a crunchy transition

Back in 2015, when good phyte foods just began the transition from a dream to something vaguely resembling a business, crackers were a fundamental part of the mission.  They allowed us to be creative with flavors using different vegetables and herbs in season, giving us an array of products with different phytonutrient profiles, and a satisfying, thin crunch that might — just MIGHT — become a more nutritious alternative to gold fish crackers for the kids we watched growing around us. We experimented again and again with combinations of various organic seeds, trying to achieve the perfect, lasting crunch (meaning one that would not be victim to Virginia summer humidity) while maximizing protein and healthy fats. We consulted with food scientist at Virginia Tech, whose immense knowledge crushed our high hopes of achieving a completely grain-free cracker, as she advised that a low-fat grain was needed in sufficient quantity to compensate for the natural oils in flax and pumpkin seeds. 

So, we set forth on a path to create a suite of different flavors rotating through the seasons, using a standard formula of three organic seeds, including millet. We even tried a couple shorter-lived flavors like spinach & tarragon, and I rocked out in the kitchen with my grandmother Margaret’s rolling pin day two or three afternoons a week. Once the labels were approved by Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS), we even developed some wholesale accounts. 

The problem, however, is that these crackers are a true labor of love. Once the dough is made (a seed-grinding and vegetable-blending process that takes about an hour from start to finish), the ensuing rolling, baking, and cooling could take four to five hours per batch, yielding somewhere between 18 and 20 bags. Inevitably, we lose up to 10% to over-cooking, which made my husband happy, since those were the only ones he got to eat. Such a time consuming product would be fine if we could charge $9 per bag (a price point that makes me cringe, even with the knowledge that certified organic seeds and quality local vegetables are not cheap). Pricing aside, we have no interest in specializing in crackers if it means all our kitchen time is consumed with their production, at the expense of things like granola, or bars, which are actually more in demand by our customers. Try as we might, there seemed no way to streamline the process in a home kitchen context without cutting corners on the quality. But wait.

Along comes 2018, and the diversification into fresh salads changes everything. In the quest to create a substantial crouton that was vegan, grain-free, and flavorful, the proton was born. Shortly after Erin Kath was hired as our first employee, we set to developing a formula for a whole-seed, protein-rich cracker that was substantial enough to be doused with dressing and not wilt like a petunia. The other requirement: it could NOT compete for oven time. Thankfully, when our kitchen underwent some renovations last summer, I created a space on the counter specifically measured to accommodate our dehydrator, which had previously been relegated to the (relatively clean but also relatively far away) basement. 

Though we are no means “finished” with tweaking the proton, we have (I think?) successfuly recreated at least three of our original cracker flavors in this new format. Now, we combine the vegetables, herbs, and spices with a heartier array of five high quality (still organic) seeds, including hemp and chia. This gives them a nutritional boost and makes them accessible to folks on a grain-free diet. 

Thus, this fall we are winding down production of our traditional crackers, and will only be making a few for our existing retail partners like The Juice Laundry, until we can get the labels finalized and approved for our protons.  We welcome any feedback you may have during this process, including the flavors you’d like to see, or places you’d like to be able to buy protons in the future. Email us with your comments at goodphytefoods(at)gmail.com.

Thanks for your support, ideas, and understanding as we continue to towards true sustainability as a mission-driven business. You are, and always will be, the most important ingredient.  That sounds like a horror film, but you know what I mean… 



awesome allium crackers

Looking for a new flavor to fill the void of mid-spring, when the previous fall’s stored butternut wanes and we don’t yet have local broccoli for croccolis, I started playing around with what is abundant and nutritionally so important this time of year– Alliums!  Spring’s rainy weather and temperature swings can make us all vulnerable to colds, and alliums like onions and garlic offer proven immune-boosting properties, helping inhibit inflammation. I won’t bore you with the details of why alliums are awesome here, but you can read more about the benefits of onions in a quick summary by Care2.

I use spring onions and green garlic (currently from Bellair Farm) in this recipe, roasting them lightly to enrich the flavors. I suspect I’ll probably continue to tweak the spices this season to find the perfect flavor combination, but here is the present ingredient list:

golden flax seeds*, millet*, sunflower seeds*, locally grown spring onions (Allium x proliferum), green garlic, water, dates*, unfiltered apple cider vinegar*, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, cumin*, black pepper*, turmeric*,  brown mustard*

           (*certified organic)

a craft brew cracker? hill yeah!

You know the deal. You go out to meet up with some friends after finally agreeing on place, and though you arrive “not really hungry,” time goes by, and eventually you start feeling a little nibbly. Not steak house buffet kind of hungry, but definitely in need of something more substantial than those Goldfish crackers you see poking out of your friend’s kid-bag, or the mints you think you might have out in the car. This is why we love having our crackers at Random Row Brewery.  They go well with anything, are portable, and are nutritionally balanced, with vegan protein from organic seeds, and packed with vegetables from local farms.

