It was a Lower East Side foodie weekend this past one. Not only did I take in the Grub Street / Hester Street food festival on Saturday, but I also went down there again for International Pickle Day 2010. Truthfully, I’m not all that much of a fan of pickles, much as I try to be. Turns out that while this festival pays homage to the many flavors and brining treatments for the cucumber, its scope also covers canning and preserving in general, so that some of the participants brought their jams, chutneys, and other items in that genre.
One of the more well-known stores who participated in Sunday’s festival was Russ & Daughters. Their ancestor started out selling herring and other items from a push cart on the Lower East Side, which was not an unusual enterprise in New York in other centuries. To start up a store and to keep it going through the economic ups and downs that we’ve had since then is. The Beet & Lemon Shrub that they had at the festival was a drink that was supposedly popular at one time, prior to carbonated sodas. As I brought it up to my nose, the smell of the beets attacked my senses. The tang of the lemon hit after the first sip. I have to say that it was not my thing at all.
More recent entries into this field include Rick’s Picks, who sell at many of the Greenmarkets. What I also really enjoyed about this festival was the free samples, so that I could find the right taste and texture for me. I fell in love with several things on Sunday. One of these was Rick’s Mean Beans. The vinegar tang and crisp crunch of the green beans with that punch of garlic and spice are right up my alley. I could see serving these to munch on at a Super Bowl party. I was also very surprised to find out that I liked their People’s Pickles. I will be going back for those on another trip.
In the jams and chutney department, I also found some new favorite ingredients. Beth’s Farm Kitchen, whom I knew already from their wonderful jams and preserves, also let us sample some of their chutneys and relishes. My pick was the Cranberry & Horseradish. That would really liven up the holiday feast if I brought it back with me to Virginia.
Another big winner for me was the Apple Cranberry Chutney that Divine Brine had available. This had a big “wow” factor at first bite. Tart, sweet, and with a little kick, this really perked up my sliced turkey and cheddar on rye that I had for lunch today. They had several other varieties of chutney also available via their website as well as different flavors of pickles.
Then, we wrapped around to the side street to the big barrels of pickles, where we were given free samples. This completely reminded me of when I was little, when pickles were still sold at the grocery store in a big wooden slat barrel, and my dad would sometimes let me have one. Yesterday, however, I received culinary enlightenment. I found out that my taste in the briny stuff isn’t me after all, it is the kind of pickles that I have been subject to eating my whole life. I am not your standard dill person. I am instead, a half-sour, as in the photo below:
This pickle is still bright green, like the Kirby cucumber of its origin, and is still very crunchy with lots of snap to it. I can say that I probably won't need to keep a jar of these in my fridge on standby, but now that I know what to ask for, the next time I get a deli sandwich, the right pickle for me will be there to go with it, too. Horman’s was serving the same kind of treats plus several other flavor selections on a stick for less messy eating.
Not to neglect anyone else, I did get one photo of the several places selling Kimchi. We decided not to stand on those lines. Even yesterday, I noticed that Kimchi and Tacos seem to be one of the new waves that we are having, despite the fact that my sister thinks that those two things should never be put together.
More than just a fun day out for everyone, this street festival was about celebrating a part of New York’s colorful culinary heritage. It was also about the history of food preservation and the people who brought this knowledge and traditions to the U.S. when they emigrated. Whole Foods had put together a display of some of this information, and it was also neat to see a table where children could put together a combination of pickling spices with vinegar to try it for themselves.
Aside from the food epiphany that I had over the half-sour and all the wonderful products that I had a chance to sample, this also connected me a bit with my own family’s culinary heritage. I was sharing the events of the day with my dad, who loves pickles (and would definitely have chowed down on the Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich that Amateur Foodie Adventures found - sorry Nora!) when he commented that his own mother used to go to the waterfront in Washington, DC when the markets were there to buy produce to can and preserve. I knew her later in life, when she no longer did this, so it was interesting to hear that even in the 1950s in suburban Virginia when supermarkets were all around, some folks still carried out food preservation in the time-tested traditional way. To this day, however, my father still cannot stomach strawberry jam, as that was one of the things she always made.