Noon–4 p.m., Sun., June 23
609 Foster Street, Durham
Pickled-flavored beers, pickled relish, pickle chips, and dill pickle ice cream—wait, what?—are just a few pickle-centric products available for your purchasing and sampling pleasures at the fifth annual PickleFest at the Rickhouse in Durham this Sunday.
But the celebration of all things sweet and sour kicks off Saturday morning with the Home Pickler’s Contest, where the public is invited to submit their pickled entries in four categories: cucumber dill, lacto-fermented, sweet pickled, and unique pickled. The festivities continue on Sunday, when local pickle pros will crown a winner.
“We have dreams of making this a street festival or a destination for the East Coast for picklers,” says Sarah Mackiewicz, the director of operations at the Rickhouse. “The dream is to make it a destination for people who love pickles.”
More than twenty booths will showcase the very best that fermenting, curing, and brining has to offer. Upward of eight hundred people flock to the Rickhouse each year to sample pickled treats from North Carolina pickle vendors and Triangle restaurants that have perfected the practical art of pickling.
“Making pepper relish isn’t easy—it’s a labor of love,” says Samantha Swan, owner of Cottage Lane Kitchen and a fourth-generation relish maker, known in relish circles as chow-chow. “There is a shared history of making something out of nothing when families were farming and didn’t have a lot of money, so chow-chow sort of became that. I still have a few bottles left that my grandfather bottled, believe it or not.”
This is Cottage Lane’s second time participating in PickleFest. Swan will be serving the brand’s signature spicy pepper relish atop peanut butter crackers. The relish, composed of finely chopped chile peppers (jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, and bell peppers), gets cooked in apple cider vinegar and preserves. Swan says the magic of good pickling boils down to the simple process of adding acid to a non-acid product—like ice cream, for instance.
Jared Plummer, owner of Two Roosters Ice Cream and bona fide culinary risk-taker—who has also whipped up pizza ice cream and green bean ice cream and described both as “surprisingly not disgusting”—will be making his PickleFest debut this year with cucumber dill ice cream.
“Anybody can do your green mint chocolate chip ice cream, but we really want to be different,” Plummer says.
His prized pickled concoction incorporates the juice from cucumbers into a milk-and-cream base before churning the peculiarly pickley mixture into a—surprisingly tasty?—frozen treat that’s finished with a sprinkling of fresh dill.
“A lot of the people that come to these sorts of festivals are really into novelty and uniqueness,” Plummer says. “Those are the people that we want to make ice cream for.”
Plummer’s penchant for progressive pickling is certainly a far cry from the nostalgia of chow-chow, not to mention the traditional pickling methods of pioneers like the Mt. Olive Pickle Company.
As the largest independent pickle company in the nation, Mt. Olive, based just over an hour south of the Triangle, has been a mainstay at PickleFest since the beginning. This year, it will be handing out samples from its organic line. What started as a Lebanese immigrant’s idea to prevent cucumbers from going to waste is now one of the best-selling pickle brands in the country.
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