Top Five Items on the Pickle Shelf

It's risky business trying to predict food trends--Peruvian has been the next "it" cuisine for about six years running--but there's a whole lot of pickling and fermenting going on in restaurants and stores. Lately I've had kimchi and spicy pickled carrots on restaurant dishes, and an order of fried pickles, so basically I'm on a spree, which I took to the supermarket.

The following five items are pickled vegetables that can be found on most grocer's shelves for a low price. It doesn't include olives or pickles from the refrigerated section, which is pretty much owned by Claussen pickles, and they are delicious, too.

5. Farmer's Garden by Vlasic

These Kosher dill spears have a subtle mix of sweet and tart, tempered by garlic and peppers, and the vinegar taste and saltiness does not overwhelm. The pickles have a remarkably good crunch, and they stay crunchy after the jar is opened and stored in the refrigerator.

Don't eat the peppers, as they are slimy, but try the carrot just to experience a bizarre texture. Surprisingly, the best thing in the jar are the garlic cloves--crispy, with little taste of garlic. I'd like a whole jar of those.

Bonus: The cup measurements on the jar are accurate, the lip of the jar is smooth, and the label is easy to soak and remove. This pickle jar is a keeper, for use around the kitchen.

Chase Me, I'm Irish

I don't know if the guy who invented the pickle-juice chaser for Jameson Irish Whiskey was a genius or an idjit (how they pronounce "idiot" in Ireland), but I'm opting for genius with leprechaun luck, because Jameson is the only whiskey that works with pickle juice. The Farmer's Garden pickle juice is drinkable on its own, and excellent as a "pickleback".

4. Talk o' Texas Hot Okra Pickles

These required mild courage to try, because I hate cooked okra. It's slimy. Fortunately, pickling eliminates the sliminess, and though these pickles are unattractive, they taste like a cross between a cucumber pickle and a pickled pepper.

What are they good for? A snack, challenging hors d'ouevres, and as a truly Texan garnish for a Bloody Mary.

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3. Trappey's Hot Pickled Jalapeños

Several companies produce pickled jalapeños, but Robb Walsh discovered the secret of Trappey's superior peppers on a trip:

I once detoured off I-10 to search for Trappey's headquarters in New Iberia, Louisiana, just to ask the folks who work there how they keep their jalapeños so crisp. They happily explained that instead of pouring hot pickling liquid over the peppers like most packers, Trappey's cures its peppers in cold brine, the same way kosher pickles are cured. I even got to look into the giant concrete vats where the peppers were pickling.

The jalapeños are indeed crisp when you open the jar, and they remain that way after a stay in the refrigerator. Trappey's jalapeños are top-notch with nachos, sandwiches, nachos, queso dip, and of course, nachos.

2. Mezzetta Pickled Anything

Mezzetta pickles a wide range of vegetables, and they do it extremely well. Choose from peperoncinis, banana peppers, cauliflower, giardiniera, California hot mix, and many others. I like the hot pepper rings, which can be used for sandwiches, salads, burgers, and yes, nachos.

Not only is Mezzetta the master of pickling, they also make a phenomenal marinara sauce, and the best Maraschino cherries.

1. Wickles Pickles and Wickles Relish

Wickles are more sweet than sour, but they have a pleasing spice, and just enough alum to make you pucker. The odd thing about the pickle slices is that they're cut too thick to fit properly on a sandwich. What usually happens when you put out Wickles Pickles as a condiment is that most of your family or guests will just eat them plain. They match well with slices of Spanish chorizo.

Wickles Relish is more tart than the pickles, and it's so delicious you can eat it with a spoon, which makes it hard to keep around long enough for condiment purposes. Wickles Relish livens up a grilled-cheese sandwich, tuna salad, and potato salad. The best hot dog I make has mustard, onions, Wickles Relish, and a blast of Bravado Spice's Pineapple & Habanero Hot Sauce. It's a fist full of awesome.

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