'Pickle-Packin' Mama' turns up the heat

Lorna Corbin fishes into a small jar with a fork and spears at a green slice. She serves her catch on a plate with a side of crackers and a dollop of forewarning.

"You may want to eat a cracker afterwards, to cut the bite."

Around Concord, Corbin is known as the Pickle-Packin' Mama. Her spicy little bullets of heat introduce themselves to the palate like a timid little lap dog, wagging its tail at first, then landing a sneaky chomp just when you think you're in the clear.

"It's sweet at first, and then it has a bite at the last taste," said Corbin, whose pickle-making hobby began 12 years ago. "And they're quite addicting, I've found."

For the last two years, Armadillos, Corbin's brand, have made themselves into tiny country stores and knickknack shops off and on around town. On Thursdays, she peddles them in person at Meredith's Market, a new gathering place for local vendors selling homemade goods in downtown Concord.

Ironically, Corbin never set out to become the town pickle-maker. Truthfully, she never was much of a pickle-eater, until one evening while living in Texas some friends introduced her to the hot little numbers they cooked up in their kitchen.

She went home and began conjuring up her own recipe. "There's garlic and sugar and jalapenos and secret spices," said Corbin, whose original armadillos start with a dill pickle base, but end up delivering a flicker of heat on the taste buds after they stew in her secret recipe. "The longer they sit. The hotter they get," she grins.

A new variety she's working on, called scorpions, are still in the prototype phase, undergoing an attitude adjustment with their peppers. If all goes well, the request for a glass of milk will be made by most folks a few seconds after the first bite.

On the countertops of her compact kitchen in one of Union Street's charming old houses, gleaming silver pots, mason jars and labels with cartoonish armadillos soldier together side-by-side during the pickle-making process.

She has made her tiny zinging slivers in much larger places. While living in Colorado her pickles shared the industrial kitchen of a block-long hot sauce factory, where Corbin would produce 40 gallons at a time, wheeling them in a grocery cart from the kitchen at one end to the processing center at the other end of the block.

As a facility engineer for a telephone company, Corbin picked up and moved often, living in more than a dozen states, from California to New Hampshire during her career. "I figured out that I moved on an average of more than once a year for every year old that I am, and I'm not young," said the 67 year old.

Good news for folks who like pickles. Small pockets in many of the communities where she once lived still drop her a note requesting a jar or two of her zesty creations.

Now retired in Concord so she can be near her son and grandchildren, Corbin's pickles are making an impression on a new community. She knows folks who buy them to make into relish for their tuna, chicken and potato salads.

She even knows a group of men who request a jar every time they order pizza. "They put the pickles on the pizza," said Corbin, who doesn't knock the odd combination. "I tried it and it was wonderful."

She's never done any advertising, just lets the pickles do the selling. Last year, she sealed the lids on 50 cases worth. "I've been here a couple of years and it's mostly been word of mouth," said Corbin.