At the end of a shady street in the heart of the city, the steam of maple syrup and vinegars, spices and herbs wafts out Katherine Hartson’s kitchen window, prequels of the magical offerings that she sells at market.
“They are definitely a piece of me,” Hartson said. “I try to bring the best natural flavors and good, whole ingredients together so that people can be nourished by my products and know exactly where they came from."
Hartson is the owner and operator of Kreations by Katharine, a business she built herself by hand-crafting and selling her homemade jams, jellies, pickles, relishes and spreads, and can often be found at the St. Albans Bay Farmer’s market and craft and holiday shows throughout the state.
That is, when she’s not in the woods searching for materials for her unique, Vermont-inspired products.
Hartson’s creations aren’t your ordinary preserves: most of what Hartson makes is locally-grown, whether it be by an organic farmer or Mother Nature herself.
The forager chef
“I forage a lot on my family’s land,” Hartson said. “I try to make time as often as I can to spend in nature...I have my spots.”
Hartson’s career began in hospitality, where she found she connected with people over the topics of food and flavors, and began making her own hot pepper jelly as her first experiment six years ago.
Like many small-business owners, Hartson gradually made her side business her main business -- while balancing teaching yoga, hosting paint-and-sip parties and waitressing, Hartson also spent weekends at craft shows building her label, brand and customer base.
“I started spending more time in nature,” Hartson said. ”And when you spend more time in the woods you begin to notice more. I started researching mushrooms and got back into berry picking.”
Over the years, her delicious offerings began to multiply: whether its raspberry hot pepper jelly or maple bacon pepper jam, Hartson’s kitchen became her laboratory where her own freshly-harvested crops and foraged edibles were transformed into canned and shelf-stable delicacies perfect for summertime picnics and warm winter roasts alike.
“My blackberry pepper jelly sells out really fast,” Hartson said.
Then last summer, Hartson finally made the switch: she left the hospitality industry for good and funneled all of her energy into her business, despite the shifting economic tides that came with the onset of the pandemic.
“There was just this pull, I had to do it,” Hartson said. “I couldn’t work for anybody anymore. I had to be out on my own, so I just jumped off a ledge and went for it. And the universe caught me.”
Small business, big pandemic
The pandemic took Kreations by Katherine by surprise: rather than hamstringing her business and forcing a closure, communities rallied around small businesses to keep them alive and invested deeper in the local food movement.
And Hartson found herself needing quite a few more mason jars.
“I’ll spend three to four days in the kitchen cooking and preparing every week,” Hartson said. “Actually, I’ve gotten really busy.”
In the springtime, Hartson ventures into the forest to look for fiddleheads to brine in bread and butter liquid, and her internal clock reminds her to keep a weather eye for everything from elderberries to chanterelle mushrooms as the days grow longer and wild crops begin to unfurl.
Hartson also teaches foraging classes for the everyday Vermonter curious about what to eat when you’re out in the woods.
“It surprised me that it was something that I got into,” Hartson said. “Foraging is such a dying art. I’m just really excited to share it with the world.”
While Hartson has a deep fondness for her berries and pickles, the culinary wizard’s favorite ingredient is still her old standby and something her friends and family have come to adore.
“I just love hot peppers,” Hartson said. "That's where it all started for me. It was the first thing I ever made, and it came out perfect."