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!

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