MONT VERNON — With family recipes passed down through the generations, Jennifer and Dave Valentine are bringing a bit of the South to tables in the North with their ever-expanding line of pickled products.
The Valentines raise heritage breed chickens, make healthy suet cakes for birds, and preserve heirloom seeds for future generations through the Valentine & Sons Seed Company. But their newest venture involves fruit, vegetables, and the recipes of Grandma Goodman, Jennifer’s maternal grandmother.
“She was an amazing woman,” said Jennifer. “When I was a kid, we spent a month on her 20-acre farm every summer. She was born without a right hand, but she ran that farm, raised six kids, and took care of all of us.”
On the North Carolina farm, which is still in the family today, the Goodmans raised cotton, clover, corn and watermelon, and like lots of folk who live close to the earth, Grandma Goodman preserved much of the food grown in the family garden in canning jars.
One of the favorite foods Grandma Goodman preserved for the family was apple rings soaked in vinegar, sugar and a blend of spices. The sweet flavor and delicate texture of the preserved apples makes them a popular garnish or side dish in the South, said Jennifer, and so she decided to break out Grandma Goodman’s recipe book and start making her own.
At the Neighbor Made cooperative commercial kitchen in Keene, Jennifer takes organic apples grown at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, and using an old-fashioned apple peeler, peels, cores, and slices each apple by hand. The apples are then stacked in small glass jars, covered in the sweet vinegar syrup flavored by a blend of cloves and Saigon cinnamon — a more vibrant version of the spice — and then sealed in the traditional canning process.
“They really have this sweet, mulled, awesome flavor,” said Jennifer. “And you can read and understand all the ingredients. It’s real food.”
The apple slices are great on sandwiches and burgers, perfect for pork chops, as part of a dessert or eaten right out of the jar, said Dave. And the syrup can be used to flavor everything from sangria to snow cones.
But apples are only part of the line. There’s also apple butter and apple cocktail wedges — a product that came into being after a friend started experimenting with the spiced apples in mixed drinks and found the slices too delicate for his liking.
The Valentines are also making what they call “artisanal pickles,” a sweet gherkin made from a West African variety of cucumber that the couple grows on their farm and harvests with the help of their sons DJ and Willy. But Grandma Goodmans Gherkins have been a huge hit at both summer and winter farmers markets so the Valentines are close to selling out. Thankfully, they’ve been able to call on the help of some fellow farmers who have agreed to grow gherkins on their behalf.
“We also make pickles with regular cucumbers,” said Jennifer, “and they’re good, but there’s just something about the way the flavors blend with the gherkins that makes them special.”
The products made by Valentine & Sons Seed Company are sold in general stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, said Dave, and also at the Milford Farmers Market and the Bedford Fields’ Uniquely New Hampshire indoor markets.
For more information visit www.vnsseed.com.