2005_08_food_pouringbrine.jpgThe first thing that Rick Field of Rick's Picks did when we met him at the Union Square Greenmarket one morning was put us in charge of his stall. So while he ran off to take care of non-pickle related business, we stood in his shoes for a few minutes. Friendly passers-by stopped to ask about the different varieties. "Are these spicy?" Taking a quick glance at the ingredient list for the jar of Rick's Mean Beans to which she was pointing (and taking note of the name), we reported that they might be on the spicy side. "Great. I'll take two." When he returned, we chatted a bit, and when the customers stopped by he always had a joke or a story, and even some Rick's Picks stickers for the younger pickle devotees. One customer made a point of swinging by just to tell him how much she loved his Phat Beets. He quickly offered up a salad recipe she could make using the leftover brine.

Rick's background is in entertainment, so when we discussed the trajectory of his pickling business, he gave an analogy to filmmaking. When making a film, he explained, there's an end to the process. In the pickle business, even when you reach one goal, there's always another larger goal looming in the distance. That said, Rick has managed to achieve many of his goals since he started pickling with his family in Vermont. He claims that he was obsessed with pickles as a child, and ultimately started pickling in his apartment in Brooklyn. What started as a small operation is now a mini-pickle empire -- production has moved to a factory in Poughkeepsie, and his wares can be found at the Union Square Farmers Market (on Wednesdays), Whole Foods, Murray's Cheese, and more, and are also available on his website, rickspicksnyc.com.

We had the good fortune to get a glimpse back in time to the Brooklyn days when Rick invited us over to pickle ramps (wild leeks, essentially) when they were in season.

2005_08_food_inspecting.jpgWe called to let Rick know we were on our way. "Can you pick up 16 ounces of fresh squeezed lemon or grapefruit juice?" "Uh, sure." And we were off. Having never pickled before, Rick explained the process. There's a basic base -- the brine -- which is composed of water and vinegar. Beyond that, it's all about experimentation. He keeps a small black notebook on his shelf which is top secret. It doesn't contain phone numbers, but his pickling recipes. He jotted a few notes about the proportions and ingredients we were using that night -- two separate batches: one with smoked hot paprika and pink peppercorns, and another with crushed green peppercorns. We were given the task of crushing peppercorns while Rick prepared the ramps. He lined up about sixteen jars, half for one variety and half for the other; we added our ingredients ("be sure it's an aggressive quarter teaspoon," we were instructed), and then Rick divided the ramps among the jars. Once all the pieces were in place, it was time to pour the brine into the jars, put on the lids, and set them in a hot water bath to seal.

2005_08_food_sealedpics.jpgRick explained that in addition to the pickles themselves, a great deal of thought, care, and hard work had gone into the design of his products. He wants everything to look as good as it tastes, and his label designs are simple and clean; but with that much work, he realized early on that it was important to make labels that were indestructable. "You can run these through the dishwasher, and they'll come out looking perfect."

All along we sipped on some cold beer and listened to Beau Jocque ("pickling music," Rick explained), and were kept company by Lefty, his canine companion who has been with him through the entire pickle trajectory. We haven't yet tasted the ramps, as they take several weeks to pickle completely, but he did send us home with a bag of ramp greens, which were sweet, springy-tasting, and delicious sauteed in some scrambled eggs the next day.

Thanks again to Rick for letting us share an evening of pickling. Be sure to stop and visit him at the Union Square Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and tell him Gothamist sent you. Full photo gallery on Flickr.