Durham County

Look out Mount Olive, the Triangle has pickles too

Marika Wendelken, a Durham calligrapher, prints the vendors featured at PickleFest on Sunday July 31, 2016.
Marika Wendelken, a Durham calligrapher, prints the vendors featured at PickleFest on Sunday July 31, 2016. ccioffi@newsobserver.com

Mount Olive holds the top spot when it comes to pickles in North Carolina, but the organizers of PickleFest are hoping the Triangle places second.

Local restaurant menus are featuring a lot of craft-fermented products right now, and organizers wanted to try to bring some of them together in one place, said Sarah Mackiewicz, manager of the Rickhouse, the venue that hosted the event.

“I think people are seeing both the health benefits of fermented foods and the tastiness,” Mackiewicz said.

About 20 vendors from the Triangle and beyond converged on the Rickhouse near the Durham Athletic Park on Sunday to share their briny products, including pickled bamboo and okra, and even a soda made to taste like bread and butter pickles.

Sunday was the second year the Rickhouse has hosted PickleFest, and organizers expected a sizable crowd, pre-selling more than 150 tickets for this year’s event.

The Mt. Olive Pickle Co. hosts its own pickle festival in its namesake town, but it’s more like a county fair than a food expo, Mackiewicz said. She said she believes Durham’s event is the only other pickle-themed festival in the state.

Carla Squires was at the festival Sunday showing off her pickle made from bamboo grown on family land in Wilkes County.

The bamboo was originally brought to the U.S. from Panama by a woman in the community who worked as a nurse during the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 1900s, Squires said.

“Different people in the neighborhood started pickling it and using different recipes,” Squires said.

Squires, who now lives in Raleigh, took an interest in the practice as a child and continued to make pickled bamboo into adulthood.

She still heads up to the family’s land in Wilkes County each spring to cut tender new bamboo shoots, before processing them into about 1,000 jars of pickles.

When Squires began selling the pickles about a decade ago, she was one of the few, she said. But these days, all sorts of people are making pickled products, including kimchi and sauerkraut.

“It doesn’t hurt my business,” she said. “So I think it’s good.”

As visitors walked by the tables of foods featuring several types of pickled products, many were eager to try a bread and butter pickle soda being served by Steven Wiggins, the sales manager of Haw River Farmhouse Ales.

We like people that like pickles.

Terry Burleson

“Have you tried this? It’s amazing,” said Shawn Daugherty as he sipped a sample.

The soda was brewed to emulate the tangy sweetness of bread and butter pickles, and had extracts of cucumber as well as a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Daugherty, who was at the event with Elisa Eysle, said they both enjoy trying unusual pickled and fermented products.

“It’s really a huge growing food scene,” Eysle said.

Mt. Olive sales representative Terry Burleson was at PickleFest, showing off the company’s new line of products.

The 90-year-old company sticks mainly to cucumbers, Burleson said, but he enjoys seeing the different types of pickles.

“We like people that like pickles,” he said. “We’re all for it.”

Chris Cioffi, 919-829-4802; @ReporterCioffi