TRAVERSE CITY — Brian Shaughnessy’s business card carries a straightforward message: “Traverse City Pickle Company — Are you a pickle person?”
Shaughnessy most certainly is.
He has spent the last decade experimenting with and fine-tuning his recipe for creating a fine pickle.
His interest in pickles grew from his wife’s grandmother’s formula for pickled green tomatoes, a family secret that apparently was never written down but tasted of greatness. Shaughnessy’s introduction to the process that properly prepares pickles happened in New York.
Shaughnessy worked as a New York City policeman for five years, then stepped to the sergeant. A massive career change delivered him to downstate Michigan, where he toiled as a school principal and superintendent for 15 years.
He and his wife moved to Traverse City when he retired in September 2019, mostly to be closer to family. But retirement wasn’t quite what he thought it might be.
“I was home two weeks last September, and I was going crazy,” he said.
A quick brainstorm later, and he decided to launch a business based on the pickle recipe he had developed by taste-testing it with family members. He built a commercial kitchen on his property. He sources jars, labels, supplies. And then he went to work.
He began last year with cucumbers grown downstate, but this summer switched to cucumbers grown locally by Altonen Orchards.
Some mass-market pickles, Shaughnessy said, are basically cucumbers cooked in vinegar. But his process involves no cooking and no vinegar.
“It’s a New York-style pickle,” he said.
He ferments cucumbers for 60 hours in a brine of salt and spices including bay leaves, black pepper, coriander, dill and dried garlic. He removes most of the salt from the mixture after fermentation is complete.
“You wouldn’t be able to eat it without taking the salt out.”
He calls the result half-sour. The pickles have a sharp but light flavor with mild garlic and a touch of dill. They offer a pleasant crunch. They must be kept refrigerated, said Shaughnessy.
Friday he manned his booth at the Elk Rapids Farmer’s Market, offering small samples on toothpicks. An outgoing attitude is useful when selling pickles, he said, because most shoppers are at the market seeking vegetables or flowers.
“People don’t leave the house to get pickles,” he said.
So he needs to entice them in with samples and attitude. Friday, he was wearing a baseball cap with the New York City Police Department logo.
“I like wearing this hat because there are a lot of people from New York here.”
He said the many summer flights from the east coast to Traverse City are delivering many visitors from his hold hometown.
His farmer’s market booth rotates from Elk Rapids on Fridays to Suttons Bay on Saturdays to Interlochen on Sunday.
Shaughnessy brought 40 pounds of pickles to his first week of farm market sales in June. He has gradually been increasing production and usually sells out each week. He now is making 200 pounds a week. He plans to add the Traverse City Farmer’s Market to his weekly route in September.
Pickles and brine from the Traverse City Pickle Company now are featured in a limited-time flavor of Moomer’s ice cream. It is available at Moomer’s Long Lake Road location.
In addition to farmer’s markets, Shaughnessy’s pickles are available at Goodboy Provisions, 340 East State Street in Traverse City
More information is available at TraverseCityPickleCompany.com.