It’s a Small World Meet 8 local small batch producers--handcrafting everything from kimchi to chocolate.

Meaghan & Shane Carpenter


Meaghan & Shane Carpenter

[ Hex ferments ]

“She won me over with food,” says Shane Carpenter, photographer-turned-food alchemist, as he fondly remembers a certain goulash his wife, Meaghan, made when they were students at MICA.
“I have a strong German background,” explains Meaghan with a laugh. Which may explain the kraut.

The Carpenters have built their business, HEX Ferments, around fermented food—sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha tea. Meaghan first learned about this ancient means of accessing beneficial probiotics and nutrients while working as a vegan salad chef as an undergrad.

Digestive issues compelled her to begin fermenting foods herself.

“There’s a whole range of bacteria our bodies need to have better immune function, metabolism, digestive and brain function,” Meaghan explains. “Topping a hamburger with a fermented food, such as sauerkraut, helps your body digest food and make nutrients more bio-available.”

The Carpenters mix cabbage with high mineral salt that causes the vegetable to break down—allowing various bacteria to proliferate and die until just the right flavor and texture is achieved. Not a job for the impatient, the fermentation process can take weeks or even months.

Afterward, the couple layers local seasonal vegetables to the cabbage base—transforming it into creative concoctions, such as garlic kraut with Brandywine tomatoes—which will soon be sold in their first retail space in Belvedere Square Market. Other fermented favorites include pickled okra and ginger soda—all great to consume during cold and flu season.

“We see ourselves as good witches leaning over bubbling pots of fermenting vegetables and kombucha teas,” explains Meaghan, who says the hex symbol connotes protective powers in Pennsylvania Dutch folklore.

“We bottle up all that goodness and give it to people—and it’s the most amazing, magical thing.”

Marie Stratton & Katie Horn

Marie Stratton & Katie Horn

[ Kinderhook Snacks ]

Thanks to more than $13,000 raised in a Kickstarter campaign, Marie Stratton and Katie Horn have a new commercial kitchen in a carriage house near WYPR for their Kinderhook Snacks company. Which means they no longer have to pull all-nighters, baking in rented kitchens after all the restaurants in town close down.

“There are plenty of funny stories when you’re completely delirious,” says Stratton. “Like when we’re packaging and falling asleep—putting the stickers on upside down or on the bottom.”

If everything goes according to plan, the two will soon be working full time making coconut honey macaroons, salted chocolate chip cookies, Parmesan bacon crackers, black pepper shortbread, ginger cookies and candied walnuts.

“We’re on that trajectory,” says Horn of their grand plan. “The business is making money at this point and we have a plan to grow. We will be launching mail order this month, so people can make a one-time purchase or buy a subscription plan. It’s like a CSA or snack-of-the-month club.”

The environmentally minded duo composts out of their kitchen, recycles as much as possible (including delivering in boxes the ingredients came in) and sources locally from Vann Spices, the Herb and Farm Alliance and local egg providers whenever possible.

“As a small company, we have a lot of flexibility to be purposeful in the ingredients we choose,” explains Horn, who says they’ll remain committed to sustainability—and fun—even as the company grows.

“We were just reminiscing about the time when making a hundred bags of snacks was a big deal—and now we’re averaging 500 each week,” says Stratton.

“People always laugh when we tell them we have a snack company,” adds Horn. “It’s just a fun thing. Everybody loves to snack.”

Evan Siple

Evan Siple

[ Mobtown Meat Snacks ]

Two winters ago, Evan Siple bought a dehydrator on a whim. “I didn’t want to dehydrate fruit, so I thought I’d try jerky,” he explains. When friends told him it was so good they’d buy it, Siple thought: What the hell? Jerky is a multibillion-dollar industry!

“It’s tied in part to the Paleo diet,” Siple says of the snack’s recent rise in popularity. But we’re not talking about gas station jerky here. Instead, think locally sourced, farm-raised beef from Monkton flavored with Old Bay, chili lime, teriyaki, curry, Jamaican jerk and black pepper crust. In other words, this jerky tastes like sirloin steak.

Siple calls on his biology degree from St. Mary’s College and experiences in labs from Johns Hopkins to the Carnegie Institute (where he studied muscle regeneration) to make his jerky healthier using natural sources like pineapple juice to tenderize, cure, flavor and change the color of the meat. “People have been doing this for eons, but it satisfies the scientist in my brain,” he says, noting that all his jerky is low-fat, low-sodium and has a long shelf life. “It’s protein on the go.”

