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Public's taste puts vendors in pickle

There was a pickle stand in Seminole last weekend. Big, fat dill pickles for $1 each.

"Who's the picklemaker?" a customer asked.

"We don't make 'em _ we buy 'em," said Nancy Kemp.

This was a letdown, for if anyone in this sordid age of the factory pickle looked as if they remembered the glory of the homemade pickle _ and still knew the lost art of ennobling the cucumber _ it was the half-dozen women behind the stand.

They had all been brought up in Ohio, they all looked like somebody's nice grandmother, and they were all doing their part for District 9 VFW Ladies Auxiliary and for the annual charity Pow Wow festival in Seminole.

But Pow Wow people are not pickle people. Crowds lined up for barbecued chicken, for fish and funnel cake, for hamburgers, for buffalo burgers, even for little frozen pellets called "The Ice Cream of the Future."

But the only customer at the pickle stand, during one 20-minute period on Saturday, chomped hopefully for a moment, then looked glumly down at the 4 or 5 pickled inches remaining and walked off without a goodbye.

"Last year, we sold french fries, and made money for the veterans," said Jelene Mingo, president of the group. She wrinkled her face humorously. "But fries aren't much fun to deal with. They're a mess."

"I don't understand today," said Pat Franklin. "I thought everybody loved pickles."

"Maybe next year we'll do strawberry shortcake," Mingo said.

"You've got to be out of your mind!" Ellen Hennan whirled to face her president. "We'll have health department people hassling us."

"We ought to be able to do something in shortcake," Mingo said.

The atmosphere was more upbeat at Dippin' Dots _ The Ice Cream of the Future. "Back in Tennessee, I've had 'em lined up 60 deep," said owner-franchisee Walter England.

"Don't see 60 now," said a visitor. "See three."

"Ebb and flow," said England, unbothered.

Dippin' Dots have popped up here and there in Pinellas County. They are buckshot-size pellets, frozen very fast _ from liquid to solid in one second, England says _ so they don't pick up a lot of air like some other ice creams. They are also cone-friendly; they scoop easier.

England and his wife, Earlene, moved to Clearwater from the Nashville area, where he was a recreational vehicle dealer for 17 years and she a supervisor of vocational programs in the schools.

How does Dippin' Dots compare with a career in education?

"I guess you're still trying to sell kids," she said. "Sometimes, I clip stories about Pinellas County school problems and send them back to friends in the Tennessee school system. Your problems are very much like our problems."

What do people say when they first try Dots? "Some of them say, "Weird.' " She laughed. "But it's a nice weird."

Maybe the best adjusted vendor at the Pow Wow was Terry Gorham, a Largo man who was cooking buffalo burgers. He used to fix windows for a living, which wasn't much fun.

"A lot of my customers had broken windows, and that made them cranky," he says. "But folks waiting for burgers are in a good mood. Buffalo-eaters are optimistic people."