That’s where Dan Sheridan finds himself, as his Wilmington Pickling Company picks up business
Anyone who knows his or her nursery rhymes has certainly heard of pickled peppers, but Dan Sheridan encourages you to try his pickled peaches too.
While you’re at it, take a bite of the pickled asparagus.
Sheridan, who cooks part-time at Bryan Sikora’s La Fia Bakery Market Bistro on Market Street, joined forces with two friends, Brian Crowley and Chris Huot, two years ago to create the Wilmington Pickling Company.
“We were looking for something that we could start part-time, generate some income and have fun,” Sheridan says.
The trio all had restaurant experience and had dabbled with pickle recipes on the job. Sheridan met Crowley when they worked at the old Bistro on the Brandywine, a restaurant in Chadds Ford, Pa. They met Huot when they began working at Cantwell’s Tavern in Odessa, where Huot was the manager.
The three got the pickling business off to a good start, but Sheridan is now running it by himself. There was no falling out, he explains; Crowley and Huot just decided they wanted to focus on their fulltime jobs.
So Sheridan is now pretty much a one-man show. He picks his produce (virtually all of it grown in Delaware), creates the brine, fills and seals the jars and handles the distribution to a select group of markets throughout the state.
“Everything,” he says, “is hand-cut, hand-packed, and hand-sealed.”
And when it comes to sales, Sheridan is pretty adept at putting those jars right in his customers’ hands. Through the fall, he will be easy to find on Wednesdays—offering samples under his tent at the Rodney Square Farmers Market.
At his table, Sheridan offers five varieties, starting with his “flagship recipe”—garlic, dill and Thai chili pickles.
“Delicious. Very fresh,” says a woman named Toni after a quick taste test that prompted her to hand Sheridan $8 for a jar to take home.
For those who prefer a hotter taste, Wilmington Pickling has bread and butter jalapeños, a concoction whose serious heat is sweetened and softened by its bread and butter brine.
Pickled peppers are, well, just that, but pickled peaches are most definitely in a league of their own.
Wilmington Pickling uses peaches picked fresh at Fifer Orchards in Wyoming and soaked in a solution of cinnamon, vanilla bean and lavender grown at the Lavender Fields farm in Milton. Sheridan recommends mixing the pickled peaches with yogurt, as a topping on a bowl of ice cream or in a salad.
The asparagus in Wilmington Pickling’s jars are also local—grown at Willey Farms in Townsend.
The origin of the ingredients is definitely a key selling point —and the image of a blue hen on the label makes the Delaware connection clear.
“I like that it’s local, that I know where it’s coming from,” Wilmington resident Mike McDermott said as he purchased a jar from Sheridan at the Rodney Square market.
Using practically home-grown produce also resonates with Paul Smith, who lives on West Ninth Street near Little Italy. Sheridan expects to open a small take-out business there, to be called Locale BBQ Post, by the end of the year. The new eatery, as its name suggests, will emphasize barbecue, but will also give Sheridan a high-traffic area for marketing the Wilmington Pickling line.
“Barbecue and pickles are a natural,” he says.
He will also be able to make his pickles on site and have more room to build an inventory. Currently, he rents space by the day in a commercial kitchen in a New Castle industrial park whenever he has a batch of pickles to make.
Pickling, the process of preserving food in a seasoned brine or vinegar blend, has been used for generations, but the presence of homemade pickled products on restaurant menus is relatively new.
In the kitchen, Sheridan uses 8-gallon pots to boil the pickle brine, made from a recipe that includes apple cider and distilled white vinegars as well as sugar salt. He adds different ingredients according to what is being pickled. The vinegars act as a preservative, the salt draws juices from the cucumber, and the added spices give each item its distinct flavor.
While the brine boils, Sheridan slices the cucumbers—or peaches, or peppers, or whatever will be used in the day’s batch. He takes care to keep the size of the pieces uniform to ensure consistent quality.
After the raw vegetables or peaches are packed tightly into the jars, the hot brine is poured into the jars. After the cap is screwed on, the jars are processed in another pot of boiling water, creating the pressure that seals the lid tight.
The jars don’t have to be refrigerated until after they’re opened, and they have a shelf life of six to seven months, he says.
Sheridan wants his customers to know that his pickled produce receives personal attention. “Chances are I cut the spears, packed the jars and tasted the batch,” he says. “There’s an extra bit of care that goes into it.”
Sheridan, who grew up near Rockford Park in Wilmington, graduated from McKean High School in 2000, then took classes for a while at the University of Delaware and Widener University before deciding on a career as a cook. He literally traveled halfway around the world to get his education, enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu Australia in Sydney. After graduation, he returned to Wilmington and worked in the kitchen at the Hotel DuPont before moving on to Bistro on the Brandywine and Cantwell’s.
Since Sheridan is cooking at La Fia now, Sikora has placed jars of Wilmington Pickling products on the shelves of his market. That has led to some interesting experiences for Sheridan, when customers ask about the pickles and learn that the guy who made them is working in the kitchen.
Fifer Orchards, the source of the pickled peaches, also sells Wilmington Pickling products, as do Janssen’s Market and ProKitchen Gear in Greenville, Henretty’s Market in Hockessin and the Delaware Local Food Exchange in Elsmere. Sheridan is gradually building his distribution network. For additional sales locations, check listings at www.wilmingtonpickles.com
Sheridan says he is also hearing from area farms, which have picked up on the buzz and are interested in having him pickle some of their produce. One intriguing possibility: pickled watermelon.
“I made it once at a restaurant. It didn’t turn out too bad,” he says. “Once we mess around with the recipe, we’ll be able to nail it.”