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‘Tis the Seasoning

Jeannie Sanders cuts herbs from her garden to use in her seasonings, vinegars and teas. © 2018 Encore Publications/Brian Powers
Schoolcraft couple crafts seasoning blends, vinegars and teas

Most wives wouldn’t be too fond of their husbands calling them a hobbit. But 55-year-old Jeannie Sanders is not only OK with it, she says it inspired the name of her and her husband’s business: Sandershire Seasonings.

Jeannie says her husband, 60-year-old Leonard Sanders, affectionately calls her a hobbit because of her 5-foot-4-inch stature (Leonard is 5-foot-11) and her love of home, hearth and earth. So, in 2014, when the couple moved to a home on seven acres in Schoolcraft, it seemed only fitting to name their business Sandershire Seasonings — paying homage to their surname (Sanders), the country setting (a shire) and Leonard’s term of endearment (because hobbits live in shires).

“The name Sandershire seems now to be a poetic inevitability,” Jeannie says. “As we began to grow, harvest and forage more and more food here at Sandershire, I also began to plant and nurture as many herbs and spices as possible for ingredients in my seasoning recipes.”

The couple grow most of the ingredients that they use in the seasoning blends, vinegars and teas they sell at local farmers markets. Sanders’ inspiration for the business came from Greece.

“I was born in Greece and ate Greek food,” Sanders says, identifying herself as an “Army brat” who lived many places growing up. As soon as she started learning how to cook, Sanders says, she wanted to know how to make Greek meatloaf and Greek chicken. This led her down a path of exploring ethnic foods.

“I realized that seasonings are one of the major things that change food flavors from region to region and country to country,” Sanders says.

One day as Sanders was pulling 12 bottles of herbs and spices from the cupboard to make her Greek chicken, a light bulb went off. “Why have all these different bottles?” Sanders remembers thinking. She grabbed a pint-sized Ball jar and mixed up her own Greek blend, which she called Nostimo (which means “delicious” in Greek).

To save money, Sanders initially bought organic herbs and spices by the pound, leaving her with a lot of excess ingredients. Then people started asking for her seasoning recipes. Both of these factors propelled Sanders to start a business selling her seasoning blends.

“I realized people can use them to make sauces, dips, salad dressings,” she says.

Sanders began selling her seasoning blends, which were first called Organic Life Seasonings, at the Bangor Farmers Market in 2012. The Sanderses’ move to Schoolcraft allowed them to grow a majority of the necessary ingredients on their own land, and soon Jeannie started selling her wares at the Texas Corners and Portage farmers markets.

Sandershire Seasonings now offers 12 seasoning blends. Nostimo is the top seller and also Sanders’ favorite. Other popular seasoning blends include Rustic, which she describes as a smoky, savory seasoned salt and pepper, and Fiesta, a Tex-Mex blend inspired by the time Sanders’ family lived in Texas.

“I’m in the final stages of completing a new all-purpose flavor: Fresh Coast,” she says, describing it as “bright and tangy,” blending peppercorn with summer herbs, onion, garlic, toasted sesame and kosher salt. Sanders says she is also in the beginning stages of developing a salt-free blend.

She and her husband grow a garden of herbs, including basil, dill, sage and thyme, and the inclusion of these homegrown herbs and spices has earned Sandershire Seasonings credentials from Certified Naturally Grown, which provides certification to farmers and beekeepers that produce food for their communities without relying on synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Leonard’s “behind-the-scene contribution is vital” in this area, his wife says. He mulches, digs, hauls in heavy harvests, and performs fall and winter cleanup.

“He was instrumental in completing the fencing that protects our crops from hungry critters other than ourselves,” she says.

In the last year, Sandershire has expanded its offerings to include vinegars. And each year, the couple increase their plantings, which is what led to them adding tea to their products. Their property is bordered by stinging nettles, sumac, horehound, mullen, wintergreen, raspberries, comfrey, firs and spruces — all of which Jeannie Sanders uses in her tea blends, along with the herbs and spices she and her husband grow.

“It’s so rich here that I couldn’t not share it,” she says.

Sandershire’s herbal tea blends include Bliss Tea, a blend of lemon balm, chamomile and rose hip; Zen Tea, created with sassafras leaf, holy basil and lavender flower; Stinging Nettle Tea; and Spruce Tip Tea.

“I’ll add a couple more things that I know about,” Sanders says. “This herb or that herb — it’s just been building. We use these (the homemade teas) ourselves and want to share that with other people.”

Sanders’ foray into making vinegars started with a gift of organic pears from her sister — Sanders made pear crisp with the fruit but wanted to also utilize the peels. She discovered she could make vinegar and got to work.

“It was so amazing,” she says.

Sanders makes all of her vinegars from scratch. Calling herself a “locavore,” she says if the fruit doesn’t grow on her property, it comes from local farmers. Since her initial pear vinegar, Sanders has developed violet vinegar, apple habanero vinegar and a malt vinegar, to name just a few. Some of the vinegars, such as the violet vinegar, are seasonal. Sandershire’s malt vinegar, which is a top seller, is made with Bell’s Oberon. Sanders is also working on new vinegars, including a rhubarb-black raspberry flavor.

Now that Sanders has been selling at farmers markets a few years, people are taking notice of her products. It takes awhile to get established, she says, and she advises that anyone wanting to sell something should try a market for an entire season.

“If you have a good product, it sells itself,” she says.

Lisa Mackinder

Lisa’s work has previously appeared in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Animal Wellness, Dog World, Michigan Meetings and Events Magazine, MiBiz, and other publications. Though having covered a wide-range of topics, Lisa most enjoys composing people-centric pieces, as well as those featuring nature and animals. She lives in Portage with her husband, and when not at her Mac, participates in outdoor activities, including fly fishing, gardening and hiking.

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