Texas Couple Sues State Over Rigid Definition of 'Pickle'

Free the pickle!!!
Photo via Flickr user Kristin Shoemaker

The second edition of Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling cookbook has more than 250 recipes for pickled… everything, with illustrated instructions for pickling the entire veggie alphabet from artichokes to zucchini. Anita and Jim McHaney own a copy of that book, but most of its 432 pages are wasted on the couple—and it’s all the state of Texas’ fault.

More than a decade ago, the McHaneys left their careers, bought ten acres of land in Robertson County, Texas, and decided to spend their golden years with their sleeves rolled to their elbows as they planted kale, collard greens, and beets. Most of that went to plan: They became favorites at the local farmers’ market and grew beets that “you would not believe,” as Anita put it.


After three years of the kind of exhausting labor most of us only experience through John Steinbeck novels, they thought they’d found a way to make a little more money with a little less physical effort. The Associated Press says that the couple realized that if they pickled some their vegetables—okra, carrots, peaches and those unbelievable beets—they might have a better financial return, earn enough to cover the costs of their farm, and stop having to throw so much old produce to their neighbors’ cows.

But, before you can say “JOY OF PICKLING,” they quickly discovered that Texas had taken a break from meddling in women’s reproductive rights to crack down on any kind of pickle that wasn’t made from cucumbers and cucumbers ONLY. When they looked into their pickling possibilities, they quickly learned that a regulation that the state passed in 2014 answers the question “what is a pickle?” with a bizarrely restrictive definition: “Pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved in vinegar, brine, or a similar solution,” the Texas Department of State Human Services writes. “All other pickled vegetables are prohibited.”

According to the Texas Tribune, the pickle definition is part of the state’s Cottage Food Law, which allows Texans to sell baked goods, popcorn, and CUCUMBER-ONLY pickles at farmers’ markets and festivals without having to become licensed food manufacturers. But that’s not the case if Anita wants to drop her beets in a jar of vinegar; in order to pickle additional vegetables, the couple would have to get a food manufacturers’ license, in addition to installing a commercial-grade kitchen, taking a training course and adhering to a number of other rules and regulations.

“It turns out it's just very difficult to meet all of the rules to make a pickled beet. You'd think that it would be easy, but it’s not,” Anita told the Tribune. “Every time we thought we had figured out what we had to do to meet all the rules, we found another one.”

The McHaneys have stopped farming, for now—and all of those beets were given to the cows. They’ve also filed a lawsuit against the the Department of State Health Services for violating their ability to “earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice, free from unreasonable governmental interference.” All they want is to be reimbursed for their court costs, to have that law declared unconstitutional and to be allowed to pickle whatever vegetables they damn well please without having to get a license.

Worse yet—and this is the most depressing kind of irony—the couple never figured out a way to make cucumbers grow on their farm. “We don't do very well [with] cucumbers on our place,” Jim told FOX7. “You know different crops have different homes.”