Walk into Deb Greiner's home kitchen on any given weekday, and she and Tina Labossiere are probably making jam. The taste and the charm in each jar is derived from the personal handling each receives. Even as their business has grown, they've kept it personal. Recently, someone asked Greiner for her card in a .pdf file so that he could reprint it. Greiner, who tracks all her business in an old-fashioned black and white marble notebook, responded, "PD what?" Undeterred, the person asked her to have her advertising people send it along. "My advertising people?" she responded, incredulously. "You think I have advertising people? Uh-huh. Tina and I do everything ourselves. That's why some of the labels are askew. We've put them on the jars after a few glasses of wine!"
Yes, they’re having fun, but they’re also producing award-winning jam with cranberries grown and harvested within walking distance of Deb’s Harwich home. But if you point that out, she’s careful to be clear that she would never walk over to get the cranberries. She’ll drive, thank you. And when you take a look around her kitchen – crowded with jam jars cooling, a carton of red peppers, a dishwasher running jam jars, a pot on the stove cooking jam, kids’ drawings and schedules crowding the refrigerators and cabinets – you get the picture. Greiner and Labossiere really don’t have time for a leisurely walk over to the cranberry farm.
A fixture at many local shows and festivals, they are regulars at the Chatham Farmers’ Market. Deb’s favorite is the white pepper cranberry garlic jam. Tina’s favorite is also the crowd favorite: cranberry pepper jam.
As ingredients go, cranberries are underappreciated.
Here's how four local chefs (and two jam ladies) are turning this around.
Think beyond quick bread, jellied sauce and thanksgiving. the Cape Cod cranberry has expanded it's repertoire from such traditional fare and has claimed a starring roll on the plates of chefs and diners year round. This icon of the Cape has become part of an exciting trend in fine dining and home cooking nationwide.
We asked several local chefs and cranberry aficionados for their thoughts this season, and we discovered that this local berry crops up on local menus, in salads, entrees, after-dinner drinks and desserts.
For Peter Hyde, executive chef and owner of the Blue Moon Bistro in Dennis, the cranberry makes it's mark by the glass. Hyde's cranberry cordial is a mix of fresh cranberries, sugar and vodka, combined and set aside to ferment. By the time the mixture macerates, Hyde says, it's a sweet cranberry nectar, almost a syrup, which he serves as an after-dinner drink, often paired with Blue Moon's lavender crème brûlée. "Every year I have a customer who brings me a crate of cranberries from his bog. I make the cordial and give him a few bottles of this wonderful brew, which he gives as Christmas gifts. It's a nice exchange," Hyde says.
Cranberries are a year-round staple on the Blue Moon menu, most prominently in the dried cranberry, arugula and goat cheese salad. Hyde's cranberry purveyor provides New England cranberries, and though dried, he says, they are still plump and moist. The berries balance the spicy arugula, and complement the fresh pears, crumbled goat cheese, toasted almonds and the citrus vinaigrette dressing. "It's one of our most popular items," Hyde says.
Bill and Denise Atwood, owners of the Red Pheasant Inn on Route 6A in Dennis, have been enticing patrons for the last few years with their cranberry port reduction served over boneless roast duckling. Dried cranberries, port wine and seasonings combine to make this cranberry gastrique. "It's pretty popular," Bill Atwood says. "It really has that local flavor. Cranberries and Cape Cod." The Red Pheasant also features dried berries on it's duck confit salad, with walnuts, Cloumage — an artisinal cheese from Shy Brothers farm in Westport — and a sherry mustard vinaigrette. Bursts of flavors — tart, sweet and savory — account for this salad's success. In the fall, Bill Atwood says, he likes to add a favorite recipe, panna cotta with cranberry sauce, to the seasonal dessert menu.
Tina Labossiere and Debbie Greiner opted for a more traditional use of the scarlet berry, but have added a new twist of flavor. The two women met as playgroup moms and have been making their jellies based on this local fruit for 12 or 13 years, now doing business as the successful Cape Cod Cranberry Harvest Inc. The women still work out of Greiner's home kitchen in Harwich and produce 20 flavors of their cranberry jellies and more than 20,000 jars per year. New this season are cranberry basil, cranberry rosemary and cranberry mint jelly, as well as cranberry strawberry and cranberry raspberry. Greiner and Labossiere have taken their business wholesale, and market their jellies at area Shaw's Supermarkets, local artisan fairs, shops and at least three farmers markets per week in season. They buy their berries, both red and white, from the Thatcher bogs in Harwich. the women buy enough to fill six freezers, and usually run out in September, just in time for the new harvest. The two originally marketed their red pepper jelly, but upon the advice of Greiner's husband, sought their "niche market" with the local cranberry.
