Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park has become ground zero for the latest trends in food.
Something’s cooking at Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park. Something old school.
In the space formerly occupied by Wally’s Blackburn Bistro, Pigeon Cove Ferments is busy shredding thousands of pounds of Essex-grown cabbages for their line of spirited sauerkrauts. In the same kitchen, Jaju Pierogi are preparing their traditional Polish dumplings in strict accordance with their grandfather’s recipe.
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Pigeon Cove Ferments: A Family Affair
Pigeon Cove Ferments is the creation of Kristen and Dylan L’Abbe-Lindquist.
The couple, along with their young son, Ronin, live in the Pigeon Cove house where Dylan, 40, grew up. This 17th century half-pint of a house was probably once home to people who worked in Johnson’s Quarry right up the street.
On a wall of family photographs, one frame shows Dylan’s mother, Linda L’Abbe-Lindquist, in this same house, sitting in a rocking chair holding baby Dylan on her lap. In the photo, he is almost exactly the same age as Ronin is now (2). On the floor behind Dylan’s mother stand buckets of bulk food items like dried beans and rice.
Dylan’s mother, who now lives directly behind the young couple, has always been a preserver.
“We feel like we are carrying on the tradition of this home, and building on that tradition,” Kristen says.
Kristen, 36, grew up in Reading, Mass. She has a degree in Sustainable and Equitable Food Systems, which is evident in the extensive garden outside their kitchen windows.
She had hopes for a true farm in the Cove, but a new baby made her rethink what she could do with her degree, and how she could help out the family.
While working at Gloucester’s natural food grocer, the Common Crow Natural Market, Kristen noticed that the store dedicated a surprisingly large amount of shelf space to sauerkraut. Fermentation, she noted, must do well on Cape Ann. Dylan, who splits his time as the head brewer at Cape Ann Brewing Company, knows a little about fermentation, too.
In fact, as The Boston Globe reported last year, “fermentation is having a moment. Amazon lists page after page of cookbooks on the subject released in the last two years. Google Trends traces steady ascent for ‘fermented foods’ and ‘probiotics’ and ‘sauerkraut’ over the last decade.”
Cutting-edge microbiologists have recently become preoccupied with fermented foods, using them to get a handle on the dazzling complexity of the microbiome. Everybody and his sister appears to be making — or at least drinking — kombucha.
Fermented foods aren’t just a food trend, they’re a health trend, too.
Known for their digestive and detoxifying benefits, many are reaching for fermented foods such as yogurt (known for it’s probiotics supporting digestion), kombucha (a fermented tea that has a natural fizzy quality to it and also good for detox and digestion), tempeh (fermented soy beans often used as a meat substitute in vegan recipes), pickles (which aid in digestion and claim to have some immune system support), and koji (traditional in Japanese culture, it’s a fermented rice which claims to also have cancer preventing qualities), and, of course, sauerkraut (for digestion by restoring gut-flora and, yes, cancer prevention).
Dylan and Kristen’s friend, Noah Kellerman of Alprilla Farm, happens to grow gorgeous spheres of cabbages in his Essex fields. Soon, an idea was born, and today the L’Abbe-Lindquists have created a flourishing sauerkraut business right here on Cape Ann.
Pigeon Cove Ferments depends so fundamentally on local cabbage that Kristen has donned her wellies and taken to the fields to help plant Alprilla’s 1,500 cabbage seedlings, both Gunma and Farao varieties.
Mehaffey Farm in Rowley grows Napa cabbage for the PCF’s kimchee.
As the cabbages come in, Dylan and Kristen will turn to the other local farms — First Light Farm in Hamilton and Plough in the Stars Farm in Ipswich — to provide the remaining ingredients, like carrots, beets, onions, and cilantro.
Atlantic Saltworks, extracted from Cape Ann sea water, is the second most important ingredient listed on the Pigeon Cove Ferments label.
“We want to source everything as locally as humanly possible,” says Dylan, who even tapped an old high school friend from Rockport, S. Max Barron, to design their packaging.
Then there’s the invaluable baby-watching, kitchen help, and business guidance the couple receive from both their families.
“We’re definitely a family affair,” Kristen says.
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Jaju Pierogi: Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves
The kitchen is hopping.
Three animated young women in flour-dusted aprons are making pierogi.
Sisters Vanessa, 29, and Casey White, 25, along with Meg Turney, are rolling dough, cutting disks, spooning on filling, folding each disk in half, cutting and sealing, boiling and draining, and packaging.
And they are making sure the sweet potato editions aren’t too, uh, “canoe-y.”
