By Lanier Laney
It all started in their backyard garden on The Point in Beaufort when husband and wife team Ann Gassenheimer and Pat Gallagher canned local kumquats and gave them to some friends — who loved them. It has now grown into a national food business that sold 30,000 jars of products last year.
Says Pat, “We moved to Beaufort with many plans that did not include Vegetable Kingdom. But Ann’s cooking and canning caught the attention of new friends, and before we knew it we were selling jams and many other foods at the newly opened Port Royal Farmers Market. That is the first place we ever sold and where we returned last fall after a break from settling into our new kitchen. There are more products than when we started but many of the originals are still in production.”
Vegetable Kingdom began as a preserving company making unique pepper jellies and jams. It now sells a wide variety of meals, dressings, marinades, sauces, relishes, chutney, and more. They make condiments and foods for everyday as well as special occasions.
Ann says, “I created Vegetable Kingdom with an overreaching idea that food could be grown, cooked and sold for many to share a great flavor from a very specific place in a way that tells a story about how and why that particular flavor tastes so unique and good.
“Not everyone has the time or desire for routine meal preparation, so a major goal from the outset was to make all or part of a delicious meal come from the jar in your hand. Every product can be used in many different ways to help in your kitchen. This goes for leftovers, which our condiments can make shine like new.”
Adds Pat, “We grow some of the plants that end up in our products, but much of our raw materials come from people we know, farmers within miles of our kitchen in Garden’s Corner who want their crops to be made into something for people to enjoy.”
Says Ann, “We were both heavily influenced by our Louisiana and Alabama grandmothers. We have very similar stories of learning to preserve fresh foods, cook unique dishes, pluck chickens, scale fish, shell peas and grow gardens — all from our grandmothers. Everyone had gardens, and we have had one since we met, going on 21 years. We sometimes wish that Nonnie and Mamaw could be here to help in the kitchen and to see what we have done with all they taught us.”
Pat says, “We always have new products in the works. One customer requested a creamy Greek dressing, another a simple herb vinaigrette, so these are both in development. We want to remain flexible and responsive to the desires of our customers, in so far as we can.
“Salad dressings are very important because they are time-consuming to make at home. By the time all the greens and other vegetables are washed and ready, you don’t want to start from scratch with a dressing — who has that kind of time? “
In the works right now is a Green Tomato Ketchup which, while like a red ketchup, is flavorfully unique.
“This summer will see us adding new salsas to our line and in the fall, additional soups,” said Pat.
Vegetable Kingdom’s most popular products are Gumbo, Hot Pepper Pecan Jelly, Smoky Pepper Jelly, and Mango Chutney. In the summer months they sell a lot of Watermelon Raspberry Jam and Ginger Lemonade Jam.
“Fast rising in popularity is Smoky Pineapple Sauce,” says Ann. “It’s very versatile: great as a marinade or finishing sauce. We use it at home often.”
Pat and Ann have been working with Whole Foods Market for two years now, and recently became the store’s regional supplier of gumbo, creole, and etouffee. Whole Foods also carries about 10 other Vegetable Kingdom products.
One of their newest clients is Southern Season, with stores in Charleston, Chapel Hill and more planned to open. They supply many small stores across South Carolina and beyond.
Vegetable Kingdom’s production kitchen is 5,000 square feet, including a warehouse. They also have a garden of quarter acre where they organically grow many items necessary for their products.
Says Pat, “This year we reached a milestone — most every product we make had at least one ingredient grown from our garden!”
Ann creates the recipes, manages production, and runs the day-to-day kitchen operation. She also bakes bread and pastry and takes the occasional catering job.
When Pat is not selling to new stores, or selling at farmers markets and festivals, he helps with the heavy work of cooking in a 40 gallon kettle, and he is still making roux that his grandmother taught him to make when he was 6. He also manages the warehouse, order fulfillment and creation of all Vegetable Kingdom labels, which he designs and prints on site.
Says Ann, “We love Beaufort, the Lowcountry, the South and food. It is in our DNA a bit deeper than some. Everything we do revolves around growing and cooking good food. So this is where our adventure began and it just keeps getting better.”
VEGETABLE KINGDOM PRODUCTS
• Their products include Gumbo, Creole, Etouffee, Chow Chow, Zucchini Relish, Three Pepper Tomatilla Salsa, Hot Pepper Pecan Jelly, Smoky Pepper Jelly, Lime Pepper Jelly, Peach Pepper Jelly, Hot Pear Chutney, Mango Chutney, Smoky Pineapple Sauce, Tofu Dressing, Dee’s Diamond Dressing (dijon vinaigrette), Peach Mango Jam, Watermelon Raspberry Jam, Ginger Lemonade Jam, and Caramel Apple Butter. They also offer Cranberry Apple Relish and Orange Cranberry Sauce for the holidays and an array of ready-to-eat foods and baked goods at farmers markets.
Owner Pat Gallagher said some new products include:
• Massaman Curry (a classic Thai curry)
• Smoky Pepper Jelly (they smoke the peppers in a wood smoker)
• Ghost Pepper Jelly (hotter than most)
• Three Pepper Relish ( to spice up anything you want hotter)
• Bankok To Bali Noodle Soup (an Asian soup base you can make to suit your mood).
Vegetable Kingdom products can be found at Whole Foods Market (Southeastern Region), Earthfare, Suzara’s Kitchen and Sea Eagle in Beaufort, Nuances in Port Royal, Mangos on Fripp, and many more locations listed on their web site. They sell at the Port Royal Farmers Market on Saturdays, The Bluffton Farmers Market on Thursdays, and also at the Savannah Farmers Market in Forsyth Park on Saturdays.
For more information about Vegetable Kingdom, write to P.O. Box 41 Sheldon, SC, 29941, or email email@example.com or visit www.vegetablekingdom.com online. Call 843-441-3339, or find them on Facebook, Square Up and on Amazon.