Working out of Ostrowski’s sausage kitchen in Fells Point, he cuts all the meat by hand and has upgraded to an industrial-sized dehydrator that turns 125 pounds of meat into 63 pounds of jerky—several of which end up traveling to Europe when his “PhD friends” visit their homelands. “If only I had a smuggler,” he notes wistfully.

Siple’s sense of humor extends to his business’ website, where you can find custom T-shirts dedicated to Baltimore’s best mustaches (hello, Frank Zappa!) and gift cards with cheeky salutations like “Happy Bar Mitzvah—have some meat.”

Jinji & Guy Fraser

Jinji & Guy Fraser

[ Pure Chocolate by Jjinji ]

What if we told you there was a food that’s delicious, reduces cholesterol, makes your skin glow—and revs your sex drive? Now, what if we said that food was chocolate? That’s the premise behind Pure Chocolate by Jinji, the small batch producer and beauty brand founded by holistic health coach Jinji Fraser.

“True raw cacao contains more antioxidants than green tea, red wine and blueberries combined,” says Fraser, who adds beauty-boosting “super” ingredients such as raspberry, figs and Brazil nuts to make her unique chocolate bark. “Brazil nuts offer the highest source of selenium in nature—great for hair growth.”

Pure Chocolate’s founder discovered these sweet facts by attending workshops on raw chocolate and even took a trip to South America to see a real cacao pod and to ensure the chocolate she sells is produced in a humane and environmentally friendly way.

“It was remarkable,” she says of the natural process, which includes roasting the pods in the sun for a week to maintain health benefits. Unlike mainstream chocolatiers, Fraser sweetens her product with coconut and lucuma rather than refined sugar.

Fraser’s father Guy, retired from his career managing military construction projects, is her business partner. In addition to handling logistics, the elder Fraser serves as chief taste-tester.

“I can eat chocolate from morning until night,” he says. (Which means his daughter needs to keep a tight control of inventory.) Dad’s favorite flavors? Milk and Honey Café, made with espresso beans, and Beam, made with lavender, honey, ginger and walnut.

“It may look like traditional chocolate, but it has a taste you can appreciate as being from hand rather than machine,” he says. “People can actually taste the caring.”

Kristin Zissel

Kristin Zissel

[ Haute Mess Kitchen ]

Kristin Zissel still isn’t sure why she accepted the challenge to create a six-course tasting menu for 16 guests at “a cute little wine store” in her Cedarcroft neighborhood. A self-proclaimed “frequent flyer” at the shop, she would sometimes share her homemade food with the owners, which is why they turned to her when their caterer for a special event fell through. “It was obstacle-course cooking,” says the marketing gal turned accidental caterer. “Sear lamb chops at home; heat them in a stranger’s apartment above the shop; repeat.”

Zissel soon found herself fielding more offers including a wedding, but catering didn’t jibe with the new mom’s lifestyle. “I love food, but I don’t want restaurant hours—or restaurant stress,” she says.
When reviewing her favorite recipes, she kept coming back to the one her husband loves the most—her barbecue sauce. “I don’t even think I was making ribs correctly. They weren’t smoked, didn’t hit a grill. But it was the bourbon-based sauce everyone seemed to love.”

So she decided to sell it. Since May, Zissel’s Haute Mess Kitchen has sold more than 1,000 jars of her Bourbon Bath whiskey barbecue sauce and dry rubs (Steak Candy, Off the Hook Island and Chicken Scratch).

Zissel believes her products gives wannabe chefs who frequent specialty stores and farmers markets an easy way to kick up their meals a notch (or two).

“You don’t go to the trouble of buying grass-fed beef to dump artificial preservatives on it,” she says, noting that working in small batches allows her to use premium bourbon in her sauce. “If it was mass produced, I’d have to downgrade or switch to extract.”

You can find Zissel’s products on the Haute Mess website, along with local boutiques Su Casa and Milk and Honey, and at the Towson Farmers Market in season.

Gail Fishman

Gail Fishman

[ Woot! Granola ]

Whenever Gail Fishman texts her daughter Sasha asking about her day, it’s always a good sign if she replies “Woot!”

“It’s a big gaming phrase used by young people to mean good or happy,” says Fishman. (According to Urban Dictionary, “woot!” is the abbreviation of “wow, loot!” said by players of Dungeons and Dragons.) “And since Sasha was the one who encouraged me to make my granola, it seemed like the perfect name for the business.”