"It's a year-round business, seven days a week," Labossiere says. "When we're not making jelly, we're marketing it." Their business is truly local; they buy sugar a pallet at a time from "wherever it's on sale" in town and their jars from a Massachusetts business, also a pallet at a time. The fresh herbs and other ingredients they buy locally from Ring Bros. Market.
Their cranberry pepper jelly is the top seller, but the true unique flavor, Labossiere says, is the white cranberry pepper garlic. She suggests serving this on oysters on the half shell, or baked with a round of brie wrapped in a crescent roll. "We're exclusive," she says of this jelly. "No one makes this." People are curious about the white cranberries, she says, and often approach them during the tasting events to ask if it's simply the color that's different. "White berries are not as tart," Labossiere says. "They're sweeter. The white cranberry jelly flavor tastes more like an apple pie flavor. It's opposite of what you would think."
At the Summer Stock Restaurant on the grounds of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, owners Joe and Beverly Dunn pride themselves on using fresh, local produce and ingredients in season. The couple also own the Island Merchant on Main Street in Hyannis, and the seasonal Islander restaurant at Crosby Boat Yard in Osterville.
Regarding the cranberry, Beverly Dunn says, "We're fortunate to have something the Cape is known for that is so versatile and can be used in so many ways, from cocktails, to entrees, to desserts." a favorite on the Summer Stock menu is the dayboat cod stuffed with crab and roasted cranberries, which Joe serves over butter whipped potatoes drizzled with a marscapone reduction.
Lydia Broderick, pastry chef at the Dan'l Webster Inn in Sandwich for the last four years, has high praise for cranberries, too. "I love their tang, their tartness," she says. And is you haven't had your fill of the ruby-colored berry consider ordering a Cranberry Cape Codder Scrub, high in antioxidants, from the body treatments menu at the Dan'l Webster Inn's Beach Plum Spa.
At the Orleans market, it's not unusual to find a line snaking down the aisle of vendors as people wait their turn to select from just opened crates of beefy tomatoes or verdant chard still damp from the morning dew.
Scents unroll like carpets as each tailgate opens, and boxes, crates, bags and bushels are arranged for the best viewing. Hand-lettered signs list the fruits and vegetables of the day: broccoli, carrots, salad cucumbers, pickling cukes, cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, acorn squash, yellow squash, Italian squash, zucchini, green peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers, red onions, pearl onions, spring onions, shallots, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, sweet corn, yellow corn, Indian corn and corn stalks.
Fruits are spread in a riot of colors and fragrances-lush strawberries, wild blueberries, highbush blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, apples, peaches, pears, and as autumn approaches, pumpkins and cranberries.
The bounty of choices is almost too much for Richard, 11, of Connecticut as he tries to pick salad makings at the Cape Cod Organic Farm stand at the Mid-Cape Farmers Market in Hyannis. His father watches, grinning, as his son studies the selection of greens. "This one," he finally decides, pointing to the Swiss chard. Manager Sara Friary reaches for the bucket. "No! This!" Richard yelps, pointing to the mesclun spring mix. Unperturbed, Friary replaces the chard and reaches for the spring mix.
"We're here on vacation," the father says to Friary as she weighs a handful of carrots. He nods to his son. "Richard loves to cook when we're on vacation, so we let him make all the decisions." Richard nods soberly.
The Cape Cod Organic stand was started eight years ago by Sara Friary's father, Tim Friary of Barnstable, as part of his farm's operation. His is one of the select farms that have gone through certifications as an organic farm, an important factor to many customers, including chefs from some of the Cape's finest restaurants, says Sara Friary.
But farmers markets are not limited to produce vendors. Shoppers can find baked goods, soaps, herbs, potted plants, honey and preserves, like the jams and jellies offered by Cape Cod Cranberry Harvest. Co-owners Tina Labossiere and Debbie Greiner of Harwich take turns minding their stand at the mid-Cape market. They've been selling their preserves at farmers markets, fairs and craft shows for the past eight years, says Labossiere.
