From Seed to Jar - The Making of Mortgage Lifter
25% of all profits from Mortgage Lifter products aid small American farms. The sauce is made using an heirloom tomato variety called "Mortgage Lifter," first bred in the 1930s.
Our primary challenge in creating our Mortgage Lifter Pasta Sauces was to create an amazingly delicious product that helped support small American farms, yet could be produced in large enough quantities to find its way onto national grocery store shelves. And it also needed to be at a price point most folks could afford.
It wasn't an easy job (if it was, someone else would've done it before us.) But we got it done. And how. 25% of all profits are set aside to help small American Farms, and in the first year of sales we raised over 13k to give back to small farms.
But with success comes new challenges. We calculated that we would need over 3000 lbs of heirloom tomatoes in 2014 to supply the exploding demand for the sauce. We began desperately searching for a local small farm that could handle the challenge. There were significant logistical challenges. The farm needed to be near where we made the sauce (Schenectady) so that the cost of shipping wouldn't make the sauce too costly. Complicating things further, tomatoes are not a standard commercial crop in NY. With our short growing season, it would be a gamble for any small farm to take on.
That's when we met farmers Justine and Brian, of Denison Farm in Schaghticoke, NY. They became our farmers in shining armor. Follow along to watch how we all worked together over this season to bring Mortgage Lifter to a store shelf near you...from seed to Jar.
Here's Denison farm, in early spring. Beautiful, right?
Meeting Brian...and the farm dog.
Mortgage Lifter seedlings were started in greenhouses in March.
Justine and Brian wisely decided to grow some other delicious heirloom varieties of tomatoes as well. If a disease, pest, or fickle weather negatively impacted the Mortgage Lifter harvest, at least we would have other heirloom varieties to supply the demand.
Brian is very precise and scientific about his planting and potential yields. Farming isn't as simple as hobby gardening. There are livelihoods at stake...from his own farmhands, to the folks who make our sauce, to the farmers the sauces will help. A crop failure would be a failure for all of us.
Justine and her daughter, Maggie, had already moved some seedlings out to a hoop house in a gamble that the earlier planting would result in an earlier crop. It was risky, though. There was still a month or more of frost possibilities.
Here we chat with Justine and her daughter about which fields the rest of the seedlings will be transplanted to.
A month or so later, the seedlings were off to strong starts.
Denison's Farm's has a few secret weapons in their arsenal...several million of them in fact. They live here:
By August, it was clear that the gambling (and strategic farm practices) had paid off.
Justine and Brian called to let us know that we on track to have our first Mortgage Lifter harvest by the end of month. They would be harvested in three rounds, about 10 days apart. Hopefully we could get the full 3000# by the first frost, which could come as early as mid September.
Success! The first Mortgage lifter...
Mortgage Lifters are gently loaded into crates to be taken to the weigh-in station.
Good looking' bunch of 'maters...
Some of the heirloom romas that were also grown to help insure enough harvest...
Walter holds a handful of beauties...we were all so happy that the harvest was bountiful.
The weigh-in station was bustling. Each box was weighed precisely before being sent to be turned into sauce.
Justine and Brian saved the day! Actually, they saved the whole year...Denison farms not only produced the 3000 lbs we asked for. They wound up harvesting 1000 lbs extra!!!!
Mortgage Lifter Sauces are made at a 2nd generation, family-run, state-of-the-art "big kitchen" in Schenectady. Here is Adine Viscusi, the daughter of the founder, and Dave Garrison - Production Manager. (Don't we all make hairnets fabulous?) They're culinary geniuses, making sure the recipe is perfect every batch.
Of course the main reason Mortgage Lifter is so popular is how it tastes. And it tastes great because of the fresh tomatoes. Most processing plants can't handle fresh tomatoes. They just buy barrels of tomato sauce from China or wherever. But Adine, Dave and their team prep Justine and Brian's 4000 lbs of Mortgage Lifters by hand. Anyone who cans their own tomatoes knows that it is messy, hard work.
Adine wore a special shirt to the office for the occasion...
Much of the Mortgage Lifter harvest was flash frozen so that we can use it throughout the year. We want to make sure that all batches of Mortgage Lifter are made fresh, right before shipping.
Another reason Mortgage Lifter tastes different than other grocery-store brands is that we use only whole ingredients, prepped by hand. The onions and garlic are sautéed in olive oil.
Here is fresh cut zucchini for our Garden Style variety...
Fresh cut mushrooms and peppers...
Anyone who's purchased the sauce knows that the likelihood of finding a whole basil leaf in your jar is pretty high. Why? Ummm... because we use whole basil leaves!
Mmm. Starting to smell really good.
Okay. Here's the real secret to why Mortgage Lifter tastes so much better than other sauces. Brace yourself. Don't say we didn't warn you. You see, most of the sauce that you find on your grocery store shelf is never cooked. At least, not by your and our definition of cooking. Even the super fancy sauces (we won't name names) are simply pre-cooked barrels of tomato sauce, stirred together with powdered spices and corn syrup ...and then... you won't believe this.... shot through a super heated tube into a jar. That's right. They're not even simmered. Just superheated and shot into a jar.
But Mortgage Lifter is made just like the first batch we made on our stove. All of the ingredients are simmered for hours and hours and hours. (Granted, we use much larger pots now.)
Dave is a stickler for safety and efficiency. All of the jars are carefully washed & sterilized. (We use real Mason jars...if you buy new lids you can re-use them for your own canning at home.)
The equipment used to fill the jars is complicated. There are safety scanners, and codes, and computers, and logs...we won't even try to explain it. (Cuz we can't.)
Here's a jar getting its label.
The jars are actually put into the boxes still warm. Depending on where they're going, they'll sometimes hit the shelves within a day or two. When we're backordered with online orders, we ship them the same day they're made.
Even before the jars are cool, Brent and Adine are discussing the next batch.
Hungry yet? Here...go pick up a jar or two...