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DELIS IN A PICKLE OVER DWINDLING DILL SUPPLY

Restaurants and delis around the nation are in a pickle: Rain wiped out the Mexican cucumber crop, causing a shortage of the deli dill.

Some places are offering substitutes such as pickled peppers or pickled tomatoes, but others don't relish the idea."There's no question of changing," said Hal Horowytz, a manager at Zabar's delicatessen in New York City. "Most of the customers prefer this type of product, so we just pay a little more and eat the cost. We manage to get enough to keep our customers happy."

Cucumbers for pickles are imported during the winter only. Some come from Nicaragua, but Mexico is a major supplier.

"It rained and rained and continued to rain for about a month and essentially drowned the fields," Richard Hentschel, executive vice president of Pickle Packers International in suburban St. Charles, said Wednesday.

"Because of that, there's a shortage of a selective type of pickle - the deli pickle or refrigerated pickle - that are made on a daily basis."

Persnickety pickle lovers with as many as 36 flavors to choose from can tell if delis and restaurants try to palm off processed or fresh-packed dills for refrigerated pickles, Hentschel said.

The deli pickle is in "very high demand in selected and ethnic markets," he said. "Anything else in their mind is not a pickle."