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Celebrating 21 Years!

 

Intercourse Canning Company --- 

A Perfect 10 in 2007

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 at www.intercoursecanning.com. In fact, there are lots of regular online shoppers. But first, a little background....

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" operation (www.iccfoods.com).

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 every Saturday:

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.

ABOUT CANNING

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  6/10/2007   

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