Fickle Pickles, you complete me…
Fickle Pickles, you complete me…
Makes 24-36. I boil extra in case some eggs crack during the boil. The measurements call for 36 yolks.
” The Pickle lady’s Daughter “
Feel like kickin’ the day off with a sweet little spice? Try out Fickle Pickles. Tucked behind a vine-filled trellis, you will discover a family-owned jewel that offers a proper Texas welcome. After more than a quarter of a century of pickling, Fickle Pickles product is now produced in their kitchen located in Boerne, TX.
Well settled into written fame, the late Billie A. Shaw, who was fondly referred to as “The Pickle Lady,” began jarring these savory, crunchy gems and quickly made a big name for her family recipe. Still using one single and successful family recipe, Fickle Pickles has swooned the pages of Southern Living, Texas Monthly and has even graced the stage at a live episode of The Martha Stewart Show.
Today, you can find samples and jars of the spicy and sweet slice, right in the heart of Gruene.
Bonus insight that will make your day trip date a definite score: during the busiest and most beautiful time of year, park in the free lot where Fickle Pickle and many other businesses are located. It’s down the block from the center of town and you can find, coffee, smoothies, antiques and much more before you take the walk down the street.
Written by Jennifer Nalewicki / Photographs by J. Griffis Smith
Most antiques stores discourage eating while shopping. Carousel Antiques and Fickle Pickles in Boerne is different. The shop encourages spontaneous nibbling while browsing and keeps a sample plate of its homemade Fickle Pickles near the cash register. Visitors can pluck a pickle—or two; it’s impossible to stop at just one—and enjoy what many consider to be some of the best pickles in Texas, if not the world. The crisp, crinkle-cut pickles start off sweet but quickly take a spicy turn.
Besides buying them in Boerne or at Carousel’s sister shop in Gruene, the only way to get a jar of the crunchy, sweet-yet-spicy dills is by placing an order over the phone. The pickles come in two varieties (original or extra spicy) and three sizes (ranging from eight to 26 ounces). Despite having a website, Fickle Pickles doesn’t accept online orders. Instead, customers must call the “pickle hotline,” which sends calls to a green, pickle-shaped phone the owners found at a trade show. And call they do, with orders coming in from as far away as Alaska, Japan, and Finland. Many of the regulars have never set foot inside the shops, so they haven’t experienced the hodgepodge of other goods for sale, such as vintage Coca-Cola signs, dolls, hand-forged tools, and glassware. Instead, they learned about Fickle Pickles through word of mouth or by receiving a gift from friends or relatives.
Antiques dealer Billie A. Shaw created the recipe in her home kitchen at least three decades ago, and started selling them in her Boerne shop, Carousel Antiques, around 1987. At first, she gave away samples of the pickles to help bring in customers, and soon earned the nickname “the Pickle Lady.” The pickles soon became as popular as the antiques, and before too long, Billie renamed her shop Carousel Antiques and Fickle Pickles.
Billie passed away in 2008, and today, Lisa Obriotti, Billie’s only daughter, runs the business with her husband, Jake. They still make the pickles the way Billie did, slicing each cucumber by hand, swirling in a secret concoction of spices, and bottling and labeling each jar. To keep up with demand, the Fickle Pickle operation eventually moved to a nearby industrial-size kitchen. Like her mother, Lisa has earned her own moniker: “the Pickle Lady’s Daughter.”
“Sometimes people mistake me for the Pickle Lady, but that was my mother,” says Lisa. “It was her hard work for so many years that built the company.”
Lisa was in her 20s when her mother, an avid cook, began pickling cucumbers from the family garden. “I remember her saying, ‘You have to try these,’” Lisa says. “I thought they were fantastic. I love seeing peoples’ reactions when they try them at the store. Once they taste them, it’s done. I love to watch their faces, doubting you, thinking they’re just dill pickles. It’s a very easy sell.”
Fickle Pickles also has its share of celebrity admirers, like actor Pierce Brosnan and former model Cheryl Tiegs. President George W. Bush even visited during his Texas gubernatorial campaign in 1994 to pick up a few jars. “He was doing a caravan tour, and one of his colleagues contacted my mother, telling her the day and time he would be coming to town,” says Lisa. “He was four hours late, so when he walked in, she scolded him, good-naturedly, of course.”
