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Pickling Pickles: A Briny Backcountry Adventure

Pickleists Xander Felix, Will Jennings, and Tanner Wells pose with their homemade pickles on July 27, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Caitlyn Kviz

Ponil is a bustling camp of western lore. Steeped in the ways of the west with horse rides, cowboy action shooting, evening shows and bellying up to the bar for an ice cold root beer, it is a hub of activity seeing many crews each day.

The camp is also home to a crew of conservation staff that reside at the Bent Cabin. They finish their long, hard working and dusty days of conservation work and return to their abode. On an early summer evening in June, as they were enjoying each other’s company and talking of adventures to come, they had an enlightening conversation.

“We were like, wouldn't it be stupid if we drank milk and had pickles together every night?’ Because it's a bad combination, right? Said Xander Felix, site foreman. “So, we started the tradition, and then one of those nights, where we were drinking milk and eating pickles together, Kellan [said], ‘What if we just made our own pickles?” And so, the idea was born, a bit of a tightrope to walk between culinary achievement and snack time catastrophe.

The picklers consist of four conservation workers: Xander Felix, Kellan Dornback, Tanner Wells, and Will Jennings. “Kellan is our head pickler.” said Jennings. “We all have different names here. Xander is the Pickle Foreman. Tanner is Pickleist Tango, and I’m Pickleist Apprentice. We use those handles on our program radios.”

Operating in such a remote location within Philmont’s backcountry is not without its challenges. For example, the Bent cabin lacks road access. “I have a picture of me carrying in the initial supplies.” said Felix. “I hiked an entire cooler and four gallons of vinegar all the way from Ponil trailhead up to here.”

The first batch of pickles created is now their noted original recipe, green chili. When asked about their cucumber selection for these fine pickles, there was a pause and you could see the look that took them from novice to epicurean and Xander explained, “Yeah, so we inspect every cucumber before we dice it up and shove it into a jar and everything. We wash our hands and stuff of course.”

As they became schooled in brine alchemy, they grew more experimental with their recipes. “The most reasonable recipe is the green chili recipe.” explains Felix. “Then we did an extra spicy recipe with extra garlic and extra hatch green chili. We did do carrots once. We brought them down to the dining hall and did not try it.”

But for Felix, his most memorable moment was when they brine pickles in All-Sport for the first time. “Everyone is very, very anxious to try the All-Sport pickles at first. But then they are always surprised they are actually somewhat palatable.”

We all know pickles help those who may be suffering from abdominal cramping but pair the pickle with all sport and you have brewed a homeopathic medical breakthrough filled with electrolytes.

Why, you might ask, did they burden themselves with brine? Reflecting on the experience, Felix said, “It's just been absolutely hysterical. And a bit of a fever dream.”

Some of the Pickle creations of the Bent Pickle Company brining at Ponil on July 27, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron N.M. Photo by Caitlyn Kviz

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