Neither Katie nor Jesse Hancock had ever been particularly into food. But, when they met (being the two youngest employees at a small office was the ice-breaker) they found that learning to cook together became a favorite pastime. Considering their only ‘instructor’ was a small collection of cookbooks, they must have shared a natural talent.
About four years ago, Katie and Jesse found themselves in Portland, Oregon, happily married but looking for a way to spend more time together after work. So, when their small vegetable garden had a particularly productive summer, Jesse called his mother for her pickle recipe, and Unbound Pickling was born. “We had so much fun, we thought ‘This is it!’ Artisanal-pickle-wise, we saw this huge gap on the West Coast and it just evolved from there.”
After doing some homework about what was already going on in the small-batch pickling world, and a lot of tasting
, they were ready to launch. Portland, OR, with its super indie-vibe and hyper-local ethos struck them as a natural home for the business and in 2009 they sold their first pickle at the Portland Farmers Market. “We honestly thought we’d just make pickles in Portland and nobody would ever notice. But there are all these people out there – not just in Portland, but all over the country – looking for new things and they DO notice. That was a big surprise. You get noticed.”
With products like Bacon Pickles, which actually get their bacon-y flavor from liquid smoke and paprika (vegan friendly!), or French Quarter Beans, whose brine is heady with over 20 different spices, it’s no surprise that Unbound Pickling struggled to keep up with demand from Day One. “For our first big order, I mapped out a tight pickling schedule. We were going to make 800 jars in 8 hours.” As it turns out, pickling has some hidden time-guzzlers (like waiting for water to boil) and eight hours became 24 loooong hours. Three years later, they’ve learned a lot about streamlining, like to only tackle reasonably-sized batches. The most the two of them process in one day is 500 – impressive, considering that in their spare time (spear time?), Jesse still has a day job in IT and Katie’s hands are full at home juggling two kids.
Clearly, these pickles are a labor of love, an old-fashioned family-business-in-the-making. And the physical work of preparing the pickles (which by the way, is still done entirely by the Hancocks) is Jesse’s favorite part. “It’s sort of mindless and incredibly relaxing to just sit there and cut vegetables. To put the cold, fresh, local produce in the jar, pour the hot brine and let it bubble away in the water bath. I just love it.”