I tore open the bag of corn chips, used my
muscle power to open the tightly sealed jar, and scooped up a healthy
portion of salsa. The sweet tomato taste mingled with the cilantro and other
spices. I then tried the pineapple mango salsa. On my salsa scale, they both
get a definite 10!
You probably didn't expect a story on the
10th anniversary of a canning company in the heart of Amish Country to begin
with a writer rhapsodizing about salsa. But then, the folks and products of
the Intercourse Canning Company (ICC) are a mix of the traditional and the
innovative when it comes to food. It's the kind of place where foods bridge
the gap between Grandma and the Boomers, with the quality and
"deliciousness" both demand. Grandma might stop in for some chow chow, only
to try a sample of the salsa. The Boomers may be in for the Asian sauces,
only to discover the amazing pickled beets. And both of them may head home
with a jar of the fantastic Italian Spaghetti Sauce.
Steve and Susan Adams, along with Linda and
Dan Stoltzfus, keep this relatively new business thriving and its customer
base growing. July marks their tenth year, and there will be special
activities for foodies at the store. And if you are reading this at home,
far away from Lancaster, fear not! These goodies are available to you online
In fact, there are lots of regular online shoppers. But first, a little
Steve and Susan Adams moved to Lancaster
from Bucks County in 1996, to help with the opening of the American Music
Theatre. (They had met in high school, and she joined Steve's rock band.
They've been together ever since.) Wanting to spend more time with their
daughter, they began to think of looking into starting their own business.
At a school picnic, they met a man who had
just leased a building in the village of Intercourse to start a canning
operation. Attached was a retail space. Steve bought in, and Susan came in
to run the store. While Steve focused on bookkeeping and marketing, which
was his expertise, Susan concentrated on the product, since she was an
excellent cook with Italian heritage. By the second year, they had already
turned a profit, and have been growing ever since.
The company has caught the attention of the
media, having been featured on MS-NBC, the "Today Show" on NBC, and the PBS
series "America's Heartland." Most recently, products packaged by the
Intercourse Canning Company for the Enduring Sun label were chosen to be in
the gift baskets for the Broadway and film stars attending the Tony Awards
at Radio City Music Hall on June 10, 2007.
Eventually, Steve and Susan became the full
owners of the retail business and, in 2005, joined Linda and Dan Stoltzfus
to direct the canning operation. This has allowed them the opportunity to
create and build their own brand by expanding into different kinds of canned
goods, gourmet coffees and teas, dips, etc. Interestingly, about 80% of the
kitchen's product goes to other businesses and restaurants, often under
other names. For example, if you like Dynamite Dill pickles, you are eating
pickles produced here as part of the ICC Foods "business-to-business"
In the beginning, the challenge was really
how to make a small manufacturing operation profitable. Foods were often
cooked in pots on top of a stove and virtually nothing was mechanized.
Today, there is a combination of techniques that combine past values
(handmade, homemade, traditional) with special equipment that has doubled
the output without sacrificing quality. For example, they have gone from
hand pouring to semi-automated filling and capping of jars, followed by
automated labeling and coding. That means that they can produce 350 cases of
spaghetti sauce a day (a dozen 32-ounce jars per case). While this seems
like a relatively small quantity, it means enough to supply demand, turn a
profit, and still produce that homemade taste.
Steve and Susan added that they wanted me to
know that faith and prayer are important in how they run the business. They
will never push this on anyone, but try to lead a life and run a business
based on their beliefs, and let people draw their own conclusions.
Being in the village of Intercourse has
helped the business to flourish. Whether it's families on vacation, or
motorcoaches on a group tour, people love to come and observe the canning
process, as well as sample the foods. Walking around the store, there are so
many samples that it seems you can practically eat a meal here. (Special
tasting parties for groups are available with advance reservation.) Through
the large glass windows, you can watch the canners busy with their work.
Best of all, you can be assured that virtually everything in a jar in the
store is prepared and canned right there on the property. (They don't bring
in jars of food someone else has made and slap their labels on them.)
Everything is made in their relatively small kitchen so that it has more of
a homemade flavor.