But when you’re pairing crackers with your favorite brew (for me it’s whatever genius combination Mountain Culture Kombucha can come up with), maybe you don’t always want flavors that are too nuanced. Maybe you just want a “regular” cracker, like a Wheat Thin, Triscuit, Saltine, or any of the myriad brands you grew up loving for their salty plain-ness and ability to reliably serve as a medium for scooping or spreading other stuff.  Little soapbox segue here: did you know that all those crackers are brands of Mondelez International, which also owns Cadbury, Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Nilla Wafers, Nutter Butter, and dozens of other candy and junk food brands? Mondelez International spent almost $3.4 million lobbying congress between 2012-2016, and you can bet it wasn’t advocating for stricter guidelines on marketing sugar to kids (source: Center for Responsive Politics).

Fortunately, our friends at Random Row are equally committed to supporting local food enterprises like ours, and wanted to expand our partnership. As conversations evolved, it became obvious that the perfect cracker to accompany beer would (duh) have beer in it.  So I went home with a growler of Comfortably Numb IPA and set to work, using my standard mix of organic seeds to make the base of the cracker:

I shared the product of this new concoction (beer cracker v1.0) with some friends at (you guessed it) Random Row on a Sunday evening, garnering positive feedback.  After many of my own samplings and debriefing with manager Zac Culbertson, we concluded that the black pepper was a little too much, and that there was a slight bitter aftertaste. The next week, I made another version, this time removing flax altogether, suspecting that it might be responsible.  I was wrong, and the resulting cracker was extremely brittle, with none of the binding properties that flax lends. And still a little too bitter.

So I went back to the drawing board, and incorporated some freshly baked butternut squash (from Double H Farm), and swapping out the hoppier Comfortably Numb for The Hill, a lager with a little richer flavor. Bingo! The yeasty smell of the crackers baking is divine!

Starting this week, you can find our new ‘craft brew cracker’ at Random Row’s Brewery on Preston Avenue, and pair it with your favorite beer, local Caromont Farm cheese, spread from Timbercreek Market, or your own BYO dip. Cheers, ya’ll!

butternut & sage crackers

I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with this one for a while now, waiting until an appropriately autumnal time. My husband and I have always grown butternut in our gardens (as I noted in last week’s primal pumpkin spice muffin post, they are as vigorous as they are delicious). In the good ol’ days (when buying bananas at a grocery store seemed a little colonial and gluttonous) we were more loyal locavores, and relied on the sweet hearty squashes to help feed us through the winter. I would slice the neck across into a series of 1/2 thick circles, line them in a glass baking dish, and chop a couple fistfuls of fresh sage. I would spread the sage on the top along with sea salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, baking until the edges of the circles (the skin) was crunchy and the interior soft and creamy.  That warmth, aroma, and flavor was what I wanted to replicate in cracker form. These come close, and the curry I added (just because) really comes through. A slight creaminess is courtesy of that mysterious property of a good butternut to resemble, well, butter.

#vegan #gluten-free #vitaminA

Ingredients:  locally grown butternut squash, organic millet, organic flax seeds, organic raw sunflower seeds, organic apple cider vinegar, filtered water, organic dates, locally grown apples, himalayan pink salt,  fresh sage, organic curry

pesto crackers

with fresh garlic, swiss chard, and organic golden flax

Since first bartering with Ben at Little Hat Creek Farm for basil in June 2015, I had an itch to invent a crisp cracker with the intense flavor of pesto. After a couple hours at the city pool the next day, I whipped up a mini-batch test version of these just in time for dinner (bartered Twin Oaks vegetarian chorizo with sauteed onions and greens), and was lucky enough to catch them before burning while juggling everything else. They were an instant hit as we ate them still warm, even with Fionn, who tasted one and asked for another with a mouth still stuffed with the first one.

I’m particularly excited  to include authentic Spanish smoked paprika sea salt from Spanish Food Works in these crackers. Jane Gregg, the maven of la comida de España behind Spanish Food Works, bartered her smoked pimentón salt for crackers during the soggy Saturday storm at City Market in summer 2015, and I suspected it would work well with the basil and garlic. A year later, I’ve made a few tweaks to the original test recipe, I can say that these are now ridiculously tasty and honestly nutritious. Welcome back, basil season!

