For this edition of our interviews with A Taste of New-York History vendors, we got a special treat! Shamus Jones of Brooklyn Brine invited us to tour their Brooklyn production facilities, where we watched pickles get born.
They start off with fresh cucumbers from Mr. Pickle, the “old guard Brooklyn pickle makers” who expanded to work with local cucumber farms. “These are all family farms, worked on for generations,” says Shamus.
Next, they make the brine, which includes apple cider vinegar, spices, and lots of garlic. Some specialty brines include maple syrup, bourbon, or Dogfishhead 60 minute IPA.
The brine is poured over the cucumbers and other spices and sealed.
This is what the pickles look like after soaking in the brine.
Though Shamus Jones grew up in Brooklyn, his love for pickles does not come from the classic deli dill. He really discovered pickles while working in restaurants. “That’s where the fascination came from. I started working at restaurants that focused on culinary artistry.” Soon he was making pickles at these restaurants, and when he was laid off from a restaurant job in 2009, almost immediately realized that that’s what he wanted to do. “I was walking home, and just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I called a friend to see if I could borrow his kitchen for a bit. Really, within six hours I was already starting.”
Eventually, Brooklyn Brine settled in their storefront and factory space in the Boerum Hill/Gowanus area of Brooklyn, where they produce all their pickles and preserved goods, and ship them across the country and the world. Most small businesses would consider that a daunting task, but Jones considers it integral to the brand. “It would be easy to co-pack, to give our recipe to another company to manufacture for us,” he says, “but to me that would be a detriment in the long run. It’s not worth it to have that quick turn around.” Everything, from the cucumbers to the glassware, is local, and that’s exactly how Jones wants it.
Ultimately, New York is a natural place to produce pickles. “If you think about why pickles exist, it was for preservation,” says Jones. “Every culture was pickling, curing or preserving something, and since New York was the gateway to America all these cultures and their food practices came together.” And with the more artisanal food movement in New York, Jones believes food can return to that familial, traditional place. “A lot of foods have become really commodified, and there’s no reason pickles should be produced and packed in India when you can do it here. Our food system as a whole has gotten pretty haywire, and we want to get away from that.”