Meet Tom, the creator and maker of Crisp & Co Pickles in Hockessin, Delaware. We first heard of Tom a couple of years ago on a visit to Spring Thyme herbs, one of our farm partners in the area. From his unconventional background in finance and biomedical engineering, Tom brings a fresh perspective to pickle making that has been recognized far and wide as some of the best in the country.
What sparked your passion for pickling produce?
To be honest, I wasn’t initially passionate about making pickles. I just wanted to have some good pickles, and since I couldn’t find any I liked in stores, I decided to make my own. It was very frustrating at first because there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to make pickles. But soon, I felt like I was an explorer mapping out uncharted territory, performing the same craft that people have been doing for thousands of years, using science and endless repetition to build upon and develop the practice.
Tell us a little about the transition from your science and analytics background to founding Crisp and Co?
After graduating from college, I worked as an analyst at a large financial institution for three years. I left that job about six years ago so I could go to graduate school and explore my interest in cancer research and biomedical engineering, never expecting to fall into working with food or make pickles. I just wanted to have some good pickles to eat and since the ones at the store weren’t what I was looking for, I decided to start making my own. Quite accidentally, a jar of my pickles that I had given to a friend ended up a party held by a regional manager at Wegmans who reached out to me and strongly encouraged me to sell them.
What's a day in the life of a pickle producer look like?
In the summertime, I usually drive to local farms twice a week to pick up and, on occasion, to pick produce. I leave my house around 7:30am so I can have all the produce ready and unloaded before 10, when my assistant, Doc, shows up. For our cucumber pickles, the first day of the week is always spent slicing the cucumbers into chips, which are loaded into buckets and brined with water and natural salts overnight. The next day is spent filling jars with herbs, spices and garlic, to which we later add the cucumbers and brine before canning. Most of our produce is canned within 36 hours of being harvested.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy a pickle?
I usually eat my pickles straight up. For me, pickles are more of a healthy snack than a meal or a meal accompaniment, but that is probably also because I rarely keep bread in the cupboard. I have been approached by lots of creative people, especially cheesemongers and chefs, who claim to do amazing things with my pickles including: incorporating our crunchy sweet ginger pickles into sushi rolls and most recently, marinating hamburger in spicy and savory Victory Pint Pickle brine.
Greatest pickle flop?
The first time I tried to make pickles it didn’t go well. Actually, probably the first dozen attempts were pretty terrible but the first time was particularly awful. I had bought a bushel, roughly 40 lbs, of cucumbers from a friend who owned a local produce stand in order to make some pickles. 40 lbs of cucumbers makes a lot of jars of pickles and since I didn’t really know what I was doing, I decided to make many different types of pickles in the hopes that at least one creation would be good. One of these creations contained cucumbers, ginger and granny smith apples, I was hoping that the apples would give a subtle tart finish to the pickles and that their firm texture would provide a fun contrast to the cucumbers. My hopes weren’t realized; imagine a very tart and watery applesauce with big slices of cucumber in it, not good.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Try to find the goodness in each day.
If you could start over, what would you do differently?
I am not sure really; I feel that all of my experiences, good and bad, have taught me lessons and helped to make me a better business owner. If I had to choose, I would say that I sort of wish I had done a Kickstarter campaign. I know many people who have raised large sums of money and for some of them, it has enabled them to grow a business they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. It was very hard to start a business with less than $5k, and I had to spend a lot of time doing things like plumbing, electrical work, buying second hand refrigerators at auctions, creating my website, constructing and in some cases, inventing equipment (most recently a thermostatically controlled, high voltage, ultra-high efficiency “pickle cooker”). Although I was able to make it work, it took a lot of time and energy, time that I would have liked to spend on things more directly related to product development. There are still lots of great pickles that I would like to develop but haven’t had time to pursue yet!
What is your favorite recipe for spring? (with or without pickle)
I really enjoy making enormous salads full of spinach, blue cheese, ham, chickpeas, walnuts, dried cranberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
You are throwing a dream dinner party? Who's on the guest list?
+ Comedian and co-creator of Seinfeld, Larry David
+ Celebrity chef and owner of the top rated restaurant in the world, Rene Redzepi
+ My parents, they don’t get out enough.
What is your fondest food memory?
I have very fond memories of my mom’s pot roast and lasagna, both are incredible! If I were a wiser man I would be making and selling those instead of my pickles!