“The sweet potato filling is very soft,” Vanessa explains, “and those pierogi tend to flatten out. We have to tell the people making them, ‘No pierogi canoes.’”
The White’s Polish lineage comes from their mother’s side.
Their “Jaju” (Polish for grandfather), founded Waniewski Farms, a Polish specialty store and butcher shop, over 65 years ago in Agawam, Mass., near their hometown of Wilbraham.
Jaju has since passed away, but the store, now run by extended family, still makes golubki (stuffed cabbage), kielbasa, pot pies, and pierogi.
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Even after leaving home, Vanessa and Casey were never without their family’s pierogi, which were delivered regularly to them in Boston by their mother.
After their friends repeatedly begged for pierogi care packages of their own, the sisters decided to leave their real jobs — Vanessa worked for the tech startup Bynder and Casey was in operations at Collaborative Consulting — to launch their own pierogi business in greater Boston.
“We’re very different. We split naturally,” Vanessa says of their work style. “In the beginning I called her ‘my boss’,” she says of her sister.
Vanessa went to Tufts. She’s the talker, the strategist, and problem solver. She makes the dough.
Casey went to Bentley. She lets her older sister talk. She’s the numbers person, the details person, the worrier. She makes the fillings.
Pierogis are so hot right now. In a recent article entitled “Eight Essential Trends Sweeping American Dining,” the foodie website Eater.com claimed that “Pierogi are the coolest dumplings.”
Indeed, lately chefs nationwide have seized upon the pierogi of Central and Eastern Europe as the dough pocket du jour. Pierogi share lineage with Siberian pelmeni (often made smaller and with thinner wrapping) and Ukrainian vareniki (sometimes served with sweet fillings).
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At Jaju, the business is doing well. They continue to expand into stores and farmer’s markets. In the beginning, it was just the two White sisters, but now they are slowly adding staff, like Meg.
“It’s hard for me,” Casey admits, as she lifts steaming pierogi from an enormous pot of simmering water. “We’re always ‘on,’ and it’s always about the business.”
“All you come back to is talking about the business,” Vanessa says, her hands feeding dough through the rolling machine. She adds, breaking into a laugh, “but we didn’t talk at all before. We’re really different. And it didn’t help that you stole all my clothes when we were younger!”
Casey just smiles back at her older sister — she’s accustomed to that kind of outburst.
This summer they will prepare — all by hand — pierogi for 18 farmers markets and 10 retail stores.
“We can’t get to the point of not talking to each other now,” Vanessa confesses, not teasing anymore. “Our lives are based on the production calendar. We’re always on call.”
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“Polish food is very nostalgic,” Vanessa says, now cutting the snowy, soft dough into disks. Nostalgia is good and bad. It’s why the pierogi are doing well, but there is also a lot of emphasis on how someone’s grandmother — in Polish their Babcia — made pierogi.
“We get these calls from people asking, ‘do you make potato-cheese pierogi?’ Vanessa explains. “And I say ‘yes,’ and they ask, ‘do they have onions?’ And when I say ‘yes,’ they say, ‘nevermind, that’s not like my grandmother’s.’ They expect that their grandmother is actually here in the back room making pierogi for their grandson! ‘Nah, that’s not how my Babcia made it’ — we hear that pretty often.”
The White sisters use a version of their grandfather’s recipe, which is a little unusual.
“It’s definitely odd that it’s not our Babcia’s recipe. We asked our grandmother why Jaju made the pierogi, and not her, and she just said, ‘he was better at it.’”
Jaju sells flavors like cabbage and mushroom, sweet potato, butternut squash, apple and sage, kielbasa and red pepper, and potato and cheese, which are the most traditional.
The sisters put their own spin on the other flavors: the cabbage and mushroom have a not-so-secret ingredient: Greek yogurt. The Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato and the Kielbasa and Red Pepper are all new.
The dough is an adaptation of their grandfather’s recipe.
“I took his dough recipe and cut it down (from 500 pieces) to 20. Once I got that right, I built it back up,” Vanessa says. “The dough derives from his recipe, but I built it back up from 20.”
Anyone who has worked with multiplying recipes understands this process. It’s part of making a recipe agree with your flour, your kitchen temperature, your own set of variables.
Tattooed on Casey’s inner forearm are her grandparent’s initials — inked before she and her sister launched their business. Babcia and Jaju are right there as Casey folds the supple, buttery dough over the potato and cheese filling.
Heather Atwood is the managing editor of The Other Cape. Katie Noble is a Boston-based photographer.