The Boston Globe

Preserving tradition with their pickles


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Root Cellar Preserves uses classic recipes for its pickles.

 

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 forget.

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 raised.

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 small-scale farming.

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 agribusiness."

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 apple relish.

``I like that we're taking care of history while we do it," says Susan.

For more information on Root Cellars Preserves, go to www.rootcellarpreserves.com.

Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com.

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

20 The New York Times Company

 

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