Local Food Matters
by Mary Rosewood
You can sample Becky’s Berries at the Copper Moose in Livingston.
Becky Stahl still stirs all her popular jellies, jams, and syrups by hand. She started Becky’s Berries in 2007 in her home kitchen in Absarokee, and now she’s hard at work in a slightly bigger stand-alone kitchen — 14 feet by 20 feet — that her husband built. Becky plans to move into a larger space in the coming year.
I first met Becky several years ago at the farmers market in Billings. Then I saw her at the Made in Montana Tradeshow, then other farmers markets, and most recently at the Montana Food Show. I don’t think it’s possible to go to a food event in Montana and not see Becky’s cheerful face behind rows of sparkling jars of her delectable products. She loves meeting her customers. And if she steps away on a break, you can count on her loyal and equally friendly husband, Tim, to take her place. He’ll make sure you’re sampling everything.
Tim also helps with cooking, packaging, labeling, and anything else that needs doing. “I couldn’t do the business without him,” Becky told me.
Becky used to pick many of the wild ingredients, such as chokecherries, juneberries, buffalo berries, and wild plums. Now that the business has grown, Hutterite women gather these ingredients for her. Becky said she gets huckleberries wherever she can since she doesn’t personally know anyone who picks them.
Someone else mixes the 3 creamed honey blends, but Becky is totally in charge of her other products: 5 varieties of jams, 4 wild-berry jellies, 4 jalapeno jellies, 2 chipotle glazes, 2 syrups, and 1 barbecue sauce. Becky promises that new things are in development.
With so much stock at hand, Becky said her personal favorite is the Pineapple Jalapeno Jelly, which she puts on chicken and fish as a glaze. Her customers love the Wild Huckleberry Jam, as well as the Chuckleberry Jam, a mixture of chokecherries, huckleberries, and raspberries. But really picking a customer favorite?
“Golly, it’s hard,” Becky said. “There’s our Strawberry Rhubarb and our Traffic Jam [raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries]. And the most popular jalapeno jelly is the Road Rage [jalapenos, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries].
I don’t know if it’s the name or the jam, but they love it.”
“And people really love the barbecue sauce,” Becky added. “Once they try it, they say they can’t use any other barbecue sauce. I let them buy a bottle, and next time they see me, they grab three bottles because they don’t want to run out.”
Becky said her goal is to sell to local people, which means getting her products into grocery stores and popular shops. Then the locals recommend the products to their visiting friends, and you get everyone buying. “If you’re going to sell to local people, you’d better have a good product,” Becky said.
When I asked Becky what the most favorite part of her job is, she said, “I love my customers. I love going to shows and meeting new people and seeing returning customers. But I love to cook, too. When I cook, I don’t have to think.” Her long hours at the stove turn into a kind of meditation, far away from answering email and making business decisions.
In Livingston, you can find Becky’s Berries at the Copper Moose Oil & Vinegar Tap House at 316 East Park Street.
When I asked owner Kim Bonnell how well Becky’s Berries products are selling, she grinned and said, “Fabulous!” Then she added, “They sell themselves. When someone tries them, they’re sold immediately.” Kim said she keeps busy refilling the samples she offers.
The creamed honey, particularly the huckleberry flavor, is the most popular with Kim’s customers, along with Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and Wild Chokecherry Syrup (which Montanans know is wonderful on pancakes and ice cream). The pepper jellies are also top favorites, especially the Pineapple Jalapeno Jelly.
“People keep coming back because they know it’s a great product,” Kim said.