Rick Field was an out-of-work TV producer when he started his pickle company, Rick’s Picks, in 2004 – though he’d already been pickling as a hobby for several years. Now his 13 varieties of pickles can be found in Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca stores across the country, and Field himself is still a presence at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets, as well as the Brooklyn Flea. He gave a talk last week at East Village cocktail bar Louis 649, and a few things he said piqued further questions.
You started Rick’s Picks in 2004, after losing your regular TV production gig. Were you taking a big risk at the time?
I was in a proverbial midlife crisis, didn’t have a defined next step. I just decided to go for it. In my case, it didn’t feel scary or risky, I guess because I’d been in freelance TV.
Have you encountered anyone in this economy who’s trying to make a similar career transition?
I get a lot of emails from people who might have heard of me. They have an idea for hot sauce or baby food or yogurt, and they want me to walk them through the early stages. I kind of have a policy of always trying to make time for someone who has questions like that. But I try to start the conversation with a simple question: Do they like paperwork? People get lost in the romance and the sexiness that is making things in the kitchen, but there’s a lot more to it.
You encourage your customers to re-purpose the pickle brine in recipes. What are some favorites?
With the pickled string beans called Mean Beans, it’s a cayenne brine. What’s really satisfying and easy to do is what we call re-pickling. You just take some carrots, slice them thin, put them in there, and in a few days you have pickled carrots. With the Mean Bean brine, you can also marinate a pork chop. With the brine from Smokra [smoky pickled okra], I like to mix it in when I make deviled eggs. With the Pepi Pep Peps [pickled red bell peppers], I like to use it as a salad dressing. And then you have your cocktail applications: You have the cumin-lime dill-pickle spear, the Spears of Influence – that makes a mean Pickletini. You take a little bit of the brine and dirty up your martini, then take a couple of the spears and chop them into olive-sized pieces, then rim the glass with dill.
Even being able to re-use the brine, do people tell you that $7 to $12 is a lot for a jar of pickles?
Definitely. When people choose not to buy Rick’s Picks, that’s usually the main thing they say. We’re definitely developing some more value-oriented products to address that. The way we do it, the produce we use is top-quality. The hand-packing is the big deal – because that takes time, and then time translates to money. We’re never going to be the cheapest pickle on the block. But the People’s Pickle [garlic dill; currently $7.99 online] is a direct response to that. We launched last summer, and it’s already one of our top sellers. And you’d like to develop a kosher pickle?
The deal with kosher is that either you need to have a dedicated kitchen that you own and control completely, which we don’t have, or you need a rabbi to come in and bless every batch, which is expensive. But it’s absolutely something that we will overcome.
Are you also planning to do pickled ramps this year?
I do ramps at home in the springtime when ramps are in season. It would be very fun to do a small batch, commercially, of ramps – that’s something I’d like to do in 2010 if we can pull it off. Ramps are incredibly time-consuming to clean and prepare. It takes 19 human hours to make 71 jars of pickled ramps. In the same time, you could make 2,500 jars of Phat Beets.
Talking about pickled ramps is indicative of how big a trend pickling – and canning, preserving — is right now. Where does that come from?
I think there’s an appreciation in the 21st century for craft-based activities – whether pickling or knitting – anything that’s done with your hands. We spend so much time staring at screens that there’s something vital and active about pickling and craft-based things that’s satisfying and a great antidote to some of these other things happening across our culture.