Meet the Maker: Potlicker Kitchen

Nancy Warner | Potlicker Kitchen

A former archaeologist, Nancy Warner began her two-time Marmalade Awards Gold-winning and Sofi and Good Food Awards finalist jellies and jams business in a one-room school house in Vermont. (Whispers are that there are five more prestigious awards headed her way.)

In The Savory Pantry, you’ll find flavors like Margarita Marmalade, Cucumber Jalapeno Jam, Vermont Crafted Carrot Cake Jam, Blueberry Sage Jam, and Apricot Ale and India Pale Ale Beer Jellies. (And keep your mouth open for the soon-to-be-stocked Cabernet & Black Pepper Wine Jelly.)  

Four years before Potlicker Kitchen reached half a million in sales in 2016, Nancy was transforming the passion for foraging that she’d developed as an anthropologist into a canning hobby.

“People often don’t realize how much food is just beyond their doorstep. As an anthropologist—archaeology being a field of anthropology—I became very interested in traditional foodways. That led me to begin foraging.”

Nancy was a Southeastern archaeologist who specialized in burial relocations. “I primarily did ‘phase one’ archaeology—which involved walking through the woods prior to construction projects to see what might need to be done beforehand—and phase three, which is what a lot of people think of—where you are out there digging in the dirt with trowels. There are many different burial traditions, so each job was a little different.” Many jobs, Nancy added, also “required a dark sense of humor.”

When she and her husband moved to Vermont so that he could attend law school, there wasn’t demand for a southeastern archeologist specializing in burial relocations.

Nancy says, “There wasn’t a job, and I needed a job, so I made a job. Foraging had a short season, and I learned how to can to extend the season. My parents had citrus groves where I grew up in Florida, and they would make marmalade. My grandmother always made blackberry jelly. So, I had been surrounded by canning at home, but more or less taught myself.”

As her hobby developed, Nancy wrote a food blog where she shared canning recipes. “When I realized how satisfying it was to take a raw product and put it up, I wanted to keep going with this obsession. I kept going, canning everything I could get my hands on. I even harvested wild grape leaves and put them up. I made a great batch of strawberry jam but really was interested in making something I couldn’t already buy. That idea still shapes a lot of my flavors today.

“At some point, I ran out of fruits and vegetables, so I started looking around the house to see what other ingredients I could use. There was coffee, vinegar, and a friend’s home brewed beer.” Then, Nancy was on to the ingredient that would launch her business.

“When I made my first beer jelly, no one else was making it. I was hanging out with a home brew beer club and had friends on the Vermont beer scene. Brewers either loved my beer jelly and the idea of it, or thought I was nuts.”

Bills were coming in and Nancy needed to pay them. “I thought about what I could do. I decided to put all the jellies in my pantry, including a couple of the beer jellies, in a basket and head to the holiday winter market. I sold them all! That really pushed me to make more and start selling at the farmers market.”

The demand for Nancy’s beer jellies increased rapidly. “I knew I was starting to push Vermont’s limit on income for a home business. I found a 500 square foot facility to rent about an hour away and started commuting.”

Carrot Cake Fruit Jam | Potlicker Kitchen

Then, in 2015—about three years after Nancy sold her first beer jelly—a call came that would be every entrepreneur’s dream. “Uncommon Goods found us. I didn’t know who they were. When they put the beer jelly on their site, they sold out in minutes. It was mind boggling. Then, the orders started coming to our site. After Black Friday, I printed out a ream of over 100 orders. I had to hire someone immediately. There was no time left in the day to commute. I was sleeping on the floor of the facility on packing materials, and getting up and doing it all over again. We stopped taking orders December 7 because we knew there was no way we’d get them ready in time for Christmas.” Potlicker Kitchen’s sales doubled each year from 2012 on, and hit half a million in 2016.

“With respect to everything I make at Potlicker, I always say: ‘Traditional techniques. Uncommon flavors.’ Most of our products are regional and some a hyper-local, like knotweed jelly.” Knotweed is an invasive species with which Nancy has managed to do something constructive. “With those super local products, they are made in small batches and only sold locally because it hasn’t made sense to me to sell them elsewhere. All of our beer jellies are made from Vermont brews and I try to stay local with other ingredients whenever it’s possible.

