Northern Michigan entrepreneurs are constantly creating new ways to make it delicious and easy to use Northern Michigan local foods in your recipes. Store shelves are packed with local jams, jellies, salsas, hot sauces, barbecue sauces, chutneys, mustards, pickled asparagus spears, well, you get the idea. Find them in Traverse City, Petoskey, Glen Arbor—or really, any Northern Michigan small town or farmers market. Go ahead. Fill your pantry with Northern Michigan in a jar.
Of course, jarred foods entrepreneurship is nothing new to veggie-and-fruit-blessed Northern Michigan. Benjamin Twiggs and Brownwood Farms have been making pretty jars of preserves for decades. Food writers credit Justin Rashid’s über-lush American Spoon preserves from the early ’80s with helping ignite the local foods movement nationwide. Cherry Republic made a name by pairing our A-list fruit with a destination retail experience. Food For Thought has combined a light-on-the-earth ethic with gourmet flavors for more than a decade.
So, no, jarred foods are not new here, but the fervor around jarred foods, that is undeniably fresh and electric. “The thing that has amazed me in jarred foods is the explosion of products we are seeing in the past couple of years,” says Evan Smith, chief operating officer of local foods purveyor Cherry Capital Foods.
What’s driving it? “No one single thing,” he says. Northern Michigan’s national foodie reputation: people want to be a part of it. The economy: the Great Recession convincing people to take more control over their livelihood. The fun: people just plain enjoy making something tasty and trying to sell it. And, not to be overlooked, Michigan’s Cottage Food Law. Taking effect in 2010, it allows people to make certain prepared foods (baked goods, jams and jellies okay; meats, pickles and salsas not) in their home kitchens without FDA inspection and sell up to $20,000 a year. “That lets somebody make a few dozen of something and try selling it at the farmers market rather than having to find a contractor to make a 100-case minimum run,” Smith says. The entrepreneurial spirit is set free to experiment. And our flavor sensors benefit.
Here then, just in time for holiday gifts and entertaining, is a love note to Northern Michigan’s jarred food proliferation. We asked three foodie insiders—Ken Burritt of Burritt’s Fresh Markets, Laurie Cornell, store manager at Symons General Store, and Evan Smith—to pick five of their favorite jarred foods and then asked the creative chefs at Epicure Catering, Andy Schudlich and Cammie Buehler, to give us an easy, instant idea for each of the selections.