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After Work: The Perfect Day For A Pickle

…This was International Pickle Day VII, New York City style. Local pickles were the theme. It was learning as well as an eating experience. I learned that you could pickle almost anything. While cucumbers are king, tomatoes, okra, beets, green beans, watermelon rind, peaches, grapes, eggs and even turnips were proudly displayed and were there for the sampling and buying. Pickling has been around since Mesopotamia was a super power so people have had plenty of practice with water, sugar, salt and spices…

But would you expect speed dating while waiting for a pickle?

Dona Gibbs is not the least bit sour-faced on pickle day. For more of Dona’s savory words click on After Work in the menu on this page.

The October sky is a shade of blue that I’ve never been able to match in any paint chart.

A perfect New York Sunday. Right for about anything from sunning on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to strolling aimlessly here and there. If I wanted to grab a little history or culture, I could have scanned the newspaper listings and joined any one of nearly a dozen organized walking tours. These organized jaunts are enormous fun for a small price, both for seasoned New Yorkers or tourists. Best of all, they often include street food grazing.

On a recent Sunday, I could have chosen to watch New York’s annual Steuben Day parade, a celebration of German culture. Or a parade celebrating African-Americans. There also must have been at least two street festivals. These fairs draw the same discount sock vendors, the same roasted corn with chili powder sellers and the identical Peruvian knitwear merchants no matter what the neighborhood. Fried dough of some kind seems to be a prerequisite to get getting a city permit.

While I was tempted by all of these, one has to make choices in life.

I set off for the Pickle Festival on Orchard Street on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside. That’s right, the Pickle Festival. This is an annual event sponsored by a merchants group and supported by the NYC Community Fund, Cornell University plus an assortment of local politicians.

The Lower Eastside is a natural as a pickle celebration setting. The neighborhood served as a gateway for many immigrant groups who came to New York City in waves. All seemed to have brought a pickling tradition with them.

This was International Pickle Day VII, New York City style. Local pickles were the theme. It was learning as well as an eating experience. I learned that you could pickle almost anything. While cucumbers are king, tomatoes, okra, beets, green beans, watermelon rind, peaches, grapes, eggs and even turnips were proudly displayed and were there for the sampling and buying. Pickling has been around since Mesopotamia was a super power so people have had plenty of practice with water, sugar, salt and spices.

We can’t forget fish. Most Scandinavians and Jewish hostesses wouldn’t dream of a festive table without pickling herring. And there are pickled meat products too, but I’d rather not see or sample pickled pigs’ feet.

Guss’ Pickles is one of the last vestiges on the Lower Eastside of true Jewish pickle-making art. Izzy Guss started making pickles in 1920. You may have seen the movie, “Crossing Delancy.” Izzy was said to be the inspiration behind one of the lead characters. Today Pat Faircloth brines on. You can still buy a pickle right out of the barrel. Or now that it’s the 21st century you can have them shipped to you –even internationally if you’re homesick.

There are two new pickle guys on the scene. Rick Field of Rick’s Picks is from Poughkeepsie, New York. He’s introduced a pickled okra spiced with smoked paprika that he calls Smokra. John Orren of Wheelhouse pickle fame does his pickling across the East River in Long Island City. They both have a following at the local Greenmarkets and had attracted a large number of fans to the festival.

The most pungent of all the booths was the one dispensing kimchi. This is a Korean delicacy made from fermented cabbage with heaping helpings of garlic and incendiary peppers added by the handfuls, I think. These tables had attracted a large continent of fans that seemed to have settled in for some serious chowing down and not mere dainty nibbling.

Several long lines snaked around a couple of the tables. One reached way down the block.

“What are you in line for?” I asked one patient person.

“Pickles,” she replied.

I looked puzzled. Here we were surrounded by pickles booths. Why were these two getting overwhelming traffic?

She grinning, “They’re giving out whole pickles – half sours. Not little bits on a toothpick.”

Now in spite of what you’ve heard that New Yorkers are a brash, impatient lot – all elbows and rude gestures –we are surprisingly good at waiting in line. Or as true New Yorkers would say “on line.”

Truth is, we have a lot of practice at the coffee shop, the bus stop, the bakery, the deli counter, the movie theater and the Village shop that dispenses cupcakes where even Alec Baldwin would have to wait his turn.

At the Pickle Festival the wait had taken on flavor of an impromptu speed dating session. I heard a lot of “Where are you from? How did you hear about this?” from the many 20- somethings and thirty-somethings around me.

Sure it was going to be at least a twenty-minute wait but at the end you got a free pickle. And maybe, just maybe an e-mail address or even (whoopee) a phone number.

Me, I went home with a souvenir plastic pickle pin. After all, I’m a happily married woman.



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