New Vendor Spotlight
Meet Gracie's Garden
It’s a subzero February day in Maine. You walk out to your car, wrapped in that winter coat that makes you look like a misshapen sausage. You’ve just broken what few new year’s resolutions you made by sugaring your coffee and gobbling up the last chocolates in the box from your great aunt in Spokane. Your belt is cutting you in half. And you’re too busy to go to the gym tonight.
Suddenly, you hear a small voice from your childhood saying:
"Eat your vegetables."
Meanwhile, in a little town named for Mayflower passenger Myles Standish, bright sunlight streams into the cool summer kitchen in the basement of an old New England farmhouse, circa 1780. Lisa Edge and Mark Saxl chop ginger and kohlrabi.
They work diligently, Saxl using a mandolin slicer to parse the kohlrabi into match stick-sized pieces. The ingredients are lovingly layered into a large German-made fermenting crock and sea salt is sprinkled on top. Edge uses a wooden tamper, like a miniature baseball bat, to pound the salted vegetables. This process of layering and tamping continues. Stoneware weights are placed on top of the salted vegetables and then the crock is fitted with its special guttered lid.
The fermentation of another batch of Gracie’s Garden’s most popular blend, simply called Ginger and Kohlrabi, has begun. Before the week is over, Edge and Saxl may process 200 pounds of vegetables from local farms using this time-honored art.
Fermentation, one of the oldest methods of food preservation, dates back to China in 6,000 B.C. The ancient practice produced food containing what is now known as “probiotics” or healthy bacteria that keep the body’s intestinal flora balanced. Fast forward a few thousand years; our reliance on pasteurized and processed foods has eliminated most sources of the probiotics we once consumed on a regular basis. No wonder you sometimes feel like a misshapen sausage!
After returning to Maine, Edge and Saxl began making their own ferments in earnest and sharing them with friends. In 2011, they went into business and have been fermenting local vegetables in small batches and selling them at local farmers markets and health food stores ever since.
In 2014, Gracie’s Garden won the People’s Pick(le) Award for the best pickle at the Boston Fermentation Festival.
What’s this? You’ve never knowingly eaten a fermented food and likely wouldn’t because it sounds pretty weird?
Relax. Fermentation is a natural process in which enzymes convert existing sugars to acids, gases and/or alcohol. Yeast breads, wine, beer, yogurt and cheese are all common foods whose production involves fermentation.
Eat your vegetables. Eat parsnips, daikon radish, rutabaga, bok choy, napa cabbage, scallions, horseradish, beets, carrots, green turnips, fennel, onions and maybe a chili pepper. These are just some of the ingredients Edge and Saxl combine in Gracie’s Garden cultured vegetable ferments.
The two fermenters say they are inspired by the varieties of beautiful, locally grown vegetables available even in the dead of winter.The harvest and whimsy often decide their offerings. Says Edge: “We try to make new products as they present themselves to us from the farmers. For instance the Monk’s Radish came about because Lizzy from Helios Horse Powered Farm told us she had purple daikon available. It is nice to know that we sometimes help out the farmers when they have too much of a supply on hand.”
Saxl notes that fermented foods should not be cooked, because once it is heated it loses its probiotic properties.
Edge likes to consider Gracie’s Garden ferments as a complement to a meal. If your lentil soup is sagging, garnish each bowl with a spoonful of Red Cabbage and Garlic ferment just before serving. The deep purple cabbage and the zesty tang of garlic will liven up the flavor, Edge says.
A favorite of Saxl’s is a simple grilled hamburger topped with blue cheese and a few spoons of Buxton Beets. A simple and colorful way to jazz up a cole slaw? He suggests making it with purple cabbage, a little mayonnaise and a jar of Django’s Ginger Carrots, named for the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Currently Gracie’s Garden’s operation is small — just Edge and Saxl, with occasional part-time help from Edge’s two grown daughters, Sophie and Hannah. The business owners want to keep the business artisanal and small, but their long-term plans include building a commercial kitchen in their barn and expanding their staff.
Gracie’s Garden is a popular and busy booth at all of the markets they participate in. All in all, they make 24 ferments, including offerings like Shaker Carrots, Babushka’s Kraut and No Anchovy Kimchi-- and we're thrilled to have them joining us here, at the Wells Farmers Market this season! Just wait until you get to try all their delicious samples!
Welcome aboard Lisa and Mark.