"This (the farmers market) has a great variety. It's a nice mix of products and people," she says. "We really like selling here because it's great PR and people like meeting the people who make what they are buying." That personal contact also allows her to suggest ways to use the eclectic variety of flavors, such as cranberry pepper, cranberry orange and white cranberry pepper.
For 10 years, Debbie Grenier and Tina Labossiere have really been cooking. Literally.
About a decade ago, the two friends began making jellies together in Grenier's state and town-licensed Harwich kitchen. Using locally-grown Cape Cod cranberries, their home based business Cranberry Harvest, Inc., has grown steadily every year, allowing the two mothers a flexible schedule and the ability to spend much more time at home with their children than the average working mom. The two met at a mother and baby playgroup in 1995 when their now 12-year-olds were only six months old.
"She and I just really hit it off," says Labossiere. "We have personalities that really mesh together. Where one of us lacks, the other one is strong and vice versa, so we work really well together. We even go on vacation together. We haven't gotten sick of each other yet!"
The two joined forces and embarked on the idea of sharing a home-based business shortly after meeting. Their first attempt did not involve cranberries, however.
"We first went into business together in 1995, not making jellies but sewing ballerina bunnies. It was two years or so before we started the jellies. We began by yard saling together, and we found a great pattern and material for making ballerina bunnies. We brought it all home and said, we can make this! This will be great! I had a daughter in ballet at the time and Debbie was a dancer when she was younger, so since we were both familiar with different ballets, we started making different characters like Herr Drosselmejer and Clara from the 'Nutcracker.' That's how it started. The jellies came later."
Today Cranberry Harvest offers flavors ranging from cranberry apricot jelly and cranberry orange marmalade to the more exotic white cranberry pepper and cranberry pepper garlic jellies.
"For a while we were coming up with a new flavor each year," says Grenier. "Last September we came up with white cranberry pepper garlic, which was our new flavor for that years Cranberry Festival. It's a great place to debut new flavors, because we get a lot of feedback from the festival goers, and they're expecting that new flavor. We may still come up with a new one for this year—there's a few weeks left. Anything could happen!"
How exactly does one eat the cranberry pepper garlic jelly? Grenier recommends trying atop cream cheese on a cracker as an appetizer, or using while cooking pork, chicken, baked Brie or kielbasa.
"The white cranberry pepper garlic one is really good on oysters on the half shell," she says. "When we did the Oyster Festival last year, I tried it and took it to the guys shucking oysters. It was great. They loved it."
Although the business continues to grow—Grenier and Labossiere cooked up over 700 pounds of red cranberries alone last year—the two are determined to keep the business at home and in the family, at least for now.
"We do have a friend who keeps encouraging us each year to make the leap and get a factory and a warehouse, but we're just not ready for that," says Grenier. "I have a four year old and my youngest son is two, and to try and do all that, it just isn't suitable right now."
For now, the two friends cook jellies and marmalades in Grenier's kitchen, wrangling their total of eight children as they work, for two or three eight-hour days during the slow part of the year. In busier times they work four days a week.
"The kids have always helped out since the time they could walk. But now the older ones can sometimes do a smaller show for us, like at the senior center or something, and it's kind of nice," says Labossiere. "And they seem to enjoy it as well. It gives them experience dealing with people, and working around money, and having to be pleasant. Debbie and I know we could not do this without the help of family and friends. We get a lot of it. The two of us are very fortunate. We have a lot of friends on the Cape, and the family contributes a lot—they come when we're in desperate need! Debbie's parents will come all the way from New Jersey, and you'll see them at the Cranberry Festival. They always come and help us out, because it's one of our biggest shows of the year. And they love coming, too. They love being here."
Greniere and Labossiere also credit the hard work and generosity of local Cape Cod growers and retailers for their success.
"Paul Luciano is a cranberry grower who has been a huge supporter of ours right from the beginning," says Labossiere. "Ray Thatcher is another cranberry grower who has really helped us out. And Don Antonellis, the manager at the Harwich Port Shaw's, is a great guy. We asked him who to go to, to get our jellies onto the shelves at Shaw's, and he took the samples and called every Shaw's manager on Cape Cod. So now we are in all six stores on the Cape. He always asks us how it's going. He's been wonderful. It's people like that who have helped us move along."
Look for Grenier and Labossiere's Cranberry Harvest jellies at their booth at the Harwich Cranberry Festival the weekend of Sept. 15. Cranberry Harvest products are available locally at Stop & Shop, Shaw's and many local retailers, as well as online.
