Pickles made with tomato juice or India Pale Ale. Dilled beans and pickled peanuts. A “probiotic cracker” formed with flaxseed, almonds and dehydrated brine.
These are some of the things that have flowed through the mind of RJ Marvin in recent weeks – and in the case of pickles, peanuts and beans, into jars, as well.
“When the farmers’ markets start rolling around, I really want to have the crackers and some other things available to try,” Marvin said last week. “I want to be the Willy Wonka of fermented goods. I want people to go, ‘Wow, that’s weird. That’s good.’”
Marvin and his wife, Lindsey, opened Barrel + Brine – the region’s first specialty fermented food shop – several weeks ago at 257 Carolina St., at Johnson Park, on the West Side.
Since then, they’ve brined a variety of vegetables, and even peanuts, in their tidy shop.
RJ, a graduate of the Erie Community College culinary arts program, worked as a cook at some of the top restaurants in Western New York – including Mike A’s and Buffalo Proper in the city, and Elm Street Bakery in East Aurora – before stepping out on his own.
He told me during an interview for this weekend’s WNY Refresh cover story on healthy fermented foods that he cultivated a passion for the culinary specialty at his last stop, Elm Street.
“It’s the most primal way of creating food,” he said. “It’s so old and it’s so pure and it’s so real.”
His standards include two types of sauerkraut as well as kimchi ($7); several varieties of pickles ($6); Kombucha (16 ounces for $5); and the 8-ounce kimchi “gut shot” ($4).
“A lot of people don’t understand how many fermented foods they eat in any given day,” RJ said. “Cheese. Salami. Bread. Kimchi, Sauerkraut.”
Among things the couple plans in their new business are classes “to demystify what fermentation is,” RJ said.
He and his wife use salt, other spices and yeasts to break down mostly vegetables in ways that make them easier to digest. The result: higher concentrations of fiber, vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids along with a cacophony of probiotics: the friendly bacteria that devour their unwelcome kin and create better balance in our digestive tracts.
The process spawns dishes that tamp down inflammation, a root cause of sickness and chronic disease.
The Marvins ferment their most popular fare in 300-liter vats. RJ aims to become even more creative using several German and Polish 20-liter (5-gallon) “experimental” crock pots that sit on the B+B counter. Cabbage, salt and curry have fermented in these crocks in recent days. Some of the soon-to-become sauerkrauts in these jars will tout more curry; others golden raisins.
The couple, both Dunkirk High School grads, met while attending SUNY Fredonia State. He was in a punk band at the time and she was in the crowd.
“He made fun of me over the microphone and I swore he was my archenemy,” Lindsey said with a smile.
Things changed. They’ve been married five years and live on the West Side.
“We moved here five years ago and the neighborhood is totally different now,” Lindsey said. “I’m so glad we moved to the West Side. Our friends at Black Sheep (restaurant) are just down the street and other friends are opening restaurants.”
Both expressed gratefulness that so many folks have stopped into the shop to welcome them to the neighborhood.
The Marvins are taking a fluid approach to their business. They’ve been open Monday to Wednesday since December but this week changed to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Meanwhile, they will continue to break down and preserve food in a process that took root long ago.
“I like the idea of turning something into something else,” RJ said. “I did it at Elm Street and experimented there and at home. I did lots of reading. The recipes we’re using here have been around for centuries and centuries. We’re not reinventing the wheel.”
But surely there have been new twists – and they’ve already been neighborly themselves when it comes to supporting fellow local trades.
Beets and turnips they look to ferment will come from Root Down organic farm in Clarence Center. They’re already using New York State cabbage and going through seed books with local farmers who will grow veggies for them.
Some of their product already is available at Premier Gourmet, Guercios and Elm Street Bakery, and
42 North Brewery in East Aurora is using their pickles.
“Big Ditch brought some of their Hayburner IPA over today, so we’re going to make some Hayburner IPA Pickles for them,” RJ said last week. “Lockhouse Distillery is picking up some Bloody Mary Pickles tomorrow.” Nickle’s Pit Barbecue in Watkins Glen is buying pickles brined with Hop Warrior from its companion business, Rooster Fish Brewing Co.
“If breweries want to have an IPA pickle with their beer, we’ll make it,” RJ said.
The BreadHive Worker Cooperative Bakery a couple miles away has been using B+B dill pickle brine to create a “dill pickle rye bread.”
“I don’t know a more close-knit group of people more willing to help new businesses, new restaurants,” than on the West Side and in Buffalo, RJ said.
Learn more about Barrel + Brine at facebook.com/barrelnbrine