There's a small, family-run plant near downtown Los Angeles that is producing pickles in much the same way they were made in Germany at the turn of the century.
Kurt Kruegermann, who left East Germany with his wife Helga and son Greg in 1961, four months before the Berlin Wall went up, arrived in Los Angeles with no money and no knowledge of English. (He'd left the pickle plant that his family had been operating in East Germany since 1896 in the hands of one of his brothers, but it was lost to the Communist government. In June of this year, the family bought the plant back from the government.) Knowing no other skills, Kruegermann went to work in a local pickle plant to learn how the business was conducted here. By 1965 he had his own licensed plant.
The company is still located on its original site in an industrial district off Riverside Drive, and it's still run by the family. (A fourth Kruegermann, son Carl, born in the United States, has provided extra help in the business.) But in recent years the line of products has expanded considerably. Aside from cucumber pickles, there is sauerkraut, which is mildly flavored and left with its natural color rather than bleached white as Americans like it. The German custom is to compress the cabbage for sauerkraut by foot power, and the Kruegermanns continue this procedure, donning special rubber boots to enter the tank. Large granite rocks stacked outside the building also serve as kraut weights.
The extensive range of cucumber pickles includes delikatess frisch-gurken , which is a Berlin-style pickle; delikatess senfgurken , a mustard pickle made with peeled large cucumbers; kosher-style dill pickles; natural salt dills; large peeled Polish pickles; and uborka , a spicy Hungarian-style pickle. Gurkentopf is Helga's own recipe, featuring smaller cucumbers combined with whole tomatoes, pearl onions, herbs and spices. Hausfrauenart , or housewife style, features small cucumbers and lots of seasonings and is a tad sweeter than the other pickles.
The cucumbers are packed by hand and also peeled by hand, if peeling is required. No commercial seasoning blends are used, and no preservatives are added, so the pickles must be refrigerated once they are opened.
The Kruegermanns also make pickled beets, red peppers and red cabbage with apples. They experimented with red cabbage sauerkraut but decided not to market it. Other products are kraut salad, celery root salad, mixed pickled salad, hot or mild fiesta mix (a combination of cucumbers, carrot, onion, green pepper, cabbage and jalapeno chiles for spicy flavor).
The family conducts the business with a personal touch, handling deliveries to the stores themselves. Their products are purchased by some restaurants and by the armed forces and can be found in markets and delis that cater to a European trade.
A few of these are European De Luxe Sausage Kitchen, 9109 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills; Hickorysweet Meats, 8768 S. Main St., Los Angeles; Schreiner's Sausages, 3417 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale; Alpine Village Market, 833 W. Torrance Blvd., Torrance; Holland American Market, 10333-10343 E. Artesia Blvd., Bellflower; and Tip Top Meats, 6118 Paseo del Norte at Palomar Airport Road, Carlsbad. The pickles are also available at Irvine Ranch Farmers Market in the Beverly Center and Woodland Hills and Chalet Gourmet, 7880 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
More pickle news: A relatively new pickle, Bubbies of San Francisco Pure Kosher Dills, is now vying for market space. Leigh Truex, who made the pickles at home for years, began marketing them in San Francisco in the early 1980s. In 1989 control of the business was acquired by Gray Enterprises Inc., a management company. The initial production of 350 cases a month has now increased to 5,000 a month, according to John M. Gray.
Bubbies are "old-fashioned New York-style pickle-barrel pickles," Gray said. Their appeal lies in fresh flavor and crunchiness. One cause of mushiness in some brands of pickles, he said, is that they are cooked to make them shelf-stable. Bubbies, which are packed in Stockton, are uncooked and naturally fermented; they travel from vine to jar in 10 to 14 days. No preservatives or vinegar are used, and the pickles must be kept refrigerated at all times to remain fresh and crunchy.
Fresh dill, garlic and pickling spices are layered in brine with the cucumbers during fermentation; in many pickles, the spices are added later. The way Bubbies are processed results in a cloudy brine.
Look for Bubbies in the cold case of most major supermarkets and in some specialty markets and fine delicatessens. They are packed in 32- and 16-ounce jars, and there is a 6-ounce jar of small pickles that resemble cornichons. A companion product is an unsweetened kosher dill relish packed in a 12-ounce jar.