Check out Jerry's Blog Books Jerry has written Biography Workshops that Jerry teaches Other writings and media


Home > Books > Fiction: Historical Novels > In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story



In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story (September, 2007)  Purchase on Amazon

Reviews for In a Pickle:

The Onion

 For Literary Snobs Who Doubt The Inspirational Power of Pickles.  In a Pickle by Jerry Apps. ($24.95)

 Life among the pickle patches of Link Lake, Wisconsin moves along at a folksy crawl until the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company starts bearing down on farmers to crank out those cukes.  UW Professor Emeritus Jerry Apps’ novel, In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story, published by UW Press, follows young farmer, Andy Meyer, who also helps run the company’s factory, as he butts heads with a pushy new district manager.  As the conflict ascends to a briny broil, Apps fleshes out such charming supporting characters as Quarter Mile Sweet, self-mocking Polack Agnes Swarsinsky, and Preacher Ketchum.  It’s  not the first American novel to pit country wisdom against corporate sliminess, but when was the last time a good story taught you this much about the pickle-curing process? 

Family Farm Defenders:

Farm-raised retired UW Professor, Jerry Apps, has been a prolific chronicler of country life in the Midwest, with fifteen books penned by his hand to date.  His latest novel tells the 1950s coming of age story of Andy Meyer, a young farmer and pickle maker.  Life in Link Lake was relatively peaceful and downright neighborly until the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company rolls into town with its big city “get big or get out” attitude and its nasty agribusiness tactics.  Andy has to make some tough choices to defend himself and his community.  Should he follow the course of least resistance or does he stick up for a way of life that revolves around more than just money? Reminiscent of Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, In a Pickle offers a poignant personal perspective on the clash between agriculture and industrialization that is still going on in the U.S. and around the world today.  Whether it’s a huge pickle factory, a factory dairy farm or a massive ethanol plant being foisted upon a community, the lessons to be learned are similar. John Peck.

Booklist (American Library Association)

*Starred Review* Apps, a veteran Wisconsin author of rural fiction and nonfiction, proves once again just how charming he can be. Set in 1955, this warmhearted novel tells the story of 25-year-old Andy Meyer, a veteran of the Korean War, who has returned home to Link Lake, where he works on his father's farm and, during the summer cucumber season, manages the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company's factory. Life in Link Lake has gone on pretty much the same for generations, but big changes are afoot: Harlow is encouraging local cucumber farmers to plant bigger fields, to use more modern equipment, and to enter into exclusive contracts with the company. When spot-rot hits a local cucumber farm and spreads to other, smaller patches, farmers are suddenly unable to sell their cukes; families whose heads are barely above water are in danger of sinking; and Andy finds not only his livelihood, but also his very way of life in jeopardy. This is one of those slice-of-life novels that utterly wins us over with rich characters, homespun dialogue, and a story that, although it takes place half a century ago, involves a subject that's still current: the elimination of small farms by big agribusiness. Apps, who was born on a farm and who managed a pickle factory in the 1950s, invests the novel with the kind of realism, precise detail, and local color that only someone who had lived the story could do. David Pitt

Portage County Gazette

Jerry Apps has fashioned a little rural Wisconsin classic in his novel of this year, “In a Pickle.”  It’s a page-turner for anyone who loves a good yarn, rural Wisconsin and country life, and the story rings especially true around here, since it’s based in central Wisconsin. “Pickle,” published by the University of Wisconsin Press, captures life in 1950s rural Wisconsin so well you’d think you were there with his hero, young Andy Meyer, back from combat in the Korean War. Meyer runs the pickle factory for the summer in a town that the author admits resembles little Wild Rose, where Apps once lived and worked. 

What a colorful tale it is, full of twists and turns, and rife with corollaries to the challenges faced by agriculture and rural people to this day. Get big? Stay small? How to survive as the big wheels keep turning? 

 In the book, kids who grew an acre of pickles in central Wisconsin in the summer for spending money or for their education are being squeezed out by canning companies and big operators that don’t want to mess with processing an acre of pickles. Farmers who went big needed big equipment and people to pick the crops, and migrant workers arrive on the scene.

Apps weaves his story around these forces, and you’d swear you knew the colorful characters in the book. His good guys and bad guys share some of the same vulnerabilities, and that makes for honest storytelling. Somehow Apps manages to weave a love story into the book, and at the same time pit the fathers of Meyer and his girlfriend against one another in the “big vs. small” argument.

