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I want to begin today by wishing you a very happy and fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday.
Every time I’m out and about in public and one of you starts up a conversation with me about something I’ve written in this column, I think quiet and personal thoughts of thanks that we all still have a Reading Eagle newspaper to inform, entertain and bring us together through the written word, stories and photographs.
I give thanks for you, the reader, the person who makes time to let me share things about what I’ve experience, what I’ve learned and what motivates and engages me as I move through life’s journey.
Now that the Thanksgiving season has arrived, we see and hear lots about turkey and favorite side dishes like Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling with gravy.
Without question, potato filling and gravy is my favorite Thanksgiving side dish. My wife will make 10 pounds of it again this year to satisfy our family’s voracious appetite, and she’ll use a recipe that she learned from her father.
So it goes with many of you. Carefully cooking up a family recipe is like a sacred part of the holiday season.
During the process you remember holidays of the past, people of the past, joys of the past and those things get cooked with love into what you serve your family, friends and guests.
One Thanksgiving I was tasked with carrying a gigantic crock pot filled with mom’s homemade filling to one of our kid’s homes where we were all gathering. That pot of filling was hot and heavy and I had to carry it up a large hill to the front door. Lifting it up and away from my body so I wouldn’t get burned, I used the handles, which apparently weren’t strong enough to carry the mass of the filling inside.
Without warning, both handles broke off and the crock of filling fell from my hands, hit the ground, then rolled over twice as I did a lively dodge-the-deadly potato crock dance to avoid having my feet crushed.
First there was laughter, then there was an audible exclamation of concern, (for the filling, not my feet), as the entire family witnessed the debacle.
Fortunately, my wife had literally duct taped the lid of the crock shut so no heat or steam would escape during transportation. I quickly recovered my composure and acting all James Bond and Clint Eastwood like, used the tail of my jacket to pick up the crock and turn it upright without losing an ounce of the precious contents. I then triumphantly paraded onward to the home to place the crock on the table with the other goodies.
Turkey and filling are great and all that, but give me a fabulous predinner relish tray and I’m a very happy boy.
A traditional Thanksgiving relish tray should include any items from the garden that have been pickled, then cooled and presented on a nice plate where everyone can have a chance to pick at it. Beets, celery, corn, pickles, olives, carrots, mushrooms, beans and regional fare like chow-chow are all great choices for creating a relish tray.
Your own ethnicity and culture might also dictate what you serve on your holiday relish tray. Back in 1923, a book written by Artemas Ward advised hosts that the term “relish tray” is a flexible description that can include homegrown and foraged items like cucumbers for pickles, small marinated fish, along with other tidbits, arranged on a tray or platter that fit a certain theme or mood.
Food scholars cannot seem to agree on the origin of relish tray, but the leading theory is that the Italian culture led the way into the new world of haute cuisine with their time-honored concept of the giardiniera, meaning, things from the garden, including spicy peppers that have been soaked in oil, vinegar and herbs.
Having been to Barcelona a few times, I’d personally say the Spanish tradition of serving tapas, or small samplings of home-crafted foods from the garden, field or sea, could have also been a big influence on the concept of a relish tray.
Naturally, the thrifty and frugal Pennsylvania Dutch, Polish and other immigrant cultures of the U.S. all found ways to preserve what they worked so hard to grow and the holiday season is the perfect time to show and share the results of all that love and stewardship.
I write all of this to set you up to meet my new friends, Tara and Philip Dolgan of Peter Piper’s Pickle Palace in Zieglersville, Montgomery County.
The first time I ever heard of their brand, I had ordered a Pennsylvania Dutch platter (you may recall that story from a past issue) from the good folks at Dietrich’s Meats and Country Store, Krumsville.
Along with that platter came an assortment of goodies from Peter Piper’s Pickle Palace and everything they made and sent was delicious. Fast forward to this past Oktoberfest season and I’m performing at the Reading Liederkranz when, strolling around during a break, there’s the Peter Piper’s Pickle Palace stand.
I introduced myself and told the folks at the stand how much I loved their products, and they introduced themselves back to me as Philip, the owner-operator and his wife, Tara.
Needless to say, we hit it off really well and before I went back to the stage to play more music, the three of us shared one of their humongous pickles on a stick.
Working with them, I ordered a case of their products to sample and so, at this point in time, I’ve become not just a fan of their pickled and marinated products, I’ve also become something of an expert of what their product line is all about. I can share with you that you need look no further for relish tray ideas for Thanksgiving or the rest of the holiday season. Peter Piper’s Pickle Palace has everything you need and they’ll even ship it to you. They even offer small sampler pints that are perfect for adding a large variety of goodies to your tray or platter.
Thus far I have eaten — not all at one time mind you — their classic dill pickles, garlic dills, half sours, horseradish pickles, sweet gherkins, vampire spears, cold pressed sauerkraut, marinated mushrooms and garlic stuffed giant green olives. I love garlic and the vampire spears, well, let’s just say there won’t be any vampires hanging around your neck if you eat these babies.
Everything I’ve tasted by them is mouthwateringly good and the kind of thing I’ll proudly be serving on the relish tray that goes with this year’s Thanksgiving feast in our home.
I could go on and on about the quality of flavor of the sauerkraut, the perfect marinade of the mushrooms, the crispy crunch of the whole pickles and the savory goodness of the stuffed olives, but I need to serve up a few thoughts from the Dolgans in their own words.
When I asked them about their background and why they got into making these treats Tara replied: “Having grown up with German and Ukrainian parents, Philip’s father and grandparents used to make pickled green tomatoes and great garlic pickles. After being hit by a drunk driver which took him out of his previous career that included lots of travel, Philip decided to open a small weekend business while he was healing.
“Going back to his ethnic roots, pickles is what he chose to do. Like with everything he decides to do, he focuses on quality and the pickle business took off. Instead of just being weekends, we now pickle full time. We have several local stores that carry our products, and we ship all over the continental USA. Local in Berks County, we are stocked at Russo Italian Foods, Lafaver Family Farm, ACEC Farm, Kirbyville Farmers Market, Dan’s Deli, Dietrich’s Meats, Andre Farms, Christman’s Meats and Weidner’s Deli.
“Our pickles and sauerkraut are used at the Kutztown Airport Diner, Stone Farmhouse Café and Oley Ravioli. We frequently do events like the Leesport Craft Show on Thanksgiving weekend, Reading Liederkranz Christkindlmarkt the first weekend of December. The Santa and his live reindeer event at Lafaver Farms on Dec. 10 will be the end of our year in events.
“We source and use local produce as often as possible from local farms and farmers markets such as Renninger’s Market, Kirbyville Famers Market and Leesport Farmers Market. We source our line of all natural cheese dips and spreads from a farm in Montgomery County and bring in fresh bagels every weekend from New York City. The bagels are a new addition to our product line.
“We create pickle bars for weddings and special events, and pickle trays for personal family parties and corporate events. We also work with individuals and groups who do fundraising. Some of our local fundraising has benefitted Relay for Life, Brandywine Community Library, Kutztown High School and Zoe’s Pet Rescue. We’ll be speaking at the Fleetwood Rotary Breakfast in December and have been amazed and touched at how the local community has made us a part of their lives.
“It’s been a huge blessing to be a part of the Berks County small business and agriculture community.”
And there you have it, something to relish for the Thanksgiving and holiday season. Make the most of it and be safe while you’re out and about.
Dave Kline is an award-winning writer, photographer, show host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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