What do good North Carolinians do with an unexpectedly abundant harvest? They pickle. And that’s how one Coastal Plain community built its reputation. Before Mount Olive became “North Carolina’s unofficial pickle capital,” it was a Wayne County town full of multigenerational farmers who were proud to call the tiny agricultural hub home — a sentiment that still rings true today.
In the early 20th century, the community was a stop on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad — later part of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Crops from near and far came through Mount Olive, but there were often too many cucumbers for the town of about 600 to consume.
The extras found a purpose on South Center Street — just a mile from Mt. Olive Pickle Company’s current headquarters on Cucumber Boulevard — in brine tanks built by George Moore, a resident of Castle Hayne, and Goldsboro entrepreneur Shikrey Baddour. Although their operation was small, the pride they had in their product and in eastern North Carolina caught the attention of businessmen, who invested in the duo’s enterprise.
In 1926, the group created an incorporated pickle company with about an acre of farmland, a few shareholders, and a board of directors, many of whom — like President H.M. Cox Sr. — could be found in the pickle factory every night after supper, gluing labels onto jars. Like many of its competitors at the time, Mt. Olive offered a variety of brands — with names like Way Pack, Pick of Carolina, Little Rebel, and Carolina Beauty — which it began to consolidate under one name in 1953. And what name would this multimillion-dollar enterprise choose to emblazon on each of its jars for decades to come? Well, it’s just about the only thing they’re prouder of than pickles.
North Carolina Pickle Festival — Mount Olive
April 27 — Each spring, there’s a lot to see at the annual pickle festival in Mount Olive: classic cars, live music, contests involving pickle-eating and -packing — a coveted skill in this town — and much more. The North Carolina Pickle Festival brings together people from all over the Coastal Plain and beyond to celebrate a hometown delicacy — and the hard work and dedication of the community that makes it a sensation.
To learn more, visit ncpicklefest.org.
Relish the New Year
On December 31, 1999, eight people gathered around the tank yard at Mt. Olive Pickle Company to watch a giant glowing pickle slowly descend to the ground as a nearby timer counted down to a new year.
The first Pickle Drop was a marketing stunt to announce Mt. Olive Pickles as the “Official Pickle and Pepper of the Millennium.” The event included appearances by the company’s president emeritus as well as its former “spokespickle,” Mr. Crisp (since Crisp’s retirement in 2009, Ollie Q. Cumber has taken over).
Although only a handful of people witnessed the first Pickle Drop, the event has become a beloved tradition. Thousands gather outside the University of Mount Olive’s Kornegay Arena to watch the famous three-foot pickle descend into a giant green-and-yellow jar.
To learn more, visit mtolivepickles.com/mt-olive-pickle-drop.