This past weekend, I decorated my Christmas tree. Most of my ornaments have been collected on travels around the world. One of the local ornaments, though, brings me the biggest smile. It’s an emerald-green glass pickle gifted to me many years ago by Barrio Brinery’s owner, Pat Block. I had my then-young grandchildren in tow, and they were thrilled to discover a shop devoted to pickles, one of their very favorite foods. Imagine their delight when Pat gave us the pickle to hang on our tree while regaling us with stories both tall and true about how the green gherkin became a Christmas icon. A grain of truth in his story was the fact that cucumbers were probably among shipments of glass fruit and vegetable ornaments that arrived decades ago from Germany. They proved to be more popular than broccoli, for instance.
PLENTY OF PICKLES
The re-discovery of the pickle ornament, now dangling from a spruce branch, inspired a trip that day to Barrio Brinery. I was intent on stocking up for the holidays ahead. The brinery deals in all kinds of fermented foods, with everything other than the Korean-style kimchi made in-house. Pickles here are made in small batches by the lacto-fermentation process. It involves a salt brine, rather than vinegar, and—over a slower process—develops a much more complex flavor. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics too. Research continues showing that healthy gut bacteria created by this fermentation process create anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting properties.
At the heart of the pickle line-up is the New York kosher-style dill, with a quartet of variations. I most prefer the classic, but other options include crisp half-sours, sometimes referred to as “new” dills because of their shorter stay in brine. A bread-and-butter pickle has an added touch of honey for sweetness. Two other variations include heftier quantities of garlic along with some New Mexico chile heat.
I like picking up a few containers of escabeche for hostess gifts, too. A festive mix of sliced jalapeños, carrots, onions, and spices, the escabeche is great accompanying a roast beef or grilled cheese sandwich or quesadilla, or topping nachos. Speaking of nachos, Primo Nacho’s Pickled Jalapeños, are made especially for dotting the melted cheese and chip treat. The name’s a cute play on owner Pat’s cousin, who really is named Nacho. Jars of Dilly Beans make a good present, perfect for standing tall in a holiday Bloody Mary or Maria. I think the sauerkraut, perfumed with caraway seeds, is spectacular. Use it on a pastrami Ruben sandwich or as a side with a grilled brat or pork chop.
Pat created his “Because…pickles” tagline when he opened eight years ago. By complete coincidence, it just happened to turn out to be on National Pickle Day. Not only is his shop full of the foods just described, but he has a selection of delightfully goofy pickle gifts. Surely you know someone who needs pickle-shaped bandages. Or how about a motion-activated yodeling pickle, or a bendy Gumby-like sour pickle? There’s even a Santa Pickle.
And of course, there are the delightful pickle ornaments that initially captivated my grands. I can’t wait until they visit later in December to hear their laughter once again.
1413-B West Alameda
Closed Sunday and Monday
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.