Will Rhodes isn't afraid to swim against the current. After attending UT, he launched a career in music—"my parents weren't so happy about that," he laughs—both as a musician and behind the scenes as a sound engineer and band booker for a music label. But after 20 years of working late hours in clubs, he decided to pursue something different: pickled vegetables.
The former New Orleans resident, who moved back to Austin a couple of months before Hurricane Katrina hit, noticed that no restaurant or bar in Austin featured pickled green beans in Bloody Marys. That sparked an idea to bring the NOLA classic to ATX. "I'd been making them as cheap Christmas presents, and my wife encouraged me to take the chance on a business," he says. "I'm really lucky who I'm married to."
Rhodes officially launched his company, Willigan's Island, in fall 2015 and found that taking the risk paid off quickly. "When I first started, it was really exciting to sell 20 cases a month," he says. "I’ve grown the company five times since the first year and sell at least 100 cases a month now."
Willigan's Island pickled garlic jalapeño green beans and okra are available locally everywhere from Royal Blue Grocery to Twin Liquors (and in bars and restaurants including Hillside Farmacy, Frank and Clive Bar), and nationally at Williams-Sonoma stores in Dallas and St. Louis.
While picking up Willigan's Island veggies is a sure and tasty bet, you can also pickle veggies of any kind, including cauliflower, onions and, of course, cucumbers at home, too. Rhodes shares his tips here.
How to Pickle Veggies at Home
Step 1: Buy the freshest vegetables you can
Rhodes uses green beans and okra from local farms outside of San Antonio and Taft, Texas. "It's really important for green beans and okra to be crisp," he says. "I make sure that okra is in a jar being pickled within 24 hours of being picked."
Step 2: Make a brine
Rhodes' brine is equal parts water, salt and vinegar (white, apple cider, white wine, and rice vinegars all work well). "I don't mess with sugar," he says. Though some folks do. Experiment with your bring ingredients to find the flavor profile you prefer. Rhodes also adds plenty of garlic and red pepper flakes to his mix; spices, herbs and ginger can also be added.
Step 3: Assemble the jars
Wash and sterilize your jars. Once dry, pack clean vegetables into the jars as tightly as you can. Pour the boiling brine over the vegetables, filling each jar to within 1/2 an inch from the top. Place lids onto the jars and seal tightly.
Step 4: Process jars via a water bath
Place jars in a hot water bath so they are covered by 1 inch of water. Rhodes recommends boiling the jars at 212 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes. "Mess around with the time," he says. "The whole thing is a math game, and the lowest temperature will give you the best crunch."
Step 5: Let jars seal
After removing the jars from the water bath, leave them out for 24 hours to seal. "Place them on a cutting board so you don't burn the counter," Rhodes advises. "You'll hear little vacuum sucking noises over the next five hours."
Step 6: Be patient
Now, you wait. "I don’t like to release any product for 12 to 14 days," says Rhodes. Once your veggies have pickled for about two weeks, open them up and stick them in the fridge. Once they are cool, they are perfect to eat. As for that leftover pickling juice? "Either put carrots in for extra pickling in the leftover brine or add oil to the juice for some spicy salad dressing," says Rhodes.
Rhodes photo (bottom) by Dave Creaney.