Doctor Pickle's Powerful Prescription

By Gretchen Schmidt / Photography By Robert Parente | April 20, 2014
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Dill pickles in brine

Most come from Harold Pitts, aka Doctor Pickle, who unleashes a steady stream of silliness as he hawks his wares at the farmers markets: “You’re only as good as your last pickle!” “There’s power in the pickle!” Donning a lab coat, lime green clogs and clown glasses, Pitts is the portrait of a pickle performer, pushing half-sours and sweet-and-spicy chips on unsuspecting customers. In a sea of soft-spoken, mellow artisans, Doctor Pickle’s schtick is as in-your-face as a New York garlic pickle.

You might guess that Pitts, 54, has theatrical training, and you wouldn’t be far off. As a firefighter in East Chester, New York, he went to clown college to learn to entertain burn victims at a children’s hospital. “I witnessed what a clown did for them,” he says. At the firehouse, he made the meals – and since making pickles was something he’d done in the 1970s, “I put pickles in everything.” He started refining his pickle recipes and sold them, including to a high-end produce store in Scarsdale. Married at the time, with two kids, Pitts says he “never thought to make a living on pickles.”

On September 11, 2001, everything changed.

9/11


Pitts was a first responder the morning of the World Trade Center attacks. What started as a search-and-rescue became an operation to retrieve anything that would help identify victims. He was there for 17 days. “You were so involved in the process, it wasn’t until you saw people walking around with photos,” he says, that the impact of the event sunk in.

It took another six months for him to realize that something was very wrong with him. “A year later, I ended up in the hospital with a nervous breakdown.” Divorce followed. He left New York and landed in Port St. Lucie, where he invested into real estate. “I bought a lot, sold a lot, did very well,” he says, and then the market collapsed. “I zeroed out,” he says. In September 2010, he went out to dinner with friends. “I couldn’t even pay for dinner. I found myself in quite a pickle.”

During a visit to a farmers market in Palm Beach, the pickle idea came to him and took hold. “Nobody was doing pickles. I knew I could do it.” Within a month, he was up and running and started looking for markets to sell his wares. He visited Yellow Green Farmers Market in Hollywood, new at the time, and spotted one of the stalls, numbered 343 YGFM. He saw the symbolism – 343 firefighters who perished – and that was his sign to hang his shingle there.

Pitts looked for local farms to buy his pickling cucumbers in season and started with basics: sweet and spicy chips, half sours. His customers helped him expand his line. “Why don’t you make a cucumber salad?” they asked. So he did. “Why don’t you pickle okra? Carrots?” He followed their advice, but ran into another obstacle: people who just don’t like pickles. “I needed a secret weapon.”

WE CAN PICKLE THAT


That weapon turned out to be gazpacho. “You come up with a recipe that will knock their socks off,” he says. So he turned to a New York chef friend to develop a recipe with 23 ingredients. Now, his gazpacho – fresh, healthy, flavorful – sells out at most markets. His roasted organic beets are another popular choice. So are pickled ginger, sauerkraut and olives. Doctor Pickle’s products hit all the right notes for a food-conscious public: They’re certified organic kosher, non-GMO, naturally sweetened with agave, gluten free, preservative free, use no coloring or MSG and are locally sourced in season. He’s also tapped into the trend of collaborating with breweries and distilleries, developing pickles in collaboration with Funky Buddha Brewery, and creating Jack Daniel’s pickle chips, an edible cousin of the pickleback, a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle brine.

Unlike some artisans, Doctor Pickle covers many farmers markets by hiring others to run stands, in particular college students – “they’re the most reliable and health conscious, and talk to people.” Pitts’ pickle patter touts the health benefits of fermented foods, and his associates follow suit. But Pitts points out that the fun factor trumps all. “I love pickles. I love people. And I love having fun!”

It’s that power in those pickles.


Time to Brine

To make pickles, Pitt gathers cucumbers [1] from local farms, combines them with brine and flavorings, and pours them into buckets [2]. For chips, he uses a machine to quickly deliver thin slices [3]. One 40-gallon bin of cucumbers will make 180 containers of pickles. They’re stored for different lengths of times in brine [4], depending on their flavors:

  • Half sour: 7 days
  • Dill: 6 weeks
  • Garlic: 8 weeks
  • Sweet and spicy chip: 2 weeks

Beets [5] require more work. First, they’re roasted to get their skins off, then they’re combined with onion, white wine vinegar, red onion, dill and oregano.


Find Doctor Pickle at these markets in Miami-Dade and Broward: Yellow Green Farmers Market in Hollywood, Marando Farms in Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park Farmers Market, Williams-Sonoma Aventura, Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market, Whole Foods Market Pembroke Pines You can also order online at doctorpickle.com.

Article from Edible South Florida at http://ediblesouthflorida.ediblecommunities.com/shop/doctor-pickles-powerful-prescription
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