The Legendary Practice of Popular Pickle Production
A shortage of some pickles has left Eastcastle Place senior living community in a bit of a…. well…pickle. While no one is able to trace the origins of the retirement community’s proprietary pickle production, folklore has it that staff, residents and volunteers have been preparing their very special pickles as far back as Prohibition. Laura Wengler, director of community life who has been working at Eastcastle Place for almost 25 years, said that overseeing the treasured pickle-making tradition is a responsibility passed on from activity director to activity director. “We’re sworn to secrecy regarding the recipe. The only thing I can share is that even though they have a cherry taste, there’s no cherry juice involved,” she explained.
Eastcastle Place’s Cherry Dill Pickles are prepared, jarred, and refrigerated at the retirement community, and then sold as a fundraiser at special events including Christmas in the Castle. “Because of the high demand for the pickles along with the sheer fun of preparing them, we have had volunteers come in from the community, as well as residents and staff. We put on aprons, play music in the background and chat a lot. People talk about their culinary traditions. It’s really a fun time,” Wengler said.
Pickle production for the holiday season begins in September each year at Eastcastle Place. Tasks involved include cutting, adding cinnamon sticks to the jars, and brining. “Gary Aubry who is Eastcastle Place’s activity coordinator and has been working here for more than 20 years, is the official brining guy,” said Wengler. “The pickles are stuffed in the jars, and then someone walks around and re-stuffs them even more for maximum capacity. Then comes the wait, as the pickles need to be refrigerated for 2-3 months before they’re ready for consumption.”
More than 100 jars were prepared this year, selling for $3/pint and $6/quart. “We’ve only raised the price once in the past 25 years, and then by only 50 cents,” said Wengler. Proceeds from pickle sales are used to purchase items for the residents’ library.
Pickle enthusiasts are apparently plentiful in Eastcastle Place’s Eastside neighborhood of Milwaukee. “It’s part of a tradition in some households throughout the area. I know of people who have been buying these for 20 years or more. Some will call ahead and ask when they can pick some pickles up. In the past, we’ve even had a waitlist. People were surprised when we sold out,” Wengler said. ‘We were a bit surprised ourselves by the especially high demand. I think that there’s a resurgence in canning and jarring, and there’s also high interest in farm-to-table produce. Our homemade pickles really resonate with current trends. Next time we’re going to double our pickle production.”
Eastcastle Place is a Life Plan Community located on Milwaukee’s vibrant East Side. Eastcastle Place offers independent living, promoting an active and engaging lifestyle for seniors. The Health Center at Eastcastle Place offers assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing services, thus providing complete continuing care for seniors. Eastcastle Place is managed by Life Care Services®. For additional information call 414-219-1398 or visit www.EastcastlePlace.com.