Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Morse’s Sauerkraut

Morse’s Sauerkraut is a true Maine tradition.  Just ask David Swetnam and Jacquelyn Saywer, the owner / operators, who purchased Morse’s in the fall of 2000 – tumbling into bed after a cross-country move to Maine, waking on Day One to make saurkraut – and immediately thereafter being inundated with customers – some of whom had been buying their sauerkraut at Morse’s for more than 70 years.

Morse's sign

Morse’s sign

During my Christmas trip to Maine, I had the pleasure of meeting David and Jacquelyn in person, albeit briefly, as Morse’s was packed to the gills with customers at the time.  After their busy holiday season, David was kind enough to talk with me and share their story, which is the one I want to share with you today.

When I originally envisioned this post on Morse’s Sauerkraut, I expected to be writing about the establishment itself, the goods to be purchased there, and their famous sauerkraut.  Instead, while I will touch on these areas (after all, the post would be rather incomplete without them), the story I learned is one that goes to the core of why I started writing this blog; it’s a tale of two people falling back in love with the state of Maine – of feeling drawn to the place, to the people, and ultimately back to their roots.

Both David and Jacque have Maine roots –  Jacque is actually a descendant of Harriet Beecher Stowe – and the German side of David’s family had settled in and around Waldoboro, as many other German immigrants did.  Between 1742 and 1753, roughly 1,000 Germans settled in what was Broad Bay, Massachusetts at that time.  Today, it’s known as Waldoboro, Maine.  The agrarian lifestyle and terrain felt familiar to many of these immigrants, and German Americans can be credited with gifting us with popular American foods including hot dogs, hamburgers, and sauerkraut, in addition to other mainstream traditions including the Christmas tree.

Cheeses, meats, and other tasty treats

Cheeses, meats, and other tasty treats

Despite these deep roots, David and Jacque’s lives and careers as art dealers took them far from Maine and around the world – including time spent in Seattle, Santa Barbara, and even Peru, where they were introduced to a rare breed of dog – which they still keep and raise today.  In 1999, David returned to the East Coast to visit his father, who retired to Massachusetts.  While there, he decided to take a trip up to Maine and revisit some childhood haunts – a trip that would ultimately alter their course – he was so charmed by the state that he made an on-the-spot decision to find a way to move back. Luckily, Jacque was in agreement with him.

Having been entrepreneurs all their lives, he and Jacque began a search for the right business to purchase, and in what can only be described as a twist of fate, stumbled across an ad for Morse’s Sauerkraut.  Intrigued, David took a closer look at the business and called on his 95-year-old Aunt Hazel for a bit of insight.  Her resounding advice was, “Oh David, you have to buy it.  It’s famous all over for its sauerkraut, and your grandfather simply haunted it.”  And buy it they did.

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David and Jacque soon discovered how accurate his aunt’s assessment had been.  In keeping with tradition, they issued a very brief, very small advertisement in the local newspaper.  It read simply – ‘Kraut’s Ready.’  And just like that, customers descended.  Many were of German or other European descent, while others had simply adopted the Morse’s sauerkraut tradition as their own over the years.  Until better cold storage for cabbage was developed, the making of sauerkraut was a seasonal business, with Morse’s opening in October.  This meant immediate gratification for David and Jacque in their first fall as owners of Morse’s Sauerkraut.

As time has gone by, much has changed at this small business. For the first several years, they maintained the business much as it had always been – making and selling sauerkraut being the highlight, in addition to making pickles (Morse’s makes and sells over 100 tons of pickles and 100 tons of sauerkraut per year ).  The transition to being open year-round and selling a wider array of goods occurred very naturally.  First and most importantly, better cold storage for cabbage was developed, making it possible for David and Jacque to make Morse’s famous sauerkraut year-round.  On a side note, nearly all of the cabbage for their sauerkraut is grown on a local, commercial farm in Warren, Maine.  ‘Cabbage central,’ as David called it, is actually in upstate NY today.  With this ability to make and sell sauerkraut all year, other needs become more evident, and through a combination of special orders and initiative, David and Jacque began expanding their product offerings to the variety of goods they sell today- an eye-poppingly colorful display of pickles, relishes, mustards, vinegars, dried German recipe ingredients, German and European candies and cakes, sausages, cheeses, and more.

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While this variety has transformed Morse’s into an even greater resource for the community, their sauerkraut, made with Morse’s secret recipe, is still very much at the core.  Today, they ship to many customers by mail order, while still thousands more venture from all over the country to buy their sauerkraut at Morse’s – they have fans are as California and of course, throughout the Northeast.  In addition, Morse’s distributes their sauerkraut to over 150 stores and restaurants in Maine, while some business owners will drive up from Massachusetts and Connecticut to purchase it to sell in their establishments.

So, what makes Morse’s sauerkraut so special?  Cabbage is incredibly good for you – it is low carb, high fiber, and contains cancer-fighting 3-indole carbinol.  The fermentation process to create sauerkraut amplifies this impact, because the probiotics that drive fermentation support your digestive system, and in combination with the high fiber quality of this food, may even assist in weight loss efforts.  Fermentation also increases the bioavailability of the antioxidants found in cabbage (bioavailability means the availability of nutrients in a food for your body to absorb and use – for more on this topic check out the Bioavailability post on Ann Pierce’s blog).

Head of cabbage

Head of cabbage

However, most commercially sold sauerkraut has been pasteurized and taken out of its natural fermentation liquor, or brine, and then placed in a new brine filled with unhealthy preservatives.  So while flavor already set Morse’s apart, perhaps the most significant difference is that Morse’s sauerkraut has not been pasteurized, which maintains its flavor and texture as well as its healthfulness, and it is sold in its fermentation brine – which essentially means it continues to ferment – and the longer it does this, the more the bioavailability of those nutrients increases.