Local producers: Spanish Food Works (smoked pimentón), Little Hat Creek Farm & Brightwood Vineyard & Farm (basil), Avant Gardens (fresh garlic)

Ingredients: organic golden flax, organic millet, organic raw sunflower seeds, filtered water, fresh basil, Swiss chard, organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar, organic dates, locally grown garlic, organic extra virgin olive oil, smoked pimenton flor de sal, smoked paprika

“the croccoli” cracker with fresh ginger & roasted garlic

Maybe it’s the obligatory recovery period after the Christmas and New Year holiday that’s made me crave green stuff lately, even more than usual. But cold raw salads are not exactly compelling when the temperatures finally start feeling wintry.  I want huge platters of steamed green stuff slathered in some kind of goopy brown garlic sauce a la American Chinese food, in the excessive quantity only an American can appreciate.

Thus, the croccoli was born– a crunchy cracker not shy on nutty broccoli flavor, but matched with fresh ginger and some roasted garlic.

Broccoli is a “no-brainer” health food, packed with compounds found to fight cancer, and in combination particularly effective at detoxifying the body. Read more about that at one of my favorite no-frills nutrition sites, World’s Healthiest Foods.  The croccoli will be available at City Market, The Juice Laundry, and other select retail locations throughout the spring (May-June), and late fall.

ingredients: organic golden flax, locally grown broccoli, organic millet, organic raw sunflower seeds, filtered water, organic dates, Braggs raw apple cider vinegar,  roasted locally grown garlic, fresh ginger, himalayan pink salt

beet thins

These crackers were first inspired by a millet cracker recipe in Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food (page 509). As I gushed in my book review back in March, I adore the book’s simple, practical language, and brief, to-the-point recipes. Her style makes it easy to experiment, using her recipes as templates from which to swap ingredients and play around a little with flavors. Some of my experiments are abject failures.  This one is, hands, down, my favorite cracker. Ever.

After making a few batches of these beet crackers with millet and pumpkin seeds (falling quickly in love), I swapped in quinoa, which I have since stopped using because the deep earthy grain flavor overshadowed the other subtle flavors.  The beets (which I’ve sourced from several farms, including Broadhead Mountain Farm, Double H Farm, Lettuce Grow Farm, and Bellair Farm) and figs combine with rosemary and sea salt to generate a sweet and savory quality without any added sweeteners. After making these with local pastured butter for many weeks, I responded to requests for a dairy-free cracker and managed to create a vegan version that should still satisfy crunch-craver. No one wants something that called itself a cracker when the crunch factor just doesn’t hold up to expectation.

These are tasty on their own and even better with some Caromont Farm goat cheese. A groggy post-nap Fionn gobbled several after sneaking them from the still-warm cookie sheet on top of the oven. Enjoy, and thanks for the inspiration, Ruth!

Ingredients: locally grown beets, organic golden flax, organic millet, organic pumpkin seeds, organic dried figs, himalayan pink salt, lemon juice, fresh rosemary

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el cuatro (four seed roasted red pepper cracker)

I have been looking forward to the full swing of red pepper season, and here we are in mid-late August with the staff at Whisper Hill Farm‘s market stand nearly begging people to buy whole flats of the things.  I took them up on the offer last Saturday, bartering a four-pack of superstar omega bars to keep those hard-working ladies fueled as they packed up after market.

On Monday, a visit from the woman who must be the most self-sacrificing friend in the universe found us, with our collective clan of three boys, in our garden. You know that point in late afternoon, about an hour after waking naptime, when toys start to be used a little too aggressively, evidenced by balls hurling through the air, yelps that “so and so hit me with the book,” etc.? At that point, you know you missed some magic window in which smarter moms would have proactively transitioned everyone to an outside activity. Oops. I had been waiting for my first delivery from bulk distributor Dutch Valley Foods, headed my way on a tractor trailer with a vague ETA. Awaiting a call from the driver when he got close, we headed out to the garden. Fionn was eager to show his friends Carter (5yo) and Alan (3yo) how to pick tomatoes, which he is quick to remind you that he doesn’t like (“they are too squirby for me”), but respects simply because red, he now repeatedly declares, is his favorite color.

Carter had the idea to make a salad, so I offered the challenge to see how many colors we could find for it. The eager team waded from tomatoes to peppers to beets to carrots, through knee-high weeds in what other people might refer to as a “lawn.” We got a meager but respectable haul, and I used some of their very carefully-harvested cherry tomatoes (and basil) in the dough mixture.

These crunchy crackers are packed with Vitamin A and C from ripe red peppers and cherry tomatoes, but also chock full of nutritious seeds, including flax and chia.

Ingredients: roasted red peppers (Whisper Hill Farm), organic millet, organic flax seeds, organic raw sunflower seeds, cherry tomato, organic chia seeds, filtered water, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic dates, organic apple cider vinegar, sea salt, roasted garlic, fresh basil, smoked paprika, cayenne