to do. First, a little breakfast in Bardstown and a little local atmosphere. Although the name is less than PC (Mammy's Kitchen), the breakfast is stellar!

Country ham, eggs, fried apples, and hash browns. Oh, and a Kentucky Bourbon Bloody, too. (I can't believe I didn't photograph that!)

Our last stop on the Bourbon Trail was my favorite. The grounds of the distillery are warm, inviting and beautiful...just like the people who work there. I was lucky enough to meet Bill Samuels, Jr. this summer in Pittsburgh during a tasting of Maker's Mark on one of the Gateway Clipper boats. Clearly, Bill's friendliness and storytelling ability flow through the employees at the distillery. 

The view from the back porch of the tour start.
The view in the other direction.
Our tour guide pointing to the hillside excavation where Maker's 46 will be aged in a cavern.
Chihuly glass ceiling between a barrelhouse and the gift barn and "dipping" area. Chihuly glass was the original reason I wanted to do the Bourbon Trail...just to see this magnificent installation. 
Do you see the angel? Obviously enjoying his angel's share! (Is it just me or does the angel actually look like Dale Chihuly?!)
I mentioned "dipping" above. Here's a cheesy picture of me, in proper protective gear, having just dipped a bottle of Maker's White in their distinctive red sealing wax. My daughter, Mieke, said I look like the opening of Laverne and Shirley! She may have a point.

"Schlemiel, Schlemozzel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"
(I'm holding Maker's White...only available at the distillery. Delicious!)
One place I forgot to mention in our travels was the stop we made after brunch the first day at Bourbon Barrel Foods. What a wonderful spot to pick up all sorts of items to cook with! Their tagline is, "Eat your bourbon!"

I can't wait to get cooking!
Believe it or not, I'm already planning the next trip to visit the places we didn't get to this time. Having fallen in love with Bardstown, I'm planning on making that our base camp at one of their lovely bed & breakfasts - it IS centrally located (sort of) on the Bourbon Trail. 

There are stops on the Trail I'll revisit (OBC Kitchen and Haymarket Whiskey Bar) and those earmarked already not to miss next time - Heaven Hill, Barton's, Willett (Angel's Envy is opening up in 2016!). And who knows...maybe Wild Turkey can redeem itself. But you can be assured I'll call ahead this time!