Franklin County Cooks: One hot sauce
The Recorder, February 28, 2017, By Tinky Weisblat.
“We’ve always loved growing hot peppers,” Caroline Pam of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland told me a couple of weeks ago. “Hot peppers are essential to many cuisines around the world. They come in so many colors and flavors and heat levels that they are really fun to grow.”
In 2013, she and her husband/business partner Tim Wilcox decided to try making something new with the peppers from their organic farm. Each September, they organize a spice lovers’ weekend called Chilifest at Mike’s Maze on South Main Street. That year they added a new feature to Chilifest — their own Sriracha.
Originating in Thailand, Sriracha is a chili sauce that has taken the country by storm in the last couple of decades. Kitchen Garden’s version is special, Caroline Pam informed me. “It has a completely different flavor when it’s made from peppers that are fresh and are fermented the way we do them,” she explained.
She is far from alone in seeing the merits of the farm’s Sriracha. In late January, Kitchen Garden’s sauce won a coveted Good Food Award in the “pantry” category.
According to spokesperson Jessica Zischke, the Good Food Award program is “a national initiative to honor American craft food and drink producers for excellence in both taste and sustainability.”
“We seek to highlight businesses in all parts of the U.S. who are making products that are tasty, authentic, and responsible,” Zischke told me. This past year, 2,059 entries were submitted from 38 states. Only 291 products received awards.
“I hadn’t thought to enter it,” Caroline Pam said of the program. “I got an email from one of the pantry judges who wrote to me out of the blue and said, ‘I think you should enter your product.’ We had to submit our unmarked samples in September, which for us was a little crazy. It was our first bottling day (of the year for the Sriracha), and I think it was the day before Chilifest.”
Making the sauce
During the harvest season, Pam told me, the farm picks 3,000 pounds of peppers each week. “We fill up our box truck with hand-picked peppers,” she explained.
The peppers are taken to the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield. The next day, they are washed, stemmed, and ground. The peppers then go through two stages of fermentation — a process that takes weeks.
Eventually, the pepper mixture is cooked and milled; then the pepper pulp is heated with vinegar, bottled, and sealed. The Sriracha — like the salsa Kitchen Garden Farm also produces — is shelf stable but must be refrigerated after opening.
In their first year of Sriracha production, Pam and Wilcox put up 400 bottles. The following year, 2014, they ended up with 4,000 bottles. Their haul for this past year was 32,000 bottles from 18,000 pounds of peppers.
The sauce is sold in stores and is also available from the Kitchen Garden website, www.kitchengardenfarm.com. It is popular in restaurants throughout the northeast. “It’s fun to see how people are using it,” said Pam.
Pam and Wilcox stagger the production of the sauce through the fall and early winter months. Picking can take place only in the warmer months, but bottling ended just a few weeks ago.
At this time of year, the farmers are still harvesting; they produce hardy greens and root vegetables in their high-tunnel greenhouses. They are also busy planning for the coming season.
Kitchen Garden was founded in 2006 “with just one acre and a rototiller,” Pam told me. The 2017 season will be the first in which their now 50-acre farm will operate exclusively on a wholesale basis. Pam noted that she will miss seeing customers at farmer’s markets.
“It was a really hard choice, but we’re responding to what the farming opportunities are,” she said.
Consumers will still be able to find Kitchen Garden’s range of organic produce at local markets. And the farmers will be on hand for this year’s Chilifest, scheduled for September 16 and 17.
Pam and Wilcox are both passionate cooks. In fact, Pam attended culinary school in New York City. The two use their Sriracha in a variety of dishes.
“It complements everything else that we’re growing. It’s really just so good with everything you can cook,” Pam said.
I asked her for a recipe that involves the Sriracha — and she shared a noodle formula.
“In my first apartment, when I was 18 years old, a vegetarian, and new to cooking, I made this at least twice a week,” said Pam. “The recipe has evolved somewhat since then, but the basic concept is the same: noodles, peanut sauce, fried tofu, and raw vegetables.
“Always fills you up. Never lets you down. And it just so happens to be the perfect vehicle for our Sriracha.”
Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the
author of “The Pudding Hollow
Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For
more information about Tinky, visit
her website, www.TinkyCooks.com