"We'd also like to mention that at our Cranberry Festival booth we will be selling tickets to benefit Angel's Hope for the Evening of Giving at the Cape Cod Mall," adds Grenier. "Tina and I have been involved in Angel's Hope for a long time, and I'm on the board of directors. We hope that our customers will consider picking up a ticket or two to support a wonderful organization that benefits children living with cancer and their families as they pick up their cranberry jelly this year."
For more information about Cranberry Harvest and their products, visit www.cranberryharvest.com. For more information about Angel's Hope, or to make a contribution, go to www.angelshope.org.
Harwich friends balance success of jelly business with family
It all started when two Harwich friends, Tina Labossiere and Debbie Greiner, were looking for an at-home business to run while raising their kids. They tried making stuffed bunnies, snowmen and velvet stockings.
But they had more success selling Greiner's pepper jelly at a craft show. At her husband's suggestion, Greiner added cranberries - and things really started to gel.
Over four years, the two friends have garnered a following on the craft show and festival circuit selling under their Cranberry Harvest label. They also broke into the wholesale market, placing jelly in Lamberts Market in Harwich Port, Ferretti's Market in Brewster, and Wild Oats Natural Food in Harwich Port.
Then, they got their big break. A corporate higher-up from Stop Shop had a taste of their jelly at a part they earned a spot on the supermarket's Cape shelves.
These days, while demand continues to grow, their business is still right where it began: in Greiner's kitchen.
The kitchen is licensed to process commercial foods, but the partners still use Greiner's large pots, the four-burner stove, a hot plate and a food processor to make jellies in eight flavors. They use the microwave clock to time the pectin - the agent that thickens the jelly. Some nights, they're up until 2 a.m. cooking jelly in 10- or 11-jar batches, to meet delivery deadlines.
And they do it all while looking after their combined six children, ages — to 11.
Greiner and Labossiere are certainly not the first Cape Codders to attempt an at-home specialty foods business. Many try but wind up dropping out after attempting to keep up with production and distribution demands, said Elizabeth Bridgewater, director of economic development programs for the Lower Cape Community Development Corp.
A day of jelly cooking in Greiner's kitchen shows why. It's a lot of hard work mixed with a little chaos.
One recent Thursday, Labossiere arrived about 9:10 a.m. with two boys and 16 bags of sugar.
By 10 a.m., the chopping and other prep work had been done, and the two were at their stations.
Labossiere always stands behind the island and spoons hot jelly into jars, which they sell for $5 each.
Greiner, who does virtually everything else, dances between the sink, the stove top and the counter. Lightning fast, she jumped from mixing ingredients at the counter, to the boiling mixture on the stove, back to the counter where full jars were boiling in a pot on a hot plate to finish processing the jell seal the lids.
Work trucked along until about 11 a.m., when Labossiere took her sons - Sam, 11, and Alex, 9 - to baseball practice. When she left, Greiner took a call for her husband's charter boat business, and almost ruined a pot of jelly.
"I almost boiled over," she said when Labossiere came back.
Quiet resumed until three of Greiner's children - Doug, 11, Madison, 9, and Jill, 5 - were dropped off after a night at Bible camp. Greiner's dance became more intricate, as waist-high bodies scampered around her, looking for food. After finding Lunchables in the fridge, they ate and ran off to play.
By mid-afternoon, the day had obviously taken a toll on Greiner and Labossiere. Clouds of steam rose from the pots and the dishwasher, settling in a heavy, sugar and vinegar-scented haze. In tank tops, both Greiner and Labossiere looked hot and haggard.
"We each have our own aches and pains," Greiner said.
Repeated twisting motions have taken a toll on Labossiere's wrists. Greiner's back aches after hours mixing ingredients, tending to boiling pots and pouring pectin. Greiner paused for stretch breaks. She started forgetting whether she had added the pectin.
When Labossiere left to pick up her boys, Greiner ruined one pot with a double dose of pectin, and poured the contents down the bathroom toilet.
When the last batch of jelly was on the stove - by about 2:30 p.m. - Greiner walked to the living room and flopped down on the rug.
Minutes later, she sat up, smiling, and wrapped her arms around 1-year-old Marissa, who had been toddling around the living room in her diaper.
It's hard work, said Labossiere and Greiner as they finished and cleaned up. They know of other jelly makers who simply burned out when they started distributing to restaurants and stores. But both said they still enjoy the work.
"We're still with our kids all day," Greiner said. "We're with our kids more than anyone else is with their kids."