Valley Bounty: Crooked Stick Pops
Daily Hampshire Gazette – July 24, 2021
By JACOB NELSON
“You know that feeling when you eat something and the taste buds in the very back of your cheeks go bonkers, and it almost hurts it’s so good?” says Julie Tuman, owner of the Easthampton-based Crooked Stick Pops. “That’s really what I’m going for.”
Crooked Stick Pops’ popsicles are Tuman’s creative, local take on this frozen treat. Recognizable from their off-angled handling sticks, which improve eating ergonomics, these “farm-to-face” products, as she calls them, are made almost entirely out of whole local fruit, and offered at stores, events, and via home delivery throughout the Valley.
The idea came from a popsicle shop Tuman and her husband visited in Florida, enjoying the refreshment of the cold pops without an overload of sweetness. First her husband toyed with opening a pop business back in Massachusetts, but when Tuman needed a change from her previous career, she decided to take the project on.
“Because I do so much at home with craft cocktails and creative food, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to hone a blueprint for really great pops,” she says.
Craft cocktails on a stick? The more Tuman describes her pop-making approach, the more the comparison falls in line. Like making a drink, she starts with a basic formula: “fruit, acid, something so it doesn’t freeze rock-hard, and flavor enhancers.”
“Fruit is my platform in the same way that alcohol would be the base of a cocktail,” explains Tuman. “Not fruit juice, but whole fruit that’s been blended.”
Sometimes the fruit base is the main flavor – blended strawberries, blueberries, or peaches, for example. For other pops, apple serves as a neutral, fruit-sweet canvas for more delicate flavors. “Every year we get an enormous number of apples from Apex Orchards in Shelburne, sauce them, and store that to use throughout the year,” she says.
Acids, often citrus juice, are added to brighten the flavor, and herbs or secondary ingredients add complexity. For example, “If I put lavender together with blueberries,” says Tuman, “suddenly it brings out all the floral notes of those blueberries.”
The last ingredient is something to soften the popsicle’s consistency As Tuman points out, “if you freeze fruit puree, you get a really delicious ice cube. You need something – either fat, alcohol, salt, fiber, or sugar – to impact the freezing texture.”
For their pops, she adds a touch of organic cane sugar. “That does it most efficiently,” she says. “Maple syrup will also do it, but I’d have to add four times as much.”
With that blueprint in her back pocket, Tuman then looks to what she can source locally and in season to inspire new flavors.
“All of our berries, stone fruit, orchard fruit, and herbs, and a lot our spices are grown in the Valley,” she shares. “With the exception of watermelon, if one of our ingredients grows locally, we only source it locally.” If it doesn’t grow in the Valley, Crooked Stick Pops tries to work with local businesses to source and process it.
While celebrating seasonal ingredients, Tuman acknowledges they also need to offer consistent products. So, they’ve struck a balance by offering 10 wholesale flavors year-round, supplemented by others featuring what’s ripe in the moment and past harvests stored away.
During the summer growing season, the rush is on to gather local ingredients while they’re ripe. “Now it’s blueberry season, so we’re making several different kinds of blueberry pops,” says Tuman. “Simultaneously we’ll be freezing and storing enough berries to get us through to blueberry season next year.”
At Crooked Stick Pops’ commercial kitchen at the Keystone Mills building in Easthampton, the process for making pops is quite simple. “My kitchen is just four stainless steel tables, a rack of kitchen equipment, a bunch of sinks, and a huge walk-in freezer,” says Julie.
The freezer holds pops and preserved local fruit waiting for its moment to shine. The main workhorse of the operation is a single pop-making machine – essentially a super chiller.
To make pops, Tuman first blends all the ingredients and pours the mixture into a rack of metal molds. The filled molds are then dunked in a super-chilled, food-grade antifreeze solution for 20-25 minutes. “Twenty-five minutes is exactly how long it takes me to wash and dry the previous set of molds, put sticks in the stick-aligners, bag and freeze the previous batch of pops, and pour the next batch into their molds so they’re ready to freeze,” she explains.
Working this way, she can produce around 1,200 pops a day, 3-4 days a week, either alone or with help from one of her three employees. Those thousands of pops make their way to customers via retail stores, their own pop cart at local events like farmers’ markets, and now home delivery. For a full list of locations and details, visit their website: crookedstickpops.com.
As the business develops, Tuman keeps looking for ways to further align Crooked Stick Pops with her values of environmental and social responsibility and supporting the local community. They recently switched to compostable wrappers, and next on her list is zero-waste stickers.
“I want to put as many of my business dollars as I can into our local economy,” she states. “Sometimes it costs a little more, but all that money is staying in Massachusetts, and I think that’s important.”
Tuman also feels their emphasis on celebrating local shines through in the quality of their product. “You can taste the difference,” she claims. “It’s awesome to be at the Green River Festival in Greenfield and say ‘Hey, that strawberry popsicle that you’re loving on? Those strawberries were grown just over those trees there.’ It helps people understand the value of where their food comes from.”
The end goal is simple. “I get to make happy people happier,” says Tuman. “It’s joy on a stick.”
Jacob Nelson is Communications Coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To find more local summer treats, visit CISA’s searchable online farm and food guide at buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally