On Sunday I found myself in a bit of a pickle. But don’t worry, I wasn’t in any sort of danger. I was simply surrounded by pickles at the 7th Annual International Pickle Day Festival on the Lower East Side. The only possible peril was to my stomach, as I was tempted by too many pickled wares. Oh, the pain of it all.
Pickled cucumbers, peppers, beets, turnips, okra, and more were available for tasting on the crowded stretch of Orchard Street between Broome and Grand Streets. You see, pickles actually refer to any type of food that has been preserved and flavored in acid. These acids can include vinegar, salt, alcohol (such as vodka), citric acids like limes or lemons, and savory spices such as garlic. I didn’t see any meat or fish being offered, but with the crowds of pickle fanatics crowding the stands, it’s quite possible I missed them.
At the turn of the century, the Lower East Side was known for its Jewish immigrant population of Germans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Greeks, all contributing to the neighborhood’s pickle history. On Sunday more recent waves of immigrants also made their pickled presence known. Kalustyan’s had incredibly spicy Indian mango chutney for tasting, while the Korea Agro-Trade Center hosted one of the longest lines for their pickled cabbage known as kimchi.
The neighborhood stalwarts held their ground as well, with Guss’ Pickles and the Pickle Guys enduring serpentine lines of pickle lovers. I couldn’t sample everything, but I soon discovered that my favorite pickles came from the Brooklyn-based purveyors. Who knew that Brooklyn boasted such an impressive pickle community? Confronted with Wheelhouse Pickles’ amazing array of fruit and vegetable pickles, I found it almost impossible to walk away from their sweet pickled pears. Somehow I wound up with two jars of cucumber pickles from McClure’s Pickles: spicy garlic ones for Jim and garlic and dill spears for my parents.
Even on such a small strip of street, pickles were well-represented in all their glory by a plethora of products and information. I wasn’t surprised to learn that cucumbers are 96% water, but I had no idea that that pickles existed in so many varieties. It’s no wonder they get their own festival every year!