Pickles & Spontaneous trips

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Just a few of the pickles and pickled products for sale at Sechler’s Pickle Factory in St. Joe, Indiana.
Sechler's Pickle Factory, home of the giant hanging pickle!
Sechler’s Pickle Factory, home of the giant hanging pickle!

We had a quick couple of days (and a doctor’s appointment scheduled one state over) so we left early to make our visit more productive.  If I am spending on the gas anyway, might as well enjoy the trip.  So in our usual, no-idea-which-way-we-are-headed mode, we took off after throwing a couple of things in the van – like food and clothes.

We generally travel with enough clothes in Jonah, our ’96 Roadtrek Popular,  to make it work whatever we do, especially after a trip this same direction a couple of months earlier, which spontaneously morphed from overnight to four days.  That resulted in a Wal Mart stop for more t-shirts and shorts for the man child (while mom was thinking of all the t-shirts and shorts hanging in his closet).  But we chalked it up to spontaneity and man child actually found a couple of really funny cat t-shirts, including one to gift to his big brother.

Here's Jonah, when we picked him up 8 months prior. Isn't he handsome?
Here’s Jonah, when we picked him up 8 months prior. Isn’t he handsome?

Driving off toward the direction we needed to be, we spied a small two lane highway on our map that connected to the main road.  Never a fan of main roads when undriven two lanes are nearby, we veered off that way.  Adventure awaited!  Shortly we saw the sign for the Sechler’s Pickle Factory in St. Joe, Indiana (northeast of Ft. Wayne, IN).  Mom had been here many years prior (with a couple of the older set of man child’s siblings), but unfortunately on that day they weren’t doing tours.  So here was a chance to rectify that closure and see the pickle factory.

Free tasting bar!
Free tasting bar!

This free tour was completely worth the stop!  The pickle store contained all sorts of things pickle (including pickle Christmas ornaments, pickle pillows, and pickle keychains), but the highlight was the free tasty pickle bar to try the flavors for sale on the shelves behind us.  We arrived early (tours on the half hour), looked at all the yummy pickles and such for sale, peaked through the windows at the factory we were soon to tour, all while waiting for two o’clock.

Attractive free tour hair nets.
Man child models the attractive free hair nets.

Coincidentally, the retirement tour bus arrived shortly and a few sweet old ladies, complete with walkers and a wheelchair, were to join in.  This would prove to be interesting.  We donned our hair nets with gusto, signed a statement indicating no open wounds (yes, really) and we were ready to learn about pickles!

Actually it was a wonderful learning experience.  This factory has been in operation for almost 100 years and is the last pickle factory of it’s kind in this area of the state.  They private label many other kinds of pickles (and they looked like upscale pickles too) along with their own brand, sold in many areas of Indiana, and they ship all over the country.  While they used to sit smack dab in the middle of a dill pickle patch, now there are no more pickle farms in Indiana so their pickles come in from Michigan and Florida.

We learned the difference between fresh pack pickles, (processed in a vinegar solution, which is primarily how they make pickles in the summer), and processed pickles (think mom’s canning in a pressure cooker).  Would you believe they have 100 year old cypress wood tanks to process the pickles (just like a fine wine, lol) and that, even though we are one cold winter climate, the pickle tanks sit outside year round as the brine is salted water and it will not freeze?  The pickles outside will sit in this brine 2 or 3 months, before being pulled inside to continue their pickle journey to someone’s mouth.

Brining tanks outside of the factory. Can you imagine that these are almost 100 years old and still going strong?
Brining tanks outside of the factory. Can you imagine that these are almost 100 years old and still going strong?

Next up was the copper kettle room where great big kettles sat to process the pickles.  Here they also make candied pickles (yum) and pickle relish (double yum).  It just takes a couple of weeks in this room, before moving on.

The pepper relish cures in these big bins in the
The pickle relish cures in these big barrels in the copper kettle room. Over 50,000 gallons of vinegar are used in this plant a year.

Then it’s off to the packing room.  Not modernized and sleek by any means, but it was thoroughly refreshing to see real people packing real pickles.  After packing, the fresh packs sit upside down in the box for two weeks and then ship while the processed pickles sit longer before going out the door.

Processed pickles coming off the line.
Processed pickles coming off the line.
Pickles waiting to finish. Notice the boxes are upside down so these are fresh process pickles.
Pickles waiting to finish. Notice the boxes are upside down so these are fresh process pickles.

The parking lot isn’t large by any means, but I would guess if you were out by opening time (8:30 a.m) they might even let you boondock in their parking lot.  That’s only a guess but the factory is the only thing around and not particularly huge.  A picnic table sat by the parking lot for an enjoyable picnic with your newly purchased pickles.  (The tour was totally free with no mandatory pickle purchase.)

It’s worth the detour if you are in this area or even cruising by on the 80/90 Toll Road.  You’ll have to detour south about 45 minutes on I-69, and then east a bit, but you’ll be glad you did.  It’s worth the time.

So ended our pickle adventures and we were back in the Roadtrek and on the road.

Here’s where we found Sechler’s Pickles: 5686 SR 1, St.Joe, Indiana 46785.  They’ll ship to you too if you order at http://www.sechlerspickles.com.  Here’s their Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/sechlerspicklesinc.  Their Facebook says they are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily but I would call first to make sure they are processing, especially if it’s in the winter. No pickle payment was made for this post.  We just really enjoyed this free tour.

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