There aren’t many places where you can acquire a pickling crock, bubble gum ingredients, something called dried mugwort, and find yourself in line with a local goat owner and an elderly winemaker.
A more traditional store likely wouldn’t recognize its customers’ inklings to turn pork bellies into bacon or to watch their milk curdle.
But in the mail room of a tidy shop in northeast Ohio, stacks of packages are ready to be shipped to people near and far who are clamoring to know how their food came to be.
Leeners, operated by Eileen and Jim Leverentz, is reintroducing consumers to food processes that have been absent from most home kitchens for decades.
That includes curing meat, pressing cider, making yogurt and everything in between.
“There are people who do it for fun and people who do it for necessity and in between there’s a group of experimenters, and they just want to try it. And that’s the biggest growing group,” said Jim.
With peculiar bottles and labware and unheard of ingredients, Leeners is part grocery store, part apothecary shop.
“We’re teaching the traditional methods that were used before mass production,” Jim said.
After all, you can make beer better than you can buy it, he says, and “If you make good wine, you’ll always have a lot of friends.” Families with a pet goat have discovered that cheese making is a useful skill, and soldiers living abroad have found that if they want root beer, they had better learn to make it themselves. It’s almost solely an American product.
With a food scientist on staff, Leeners has developed kits that will allow a 6-year-old to make bubble gum or more mature customers to bottle their own wine.
“We’ve got winemakers in their 90s,” Jim said.
He refers to the store’s brand of You Make It kits as “turnkey cookbooks.” They’re not mixes, he emphasizes, rather they’re prepackaged raw ingredients with simple instructions. The store also provides free how-to videos and recipes on its website,
Ever since he visited a cheese factory as a child, Jim has had a fascination with food production. Fermented foods are of particular interest and represent many of the store’s kits, including corned beef, beverages, cheese, vinegar and sourdough bread.
But as he followed his food at an early age, others were already beginning to lose the connection between their meal and its beginnings.
“When I was in grade school, it was an issue. A lot of urban dwellers thought milk came from a carton at a grocery store,” he said. And in many modern products, the origin of ingredients can be even harder to decipher.
“Show someone an ear of corn and a Dorito and ask them the relationship,” he said.
But consumer curiosity about food is on an upswing. Jim can tell in which areas of the country peppers are ripening based on the orders that come in for hot sauce kits. The whole foods movement, which emphasizes unprocessed ingredients, is driving consumers to take food production into their own hands. While Jim grows some of his own food (cabbage is a must for his homemade sauerkraut), he notes fresh ingredients are easy to come by.
“If you’ve got a local farmers market, you’ve got whole foods,” he said.
Jim admits it’s inconvenient to wait a week for homemade soda to carbonate, and it takes forethought to start your corned beef weeks ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. But, he says, it’s how children and adults alike gain patience and knowledge, and there is a certain pride in it all.
“The old ways are sometimes the best way,” he said.
9293 Olde Eight Rd.