Vinegars, pickles, relishes, mustards, and more

Vinegars, pickles, relishes, mustards, and more

Over time, David has come to see Morse’s Sauerkraut as a living museum, and he and Jacque as merely the curators for the time being.  Many of their customers and their families have been buying their kraut at Morse’s for many decades – making it not only a very successful small business, but a special tradition.  He hopes, and believes, that the people of Maine, and those across the United States, will continue to return to Morse’s to buy their sauerkraut long after he and Jacque are gone.

I believe he’s right.  Morse’s Sauerkraut is a reflection of the state itself – having stood firm in its traditional operation as a farm stand since 1918, it is a proud and recognizable business that has been open to change while remaining true to its roots.

For more about the history of Morse’s, please visit this link for the history page on their website.  You might learn something unexpected – for example, Virgil Morse, Jr. constructed the current building himself from the ground up!

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3856 Washington Road
North Waldoboro, ME 04572

Phone: 207-832-5569

Email: morses@roadrunner.com


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Something Sweet: The Honey Exchange

At 494 Stevens Avenue in Portland, you will find a bright, inviting yellow house, now home to a business, that simply beckons you inside.  This bright, cheery store is The Honey Exchange, and it offers a wide range of products, including honey and honey bi-products as well as mead, wine, and all décor that is bee-related.  I was charmed the moment I walked through the entry and was welcomed by one of the owner / operators, Meghan Gaven.   She and her husband, Phil, are beekeepers who have turned this retail operation into a place where people of all ages can learn about honey, the bees that make it, watch these bees at work in their Observation Hive, and purchase honey and related goods.

The Honey Exchange

In addition to the storefront aspect of their work, Meghan and Phil, who recently received his Master Beekeeper Certificate, act as connectors and supporters of the local beekeeping community.  People who may not have the space to keep bees, but would like to have the opportunity, as well as those who perhaps have the space and even the hives, but not the desire or time to beekeep, both approach them and the Gavens work to connect these individuals.  They also provide a number of classes, taught in their back room, to educate new beekeepers and others about the care and significance of these special insects and the honey they create.

The Observation Hive!  It has a little outlet through the wall for the bees to venture into the great outdoors.

The Observation Hive! It has a little outlet through the wall for the bees to venture into the great outdoors.

Meghan was friendly, down-to-earth, and took the time to briefly chat with my mother, my sister, and me about their work in beekeeping, extracting honey, and assisting other beekeepers with the extraction process.  They named their establishment The Honey Exchange because it is, in a fundamental sense, an exchange.  They harvest their own honey as well as others, and in return, jar and market the honey, labeling each container with information about the origin of the honey and the bees that made it.  Meghan also spends part of her time educating children about bees and their work, and how critical they are to keeping our world blossoming (pun intended).

An assortment of honey to taste!  Check out all of the different colors - a result of the bees and what type of flower or plant they took nectar from!

An assortment of honey to taste! Check out all of the different colors – a result of the bees and what type of flower or plant they took nectar from!

Like most of you, I have appreciated honey for a long time – using it to sweeten coffee and tea, smearing it on toast with butter and cinnamon, and even mixing it with soy sauce to make a sweet sauce for beets.  In addition to being tasty and natural (a vast improvement over Splenda and other manmade sweeteners), one of the things I love about honey is its nutritional benefit; as a natural anti-inflammatory, honey is an excellent addition to the diet of a runner like me.  To learn more about honey and its nutritional benefits, check out this blog entry by Anne Pierce, a Master Nutritionist in Denver, CO.  Because this nutritional benefit is important to me, I feel compelled to share one of the more surprising things I learned from Meghan: she recommended that I look closely at the label when purchasing honey – because some products that are labeled “honey” may have very little honey – or absolutely no honey – in them at all!  Natural honey, particularly some types, tends to crystallize quickly – so some manufacturers use a very minimal amount of real honey in their “honey” products to prolong its syrupy texture and appearance.  My recommendation: buy your honey from a reputable, local source… like The Honey Exchange.

My first venture into The Honey Exchange took place during a Thanksgiving trip to Maine in 2011, shortly after they opened.  My mother has raved about it to me many times and she promised to take me in.  When I began this blog, I knew I wanted to feature The Honey Exchange (and places like it), so I returned during our Christmas trip to gain the additional information I needed.  The Honey Exchange is an excellent representation of a Maine entrepreneurial endeavor – its owners, Phil and Meghan Gaven, make their living as owners of this small business – a business that not only contributes to the economy, but also serves an important environmental need by promoting the beekeeping industry and educating people about bees, these unique insects that truly make our world go round.  A perfect example of the significance of bees in pollinating our world relates to the Maine blueberry industry – it takes 50,000 hives to pollinate Maine’s 60,000 plus acres of wild blueberries (because this number is so high, many hives actually have to be trucked in from out-of-state).  For more on the Maine blueberry, see my HoME Grown post here.

Assortment of wines and mead

Assortment of wines and mead

I highly recommend venturing in to see this wonderful store – you will have a chance to support the local economy and learn about the important role bees play in our day-to-day life.  It’s bigger than we realize, and we could all take a lesson from this approach to life – do something you are called to do, however simple or complex, work hard at it, and prosperity will follow.

Learn more about The Honey Exchange online at thehoneyexchange.com or reach them by phone at 207.773.9333.

A very cute bee!

A very cute bee!