Monday, June 21, 2010

"Why a Mason Jar??"

Ahhh - I've been asked this so many times. Everyone wants to know why we package our cookies in mason jars - Here's a little history....

Growing up, I never really believed I had a huge sense of where I came from - culturally.

It was only when I reached high school or even college that I realized just how much Italian culture was infused into my personality through out my life. And, of course, being an Italian American, many signs of my culture are expressed through food.

It's only in the last 10 years of my life that I've realized - not everyone has a room in the basement called "the wine cellar" and most people don't have capacola curing somewhere in the house. I've also learned that most wine bottles have labels on them and weren't made in someones backyard. However, in my family (and most Brooklyn Italian families) all of this is completely normal.

So, back in the day, we used to have traditional Sunday dinner as a family. If you're not familiar with the term, this is when every person in the family gets together - usually at Grandma's house and eats crazy amounts of pasta and meat while speaking as loudly as they possibly can.

As everyone's gotten older and busier, this tradition has drifted out of our weekly schedule but, the one thing that stays every time we do get together is the sauce...Tomato Sauce - some call it gravy or red gravy but as far as I can remember, we called it sauce.

The stuff is like liquid gold. I could eat a whole loaf of bread before dinner's served just standing over the pot as it cooks - dipping small pieces of bread in for "just a taste" - Grandma usually smacks me, shouting "get outta hea" before I can eat more than 2 pieces....sigh.

Before that liquid gold makes it to the pot and all of those bright red tomatoes have a chance to carmalize, they would always come from a mason jar.

Most people buy their tomotoes for sauce from the grocery store in a can. Not us. We make our own.

When I was a kid, we would all gather at my grandparent's house for a day or two in August/September - tomato season. We'd go to the basement where there would be a sparkling red sea of tomatos. 

Bushels and bushels of 'em already cleaned and set out on tables to dry. We would all grab a knife and a cutting board and get to canning, or "jarring", our tomatoes for the year.

It was a long, messy and hot process - usually involving a whole lot of boiling water - but, it was totally worth it when it came time to make that sauce. 

This annual ritual is something I will never forget.

As I look back, it's not just the tomatoes that were in those mason jars. Each member of my grandfather's family seems to have one or two things they specialize in when it comes to preserved food. One of my Great Aunts makes preserved peaches that are to die for while another makes preserved eggplant salad and so on.

There were seven children in my grandfather's family - back in "the old country". They grew up on a farm and ran the local grocery. They were poor and had to make due with what they were given.

Today, those acts of necessity have turned into honored traditions that I pay homage to with my cookie packaging.

But, it doesn't end with our cookies. Looking at these mason jars everyday inspired me to go back to my roots with Brooklyn Treat Shoppe as an outlet.

So, needless to say, I'm crazy excited and super proud to bring you the first of many preserved items now available on our menu!

....and, our "Fresh Strawberry Jam" is just the beginning! 

With the summer officially here and local farms overflowing with super fresh fruits, we're hustling to get these old family recipes on our market tables. 

NEW Brooklyn Treat Shoppe Jam is made with local fruit and is slow cooked in small batches.
We watch very closely as the fruit slowly thickens over a low flame.  You'll never find additional pectin or preservatives in these products.
This time consuming process is totally worth it - just like the tomatos.

Jam Flavors currently available are:

Fresh Strawberry Jam
Blueberry Citrus Spread
Olde Time Apple Butter

NEW Brooklyn Treat Shoppe Artisanal Fruit Concentrates are excellent to have on hand when you're having a BBQ or get together.
Add water, to taste, and in seconds, you have a refreshing summer beverage.  Everyone will think it took you hours to make it. 
Get creative - add seltzer for a spritzer or some booze to make things even more interesting!

Artisanal Fruit Concentrates currently available:

Hand Squeezed Lemon-Limeade
Strawberry Mint Lemonade

Our concentrates are made with local fruit when possible and are never ever frozen. All the citrus is hand squeezed with just a touch of sugar added to sweeten the deal.

In the next week or so, we will be updating our website to include these new items on our menu. 

However, readers of this blog can get a sneak peek this week!! 
We're stocked with cases of preserves and heading to the markets.

Find our table June 24th through June 27th at St. Bernadette's Spring Festival - 13th Ave & 82nd st. Brooklyn, NY 11228


Be sure to visit us Sunday, 6/27 at the Kings County General Store at Southpaw in Park Slope, Brooklyn - 125 Fifth Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11217. 

Kings County General Store is a monthly market with Brooklyn based designers, artists, food companies and shops. 

We want to add this to our regular market schedule so, please stop by and show us your support!

I hope you enjoyed this bit of family history. 
We have a lot planned for Summer 2010,  so stay in touch!

Ciao for now,

Friday, June 4, 2010

A day in the life of small business...

As business picks up, things tend to get crazier. This is a good thing......this is a good thing. I have to keep reminding myself.

I'm exhausted. But, it's the good kind of tired that puts me in a good mood and makes me smile when I think of all I've accomplished through out the day.

My day usually begins with a messenger bag full of cookie jars on my back and a cases of mason jars dangling from each of the handle bars of my bike as I make cookie deliveries around the neighborhood. From there, I'll head straight to the baking supply shop (luckily there's one right in my neck of the woods!) or, I'll hit the grocery store for some last minute odds and ends.

My favorite days are when I get to head to the local farmer's markets.
Since I was a kid, I've always loved the amazing colors and smells of the farmer's market. Picking out fruits and veggies for the week's confections is more like a vacation for me.

Next, I'm off to bake - which has actually become the easier part of my days. My youngest brother, Chris, has been in town so, it's nice to have him and Michael in the kitchen together - cracking jokes and being jerks. Not only do they make super stressfull days more fun to deal with, they work really hard to get cookies packaged, dishes washed and cheesecakes cut. (Thanks again guys!)

That's it, right?? The day's over. Uh, no silly, guess again.

This is when it feels like the day has only just begun. I suit up in my BTS t-shirt to events.
Sometimes we make the delivery and that's it but, usually, there is more to it than that. We love our customers and many have become friends. Lots of times, we are invited to stay for the festivities or, we're asked to "work the table". Lately, we've been doing lots of concession work and local markets so, that means, me, mom or someone else has to "man (or woman) the table" for sales, questions and conversations.

This is really my favorite part of the day. When I see someone smile - or giggle - because of something I created, it makes me smile and, smiling is seriously contagious. That is the biggest reward anyone can get from a day's work.

I've learned the hard way that this is kind of how it works when your business is starting from the ground up - You have to find a way to be everywhere at one time. I tend to feel like a one woman show that has a run time of 24 hours but, the helping hands and hearts of friends and family is a very welcomed reminder that I'm not in this alone.

Rarely do I sleep. So, the state of delirium has become a natural one for me. However, I often think of where Brooklyn Treat Shoppe was a year ago.
I was working out of the tiny kitchen in my shoebox apartment making sculpted cakes - now we call it CakeArt. Never did I imagine just of how different things would be only a year later.

I look forward to the day when I can tell someone who is willing to listen about how "I walked through snow and ice with two cases of mason jars on each arm just to make a dollar"....Betcha they won't believe me anyway.

Ahhhh - one day....