“I believe it’s important for us to become closer to our food systems and understand where foods come from. My volunteer work with food shelves [known as food pantries in the South] relates to helping people understand food sources.”

Now, with a very successful business and as a mother of two girls, Nancy is in the position of reassessing business relationships to ensure they are ones she really wants to have—relationships that comport with the core values of Potlicker Kitchen.  

“I’ve worked with some big corporations and have had to rethink after experiencing corporate burn.” One instance of burn happened after Nancy drove six hours through a snowstorm to attend corporate training at her own expense, only to arrive on the company’s doorstep and find out the training had been cancelled with no notice. They wouldn’t even cover the cost of her lodging.

“I want to be in relationships with companies that are also thinking about me, not just their bottom line. That means downsizing a bit, but I am very comfortable with that. We have two to four employees, depending on the season.” Much of Nancy’s focus now is on building and continuing relationships with specialty and gourmet foods stores like The Savory Pantry.

This entrepreneurial pause and rethinking is sealed in the very essence of Potlicker’s philosophy, including in its name. “Potlicker Kitchen came from my anthropology roots. Potlicker is a common Southern name for the liquid in the pot when you cook something, and sometimes more specifically refers to the liquid that comes from hours of cooking collard greens and pork fat. For me, it also means licking the bottom of the pot and getting the most you can out of life.”

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Meet the Maker: Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon

From the western North Carolina town of Waynesville, Jessica DeMarco and her brother, Dan Stubee, are “preserving tradition” at Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon through handcrafted and seasonally produced jams, pickles, and artisan foods.

Jessica DeMarco | Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon
Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon

Origins

 

Where did the notion of reinvigorating preserving traditions begin with DeMarco?

She shared, “My grandparents were farmers so we had a food- and farm-loving family, although our family garden was smaller when I was growing up. We had big family dinners at our grandparents’ house that nurtured my enjoyment of food, and I always loved being experimental in the kitchen. In college, I was an English major and that felt like one direction for my creativity, but I wanted something more experiential versus a traditional path, so I decided to go to California School of Culinary Arts (a Le Cordon Bleu school) in Pasadena.

“After culinary school, I worked as a pastry chef. Then I started a family and was trying to come up with things to do that would allow me the flexibility I needed to also be a mom.

“Preserving tradition had always come through as a theme for our family, so I started exploring that more. I began to think of it as literally making preserves, but also as inspiring people to think about food heritage and maintaining food traditions so that we don’t lose them or have to call them lost arts. Also, preserving foods was a way to be self-sufficient and plan for the future which had also been values in my family.

“I didn’t know much about how to can or preserve, so I obsessively researched. I pored through old cookbooks and immersed myself in anything I could find. Then, I just got in the kitchen to see what I could come up with. I experimented with so many recipes and tried so many things before hitting on it. The Red Pepper and Peach Jam was our first home run.”

Flash forward, and three years later, that Pepper and Peach jam was a Food & Wine Magazine Editor’s Pick. The jam lineup has expanded to include Blueberry Bourbon Jam, Apple Moonshine Jam, and savory Oven Roasted Tomato Jam. Other twists on classic southern favorites include Copper Pot Garlic Dill Pickles, Southern Style Pickled Okra, Spicy Jalapeno Dill Sandwich Chips, Dilly Beans with Pickled Peppers, and Onion and Peppercorn Pickles

Why Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon?

 

DeMarco continued, “As I became self-taught through my early research and recipe attempts, French chef Cristine Ferber arose as the gold standard in jam making and preserving, and she always uses a copper pot. Copper pots are sought after because of their even heating and evaporation. This is perfect for jams so that they can cook down without the bottom of the pan scorching. And of course no cook is properly equipped without a traditional wooden spoon.

Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon

Preserving Agricultural Traditions and Seasonality

 

 “We work with farms that we know within our own and surrounding counties. 90% of our produce comes within 60 miles of where we live. We are in very close conversation with farmers about the status of their crops. If we have a bad season we’ll get peaches from down the mountains in South Carolina, but generally, we are staying as local as possible.

 “Traditionally, folks couldn’t just go to the store in February and buy strawberries, and we work with all our ingredients on a seasonal basis. In North Carolina, you only have May as your strawberry season so you have to stock up while you can and get to work.  

“My brother and I normally have our own domains, but in the summer we are both in the kitchen up to our elbows in peaches and strawberries. As the business started to grow, it became clear it wasn’t going to be something I could do on my own. He is a jack of all trades. He has a construction and plumbing background so he is very handy, and is also a graphic designer so he created our logo and does the marketing. Now he does most of the kitchen management and supervises production. We work well together.

“It’s also good to have another palate since no two people are going to like the same things. We want a variety of textures and tastes to fit an assortment of preferences so that everyone can find a product they can enjoy. My brother eats all the pickled foods and I eat all the jam. Our pickled okra is a customer favorite but it isn’t necessarily my own. My boys are 11, 8, 6, and 3 months old, and the Apple Butter goes fast in our household.”  

Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon

Challenges

and Triumphs

 

When asked to hit on the challenges and highlights of her culinary journey with Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon, DeMarco shared, “It has been really interesting to experiment with recipes and see what different flavor profiles work or don’t. Take tomato jam, for instance. There are so many interpretations. We tried one version that you often see with cinnamon and brown sugar, but it kind of comes across as baked bean. Our final version is more savory—using red wine, garlic, and herbs—and came through as such a nice spread with cheeses; that’s more the direction I was hoping for.” If you haven’t tasted it and need proof that they got it right, note that it was featured in Garden & Gun Magazine’s 2012 Made in the South Awards.

“Tomatoes are challenging because we seed, peel, and roast all the tomatoes by hand. But we love strawberries and blueberries because the scent of the berries just fills the room, and the hint of bourbon in the Blueberry Bourbon Jam just makes you want to relax on the porch. When its winter and I taste the strawberry jam, it takes me back to summer.

“One really great part of it all is the nostalgic aspect of food. We like sharing that with people and want to make food an experience rather than something that is just consumed. Rather than being something that is simply nourishment, we hope everyone who tastes our foods takes away a memory.”

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Meet the Maker: Catskill Provisions

Claire Marin

When Claire Marin was a publishing executive at Woman’s Day, beekeeping was her hobby. Then, the face of publishing began to change—the printed communications world experiencing the rapid rise of the digital age.

Clare shares, “Many in the publishing world saw the new era of digital communications as a serious threat. People divided into two camps and it was discussed constantly whether this was a detriment or an opportunity. To be part of this at the executive level started to feel like something I couldn’t personally solve. It was just too big.

“I turned to watching my bees. They were working together in cooperation toward a common goal and their role in their environment was clearly defined. I began thinking that if we treated the world as our hive, maybe our outlook would be different. That’s the inspiration that I brought with me as I shifted from publishing to starting Catskill Provisions in 2010.”

Claire knew she eventually wanted to make honey whiskey, but barrels of rye must age for years. During the long wait after laying down the rye, she decided to make honey the core of her business and work from there.

Led by the pillars of integrity and authenticity, every Catskill Provisions product is a nod toward the greater good: contributing to environmental sustainability, fueling local economies, and protecting pollinators. Today, Claire tends over 300 beehives in New York State’s Delaware, Sullivan, and Madison Counties, working with local beekeepers to create small batch, hand-packed honey harvested twice annually in fall and spring.

When asked why—other than their collaborative spirits—she was so attracted to honey, Claire shared, “With honey, you’re consuming so much less sweet. You only need about one teaspoon of honey versus three teaspoons of sugar. Our chocolate honey truffles are a great way to reward yourself without tons of sugar. They get their sweetness from a tiny amount of our honey in the ganache and the low sugar in the 72% dark chocolate we use. I like to think of it as guilt-free indulgence.”  

