Spilled Milk Podcast episode 147: Caramel October 30, 2014
When I started this website I was able to use a Squarespace discount/offer code provided by my favorite podcast, Spilled Milk, so I sent the hosts a jar of caramel as a thank you. A few months later I was floored when I heard Matthew & Molly mention my caramel during this episode. I can now say I have actually cried over Spilled Milk (groan):
Molly, Matthew and the Maillard Reaction presents an ooey, gooey, sticky adventure of the burnt sugar variety. Caramel is cheap and simple, yet impressive, kind of like the Spilled Milk Podcast. Where we stand on the Great Salted Caramel Debate comes up as well as safety tips while listening to this podcast. Hard and hot is always the way to go.
COLD WEATHER IS PRIMETIME for eating. We’ve gathered some of our favorite locally made products to beat the winter chill—and to share with loved ones this holiday season.
Ardent Homesteader Caramel Sauce
From a humble homestead in Arden comes this versatile, small-batch caramel sauce. Whether using in cookies, pie or another favorite family recipe, this five-ingredient dessert sauce is great for holiday baking needs.
Blooming Hill Farm Market; $15/12-oz jar
radio interview from The Accidental Locavore june 2017
Orange Magazine February/March 2016
150ish - The Local Dish - 2/9/2018 newsletter "Francesca & MarisA are riding high on cara-sel"
One woman’s passion in a jar
Cara-Sel salted caramel sauce from The Ardent Homesteader
February 8, 2018
It’s a sad day for Francesca when she reaches the bottom of a jar of Cara-Sel. This salted caramel sauce made by Kristin Nelson (aka The Ardent Homesteader) is a perfectly balanced blend of sweet and salty with a buttery richness that can only come from fresh, natural ingredients—and 150ish loves that it can be used in so many different ways. “Ardent” is a great word to describe Kristin and the way she manages her family life and her business. She dedicates herself to both with great enthusiasm and passion.
Here’s the dish. Kristin and her husband Dave didn’t grow up in a farming community, but when they and their three sons moved to their 10(ish) acre farm in Arden, New York, nine years ago, they eagerly embraced the lifestyle. Her blogand Instagram are filled with inspiration from her kitchen and the large farm garden, along with loving portraits of guinea fowl, pigs, and a stunning pair of American Milking Devons, a heritage breed of cows good for milking, meat, and power.
Kristin describes Dave as having “two full-time jobs: one that pays and the other that doesn’t,” telling us that he handles most of the farm management in addition to working for a medical supply company. Two years ago, Kristin added her business to the mix when she launched Cara-Sel.
That started when Kristin, who loves to cook and especially loves to bake, decided to make caramel “just for fun.” She tells us, “It came out pretty good, but I kept tweaking it and tweaking it because it just didn’t taste like what I had in mind. I wanted it to taste like a really classic caramel sauce, but one made with real ingredients, so it took a lot of tweaking to get it just right. And then when I had to write down what I did, which took me a little longer because I had to measure everything out to recreate it every time.”
The final recipe—with just five ingredients: organic cane sugar, cream, Cabot butter, sea salt, and vanilla—became her go-to gift for friends and family, and she began to hear, “you know, you should really sell this stuff,” a lot. One of her biggest early supporters was Guy Jones of Blooming Hill Farm in Monroe, New York, who said he would sell her caramel sauce at his farm stands. The idea became more tempting as the time approached for her youngest son to enter kindergarten. Kristin had stepped away from an office job when her two younger sons were small and she was now planning to re-enter the workforce. Thinking that her own business could give her the flexibility to set her own schedule, she decided to give it a try.
“It took me about a year,” she says of her startup. “It took a while to figure out—I mean, how does one do that? You start with one thing and then it’s what size jars do I want, what kind of jars, what about labels? Gosh, I guess I need a website (what about licensing?) and ooh, I need a kitchen with a special license! It was a long process and kind of stressful at times. I took a class to learn how to do the branding and the graphic design of the website; I designed the label in the class. That was a really big deal to be able do all of that myself and not have to hire anyone to do it for me. It was a very bootstrapped, baby-steps kind of process.”
Kristin found another local helping hand when the owners of the North Plank Road Tavern in Newburgh, New York, stepped up to let her use their commercial kitchen. “I had signed up at a commercial kitchen not too far away,” she says, “but when it was time to sign an actual contract the day of the week I needed was no longer available. I already had the inspection from the Department of Agriculture and Markets scheduled and my friend, who owns the restaurant with her husband, said ‘Absolutely you can use our kitchen. Keep the inspection date just change the address.’ I’ve been working there ever since!”
While her batch size, which she describes as “tiny,” hasn’t changed, her market reach certainly has. “Once I had a product ready to go, I started out with local orchards, just thinking that was a natural fit—apples and caramel go hand in hand. A lot of local places took a leap and took me on at the beginning and I’ll always be grateful to them,” she says. “I did a lot of farm markets in the beginning, which really helped to spread the word.” With slow and steady growth, you can now find Cara-Sel in more than 40 different shops across nine counties.
Once you’ve tasted Cara-Sel, that won’t really seem so surprising. And while Francesca likes to spoon it right from the jar, a quick spin on the recipe section of Kristin’s site proves that this is not a jar that will languish in the condiment graveyard of your fridge.
Of course it’s great on ice cream and for dipping apples, but why not mix one part Cara-Sel to three parts sour cream, then add curry powder and cayenne for a dip that goes great with veggie chips. If you’re a baker, you need a jar of Cara-Sel in the pantry at all times—and hey, would you think about using it as a topping for your burger? When she heard A Better Place Bar & Grill was offering a harvest burger with bourbon-poached apples, smoked Gouda, and Cara-Sel as a special, Kristin thought they might be joking. “Was it just a shock thing, or was she just doing this because we’re friends? We went, I tasted it, and it was spectacular!”
While Kristin loves hearing all the different ways that people use Cara-Sel, there’s a wish that she had a bit more time to try them out for herself. Noting that this is a business she started so that she’d be able to spend time with her family, she now wonders how long she’ll be able to keep it a one-woman show.
“Depending on the day you ask me you will get a different answer,” she says. “I want to learn how to make bigger batches; I need to figure out how am I going to grow—and it always comes back to just me, stirring the caramel in the restaurant kitchen. I need to figure out what I want to do and how I want to do it, so that I still can grow without making myself crazy and my arm falling off, but still having it be me.”
To order online, or for a list of stores where you can find Cara-Sel, visit The Ardent Homesteader site. (Look for it at Fulton Stall Market in Manhattan and Sahadi's in Brooklyn.)
Orange Magazine December/January 2016
(from the article on "26 great gifts created by local artisans" by Beth Kalet)