The story of Lyman’s Specialties starts in 1998, when Peg Moulton and Lyman Powers met. The first batch of pickles arose from a conversation about Christmas presents back in the early 2000’s. They decided on gift baskets that would be filled with Peg’s grandmother’s fudge and cinnamon rolls, as well as Lyman’s great-grandmother’s bread & butter pickles and garden relish. As they distributed the gifts, the feedback on the pickles was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Rhonda, Peg’s daughter, said they were the best bread & butter pickles she’d ever had, and that they should sell them. They asked Dan Harlow to taste the pickles and relish to see if he would sell them at the Harlow Farm stand. Dan was blown away and started selling them immediately.
The next summer they began to make larger batches of the pickles and relish in their kitchen, and Lyman started working on sourcing vegetables from Harlow Farm. Cucumbers, peppers, cabbage and so many other fruits and veggies used in their recipes were grown there. When they started, Peg and Lyman picked all their fruits and veggies themselves in Harlow’s fields, and would then head back home and process them. That became too labor-intensive, so they started to pay a bit more to just pick them up. Peg stated that “the Harlows were invaluable and unbelievable” throughout the first few years of their business. Over time they have begun obtaining their fresh produce from other farms as well, such as Plainville Farm in Hadley, MA and Harvest Farm, South Deerfield-Whately, MA. Lyman loves growing their business, from networking with farmers to acquiring equipment. During the winter months they work closely with Black River Produce to support their production. As exemplified by their regional farm sourcing, purchasing practices, and in their hiring as well, local is very important to the Powers. Many of us at the Co-op know this first hand, as we have helped Peg cart fifty-pound bags of salt from our bulk department to her car.
As our conversations progressed, Lyman told stories about his family and how they settled in Marlboro, VT in the 1600’s. Lyman’s Specialties’ two original recipes (Bread and Butter Pickles and Garden Relish) are over 150 years old and adapted from Lyman’s mother’s hand-written recipe cards. They imagine that these recipes were perfected in the hills of Marlboro, VT many years ago. Peg and Lyman are very proud to have kept this family tradition going. These two recipes are two of their best sellers. All their other recipes, including their oh-so-popular Pickled Garlic and Dill Spears, are all from found recipes and experiments that Lyman has perfected over the years. In fact, Peg and Lyman joke that they knew nothing when they started, but through hard work, love and practice they have a whole product line that makes them proud.
As you can imagine by tasting their Garden Relish, Peg and Lyman have grown their business to a place where they need to follow regulations set forth by the FDA for “acidified foods.” Anything that is pickled is considered an “acidified food,” and must have a pH level under 4.1 to ensure that it is safe to eat. Peg and Lyman pride themselves on having immaculate records. They even attended a course at Cornell University in 2009 on “better processing control,” an investment they still reflect on as being absolutely imperative to where they are today in their success. Two of the other main themes from the visit to their commercial kitchen were cleanliness and zero waste. Before and after every time they pickle, and often during, they clean intensively. One of their part-time staff, Elise, had cleaned for over two hours prior to everyone arriving in preparation for making pickled asparagus. Working towards zero waste comes from practices such as using the ends of asparagus for pickling sample jars, to sending compost to Boyd Farm. This attention to safety, cleanliness, and sending as little to the landfill as possible are qualities any Co-op shopper can appreciate in a local product.
Look for Lyman’s Specialties across Vermont’s co-ops as well as other small retailers and farm stands across New England. They also pack a private-label Harlow Farmstand version of their products. Peg and Lyman are vendors at the Wilmington Flea Market during the summer months and attend many other events as well, such as maple festivals in March, and Bennington’s Garlic Festival on Labor Day weekend. Often, Lyman is pickling as Peg is selling because they keep a very lean inventory, and usually move what they have the day after it is pickled. Their products are always fresh! Lyman is the head briner, and Peg loves meeting people and attending local festivals to share the delicious flavors they create. Both the Powers and Elise joked about how many products they have manually labelled over the years, impressing upon me that they do everything in small batches and almost everything by hand, including most their delivering. Lyman estimated over 20,000 jars of delicious pickled veggies and jams hit the marketplace last year.
Speaking of 20,000 jars: that is also the rough estimate of their current production year, which speaks to how steady their growth has been over the years. They have seen many other specialty companies in Vermont go out of business due to regulations and inherent business costs. Because they have been able to perfect their products, execute flawless food safety, increase their wholesale accounts, and stay relevant with new, flavorful offerings, they expect to exceed this year’s sales projections. This will allow them to invest back in the business, hire new employees, earn a living, and continue to create new offerings.
When I first asked Peg what her dreams are, she laughed and said, “Win Publisher’s Clearing House!” But truly, the Powers’ future is bright. Lyman is finally retiring from his day job, which allows both of them to focus on increasing distribution. There is a Lyman’s Specialties website in the works, which they believe will be key to broadening their reach. Goals include finding retailers for their products in California and Oregon, and many states in between. They also have a new account with the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction and a small retailer in Niagara Falls, NY. The energy that Peg and Lyman have for their business moving forward is infectious, and it is clear they love what they do. As many of you know, that love can be tasted in every jar. Try them for yourself at your next dinner, BBQ, or just as a snack.
Visit the Co-op on Thursday, May 24th from 11am to 1pm for a tasting.
By Jon Megas-Russell