The author has rural Wisconsin in his blood. Born and raised on a central Wisconsin farm, he has about 15 books out there, many on rural history and country life. He is a professor emeritus at UW-Madison and maybe one of the best authors Wisconsin has produced in the late 20th and early 21st century. Certainly when it comes to cultural history in rural Wisconsin, Apps shines. Not only do his books serve as important pieces of the historical record, but they are darned entertaining. A list of his titles is at

Ben Logan, the octogenarian Wisconsin author, once commented that there are precious few authentic rural voices out there, people who understand the land and speak up for its needs. Maybe that’s one reason why Logan’s “The Land Remembers,” an autobiographical account of growing up on a southwest Wisconsin farm, is in its ninth printing, on Itchy Cat Press in Wisconsin.

Apps happens to be one of those authentic voices. Ready for the cold winter nights after the holiday rush? Pick up a copy of “In a Pickle,” or “The Land Remembers” for that matter, curl up in a comfortable chair and get ready for sweet reading.  Bill Berry


IN A PICKLE captures the heart of rural America half-a-century ago!,

Novels are typically not on my 'to read' shelf. But I picked this one up because Apps' non-fiction has always been so much fun and chocked full of right-on memories for me. IN A PICKLE is about the time when I grew up and about a place only half-a-county from where my family's farm was. This book is right up there as one of Apps' best, and it superbly captures the essence of the culture and the times. It tells an engaging story in a down-home and straightforward style that shows why Apps should be on everybody's list of really good storytellers.

The book is a character-driven tale that's not only a fun read, but it will give you an effective insight into what small-farm life was really like half-a-century ago in middle America. After the first couple of chapters of IN A PICKLE, I found it to be one of those few books that is so enjoyable that I forcibly (and with difficulty) limited myself to just a chapter or two a day - that way I knew I would get to enjoy it for a lot longer. The book has several layers to it: 1) an enjoyable novel about the relationships of a cast of characters trying to get through tough times together, 2) a chronicle of small farm families documenting some of the everyday realities of that life fifty years ago, 3) a commentary on how progress in the big picture of things can impact the lives of the individual people being swept through those changes, and 4) a depiction of how the modernization of technology can be a good thing, but how, whether it intends to or not, and for better or for worse, it can significantly disrupt the traditional order of things and much of what goes with that tradition. Those aspects can all be enjoyed on their own merits with IN A PICKLE. But the book also gives the reader a combined experience of all those things fitting together in one place and one period of the American landscape, an indispensable part of our country's character.

If you're old enough, IN A PICKLE will jog your memory about the old days and tickle your funny bone at the same time. If you're younger than that, the book takes you back in time to a part of your parents' world, and it does that in an entertaining way that leaves you appreciating some new things about that world your folks grew up in. In either case, you're apt to see some things in a way that you maybe hadn't considered before - until Jerry Apps let you know about it with IN A PICKLE. Jim Pope

Literary lunch: Family farm 'In a Pickle' in novel by Apps by Heather Lee Schroeder, Special to the Capital Times  —  9/06/2007

Apps on farming: For Madison-based author Jerry Apps, the politics of farming is serious business. He grew up on a small family farm near Wild Rose, Wis., and spent many years teaching agricultural education at the UW. He's seen firsthand what the changes in farming practices have meant for the rural landscape of Wisconsin.

Apps explores this issue in his latest novel, "In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story." The story follows Andy Meyer, a farmer and seasonal manager of a pickle factory in fictional Link Lake, Wis., in the mid-1950s. The community's way of life is threatened by the introduction of large-scale farming practices and economic pressures brought on by, in large part, the owners of the pickle factory.

This little-known portion of Wisconsin history -- cucumber farming and pickle production -- serves as a fine metaphor for the continuing debate about the importance of family farms. The novel, though entertaining, remains deeply political at its core.

"What I'm trying to do is continue a discussion about the demise of the relatively small family farm and to have that discussion include more than just the economics of it," Apps said in a recent interview.

Issues such as neighborhood and community, family relationships, work ethic and beliefs and values all come into play in the novel.

"It's not only the family farms that are disappearing but at the same time the small village throughout the country, but especially in the rural areas," Apps said. "They depended on each other, and when farmers disappeared, all of those businesses that supported the family farm disappeared."

The author said he wants both to give a voice to the farming community and to reach an urban audience that is interested in the issues.

Although it would have been easy for Apps to write a lengthy nonfiction (and academic) book exploring the politics of small farms versus large agribusiness, he said that approach wouldn't allow him to reach his audience as successfully as fiction does.

"I cannot go at the issue head-on in my nonfiction work without sounding like I'm preaching," Apps explained.

Politics aside, Apps said writing novels that are accessible and entertaining to a non-reading audience is particularly important to him.

"I get calls and letters all the time, and they usually start like this: 'I don't read books,' and they're usually from a man who is over 50," he said. "That keeps me going."

In fact, since retiring from the UW in 1994, Apps has written more than 15 books geared for a general audience, and he recently received the 2007 Major Achievement Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers in recognition of his efforts.