It’s that down-home kind of attitude—not to mention the addictive quality of the pickles—that has kept Fickle Pickles in business all this time. In recent years, the company has added jars of marinade to the inventory, which Lisa says is great on chicken or shrimp. She has also come up with a number of recipes starring the spicy-sweet pickles, which she readily shares with customers. “Our pickles make wonderful deviled eggs and potato salad,” she says.
And while Lisa knows that the next logical step would be to add online ordering, she’s hesitant to do so. “We have some of the nicest customers in the world, and I love talking to them,” she says. “I know we need to eventually make the transition to online, but phone ordering works well for us for now. If we changed it, I’d really miss doing it the old way.”
Visiting with Martha Stewart…
Fickle Pickles are the best pickles in the world, and the only place in the world you can get them is at Carousel Antiques & Pickles in Boerne. Six years ago, the original Pickle Lady of Boerne, Billie Shaw, described the flavor of her sliced dill pickles as “starting out sweet and finishing with a spicy flavor.” To my family in North Texas, giving a jar of the crunchy pickles as a present is considered a great compliment. Because Boerne is quite a drive for most of my kinfolk, the statement made by the gift is compounded by the size of the jar of pickles. The 8-ounce jar is for regular holiday greetings. The 20-ounce jar is the perfect restitution for the gravest slights. The 16-ounce jar is for the run-of-the-mill faux pas. I try to keep a case of the medium-size jars of pickles on hand at all times.
I mention all of this just to give you an idea of the devotion that pickle lovers have for Fickle Pickles. My family members are not the only ones to find the Boerne pickles extraordinary. Although I have conducted no scientific research to back up my claim that the pickles are the best, friends and readers have substantiated my claim in impressive numbers.
So you can imagine the fear that shook the fabric of my family quilt and social network when rumors circulated that Billie Shaw was retiring from the pickle business. The repercussions vibrated all the way to my office, where two co-workers and I rushed to order what we thought might possibly be our last taste of Fickle Pickles.
That’s when things began to get out of hand. When I said I wanted 12 jars of the regular pickles instead of extra spicy, I was instantly marked as an eater of bland foods. My Texas roots trembled at the suggestion. My culinary manhood was challenged.
I had to find out if the regular pickles were for wimps, so I went right to the source. My search would be disguised as a call to check on Billie Shaw.
Lisa Armstrong, Shaw’s daughter, answered the green pickle phone hanging on the wall in the antique store. Armstrong took over the business from her mother in November 2003. Well past retirement age, Shaw hasn’t been feeling well lately, Armstrong said. “She has been taking it easy and taking care of the books,” she said.
Shaw learned to make the pickles from an old family recipe. One Christmas she had a few jars left over from holiday gift-giving and sold them at the antique shop. The legend of Fickle Pickles has been spreading across the state since 1992.
Seven years ago, Shaw was making 25 gallons of pickles a week. Last year, she had to make 40 gallons a week to keep the cupboard in the store stocked. “Mother worked so hard for so long, it’s good that she finally gets to rest,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong has added a line of Fickle Pickle apparel and updated the logo but plans no major changes to the business. “I could never change the recipe,” she added.
I asked her if she preferred the regular or the extra spicy with the big red X on the gold lid. “Some people wanted the pickles to be a little spicier, so Mother added the extra-spicy,” Armstrong said. “I think that the hot overpowers the flavor. I prefer the regular.”
To make me feel even better, Armstrong said nobody has ever referred to the regular as bland. She didn’t come right out and say it, because she was too nice, but I think that I got a hint that she thought my co-workers were smug elitists with uneducated palates. She did say the regular sells three jars to one of the extra spicy. “With the extra spicy, you don’t get the full bouquet of the pickles,” she said.
Carousel Antiques and Pickles is at 118 S. Main St. in Boerne. The shop is open Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm, and Sunday, noon-4pm. Call the new Pickle Lady at 830/249-9306 to have the pickles shipped to your door.
Read original article at www.austinchronicle.com