“A Portrait of a Gherkin as a Young Man”

29 Oct
This is captioned as "Hipster Pickle." You just got the gist of the festival.

This is captioned as “Hipster Pickle.” You just got the gist of the festival.

On Sunday, I went to the niche-as-can-be Lower East Side Pickle Day. It’s an annual event honoring the tradition behind pickling in the early days of the Lower East Side, when many Jewish and European immigrants lived in packed tenement houses and sold food from pushcarts. Many picklers flocked to Essex Street, right in the heart of the neighborhood. In 1910, over 80 vendors just selling pickles were in the area, making competition as bitter as brine.

vintage-pickle-630x800For the modern era, where the Lower East Side (LES) is now a hot-spot for trendy bars and Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese, the days of languages overlapping as people hocked pickles are gone. All that remains are the vintage photographs and a handful of businesses that are still around (Guss’ Pickles doesn’t seem to be headed out anytime soon). Us new-New York transplants got an adapted version on Sunday. Orchard Street between Houston and Delancey was blocked off for pedestrians only, making room for food vendors, yoga mats, a Red Bull-sponsored DJ, and little kids playing croquet in their Halloween costumes (picture 3-foot versions of Hocus Pocus. With croquet mallets. Awesome, right?). About 15 different pickle vendors were there, and the crowds were gigantic. Julia (a friend from college and a pickle pioneer) compared getting samples to beating back wild things, and the block reminded me of a violent version of the stock market.

“Sour? Sour? Who can take a sour? Spicy’s out, and dill hasn’t been doing well this quarter.”

We tried some from Mrs. Kim’s Kimchi (kimchi is pickled cabbage after all), Guss’, Brooklyn Brine (mason jar and burly vendor were in attendance), and Divine Brine, as well as some from a probiotic stand. After trying one of their radishes, I could feel my arms and joints turning into soaring gyro-Feng Shui-balanced-otrometers. That’s what probiotic stuff does, right?! In all seriousness, they had a very sweet radish pickle, which I’d try again.

A wrinkled man in a fuzzy green sweater hovered over a barrel of vinegar and looked like a legit source. He actually looked like a pickle, but not so fast. We weren’t fans of the new or sour ones he gave us. They tasted like garlic cloves and celery seed. They did not taste like a pickle.

We also decided that new pickles are not pickles. They are like ice cubes floating in vinegar: they’ve got texture, but a lot of watery flavor.

The afternoon reminded me of Marc Brown’s Pickle Things, which supposes a world with pickles everywhere (see attached photo). Pickle pants, pickled radishes, pickled doughnuts (just kidding). We also saw dill pickle cupcakes, which I am perfectly content with never trying. If I’m going to eat a cushion of frosting with a tiny cupcake underneath, it’d have to be one I wouldn’t feel guilty about.

This is how I felt by the end of the day, from Marc Brown's Pickle Things.

This is how I felt by the end of the day, from Marc Brown’s Pickle Things.

I love pickles (with sandwiches, you’ll always see me with a stack of slices arranged like poker chips), and this was an exciting (if crazy and sometimes bordering on absurd) glimpse at a tradition that brought New Yorkers of different languages together and gave the newly arrived a way to make a living. You could safely say there are some who live for pickles.



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