Homemade Blackberry Glaze

The Path of Discovery

The idea of coming up a with a specialty food item, creating it, packaging it, naming it and marketing it has always been a wistful dream. Although I loved the idea, there was just something about the whole process that seemed overwhelming and mysterious… a little scary. What did I know about creating a food product?

In a nutshell? Zero.

Homemade Vinegar, Herbal Vinegars

I cook. I bake, I dabble in making vinegar, bitters, jam – and I’ve even taken a course in Chocolatier. But doing any of that at home, for family and a few friends is far different than presenting something to world of unbiased consumers. Where would I start? Can I use my own kitchen? How much would it cost?

I thought about it. Put the idea away. Thought about again. Put it on the shelf. Thought about it again

…and then I created a plan and a blog.

Fears and obstacles be darned. Why not just go for it? And so, here I am at the very beginning.
So exciting, right?!

Will it be an artisanal jam flavored with petals from the garden? A craft mustard that uses the vinegar fermenting in my kitchen barrel, the one made of French oak? Or will it be a new take on a green tea?

Or – maybe – something even more herbal than that. Like an Herbs de Provence type situation. Wouldn’t it be amazing to come up with the next great spice mix? I always buy the one in the little clay pot. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover…but it’s hard not to, and the same holds true for food and wine packaging.

That’s where this blog comes in.

Up until just the other day, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make, but I knew my Mr. Right in Food Form was out there, somewhere, just waiting to be tasted. And unlike dating, the process wouldn’t be fraught with exhausting small talk.

Homemade Jam with Scones

But then by pure happenstance, I decided on Jam.

I know, you’re probably thinking – Jam? Really? How original, Nancy!

Well, maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking of culinary adventures, but I have my reasons. And one of them involves the long game – which is a polite way of saying, it would take too long to go into right now. And besides, I kinda want to keep it to myself, at least for a bit.

So, how will I go about making this marvelous jam?

I’m using the book Good Food Great Business, How to Take Your Artisan Food Idea from Concept to Marketplace by Susie Wyshak, with a few others, as a road map. I’m also using my own experiences along the way, after all no one person’s journey is the same as another’s. So, while I be using the book as a foundation, I’ll incorporating the trial and error method as well. And knowing myself as I do, the error will out weigh the trial.

Homemade Lemon Curd
A few years back I experimented with making Lemon Curd, using labels I sell in my Etsy shop.

Points of Interest along the way (not in any particular order):

Deciding on a set of recipes and flavor combos
Naming, packaging and labeling (aka the fun stuff!)
Researching the Cottage Laws that allow certain food to be made in a home kitchen
Researching commercial space – you know, for the future.
Interviewing folks in the specialty food industry

Case studies of existing brands, small-ish in scale.
Looking into marketing ideas with social media and other
Figuring out where to sell -Farmer’s Markets – retail in the future?

So, that’s my start. And my intention is to take 6 months to experiment with flavors and combinations then go about perfecting.

And now a little backstory

Outside of overeating, I haven’t always been interested in food. It wasn’t until I hit my late 40s that I began to take culinary notice. In fact, I can recall perusing home and garden magazines and bypassing the articles on gardening and recipes altogether; I thought they were boring.  It’s amazing how one can change!

I now find those same topics more interesting than the interior design portion of any publication, and 500 times more interesting than any beauty or fashion article…though slight disclaimer, maybe if I lost the ‘overeating’ interest, I would be more interested in the ‘fashion’ advice. 😉

My Interest in Food Changed when Cookbooks changed.

Anyway, I think my interest in food changed when cookbooks changed.

Over the past fifteen years cookbooks have really stepped it up in terms of engaged readability. No longer just a list of ingredients and directions, now there’s a story within the pages.

For example, Vivian Howard of the PBS series A Chef’s Life (2013-18) wrote her cookbook Deep Run Roots with many antidotes about living in the South, and growing up in Kinston, North Carolina, where her restaurant The Farmer and the Chef is located. Actually, the full title of the book is Deep Run Roots, Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South.

This is just one example, but almost any cookbook published today has some story woven between the recipes, and I for one, love this. Of course, some don’t. They prefer the old school Just the facts, Ma’am’ layout, but cookbooks are bestsellers now, and I’m guessing the new way is here to stay.

It’s this, along with the prettier photos, and better graphic design that initially got me ‘into’ food.

And then there was that other thing.

Winter cake with trees made of pretzels and marzipan
My first Instagram photo (I think)

Yep, that social media app with too many filters to choose from.

I think the first photo I ever posted was a cake I baked. I can’t remember for sure, and I changed accounts and deleted some older photos so I’m not 100 percent, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. Because of that photo, the people that followed and ‘liked’ my picture were ‘foodies’ (I’ll try not to use that word again, but it’s hard to find a better descriptor at this point). So, I posted another, I mixed it up this time – and made cupcakes.

My point is, the more I started following others interested in baking and cooking, the more I became interested in it. Plus, I had a reason to be doing all this (mostly) baking. Not just for the eating, for the picture taking! I began enjoying the art of food photography, amateur though I was and still am.

Fancy fruit tarts
First photo for the Food 52 Baking Group.

Then something else happened.

I found the Food52 website and joined their Facebook group that baked from one cookbook each month and posted their results. It was fun, it felt slightly competitive, and it was yet another reason beyond just eating, to bake. And many times, the authors of the cookbooks would chime in and comment. I have to believe it’s a huge bonus if your book gets selected to bake from. I mean, many of the thousands in the group, buy the book to use.

Personalized vanilla extract labels by Nancy Nikko
Personalized Vanilla Extract Labels from my etsy shop – NancyNikko.com

Meanwhile, while all this food stuff was happening in my online social life, I began to expand my online business life (Etsy plus my own website) to include more and more food specific labels.

Labels and Tags are my forté!

I design labels and tags that can be used for favors or for jams, syrups, honey, limoncello etc. It was apparent a lot of people were into making their own home goods and either selling them or using them to give as gifts. And just FYI, beekeeping is having a moment as they say. honey label sales have increased every year for the past three.

This sort of brings us to the present.
It’s the combination of all of the above that brought me to the decision to go beyond posting food photos, or maybe labels just for others to stick on their creations. I still want to do both of those things, yes, but for the past few years I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to come up with my own specialty food and/or brand.

So why didn’t I? Why now?

My reasons for not doing it have nothing to do with a lack of time – there’s always time to do something if you really want to. No, I know exactly what’s stopped me from pursuing my food dreams and it all boils down to fear.

It’s not the fear of failure. Or the fear that I’ll look stupid. Or money fears (though it probably should be).
My number one fear is that I will make something and someone will get sick.
But luckily for me, Jam has a pretty good rep in this scenario (one of the reasons I picked it)

So, yes, my number one fear is that I’ll cause an outbreak of some kind related to whatever I make. That being said, it presumes that I would be selling enough of something to actually cause an outbreak.
Glass half-full.

But I still don’t want that ever to happen and so I’ll be careful about procedures and along the way I’ll pass on my words of post-mistake-making wisdom and share the glory days as well.

Alright, I’m off to begin the adventure of going from ground zero (here) to having my jam ready for market (there).

See you.