Today we hear of a tale of obsession from Daniel Connolly, who was overtaken by pickles on an unbearably hot June afternoon in 2006, when he was compelled to read every cookbook (most notably The Joy of Pickling) in a Tulsa, Oklahoma Borders Bookstore. He now lives in Manhattan’s West Village with his wife Megan and dogs Oliver and Liam, who assist him in his adventures as an urban homesteader.
The alchemy of transforming the humble vegetable into the perfect pickle (the PP) rests on one critical ingredient and one key process. That ingredient is high quality produce harvested at the crack of dawn that very day. You can’t achieve the PP with produce picked by Peter Piper yesterday. Same day or no way.
Unless you live on a farm—eegad—or live near one, the only institution able to deliver veggies plucked from earth at sunup is a farmers market. The bigger the market, the better your chances of securing such produce, which brings us to the key process: stalking. Now put on your sneakers for some manic stalking at a farmers market.
The PP is just beyond the horizon; you just have to stalk like a hungry hound to pinpoint the highest quality produce and the produce harvested as the cock crowed that day. The first step is to carefully survey the entire area and take note of which farmer stands have queues and which queues have a white omen (chefs clad in white—of course they buy only the best). These stalking surveys should be conducted early and often depending on how many types of pickles you prepare.
The second step is to compare the target produce (Kirbies, okra, or whatever you strive to pickle) from any worthy producers identified in step one. Feel it up and sniff it good. The bona fide batch will glisten with a covering of morning dew, possess a firmness rivaling the Situation’s abs, and radiate a clean, green aroma with a wispy scent of earth.
The next step is to confirm with the producer that indeed it was reaped in the morn. Tell them flatout that you are a stalker and a crazed pickler that must have the morning’s harvest. If they have not the AM haul, then align your pickling plan with the next time that your select producer will deliver it. I can guarantee that the harder and longer you stalk, the better you become at achieving the PP.
I stalk the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. This past September I stalked hard and fast in pursuit of the haricot vert bean. On the third day of stalking, I spotted a long queue at the stand of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm and it had a white omen. The queue for this farm’s delectable produce includes some of the best chefs in the city: Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Mark Ladner of Del Posto, and David Chang of Momofuku.
The mound of beans before me glimmered with golden dew and snapped in my fingers with clean, fresh crispness. I approached the farmer with wild eyes and explained my mad quest. Before he even finished nodding to confirm the dawn harvest, my bags were filled with $54 in the very finest haricot vert beans. I triumphantly began producing the haricot vert PP hours later.
Stalking the farmers market to ferret out the best sunrise crop is essential to the art of pickle-making. Pursue it like paparazzi and you too will yield the PP.