Friends continue pickle tradition in Spartanburg

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SPARTANBURG - When Betty Bishop and Taylor Correll mix mustard seed, celery seed and dill with water, vinegar and sugar, they get a fire-and-ice pickle that's good enough to eat straight from the jar.

But for Bishop, the recipe is mixed with love. She recalls memories of her late grandmother and namesake, Betty Neumeyer, the inspiration for Bishop's Texan Granny variety of pickles.

Neumeyer moved with her husband, Griff, from Texas to Spartanburg in the 1950s. She was her granddaughter's role model and best friend, the kind of grandma who came to youth theater productions dressed in her fur coat (in July) and paid each young actor $10 to make them feel special. She dressed all in gold one year for Halloween, declaring herself a "Golden Girl." Her hair was always done, nails painted red. She was educated, worked as a nurse, supported the arts, helped her husband grow his cotton broker business, gave to charities and loved her church, children and grandchildren.

Neumeyer, also remembered as a fabulous cook, brought her secret recipe for fire-and-ice pickles to Spartanburg, making them for family, friends and co-workers as Christmas gifts. The younger Betty knew she had made it when her grandmother told her the secret recipe.

"It was a big deal when she taught me how to make pickles," Betty said, with a smile.

When Neumeyer's rheumatoid arthritis got so severe that making the pickles became difficult, Betty and her mother, Tracey Bishop, carried on the holiday tradition.

"We were like Mother's little elves," Tracey said. "We made the pickles and delivered them to her friends on Christmas Eve."

Tracey and Betty continued the tradition after Neumeyer died in 2007.

"It didn't feel like the holidays without the pickles," Betty said. At the time, she didn't imagine that she'd one day have her own pickle business.

But last year, Betty found herself out of work. She decided to make the pickles and sell them at the Cowpens Farmers' Market. The reaction from customers to the sweet and spicy pickles was good enough to earn her hundreds of extra dollars a week, and she began producing them on a larger scale in her mother's kitchen. With encouragement from her mother and aunts, who told her to "go make a million dollars," it wasn't long before a brand, Those Pickle Ladies, was born.

Betty is the president of Those Pickle Ladies and makes it clear that her mother owns the business.

"She makes sure the checkbook stays balanced and pays us," Betty said of her mom.

Correll, Betty's best friend since second grade at Pine Street Elementary School, works side by side with her each week, brining and mixing the special blend of spices for the cucumbers, which come from North Carolina, in a building on Union Street. They sterilize the jars, provided by a Roebuck company, dunk them in boiling water to seal them and apply labels created by a graphic artist in Greer. The labels give the product a special touch with a Texan flair. The Texan Granny pickles carry a label with a Lone Star state flag and yellow rose. The Atomic blend, Betty's brainchild and slightly warmer in spice, is marked with a longhorn skull. After creating the Atomic pickles, Betty then took it to another level with the Pickles de los Muertos, a ghost chile blend not for the faint of heart. The Muertos pickle jar boasts a sugar skull label.

"Our labels aren't just labels; they're a piece of artwork," Betty said.

The home of Those Pickle Ladies is no coincidence; it's the former office of Betty's grandfather, Griff, where he displayed bales of cotton as a successful broker in what was once a booming industry in Spartanburg County.

"I hope I inherited some of his business savvy," Betty said.

Betty describes fire-and-ice pickles as "like a bread and butter, but more elegant, quite frankly."

Tracey said customers have told her that they like the crispness of the pickles.

"We've had people tell us, 'I don't like pickles,'" Tracey said. "We say, 'Well, just try these.' And they try them and buy a couple jars."

She said each has its own personality. The Texan Granny is the mildest variety but classy, like the yellow rose on its label, with a sweet flavor that would complement pulled pork barbecue.

The Pickles de los Muertos, while still fire and ice with its sweet and spicy blend, is another breed altogether. People feel like "rock stars" after conquering Pickles de los Muertos on a sandwich, Betty said. Betty and Correll must wear masks while making the Muertos because of the fumes created by the ghost chiles.

"This is the death pickle," she said. "I like to market it to big, macho guys and then watch them cry. It's a fun little challenge. It's not a beginner's spice pickle."

It's not really the spices so much that make Those Pickle Ladies' products so unique - it's the two-brine method Betty uses.

"That's all I'm going to say," Betty said with a smile. "Anything other than that and my granny would roll over in her grave. I think that's why they're so good; they're so different."

"A gourmet pickle," Correll said.

The pickles are now stocked at the Green Zinnia on East Main Street, and are a mainstay at the Cowpens Farmer's Market. Betty and Correll marketed them for the first time at Hub City Farmer's Market on Saturday, and plan to sell there for the weeks to come. Tracey will continue to sell them in Cowpens on Saturdays.

On Friday, Betty and Correll will hold a pickle tasting at R.J. Rockers Brewery from 5-7 p.m. They've already participated in local charity events and plan more for the future. A deal with a local restaurant is in the works, as are new recipes.

"We are doing this as a legacy for my parents," Tracey said. "Betty Ann has put her heart and soul into this."

It's nice to make a little green off Granny's pickles, but it also offers challenges and creative stimulus for Betty.

"It has to do with food, and I love food," Betty said. "I feel very blessed. It's not just about pickles. It's my heart."

How would Granny feel to know that her daughter and granddaughter turned a recipe into a family business?

"She would be so thrilled," Betty said. "She already knows, as far as I'm concerned."