The Pickle Farmer


Pickles are the easiest way to improve sandwiches or add a little crunch and flavor to any meal really. Next to a cold drink, there is nothing more satisfying than the snap and crunch of a juicy pickle spear fresh out of the fridge on a hot summer day. They are one of life's simplest joys and you can make them at home.

Nicole Kitchens, the horticulturist in charge of the high tunnel at the Mississippi Ag Museum, recounted a recent dinner at Cock of The Walk in Pocahontas where they had catfish paired with pickled onions.

‘they were so good they had this sweet and tart taste,” Kitchens said.

Kitchens knows a thing or two about pickling. At the Ag Museums’ Mississippi Pickle Fest she did a live demonstration on how to start pickling at home.

I have begun pickling onions since the start of the year. They are bright pink and explode with flavor and go on almost every plate if I have them in the fridge.

Deidre Whitton, the Freckled Farmer, lives on a nine-acre farm in Clinton with her husband and two daughters. She loves her day job but when she gets home she dives into another passion, developing value-added products from the raw vegetables and fruits they grow on their property. She sells these value-added products under the name the Freckled Farmer and last year started adding pickled vegetables to her rotation.

When she and her husband of 12 years, Brett, moved their family onto the small farm in Clinton six years ago they found a mature blueberry tree that awakened something inside her, Whitton said she had never been much for the outdoors.

“Growing up in Madison (She graduated from Madison Central in 2006) I did not like to be outside at all,” Whitton said. “It really stirred up some country in me. My husband was startled.”

They picked fresh berries off the tree until their bellies and fridge were full and soon realized they were going to have to find something to do with all these blueberries. That is when Deidre decided to look into making them into jam.

”That is where it all started,” She said. “I did not want to let those blueberries go to waste.”

In her time operating her small farm, Whitton has had to teach herself many of these skills. She has taken to the Internet to look for tips and directions and promotes her own products threw social media. She said she feels like these homemade products are at an all-time high whether the person is starting a business or just making a few small batches for personal use.

“It is the biggest it has been since I paid attention,” Whitton said. “I love to share lessons of what I’ve learned.”

In her professional capacity at the Ag Museum, Kitchens said she has seen an explosion in interest in home gardening and that home canning and pickling quickly follow that. She cited a number of factors from people starting projects while they were locked up during COVID to recent inflation driving people to find ways to get every bit out of what they grow for their friends and family.

“We have seen a lot more people interested in doing stuff like this post COVID,” Kitchen said. “People are more interested in growing their own food and that means they are usually looking for ways to can, preserve or freeze what they have so they can put away healthy food for later.”

Kitchens is also self-taught. She said she has been canning and preserving food for almost thirty years. She started when she was 21 shortly after she bought her first home and started a garden. 

In her career, she has lived a number of places. She grew up in Jackson. She recently lived in Starkville before moving to a 23-acre Flora farm six years ago with her husband, Shan, and eight-year-old daughter Maggie May.

“Flora is the perfect fit for us,” Kitchens said. “It is a place with small-town values and a close-knit family atmosphere.”

For a while, she said she lived on a farm in Montana that was two hours from the closest grocery store. Preserving food was a necessity and she said she even learned to can meat and make jerky.

“I love to do it,” Kitchens said. “I am self-taught. I learned to process my own food because I didn't want to waste any food. I have spent time hunting but growing is my passion. Having a garden is such a blessing.”

Blessings from Kitchens’ garden include pickles, salsa and tomato sauce. She loves making a little extra to give to friends.

“It makes me feel good to share what I have grown with a lot of people,” Kitchens said.

Kitchens said pickling may be the easiest way for a home grower to get into the home preserving game.

“Pickles are so easy to make,” She said. ”It really doesn't take that many ingredients.”

A pickle brine can be as easy as vinegar, water and some salt. Whitton started pickling last year under her Freckled Farmer brand. She said it was a test run and she gave most of it away but that they were. a success.

“I need more pickles,” was a common refrain from her friends and coworkers.

Whitton pickled jalapenos, cucumbers and okra. She said she gave away more than 30 pints and 15 to 20 quarts of pickles before her growing season was over. This year she hopes to double that output. She said she has different brines for different vegetables. Her brines include ingredients like honey and sugar and garlic in addition to more traditional ingredients.

She has a few tips for beginners that she says she learned “the hard way.”

The first is to make sure cucumbers are picked and immediately refrigerated. Whitton said washing the pickles and putting them in the jar fresh out of the fridge preserves a crunchy texture.

She also recommended using pickle lime, which can be bought wherever canning supplies are sold. She said you don't need very much but you will notice if you don't have it.

Kitchens said her biggest tip mostly pertains to canning but is a good practice to develop: keep everything clean.

Once you understand the basics you can pickle almost anything you want and you can get creative with it. Try throwing in fresh herbs or seeds and see what they bring to the table. I usually put some peppercorns in with my onions.

A quick Google is not a bad place to get started and there are ready to go kits with everyhting you need but the pickles sold at the Ag Museum genral store but here is a brine recipe from cooking YouTuber Joshua Weissman.

“This is something everyone should do at least once,” he says in the description of his how-to video. I know I haven't regretted it.

The breakdown is 2/3 tablespoon of salt per cup of total liquid.

His example pickle liquid recipe is as follows:

2 cups white distilled vinegar

2 cups water

2.5 tablespoons of kosher salt

Load your jar with the vegetables you would like to pickle. Good starter veggies include cucumbers, carrots, onions, hard peaches or radishes. You can also include some fresh herbs in your jar for extra flavor.

Combine the other ingredients in a pot on a stovetop and bring the mixture up to a boil. Then pour the mixture into the jar over the vegetables and herbs. Let cool before sealing and stowing away in your freezer for your next snack or meal.

It really is that simple.

For more from Whitton visit her Feckled Farmer page on Facebook.