BANGOR, Maine — Two years into it, and Cheryl Wixson’s test kitchen is cranking out so many jams, pickles, sauces, dressings and other preserved treats that she can hardly keep up. Pumpkin butter one week. A garden fresh salsa the next. Cranberry ketchup. Marinara sauce. Zucchini relish. Aroostook Four Grain pancake and waffle mix. All made from Maine-grown foods, sourced from local farms. Fortunately for Wixson, the harvest season is just about wrapped up, so there’s only a few more days of production before it’s all complete.
“If I had more time, I’d be cooking with this stuff as much as I’d be making it to sell,” said Wixson, a staple in the eastern Maine food scene since the late ’80s, when she ran the Bangor catering business Gourmet to Go, and originally opened Cafe Nouveau on Hammond Street. “Just last week I made all kinds of things with the pumpkin butter. It’s so much fun.”
Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen, currently based in Bangor, offers its many products in a six-month-long “kitchen share.”
Although they enjoy the Bangor area, for logistical purposes Wixson and her husband and business partner, Flip, hope to move the operation to Stonington next year where they now live year-round.
The business runs on the same premise as a farm share, in which the consumer pays upfront for a monthly or weekly amount of produce from a farm. In this case, the consumer pays $300 for six months’ worth of mostly organic, canned or boxed goodies to stock in the pantry.
“It’s a $65 value for a $50 per month charge for nine items, but what’s really great is that you are actively supporting Maine farms,” said Wixson, who formerly wrote a column for the Bangor Daily News, and is still a consultant for the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, or MOFGA. “By buying one of these shares, you are helping keep more Maine food on Maine plates.”
Last year, the kitchen share’s first year, Wixson sold about 50 shares; this year, she’s hoping for 100 or more. Though the first pickup date is Nov. 1, interested buyers can purchase their share at any point in November. There are pickup locations in Bangor, Belfast, Blue Hill, Brunswick, Deer Isle, Ellsworth, Freeport, Rockport and Unity. Shareholders can expect at least one pasta sauce or salsa, an array of jams, pickles and marinades, and at least four specialty items a month, from tapenades to dry mixes. In all, you get 54 items from November until April.
Wixson sources her products from more than 30 farms statewide; from the Yoder family in Thorndike, an Amish family who provide her with pounds and pounds of green beans, to Ripley Farm in Dover-Foxcroft, who supply her with what she says are cucumbers that are “works of art.”
She has been able to cultivate relationships with many of her providers, and notes that the new wave of farmers — young people in their 20s and 30s, many of whom are transplants to Maine from elsewhere — are finally starting to take over for the older generation of farmers.
“I’m providing an opportunity for these young farmers to sell their products,” said Wixson. “Every year we add more farms, and more kids say to me ‘Cheryl, if it weren’t for you we wouldn’t be in business.’ That really makes me feel good.”
To sign up for a share, visit cherylwixsonskitchen.com or call 947-0892.