Friday, January 20, 2012

Good Food Awards speech: "Pickles Are Not Obsolete!"

Addie and I are just back from the Good Food Awards in San Francisco, where we were honored for the 2nd year in a row for our Organic Garlic Dill Pickles.  While our first experience at the Good Food Awards in 2011 was quite special, this time around we were fortunate enough to receive an additional honor:  Real Pickles was selected by our 10 fellow pickle winners from around the country to deliver the acceptance speech for the group!  (Thanks, picklers!)

At the ceremony, each pickle winner was called up to the stage and received a Good Food Awards medal from renowned chef and food activist Alice Waters.  And, then I delivered the speech: 

Thanks very much. My partner Addie and I are thrilled to be back at the Good Food Awards for a 2nd time as part of what is again a fantastic pickle posse! 

I think pickles are a really great fit with the Good Food Awards, with its focus on helping to bring good food back into the American diet, promoting both taste and social responsibility.  Pickle-makers in the United States have much to offer on both counts, and I would say the winners here tonight are clear illustrations of that.

Those engaged in the craft today are drawing on pickling traditions from around the world to produce tasty pickles, as three of tonight’s winners did – Farmhouse Culture, Spirit Creek Farm, and Firefly Kitchens – in creating a version of the Salvadoran classic, curtido.  And we are drawing on the American pickling tradition, as Cuisine En Locale did to produce their winning pickled peaches (which I'm very excited to try). 

Some of us here (like Olykraut) are using the traditional fermentation process to make our pickles, while others (like Miss Jenny's and Let's Be Frank) are using the modern vinegar approach.  Both are great ways to preserve the wonderful flavors of organically-grown produce and indeed to enhance those flavors along the way. 

Pickle-makers are also making major contributions in the realm of social responsibility.  Our special tool of course, our not-so-secret weapon, is our ability to take perishable fruits and vegetables and make them non-perishable, and yet still tasty and nutritious.

In an industrial food system – with monoculture farming and long-distance food transport (both made possible by cheap fossil fuels) – one might be tempted to wonder if pickles are obsolete.  I mean, why bother with making dill pickles for winter when we can just buy in cucumbers from Mexico, right?  Part of the answer, of course, is:  Who really could live without pickles?  (I know, I might be a little bit biased.)

But, as it turns out: pickles are not obsolete anyway.  Because, as more and more Americans are coming to realize, our industrial food system is broken.  It doesn't work.  It's causing or exacerbating a huge list of ecological and social ills, from climate change and soil erosion to human disease epidemics and the decline of our rural economies.  What we need instead is a regionally-based organic food system where everyone (not just the privileged few) has access to healthy food from small producers located (whenever possible) within their own region.

And in such a food system, pickles are an essential food:  one that can keep people eating nutritious fruits and vegetables from regional sources all year long, regardless of how cold the weather gets.

Our contribution to building a regional, organic food system is an important part of what we pickle-makers are being honored for tonight.  So many of the winning producers here have developed close relationships with their local farmers to source their ingredients, as we have done in Massachusetts at Real Pickles, Sour Puss Pickles has done in New York, and Emmy's has done here in California; while others are growing ingredients themselves, like Ann's Raspberry Farm.

And, thus, just as practitioners of each craft being honored here tonight are contributing to the task of making "good food" the norm in America, so too are those of the pickling craft.  And, I think I can safely speak for all of my fellow pickle winners when I express sincere gratitude to the organizers of the Good Food Awards for doing your part to help promote our work and achieve wider recognition for it.  So, thank you very much. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tips From Pickle Fanatics

While Winter tends to be a quiet time of year for making pickles, it is undeniably a great time for eating them. Fresh local produce is harder to come by and the tangy flavor of fermented foods is a perfect accompaniment to hearty cold weather fare. When it comes to fermented vegetables, the Real Pickles staff are, as you may have guessed, enthusiastic and creative users of the stuff. I talked with some other members of our staff recently to get a sense of how they are incorporating Real Pickles into their meals.

Katie, our fermentation specialist, has been on a tempeh reuben kick.  Known to us all as an excellent cook, she melts some Swiss cheese on rye bread, adds some slices of Rhapsody’s tasty tempeh, and tops it with Organic Garlic Kraut and Thousand Island dressing (she makes her own by combining ketchup, mayo and a chopped pickle).  “It’s an easy sandwich that you can make in a frying pan or a toaster oven,” she notes.

Apples and sauerkraut are a popular combination among staff, especially in these colder months. Some thinly sliced raw cabbage, Organic Sauerkraut, chopped apple, feta and toasted walnuts tossed in a creamy dressing is a perfect crunchy winter salad. Another inspired example of this combination is the pizza that Dan and Addie have been making, topped with ricotta, gruyere, shallots, thinly sliced apple and Organic Garlic Kraut. Dan and Addie particularly like using the sourdough crusts from our friends at Berkshire Mountain Bakery. We are always impressed by the beautiful caramelized shallots when they bring in leftovers for lunch.

In my own home, we make a version of the Real Pickles vegetable fried rice recipe at least a couple of times a month. We start by sautéeing lots of garlic, add some leftover rice, crack in an egg or two and then add whatever cooked vegetables we have around (carrots, kale and broccoli are always good). Sometimes we’ll throw in some frozen peas or green beans from our summer garden. We top it all with a big serving of Organic Asian-style Cabbage and some sesame oil. A handful of chopped salted peanuts tossed on top are an added bonus.

Brendan, who works in the kitchen and is our source of outstanding homemade goat cheese, also makes a lot of stir fries and likes to add in some Organic Ginger Carrots at the very end, heating just enough to warm it all through. He also suggests mixing the carrots into green salads.

Fermented foods are popular with staff for breakfast, especially as an accompaniment to eggs. A slug or two of Organic Tomatillo Hot Sauce on scrambled eggs has long been our favorite use for it. Annie, our lead production manager, likes to cover an over-medium egg with melted cheddar cheese and Organic Red Cabbage. Hannah also likes to precede her day in the Real Pickles kitchen with fried eggs for breakfast, topping hers with Organic Asian-style Cabbage.

If you’ve had a busy week and are looking for a simple and satisfying meal, you can always take a cue from the Real Pickles lunch table: unwrap a wedge of cheese, get some crusty bread or crackers and top it off with whatever Real Pickles vegetables you have open. Joe, our facility manager, takes this simplicity approach a step further. He traveled back home to Louisville over the holidays and his stash of Organic Dill Pickles intended for family and friends became the road trip snack of choice. “We easily went through an entire jar of pickles in one sitting and drank the brine when they were gone.”