I first encountered their products at the New Amsterdam Market during the Hudson Valley Harvest event, where I was able to taste several of them (one of the great perks of the market is that the vendors allow you to try before you buy). The flavor and complexity of the Cherry Blackberry Sage & Clove spreadable fruit and Horseradish-Dill Mustard lingered happily on my palate and remained in the foodie sensors of my brain the entire way through our market tour. Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up a couple of jars to enjoy at home. The next Sunday, I went downtown as soon as I could break free from my errands and bought some as one of my first vendor stops.
For the past week or so, these two products have formed the base around which I’ve been organizing my breakfast. I’m completely hooked on them. Much like a great wine, the Cherry Blackberry Sage & Clove spreadable fruit hits your senses with its rich berry aromas and builds upon its notes of herb and spice to create a complex taste experience and round, full flavors that wrap around your tongue. This is a graduate-school level treat. I can see this as a new cupboard staple whether it is spread on bread with butter, slathered on a sandwich, whisked with oil into dressing, or swirled into yogurt. The Horseradish-Dill Mustard is bold and daring, not for the faint of heart. I’ve been using it as a spicy counterpoint to some smoked salmon, which is a great morning wake-up. I have also been envisioning it stirred into mashed potatoes for a creamy kick at the Thanksgiving table or used to dress up a holiday ham.
Wanting to know more about these products, I gave my card to the person who was working at New Amsterdam and asked if I could talk to them. Wendy W. Smith, President of Schoolhouse Kitchen kindly offered to meet with me to talk to me about her company and its philosophy. Yesterday, I traveled from Manhattan out to the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where she keeps her office. Started in upstate New York in a kitchen, her mother, an avid cook who is still involved in developing new ideas for flavors, began by making these products to sell at local fairs and fundraisers, the profits going to educational causes, as they still do today.
With the encouragement of her friends and family and armed with recipes that they’d shared with her over the years, Patsy Smith launched Schoolhouse Kitchen as a business. Her daughter, Wendy, now runs the company, and the labels on the jars are designed by her son, Christopher. This is a not only a family business but also a real community enterprise, something Wendy continues to promote through her involvement in their with their charitable work with The Farm-Based Education Association as well as her participation in local food-oriented projects.
The quality and attention to detail in developing these food items is something that is apparent from the moment you open the jar. The vibrant colors and aromas that waft up your nasal passages indicate that you are about to taste something special. Wendy and I talked about this and about how that is the goal, to develop products that are unique and that awaken a whole new world of possibilities for enjoying food. We went back to the idea of these products as being similar to good wines that build upon the taste points on your tongue with each sip (or in this case bite) to bring out the best of whatever you decide to eat with or on it. If I had had these items in my parents’ fridge when I was younger, I wouldn’t have battled to keep them off of my sandwiches.
As we wrapped up our meeting, Wendy asked me if I would be interested in developing some recipes for their site and offered to let me have a sample of two of their chutneys: Squadrilla and Bardshar. I had already thought about what else I could do with the flavors that I’d tried previously, so I jumped at the chance to play with something new. As I walked back to the subway, my mind was just exploding with all kinds of great ideas for what I could do with these food items. My train on the way back home got stuck (why do people unnecessarily pull the emergency break?), so I had ample opportunity to write down mini-recipes and combinations for the chutneys. Stopping by Union Square to hit the Monday Greenmarket on my way back uptown, I unfolded my plan.
Topped with slices of tart Granny Smith apple, peppery arugula, and smoked cheddar cheese, the Squadrilla Chutney, named after a much-loved babysitter, allows all the sandwich components to shine with a citrusy pop and delicate spice. Although completely vegetarian, this is a hearty meal similar to having that leftover Thanksgiving sandwich with all the fixings, only slightly healthier. I paired the Bardshar Chutney, the recipe for which was shared by a family friend, with a creamy regular cheddar cheese and some applewood-smoked bacon to showcase its robust, dark flavor and deep sweet-spicy undertones. Both of these would make amazing glazes for meats or for vegetables (check out the website for some recipes), but I’m really hoping just to instill some lunchbox envy at the next few brownbag meetings I have to attend.
Buon appetito! Where to find it:
Schoolhouse Kitchen’s products are available at many stores and specialty shops. There is a helpful map on the website to locate them in your area. You can also visit their stand at the New Amsterdam Market to try some samples and to pick up your favorites or order from them on line. If you can’t decide on what to buy, they also offer gift packs of several flavors, which I’d recommend so that you can get a chance to experiment with as many of these wonderful items as possible. I’ve definitely got these products on my gift list for this year, whether to receive them (hint, hint) or to give them to the other food lovers in my life.