Almost anybody in Boerne can give you directions to the Pickle Lady. Word-of-mouth advertising has brought the world to Billie Shaw's front door at the Carousel Antiques & Pickle Shop.
She only sells one kind of pickle and it's called "Fickle Pickles" because they start tasting sweet and finish with a spicy flavor. Shaw's pickles are available nowhere else and taste like no other pickle. Other people have tried to copy her recipe, "but they don't know how to keep them crispy," Shaw says.
"It never ceases to amaze me," she says of the pickle's popularity. A native of San Antonio, Shaw began making the pickles from an old family recipe for holiday gifts. Every year, recipients would ask for more. "It's a lot of work putting up a batch of pickles," she says.
In the late 1980s, Shaw opened the antique shop. One Christmas she had six jars left over from holiday gift-giving and decided to try selling them in the shop. The response was phenomenal. All six customers who bought the pickles came back looking for more.
Shaw contacted the Agriculture Extension at Texas A&M and asked for advice on setting up a food business. The original recipe made six quarts of pickles and you can't just double that and go, Shaw says. The next three months she experimented with different ratios of ingredients trying to retain the flavor in large batches. "I even consulted a chemist at one point," she says.
Monday through Wednesday, Shaw works on preparing 25 gallons of pickles while someone else watches her shop. That's a lot of 8-, 16- and 26-ounce jars of pickle slices. Next year Shaw expects to do up to 30 gallons per week.
In early 1998, Shaw will celebrate her sixth year of being the pickle lady of Boerne. During the day a steady stream of customers walk into the store looking for Fickle Pickles, and many of them don't even look around at the selection of odds and ends in the shop. They make a beeline to the cupboard next to the front counter stocked with three sizes of pickle jars in regular or extra spicy flavors.
Although out-of-town visitors make up a large percentage of her customers, even Boerne residents stop by the store quite often. "They take four or five jars as gifts when they go out of town," she said. A large portion of her business is mail orders for folks who can't visit.
"They keep coming back," Shaw says of her customers, "and when they give the jars as presents, those people come in looking for more." Next to the cupboard is a sample bowl of pickles. "I call that my `gotcha bowl,'" Shaw says.
All of the major grocery store chains in Texas have contacted Shaw about carrying her pickles. "It's very flattering," she says, "but they want all the money and want me to do all the work."
The Carousel Antiques & Pickles is at 118 S. Main St. (830/249-9306). The shop opens daily from 10am to 5:30pm.
Boerne is one of those quaint little Hill Country towns that makes day tripping so much fun. Settled in 1849 along the banks of Cibolo Creek by liberal German immigrants, Boerne (pronounced "Burnie") is a growing mecca for antique lovers and a destination for getaway weekends. A little less than 90 miles southwest of Austin, Boerne is 22 miles northwest of San Antonio and 40 miles south of Fredericksburg.
Main Street (double-signed as "Hauptstrasse" to remind visitors that many of the residents still speak German) supports many interesting shops, including over 100 antique dealers.
For outdoor activities, Boerne City Park and Cibolo Creek Wilderness Trail is one of the best nature preserves for a city of this size in the country. Next door to the park off TX46 east of town is the Agricultural Heritage Center.
Nearby are two of Texas' finest caverns open to the public. Cascade Caverns, southeast of town off I-10, is open Wednesday-Monday (830/755-8080) and Cave Without a Name east of town off FM474 is open on weekends (830/537-4212).
For information on Boerne and the surrounding area, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 830/249-8000, http://www.boerne.org, or visit their offices at One Main Plaza next to Ye Kendall Inn.
Coming up this weekend...
Poinsettia Celebration at Brenham's Ellison's Greenhouses covers five acres and many different colors of plants as well as other holiday gift ideas at 1808 S. Horton St. (Loop 577), Nov. 22-23. 409/836-0084.
Christmas in Comfort begins with live entertainment, a community Christmas tree, Santa, and a life-size nativity scene in Comfort Park and Historic District, Nov. 22, 29-30. 830/995-4265.
Holiday Boat Caroling cruise the River Walk in San Antonio every evening 6-7:30pm, Nov. 22-Dec. 17. 210/227-4262.
Lockhart Opry sponsored by the Lockhart Lions Club provides an evening of local entertainment, Nov. 24. 512/601-2154.
Weichnachts Fest in Boerne, pronounced "Vy-Nochs" and meaning "Christmas" in German, is the beginning of the holiday season with an evening parade, a 40-foot tree of lights, Santa, and a drive through lighted display in City Park. Dec. 5. Oma's Christmas Arts & Crafts Fair happens Dec. 6-7 in Boerne. 830/249-8000.
A Johnson City Christmas tour leaves Austin and travels by bus to see the sights and sounds of Johnson City, Dec. 13 (reservations due by Dec.5). Half of the $12 ticket price goes to Govalle Elementary School Adopt-A-School Program. 928-8893.