Fishman played with the recipes for several months to achieve one that was healthy and delicious. She increased nuts, seeds and dried fruits, decreased grain, added oodles of crystallized ginger and decreased sweeteners and oils. Without the usual “batter” of oil, sugar and oat flour, her granola is more of a mix—best eaten with a spoon or, better yet, by the handful.

The former museum exhibition developer, who has worked for the Smithsonian, the Holocaust Museum and the Contemporary in Baltimore, first began serving her granola to party guests in her Guilford home, along with a glass of wine and plate of cheese. People would ask for batches here and there. But things really took off when she delivered a bag of Woot! to her friend, Irena Stein, owner of Baltimore’s Azafran and Alkimia cafes.

“She said she had never tasted anything like it,” says Fishman, adding that Stein offered to test-sell the granola in her restaurants—and taught her professional kitchen practices. “Pretty soon, people started emailing me asking for more.”

Woot! also has become a fan favorite at the Union Graze farmers market in Hampden and an ecommerce site is in the works.

Meanwhile, granola continues to be a family affair. Everyone chops, Sasha, 18, designed the logo and Leah, 16, is a natural at sales. Architect husband, Jonathan, helps with packaging. “He puts the labels on perfectly,” Fishman says with a smile.

Angie and James Hale

Angie and James Hale

[ Hale’s Homemade ]

Call it a “Laverne and Shirley” moment, but when Angie and James Hale donned hairnets to watch the first batch of their Hale’s Homemade salsa roll off the line at their new co-packer in Randallstown, the only word that came to mind was “awesome,” said in unison.

This is the next step in the life of a small-batch producer. Once the product becomes too in-demand to be made completely by hand, the recipe is given to a company with capacity to make larger quantities.

“We’re not talking Tostitos, 17,000-jars-per-minute-type quantities,” says James. Rather each batch of “Hale Yeah it’s Mild!” and “Holy Hale it’s Hot!” salsas are mixed in 300 gallon kettles, bottled into 1,700 jars, packed into 150 cases and then stored in the Hales’ basement. On the weekends the couple packs up their minivan and delivers to local stores, which—big announcement—now includes Whole Foods.

The couple, who started crafting their own salsa for home-cooked Mexican dinners, believe it’s the consistency of the ingredients in their otherwise fairly simple recipe that makes their salsa muy bueno.
“Our tomatoes go through a fine grind,” says James. “With every ingredient ground to the same size, the full impact of the flavors is tasted in each bite.”

“A lot of salsas are on the smoky side,” adds Angie. “Ours is purely tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeños, hot sauce.”

Up next: a super-hot formula called “Hotter than Hale”—and raising their 6-month-old daughter, Hannah Marie, who already has a onesie with the company logo.

Says proud mom Angie: “She’s employee of the month!”

Amy Langrehr

Amy Langrehr

[ Charm City Cook ]

Growing up in rural Baltimore County, the only girl in a family of five boys, Amy Langrehr literally had to grab for food. “As a kid, food wasn’t something I thought about,” says the alumni director at Friends School of Baltimore. “You just ate because you had to have dinner.”

Her 40th birthday trip to a friend’s home in Paris changed all that. During a drive to Burgundy, they stopped for a rustic French country lunch and her friend’s husband took photos of the food. (This was
before Instagram, mind you.) Eating, drinking and photographing her way through France left Langrehr with a hunger for more.

Today she lives her life in a sustainable way—buying local produce and even raising chickens in her backyard downtown. In this way, she is also carrying on the traditions of her grandparents.

“My grandmother was a cook who just made things up as she went along,” says Langrehr, whose grandparents ran Country Home in Harford County. “Homeless people would come off the train tracks and would work at my grandparents’ farm and stay overnight. Everything my grandmother made—buttermilk, cheese and butchered meats, anything they ate—they raised on the farm.”

The first recipe Langrehr created completely from scratch turned into her signature product: Charm City Cook salted caramel brownies available at Ma Petite Shoe in Hampden. “They will also be on the menu at Paulie Gee’s pizza when it opens later this winter” she says.

Or just visit Langrehr’s food blog and e-commerce site, where you can find her brownies (“Only available in twos, because they’re too good to eat just one,” she says) with jams and salted caramel sauce coming soon.

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