The Adams - Stoltzfus team listen to their
customers, watch food trends, and attend food shows to see what's new, what
people want, and spot demand for new product. The salsas and Asian sauces
and marinades are but one example. Existing foods are also adapted or
re-vamped to meet changing and regional tastes. New recipes and items are
often tested right in the store. Sometimes there are interesting twists to
traditional items, such as the blueberry applesauce. You'll still find the
Amish peanut butter spread, as well as plenty of pickles, red beet eggs,
sauerkraut, and chow chow. But when Southerners kept saying that their chow
chow was quite different from the mix of pickled vegetables of Lancaster
County, Susan decided to produce some jars of "Southern Chow Chow." More
liked a pickled shredded cabbage, I found it quite tasty. While I was
conducting this interview, an employee popped in to say a lady from the
South just bought three cases of this brand new product. Bingo!
What else can you expect when you visit the
store? Susan said, "We want to offer the highest quality, best-tasting food
products ever." (There is someone on board devoted to quality control.) "And
we want customers on vacation to have a great experience when they come
here, especially if they're like me, and wake up thinking about food!" Susan
said that chefs from various restaurants stop by to buy their products. And
picking up on trends in healthy eating, she said they are heading toward
"all natural" ingredients, such as sugar instead of corn syrup. This focus
on consumer trends, varying regional tastes, quality and experimenting with
new combinations of ingredients has created a food business that is always
changing and offers something to delight everyone's tastebuds.
I walked around the store trying to jot down
all the different foods I was seeing. I can't give you a complete list, but
I will give you just a sampling from each section. Among the sauces I found
bacon dressing, wing sauce, sesame soy marinade, and Thai peanut sauce.
Pickled vegetables included baby corn, brussel sprouts, pearl onions, four
bean salad, corn relish, and pickled garlic. Among the pickles were bread
and butter, pickled chips, garlic dill, banana spears, and Kosher-style
spears. Other items included a selection of jams and jellies, many in mini
jars for those wanting to take home various flavors, as well as the salsas,
relishes, peaches and pears, chow chow, red beets and eggs, and the popular
apple, peach, and pear "butters."
The expected and unexpected combine for a
selection of foods that surpasses expectations. You owe it to yourself to
discover the simply irresistible homegrown goodness of the Intercourse
Canning Company. Now, let me get back to my salsa!
JULY 10TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
There will be recipes and tasty samplings
July 7 - Amish Goes Italian - great
tomato sauces and Italian bread with Garlic & Herb spread.
July 14 - "Spread" the Love - dips,
mixes, and jams, plus fruit pizza and special hors d'oeuvres.
July 21 - Add Sizzle With Salsa -
lots of salsas plus Amish 7-Layer Dip and Pineapple Mango Chicken.
July 28 - ICC Chicken BBQ - sauces,
new pickles and free lunch platter with $30 purchase.
At Intercourse Canning Company, food ends up
in a jar in one of three ways:
1. Cold Packing: Example - pickles
The foods are not cooked, but
put into the jars with any other ingredients cold. The jars are then put
into boiling water and heated until the lids vacuum seal.
2. Hot Packing: Example - salsas
The foods are cooked and mixed
and put into the jars hot (around 190 degrees) and the vacuum seal is
created naturally as they cool.
3. Direct to the jar: Example -
mustard, peanut butter
These items can go directly into
a jar and be sealed and labeled.
QUESTION: So if you are putting food in
jars, why is it called "canning?"
In 1795 Napoleon offered money
to anyone who could find a way to preserve foods for his troops. Nicholas
Appert of France found a way to preserve food in jars sterilized and sealed
with pitch, and had a vacuum-packing plant by 1804. This process was a
military "secret," but by 1810, Peter Durand of England had a patent for
tin-plated iron to use in "canning." Canned rations were on the field at the
Battle of Waterloo. In 1812, a small plant in New York produced hermetically
sealed oysters, meats, fruits and vegetables in cans. Durand introduced his
can top America in 1818. Henry Evans patented a machine that made the tin
cans, increasing production from 5-6 cans to 50-60 cans per hour. In 1858,
American John Mason invented the now famous glass jar for home canning. By
the 1860's, the process time had dropped from six hours to 30 minutes,
making canned foods commonplace. In the heating process, the sterilization
destroys bacteria and enzymes that can cause spoiling, and the seal prevents
new air or other organisms from entering.
---- by Brad Igou
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