“They are treated like a pickle, only they are different,” Carla Squires says with a quick laugh.
She’s referring to the pickles her family has been making for decades in Wilkes County, N.C., but instead of cucumbers they use new bamboo shoots to create rings of tart, crisp pickles.
“They can be addictive,” says Squires. “Some people can eat a whole jar in 15 minutes. If you are a pickle person or like spicy things, you’re going to love them. They are a dill garlic pickle and very crisp and crunchy. If you bite into a cucumber pickle, it gets a bit soft, but the bamboo pickles stay crisp all the way through.”
The Bamboo Pickles won Cooking Light Magazine’s Taste Test Award in 2010. Squires says some restaurants order them to put in their Bloody Marys and Martinis. They are also tasty fried into pickle chips, chopped on salads or layered on top of a burger.
After Squires’ grandmother died, she realized if anyone was going to carry on the family tradition of making the pickles, it was her. She learned techniques from her 79-year-old mother, who still makes them, and increased her knowledge by taking classes in food science at N.C. State University in Raleigh, N.C.
She prepares the pickles in a commercial kitchen, but production is limited to once a year.
“I can only make them when the new bamboo shoots grow in May,” explains Squires. This window of time lasts for about four to six weeks.
She goes into the bamboo field with a machete and cuts the stalks, shucks and slices them and then gets them into a commercial kitchen within 24 hours to get them processed and pickled. The output has been up to 2,500 jars in a season, but with the popularity of the pickles the inventory quickly runs low until it sells out.
Bamboo pickles are sold at specialty stores in N.C. and through the website.