Fickle Pickles, the best in the world

The Austin Chronicle
By Gerald E. McLeod

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.

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