As soon as I stepped out of the car outside the small factory in St. Joe, Indiana, the pungent pickle aroma had me puckering and craving pickles. I’d get my fill of pickles at the tasting table after I saw how pickles are made during the Sechler’s Pickles factory tour.
History of Sechler’s Pickles
Before entering the factory, our guide pointed out the two-story white house next door where Ralph and Anna Sechler started the business in their basement in 1921. As the business grew and they needed more space to make pickles, they built the factory. The original factory still exists, but it has been added on several times over the years as the company continued to grow. The company now uses the house for its offices.
About Sechler’s Pickles
Moving inside the factory, we learned that although Sechler’s makes 45 flavors of pickles, there are only two ways of cooking them. Fresh pack, the more modern method, are cooked in jars that are lowered into boiling water. Sechler’s candied pickles are cooked using the method the company started with. Cucumbers are aged in salt water and then cooked and marinated.
Sechler’s Pickles warehouse
In the warehouse our guide pointed out that they store some of the boxes upside-down. The upside-down boxes indicate fresh pack pickles, which must age in the jars for two weeks before they can be sold. Any earlier, and the pickles will taste like bland cucumbers. Warehouse workers know that if a box is upside-down, they need to check the date before filling orders with them.
Washing and storing the cucumbers
We stepped outdoors for the next part of our tour, where we saw how cucumbers used for fresh pack pickles are washed. A hydraulic lift dumps the cucumbers into a machine where they fall into a pool of water to rinse off any loose dirt. Then they go up a conveyor belt to another part of the machine, where they’re sprayed with high-pressure water and tumble in a tumbler. Besides cleaning the cucumber, this process leaves the cucumbers smooth, without the thorny spikes that fresh-picked cucumbers have.
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Sechler’s makes fresh-packed pickles only when fresh cucumbers are available. However, they make old-fashioned pickles year round from cucumbers that are stored outside in huge cypress tanks. They have a hundred of these tanks, each large enough to hold a thousand bushels of cucumbers. Once the cucumbers are in the tanks, they’re covered with salt water, where they age anywhere from three to nine months. Because of the salt, the pickles don’t freeze in the cold Indiana winter.
From cucumbers to pickles
Back inside the factory, we saw the processing area, where cucumbers transform into pickles. There were tanks for cooking and tanks for cooling; machinery for cutting and packing, and conveyor belts to move the process from one area to another. Here are a few more things I learned on the tour:
- Cucumbers that have been stored outside in salt water are cooked for 24 hours, which removes about 75 percent of the salt. Turmeric is added to restore the pickles to a brighter green color and alum to make them crunchy again.
- They cook the candied pickles in copper kettles with vinegar, and that’s where the sugar and spices are added. They can’t add all the sugar at once or the pickles would shrivel up. Instead, they use half the sugar, marinate them for a couple of weeks, cook them again in the copper kettle with the remainder of the sugar and then marinate them for another two weeks.
- Sechler’s uses only real sugar, nothing artificial and no corn syrup.
- Pickle spears are packed by hand because the machinery would crush the delicate pickle strips.
- Sechler’s makes pickles for other companies, as well, using the customers’ recipes. The first company they ever made pickles for was Tony Packo’s out of Toledo, and Tony Packo’s is still a customer today. You may remember hearing references to Tony Packo’s on the M*A*S*H television show.
We move on to the packing area, where we watched as filled pickle jars moved down the conveyor belt to an employee who packed them in boxes that would then be taken to the warehouse.
Sechler’s St. Joe Factory showroom
The tour ended in the showroom, where I finally satisfied my pickle craving. I sampled every kind of pickle imaginable: kosher dill, bread-and-butter, sweet heat, and candied sweet orange strip pickles among them. I also purchased enough pickles and relish to last a year.
If you go
Sechler’s Pickles, located at 5686 SR1 in St. Joe, Indiana, offers tours every 30 minutes Monday through Thursday, April to October from 9 am. to 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Call ahead for groups of six or more. You must wear closed-toe shoes. The showroom (outlet) is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon. Check the web site for further details.
St. Joe, Indiana, is approximately 25 miles from Fort Wayne. We stayed at the Hotel Fort Wayne during our visit to the area. Find the best Fort Wayne hotel deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
Disclosures: Visit Fort Wayne and Sechler’s Pickles hosted my visit to the factory. However, any opinions express in this article are my own.
This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product or book a room through these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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