WELLESLEY -- ``We're
trying to get away from the corporate pickle," explains
Lorne Jones, cofounder of Root Cellar Preserves. He's too
tactful to criticize his competitors, but they're floating
on every supermarket shelf. They're always a uniform green,
nothing memorable, mostly made from cucumbers harvested in
fields all over the world. They taste like they come from
nowhere in particular.
Root Cellar's pickles aren't
destined to be back-of-the-fridge leftovers. The flavors of
this local product are bold and unapologetic. Whether you
get a mouthful sweetened with cinnamon and apples or spiced
with banana peppers and salt, these pickles are not easy to
Jones and his wife, Susan,
both 42, started their company six months ago out of their
Wellesley home. Their project began partly as a hobby and
partly as a philanthropic endeavor to combine a group of
interests: traditional foods, early American homes, and
small family farms in upstate New York, where they both were
As such, Root Cellar
Preserves uses classic recipes and produce from family
farms, gives half the proceeds to local preservation jobs
like an 18th-century Dover house project, and uses the other
half to restore yet another old American home -- this one
belonging to the pickle makers themselves.
In their array of products,
you'll find pickles, relishes, and syrups that evoke images
of farm life -- small batches and bold flavors meant to be
savored at a big Sunday family supper. The homegrown company
started over ice cream last October at C&L Frosty in
Sherborn. Lorne, a marketing executive for
Oracle Software, and
Susan, a former saleswoman who now raises their 7- and
3-year-old daughters, talked about how they could have fun,
make money, and do some good for their community by
distributing products they had enjoyed since childhood.
At first they thought about
cooking all the food themselves. They'd both been raised
eating homemade pickles and relishes, and loved spending
Saturday afternoons putting up a mountain of crisp cucumbers
and bell peppers.
But the permitting issues
involved in turning their home kitchen into a commercial
venture were intimidating. Instead, they decided to approach
small pickle, relish, and syrup producers across the
Northeast and collaborate on recipes -- asking for more
sugar or vinegar, more dill, more spice until each product
was exactly to their taste.
Root Cellar Preserves was
determined to support endangered small family farms and food
producers, and the couple wanted to offer old-fashioned
recipes with regional and generational quirks. ``We want to
add back in the variety that's being lost in consolidation,"
says Lorne. ``We like traditional recipes, the kinds of
things you don't see so much anymore." He's especially proud
of two hard-to-find company specialties,
vinegar-and-mustard-spiked corn relish and old-fashioned
dilly beans, green beans with fresh dill and hot spices, set
to join the product line later this year.
Giving small food
producers access to bigger markets is another priority for
the company. An Albany-based farmer who makes the company's
corn relish from his own crop has already sold more jars to
Root Cellar since January than he moves all year at his
small farm stand.
The Joneses' preference for
distinctive tastes and small producers coincides with a
growing nationwide interest in ``slow food" -- the movement
that celebrates heirloom produce, heritage breeds, and
Rosemary Melli, leader of the
Boston convivium of Slow Food USA, says consumers are
finally scrutinizing where their food comes from and placing
a premium on locally produced products. ``Taste is the key,"
she says. ``We are losing the taste of food because of
Because Root Cellar is still
a decidedly small-scale operation, the couple labels all the
products -- 30 cases weekly -- themselves. (Favorite
late-night labeling music? Johnny Cash.)
The Joneses also created an
altruistic marketing campaign. Half of the profits for the
products sold in Dover go to an effort to preserve and
relocate the town's oldest residence, the Draper House ,
built in 1724. The Concord Inn recently began selling Root
Cellar products, and half of those proceeds are earmarked
for as-yet-unidentified local preservation projects there.
The rest of the proceeds go
back into the company or toward a Jones family project, a
``falling apart" 1828 Federal home they own in Little Falls,
N.Y. , the image of which appears on the Root Cellar label.
``It's a rescue effort," says Lorne.
From the beginning, the two
have talked store proprietors into sampling and then
carrying their pickles, on a jar by jar basis. Their first
retail foray was Fells Market in Wellesley, which
immediately ordered a couple of cases of sweet and spicy
pickle mix. Susan was soon pressing other small gourmet
shops and quickly became known locally as ``the pickle
lady." She'd offer customers and vendors serving suggestions
that went way beyond backyard barbecue -- encouraging people
to eat the pickles and relish with sandwiches, as a side
dish to pork and roast chicken, or as part of an antipasto
or cocktail cheese-and-cracker platter.
John Dewar & Co. in Wellesley
was next, taking a shipment of crispy dills. Then came
Lookout Farm in South Natick and stores in Sherborn,
Sudbury, and more. The average price of a jar is $6.89.
While sales from the
burgeoning company are also still quite small-scale, the
couple hopes that the product line, values, and philosophy
will catch on. Along with dilly beans, coming over the next
several months are new varieties of cranberry chutney and
``I like that we're taking
care of history while we do it," says Susan.
For more information on
Root Cellars Preserves, go to
Noonan can be reached at