Belinda Powell has been around pickles for almost as long as she can remember; she learned a special family recipe from her mother and grandmother at a very young age.
In fact, when her grandmother died, she left about 30 family pickling recipes, which Powell gladly snatched up.
But oddly, Powell -- the self-proclaimed Pickle Lady of Phoenix -- has actually never pickled anything (successfully) in her life. After two slimy, mushy attempts, Powell tells us she decided that it just wasn't for her.
So how does Powell produce her pickles, a Phoenix farmers' market staple, and maintain her title?
With a little help from Costco, she admits.
What kind of a pickle is this? Find out after the jump.
As she explains, to gear up for a market, Powell purchases gallons of Vlasic Kosher Dill Pickles at Costco, dumps the juice, adds sugar, vinegar and seeds, then shakes until the sugar dissolves. Seven days later they're ready to sell. This is actually more of a marinating process than pickling, Powell points out, since the pickles are already, well, pickled.
Vlasic, which is owned by New Jersey-based Pinnacle Foods, has a 500,000-square foot pickle plant located in Michigan -- hardly invoking that home-grown feeling you expect from a farmers' market. But Powell maintains that she's more than happy to share the method to her briny madness with customers.
"I tell everybody up front how I do it," she says. "I say it 50 times a day and tell anybody that wants to hear it, that's how I make them. I've never told anybody otherwise."
"People ask, 'Do you grow your own cucumbers?' Absolutely not. If you do it right, dilling pickles take a huge amount of time," she says.
Time and an inclination that Powell, who has been churning out her pickles for more than 30 years, simply doesn't have.
"I have no desire [to pickle] because this has turned out to be one of those silly things that grew and grew," she says. "And I don't really like dill pickles, and it's hard for me to make something I don't like."
She sells her jars at the Phoenix Public Market where, although it's not a strict requirement, vendors are strongly encouraged to have a majority of their product grown or produced locally, says Cindy Gentry, who heads Community Food Connections, the non-profit that organizes the market.
Gentry, who is well aware of the process Powell uses to make her pickles, says that although it would be ideal if vendors could maintain a product that contains a majority of local ingredients, sometimes that just isn't the most feasible way to run a small business.
"We encourage an engagement with local growers," Gentry says. "But we don't want to discourage the growth of their business for lack of that. And such is the case with many vendors."
But locavores be damned, it is hard to not like any one of the three varieties of Powell's pickles: regular, sweet, or a surprisingly delicious spicy version of the latter, where each jar is packed with jalapenos and a Fresno pepper.
And when you look at the number of jars she sells between her stint at the markets and sales from her home, it is evident that she is doing something right.
"I'm selling 65 to 70 jars every week at the farmers' market and another couple of cases out of my house," Powell says. "I've done this forever, it works, I make good money -- and every day I think, thank you grandma."
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