Catskill Provisions Raw Wildflower Spring Honey evokes the wildflowers of spring with floral notes of cherry and pear blossom. It naturally pairs well with cheese, yogurt, light teas, cocktails, and vinaigrettes. The Raw Wildflower Fall Honey is complex, with deep flavors of chestnut and maple. It pairs perfectly with aged cheeses, chocolate, and darker teas, and is ideal for use in marinades and cocktails.

You’ll definitely want to stick a fry in Honey Infused All-Natural Ketchup, sweetened with the fall honey. “I was coming across many families who use a lot of ketchup, but don’t want all the junk that comes in most commercial ketchups—high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives. Without all that, your health, the health of your family, and the flavor benefit. You just don’t need the junk. The tomatoes that are the base of this ketchup are themselves so flavorful. Honey is a great stabilizer, is antibacterial, and has natural preservatives.”

Eventually, it made sense to add New York Grade A Maple Syrup to the product lineup. “Maple syrup was a natural extension of honey harvesting. Bees naturally pollinate the maple trees so there are maple notes in the honey and the maple industry is an important backbone of the economy in upstate New York. We tap over 2,000 maple trees working with fourth generation harvesters and it feels good to be part of this underappreciated, sustainable, local resource.”

“When using the maple syrup at home, I realized there was no really good organic pancake and waffle mix on the market, so that seemed like a natural opportunity. It is made of traceably sourced wheat that is stone ground and lovingly bagged by hand within a month of milling it. You can’t get any fresher and the result is super fluffy pancakes and waffles.”  

The Savory Pantry has wrapped up the Waffle and Pancake Mix, Maple Syrup, and Honey in a hyacinth gift basket and tied it with a bow in our Catskill Provisions Breakfast Basket. Get ready for an excellent brunch.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Another offering is Apple Cider Vinegar, made from heirloom varieties of apples that are grown and pressed by local farmers. “We take the press and age it, then instill it with honey and herbs. I love to use it in place of wine to lend complexity to sauces, and it makes a great dressing or cocktail shrub. Plus, you get all the health befits for which apple cider vinegar is known.”  

Remember that rye that was laid to age in 2010? It has now become award-winning honey whiskey.

“The whiskey is made from two ingredients: locally-sourced, fiery, complex rye and the right amount of infused fall honey. It is a mellow, well-rounded spirit.”

As Winner of the Chairman’s Trophy with a 94 rating from the prestigious Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2017 and a Gold Medal at the 2017 SIP Awards, judges agree.

Next up on Claire’s to-do list? Becoming the fourth woman in the US to have a distillery. With more than 1,700 run by men, the meaning of her endeavor is all in the numbers.  

Why these numbers? Claire says, “Right now I’m reading a book on the history of women and distilling. The first women distillers were accused of being witches. In the 1600 and 1700s, women were actually doing this regularly. If you look at scotch distilleries, they were all managed by women, but across the board, the men were the face of the distillery.”

Claie Marin

What is different now? “The cocktail scene is becoming much more open and widespread. Women are really interested in whiskey which has traditionally been viewed as a man’s drink. In general, there is more focus the brown spirits. Palates want variety. I wanted to create a drinkable whiskey that most anyone could pick up and love easily. You don’t need to be a professional drinker to enjoy this, although we’re lucky to have avid whiskey drinkers as followers.”

If Catskill Provisions embraces anything, it is change.

“It is exhilarating being an entrepreneur. You have to love it. You’re not going to get rich doing it, but there’s a lot of satisfaction in bringing great products to market that are so admired by customers. It’s so enjoyable making connections in this little corner of the world.”

“And it’s fun to see where it will take me next, what is the unanticipated but natural progression. You can’t marry one product. You have to read the market at all times. Change happens. We can’t be stuck or we won’t survive. We need to be willing to evolve so we can feel, stay, and be relevant. And atop everything, remain authentic and true to the part of the brand that matters. You have to really stay within what is important to you because consumers will see right through it if you don’t.  

There’s a bit of masochism in running a small business. I couldn’t do any of this without serious passion. At the end of the day I’m exhausted, and satisfied, and ready to do it all again.”

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