From jalapeno jam to pickled mushrooms, Tandem Foods can add so much flavor to your boring weeknight meals. Inspired by a community canning class, Maxine and Corey Hengen started preserving their produce and fell in love with the process. Since then the two of them have been growing and preserving their own unique business. Locally sourced and home grown, Tandem Foods is a tasty way to buy local this summer. Maxine hopped off her bike and took time to answer some questions about the magic that is in Tandem Foods.
Maker Market: When and how did Tandem Foods start?
Tandem Foods: The idea of Tandem Foods started in 2011. We bought a house with a very large yard and a large garden. The garden produced more food than we were able to consume so we decided to learn how to preserve it. I took a class at the Bay View community center on canning. The instructor shared some dilly beans she made - after tasting one I knew I had to make my own. I went home and the next day made my own dilly beans and they were delicious. After that I started pickling different vegetables, we started sharing them with friends, our friends asked for more, so we started making them more frequently. Pickling was so much fun that we decided to start jamming. We had strawberries and raspberries in our garden so we harvested them and jammed them. They were delicious, and we were hooked.
MM: What is the story behind your name?
TF: My husband and I love bicycles. We rode a tandem on our wedding day, we ride century rides, and just completed our second RAGBRAI (a 7 day, 500 mile ride from the West coast of Iowa to the East coast of Iowa). We also preserve our food together - we split the steps of canning evenly, so while I'm cooking on the stove, he's preparing the next batch of vegetables, or fruit. Canning has a lot of steps and takes a lot of preparation - it goes faster and smoother with two people working in tandem.
The tandem in our logo is based on the tandem we rode on our wedding day. We still ride it today, look for us!
MM: Is Tandem Foods a full time job or a hobby?
TF: Right now Tandem Foods is a hobby. I'm a Milwaukee Public School Special Education Teacher, and my husband is a self employed photographer. My summers are for canning and riding bikes! Some day we'd like to make Tandem Foods a full time job; we're working on it, but it'll take time. We're definitely learning how to be more efficient, and with that we're able to produce more product so we can have it available throughout the year, not just in the summer.
MM: Where do you source the food that you use?
TF: We get all of our pickles from the Witte Vegetable Farm in Cedarburg. Their produce is delicious, the farm is beautiful and the staff (family) is super friendly and nice. It's a beautiful ride and a fun day trip. Friends and family give us a lot of produce, but sometimes we have to get our food from the local stores. It's tough to find 40 pounds of fresh mangos locally!
MM: What is your process for developing recipes? (Or are they top secret?!?!?)
TF: We started with recipes from the food preservation class (UW Extension books), then Ball canning books, but then friends started giving us books (The Preservation by Paul Virant with Kate Leah, and The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg) and we tried different recipes. Friends would also email us recipes and ask us to make them that's how our Put the Lime in the Coconut was born, and it's one of our best sellers.
MM: What motivates/inspires you and your business?
TF: We love being together, and we love doing fun things together - whether it be on the road biking 100 miles, or in the kitchen making pickles and jam. It's wonderful to watch people sample our product then want to buy it. There's something very special about small batch, homemade food - it has a unique taste that you won't find on the shelves of most grocery stores. It's fun to have customers be excited to purchase our products and come back for more. We're just having fun, and people really like our product.
MM: What are some of your top sellers?
TF: Our jalapeno jam is a pretty big hit. It's more versatile than people initially consider.
The Rhuberry (raspberry and rhubarb), and Put the Lime in the Coconut (coconut lime preserve) are also big hits.
MM: Do you get a lot of feedback? Any crazy ways people are creating meals with your food?
TF: We do get feedback, and it's awesome! People try our jalapeno jam on a lot of different things - grilled cheese, BLTs, as a dip by blending it in with cream cheese and eating with crackers, or putting it on top of brie and baking it and eating it with bread, as a glaze on chicken or pork then cooking on the grill. The lime in the coconut has been used as a sauce on spicy pork tacos, as a layer in a dark chocolate cake, in macaroons, or with a spoon! Our pickled mushrooms are also pretty versatile. Of course you can put them in Bloody Mary's or martinis, but they're also good on a burger. A couple customers told us they put them on a steak as a marinade and cooked them on top of the steak on the grill. The pickle juice tenderizes the meat and makes for a tasty meal.
MM: Do you have any new additions this year? New tasty treats that you will have at the upcoming market?
TF: We've gotten some request for pickled beets - we're going for it and should have them in August.
Also, pickled products go so well in Bloody Mary's - we're going to be offering a pickle mix for Bloody Mary's very soon.
Come sample Tandem Foods at this weeks Maker Market along with over 40 other amazing vendors. You can also follow Tandem Foods here https://www.facebook.com/tandem.foods