Apps has started writing another novel that relates to rural America, although he says he can't reveal more about its content. In addition, he's putting finishing touches on a book that will be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press next year. Titled "Old Farm," this nonfiction book charts the changes on Apps' 65-acre farm in Waushara County since 1966.

"This will be, I hope, my strongest environmental book," he said. "It's a land use story but a very personal one."

Book Smart (UW-Madison, Wisconsin Week) 

In A Pickle: A Family Farm Story (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007)

Jerry Apps, professor emeritus of continuing and vocational education

Managing a cucumber salting station in the 1950s brought Jerry Apps in contact with both small-town farmers and the multinational company processing the pickled produce. Then, as now, corporate tactics affected everything from the corporation’s stock to the lives of the farmers around him. Reminiscing on his Web site, Apps recalls how “the big food processing companies insisted on contracts with farmers and more control, including encouraging farmers to grow larger acres of cucumbers.” This trend deepened over the next several decades as he becomes a county extension agent and, later, a renowned agricultural educator.

Combining Apps’ own experiences with extensive historical research, In a Pickle tells the story of “pickle patch” owner Andy Meyer. Caught between the demands of his fellow farmers and his employers at the behemoth H. H. Harlow Pickle Company, Andy sees his peers forced to choose between the Harlow Way or the possibility of losing their land. Though the book serves as an elegy for rural ways, Apps’ warm, humorous prose reveals how the strength of a community keeps traditions – and hope – alive.

Apps’ interest in farm stories isn’t merely professional. Memories of growing up in central Wisconsin’s sand country echo the subtitle of his new novel: “You could guess the size of a farm family by driving by and checking the size of the pickle patch. The bigger the patch, the more kids in the family.”

Though In A Pickle takes place over 50 years ago, concerns about the negative influence of big agri-business on rural farming communities remain current. Newspaper editor Dewey John’s passionate columns ring just as true today as they did in the Link Lake Gazette. However, Apps’ deft touch with his characters – a fundamentalist preacher, quick-witted businessmen, migrant workers and plenty of old farmers – allows him to broach the topic without sounding stuffy or moralistic.

This accessibility has become a hallmark of Apps’ work – novels, textbooks and children’s literature alike. “For me,” says Apps, “a story is a powerful way of communicating, whether it’s truth or fiction.” Transferring this approach to his teaching has brought him many accolades. By delivering information with a dash of humor, mystery or homespun wisdom, he says, “people begin grasping rather sophisticated ideas without even knowing it.”

Though he retired from the university in 1994, Apps has returned to his Extension roots by teaching adult writing classes. In addition, his textbooks on agricultural and adult education remain in widespread use. His book Mastering the Teaching of Adults identifies multiple approaches to adult education. One approach stands out: the Gardener, who “cultivate[s] the mind by nourishing, enhancing the climate, removing the weeds and other impediments, and then standing back and allowing growth to occur.”

At his farm in Wild Rose, two miles from his boyhood home, Apps has kept a garden every year since 1966.

Any cucumbers?

“Picked a bunch this week.”  --Susannah Brooks

Wisconsin State Journal

You can’t find anyone more Wisconsin than author Jerry Apps and you can’t find a story more Wisconsin than “In a Pickle” Terrace Books, $24.95.

Pickle farming (for you city slickers, the farmers actually grow cucumbers not pickles) is a part of Wisconsin history much like tobacco farming.  Small “pickle patches” provide the substance for any number of reminiscences, not altogether happy ones.

Apps tells the story of Andy Meyer, a young farmer who manages a pickle factory during the 1950s in Link lake, a fictitious Wisconsin town, and his confrontation with the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company, a corporate giant that seeks to change the traditional ways of farming in the area.  Link lake is the kind of town Garrison Keillor celebrates.

“Link Lake celebrated Pickle days the first weekend of August, in the peak of the cucumber season.  The parade on Saturday afternoon drew the most people, followed by the “Big Pickle Polka Dance” on Saturday night . . . .”

Meyer is all for the old ways of doing things.  Not so for some of his neighbors.  Girlfriend Amy Stewart, for example, is the daughter of a farmer who embraces the new, H. H. Harlow way of farming. Meyer disapproves.

“You don’t take care of land by plowing 50-acre fields, by growing 30 acres of cucumbers, by pouring tons of fertilizer on the fields, by trying to farm a thousand acres,” Andy said quietly.

Amy dumps Andy.

But, the farming is just a symbol of changes coming to Link Lake.  The school system wants to close the small schools in the area and consolidate them into more modern facilities.  City slickers start buying up farmland for recreational property.

But change is a fact of life and, Apps suggests, those who can mange change, can, sometimes even maintain the values they cherish.  William R. Wineke


Purchase on Amazon


2017 all rights reserved.
Website by Matt Apps
Last updated: 08/01/2017 09:18 PM CST