The pickles caught my eye because they were out of place among the flashlights, watch fobs and assorted small tools on the counter of the local hardware store. “Gourmet Rickles Pickles,” the label read, “crunch’em, munch’en, lunch’em.”
“Never heard of these before,” I said to no one in particular as I rolled a jar in my hand. The sales clerk overheard me and offered that they came from the nearby town of Coralville, and I bought a jar.
It was love at first bite.
I’m a mutt when it comes to most foods and beverages. I down instant coffee, cheap wine and generic canned goods like a dog eating chow an hour past mealtime, but I’m nowhere near a hound when it comes to pickles. In fact, I’m quite discriminating.
Speaking of dogs eating, Pearl continues to add to the list of things no one thought she would eat but did. The latest entry is rubber bands. I’m not talking about one or two or even a dozen, but a fist-sized ball that sat on the corner of my desk since before she came to us several years ago. Why they were suddenly attractive, only she knows. At first, I was hopeful that she only shredded the extruded rubber but found out differently while on bogey patrol in our backyard. The specimen could make a great sight gag on a trip to the vet. “Hey, Doc, I think my dog has worms.”
But I was writing about pickles.
My appreciation goes back to my early childhood as my grandmother could put up a quart with the best of them. From there my love of a good gherkin has grown.
Rickles Pickles weren’t anything like Grandma’s but I liked them anyway. In life and condiments, variety is good. The slices are extra thick and crispy providing for an excellent mouth feel. The front taste is a hearty vinegar sour with spicy notes in the finish thanks to a generous allotment of jalapenos and pepper rings. Under and over the vinegar and spice, a sweetness pops up here and there like a child with a new puppet theater. They were soon gone. On my next visit I bought a half dozen more jars but then a funny thing happened: halfway through the third jar my love affair ended. Affairs of the heart and palate are hard to quantify and I can’t say exactly why, but I just stopped liking them. I became a fickle Rickles Pickles lover.
What to do with the last three jars?
As it turned out, I was heading to Chicago to visit my family, so I took them along with me as a gift and they were an instant hit. My ever-frugal mother liked them so much that she saved the brine from the first jar and made a second and third batch by adding more sliced cucumbers.
Brother Bob was also smitten, and he soon telephoned asking me if I could buy a case of the pickles and bring them to him the next time I visited. His plan was to surprise Jan, his long time partner, with them for Christmas. “She didn’t like the chainsaw I got her last year or the ice fishing tent the year before but I think she’ll go gaga over the pickles,” he said. Bob’s not the sharpest pencil in the pack, but his heart is near as big as his mouth and that’s saying a lot in the Fleck family.
Off to the hardware store I went.
When I got there I happened upon the manager and struck up a conversation. “Where do they come from again?” I asked, “Your clerk said from Coralville but I’ve never heard of them.”
“Funny you asked,” the manager said and told the story. The pickles weren’t from Coralville but from a man he met in Coralville who said he was a salesman for the company. On a whim the manager decided to put a display of the pickles up at the store and was surprised at how well they sold. Then one day he noticed that they were out and he tried to call the representative only to find his number had been disconnected. The manager then found a phone number for the company and called it. He soon learned that the pickle company’s distributor had been sending as much of their product out the back door as the front. To make a long story short, he’d been buying the pickles from a fence.
The pickles are hot in more ways than one, and now Bob wants two cases.