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At Pickle Licious, her all-things-pickle store in Teaneck, Robyn Samra sells chocolate-covered pickles, pickle-flavored gum and toothpaste, lifelike pickle Christmas tree ornaments and 28-inch inflatable pickles, not to mention at least eight kinds of actual pickles.
Samra calls them “Old Tyme New York-Style Barrel Pickles With A Bite.” She also sells pickled condiments, various relishes, tapenades and olives.
"People are pickle crazy," she says. "And we love them!"
PHOTO: Pickle pushers Alexandria, Taylor, Ray and Robyn. Photo courtesy Pickle Licious
Pickling in an acidic brine has been around for 4000 years, and throughout the world, foods from the expected to the unusual are still preserved in this way. In Russia you can eat pickled beets, Malaysians pickle pineapple, the British eat pickled onions and even eggs, and pickled cabbage—kimchi—is a staple of the Korean diet, but only here in the U.S. does the word pickle usually mean just one thing--a juicy, sour cucumber.
Samra, 49, grew up in Bergen County. She worked as a waitress, restaurant manager and bartender until one day a great big pickle-shaped lightbulb switched on above her head.
She had always loved the authentic kosher pickles of New York's Lower East Side. So in 1995, she formed a company with her husband, Leo Samra, and her brother, Jay Brown, to buy tubs full of pickles on the Lower East Side and sell them at the Meadowlands flea market.
Then her husband passed away and her brother moved to California. There she was in New Jersey, raising two young daughters on her own. She nearly gave up the enterprise. But believing that Leo would not want her to give up her pickle-packing dream, she decided to forge on.
In 1998, Samra began making her own pickles and expanding the business to sell at 40 farmers' markets in New Jersey and Westchester and Orange counties, New York. In 2002, Pickle Licious opened a retail store in Teaneck.
Today it is still a family affair that includes daughters Alexandria, 23, and Taylor, 21, and Ray Calvo, who she married in 2010 and runs the business with her.
Pickle Licious had a brush with celebrity when the pickles, along with Samra’s daughters, appeared in a market scene in the 2010 Harrison Ford movie, Morning Glory. Unfortunately, the scene in which actors wrestled on a floor aslosh in Pickle Licious sauerkraut ended up on the cutting room floor.
Harrison Ford, however, did taste their sauerkraut.
"We definitely got the thumbs up from Harrison Ford," Samra says. "He was loving those pickles. The Pickle Licious crew had to pack him up quite a few goodies to take home!"
Today, Samra's 2,500 square feet of warehouse space is filled with 55-gallon drums of marinating cucumbers.
Officially, a cucumber can morph into a pickle after only a 24-hour bath, “but a full-sour is really the most popular in this area," she says. "It pickles for anywhere from seven to nine months.”
The key to both full and half-sour pickles is a healthy dose of garlic and salt. With the addition of ingredients like horseradish or hot red peppers, pickles will take on other personas.
“Whatever’s in season, we’ll start pickling—cauliflower, green beans, any kind of hot pepper,” Samra says.
So while others try to avoid getting themselves in a pickle, that state of affairs has worked very well for Samra and her family. You might even say they relish it.
“It has a nice dill-type flavor, but is not overbearing,” Samra says of this sour cream, potato and pickle soup.
• 2 TBS Butter
• 1 Med Onion
• 4 Cups Chicken or Veggie Stock
• 4 Large Kosher Dill Pickles or Hot & Spicy Pickles (for those who like to kick It up a notch)
• ⅔ Cup Liquid from the Pickles (we call It BRINE)
• 4 Large Potatoes peeled & cut into ½ -inch dice
• 2 TBS Flour
• 1 Cup Sour Cream
• Chopped Fresh Dill (as a garnish)
1. Melt butter, sauté onion (about 3-4 minutes)
2. Add broth, pickles, brine and potatoes.
3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender (approx. 20 min.)
4. Blend flour with sour cream.
5. Add a small amount of hot soup to the sour cream mixture.
6. Blend together. Then, while constantly whisking, slowly pour the mixture back into the hot soup, until the liquid comes to a boil.
7. Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes until slightly thickened.
8. Soup can be left chunky or puréed.
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.