4 generations of women keep secret pickle recipe in the family

VIRGINIA BEACH — For Dena Sawyer, making pickles has always been a way to bring her family together.

Using a family recipe that dates back to the early 1900s, Sawyer said the family hobby always yielded great gifts for their neighbors to enjoy during the summer and the holidays.

According to Sawyer, one neighbor enjoyed the pickles so much that he sparked the idea that grew into a new business for the Virginia Beach residents.

“He loved them and he said ‘y’all should do this. Ya’ll should start a company,’ and I said ‘I don’t know,” Sawyer recalled. “A couple years later here we are, and we are trying our hand at it.”

With the help of her daughter, 12-year old Grace, her mother Francine Stanley, 70, and her great-grandmother, Agnes Elder, 90, Sawyer founded The Prissy Pickle Company in 2015.

They have been selling their Bread & Butter and Sweet Southern Pickles at the Old Beach, King’s Grant, and Shockley’s farmers markets since June 2016.

Although the recipe is a closely-guarded secret, Stanley said she enjoys providing the public with a treat that she’s loved making for years.

“We’re sharing something that we’ve always taken advantage of, and we want to make everyone aware that it’s a healthy product,” Stanley said. “It doesn’t have preservatives, it’s all natural … It’s purely vinegar, sugar, and spices.”

Making their pickles is a nine-day process, according to Dena Sawyer.

From the moment they get their cucumbers chopped and set in the brine to when they jar the final product, each family member knows the schedule by heart.

On the ninth day, they gather at Admirals Choice Sauce Company on Virginia Beach Boulevard to jar the pickles as a family.

With a recipe dating back to the early 1900s, the Prissy Pickle Company has been selling its Southern Sweet and Bread & Butter Pickles at local farmers markets in Virginia Beach since 2016. (Jordan Grice/Southside Daily)

“It’s beautiful,” Elder said. “That’s what family is all about.”

Grace Sawyer echoed similar feelings, adding that she enjoys getting to spend time with her parents, grandparents, and great grandmother doing something they all love.

According to Grace, she is often asked whether she wants to spend her summer working in farmers markets.

“Of course I want to be here,” Grace Sawyer said. “You get to sell at the farmers markets. You get to interact with people. You get to see people’s reactions … I think it’s really cool that we get to sell something that we’ve always done and that we all love doing, so I think it’s great that we are getting to the point where we can sell them.”

Each woman felt that being with each other throughout the process and running the business together was the most important aspect of the Prissy Pickle Company.

Since starting their business, Dena Sawyer said customers continue to enjoy their family recipe which is an added bonus to creating a brand around their pickles.

“I love it when people taste it, and they are excited, and they come back,” Dena Sawyer said. “We actually have repeat customers this year. It’s exciting, and we actually have something to pass down to Grace hopefully.”

Prissy Pickles can be purchased every Saturday at the Old Beach Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to noon and King’s Grant Farmers Market every other Thursday.

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