There is a universe of pickled foods beyond name-brand jars of cucumbers soaked in brine, a dash of high-fructose corn syrup, and a smidge of Yellow No. 5. If you like your eating interesting and want to help the planet, it's hard to beat a local pickle--whether or not it's a cuke.
Fermenting leftover crops and eating them months later is an ancient practice. From cabbage to kimchi and soybeans to miso paste, pickling was the proto-refrigerator. Now, many of us have our pick of popular produce year-round. Today's global marketplace means that a New Englander can drive through snow to pick up fresh Peruvian asparagus from the grocery. But this kind of agricultural economy makes it hard for small-scale farmers to convey that foods run out, says Chris Forbes, co-chair of the Good Food Awards Pickle Committee and cofounder of Sour Puss Pickles in New York City. Seasons change, droughts strike. "Sometimes you should run out," he says, "and you can replace one vegetable with another."
Sarah Weiner, who started the Good Food Awards, champions diverse, boutique picklers because they're a critical part of the food system. When favorable climatic conditions yield a glut of produce, a farmer might have more food than she can sell. "At some point," Weiner says, "it can be more cost-efficient to just mow the produce into the soil to add fertility than it is to pick it, wash it, pack it, pay for the gas to bring it to five different farmers' markets, and spend five days' worth of someone's salary to sell it one by one to the consumer."
A local pickler can save the day, buying the bumper crop in bulk and preserving it for when the fresh stuff is scarce--without a freezer. "Growing things that make sense to a particular microclimate and preserving them throughout the year makes communities a lot more independent and robust," Weiner says.
Thanks to these four Good Food Award-winning pickles, you can eat your veggies all year--and relish them.
POGUE MAHONE PICKLES
2014 GFA WINNER Fresh Dill and Garlic
JUDGES' TASTING NOTES "Nice crisp," "Sweet smell, lovely look"
GET IT $10 for 16 ounces, poguemahonepickles.com
2014 GFA WINNER Power Krautage
JUDGES' TASTING NOTES "Tart acidity, mellow herb finish, good crisp," "Crunch!"
GET IT $9 for 16 ounces, happypantrysd.com
New York City, New York
2014 GFA WINNER Smokra
JUDGES' TASTING NOTES "Nice slime," "Okra with chipotle"
GET IT $10 for 15 ounces, rickspicks.com
BABA’S COOKING SCHOOL
2014 GFA WINNER Lala Sauce
JUDGES’ TASTING NOTES “Ninja spice,” “Like the funk”
GET IT $8 for 4 ounces, babascookingschool.com
Photos by Lori Eanes