Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:00 PM
Lee Juillerat/For the Capital Press
Gary Zieg, the mayor of Malin, Ore., shows off some of his pickled vegetables, which have grown into a business under the Crater Lake Specialty Foods label.
'I thought these darn things tasted pretty good,' Zieg says
By LEE JUILLERAT
For the Capital Press
MALIN, Ore. -- For the past decade, Gary Zieg has been best known in Malin, a Southern Oregon city of about 800, as its mayor. In recent years, he's become increasingly known in and out of town for producing spicy canned vegetables.
Zieg's change in status began in the fall of 2009. His home garden produced so many beans that he and his wife, Jane, weren't sure what to do until his son, a chef also named Gary, suggested they pickle them and eat them over the winter.
"Having a chef in our midst, who really understands spices and herbs, is a great advantage," he said, referring to his son.
Zieg thought the result was delicious. Curious to learn what others thought, he took jars of his homemade spicy pickled beans to Malin's Christmas Bazaar.
"I thought these darn things tasted pretty good so I decided to take them and see if people liked them," he said.
The small supply sold quickly. Surprisingly, the jars he sent to a friend at a Willamette Valley casino led to an order for 1,500 jars. Suddenly, what began as tasty way to use excess beans grew into Crater Lake Specialty Foods, a family business that now produces a variety of hand-packed products -- the original spicy pickled beans, jalapeno pickled asparagus, spicy pickled asparagus, spicy pickled celery and spicy mixed vegetables -- in 8- and 16-ounce jars for $3 to $10 each.
"They are simply vegetables in a unique brine known only to three people," he said, noting the all-natural products have no sugars, fats, cholesterol, artificial flavors or preservatives.
With success came a need to complete the necessary regulatory hoops. Zieg, 75, who works part-time as a potato inspector for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and "young Gary," 52, completed courses through Oregon State University's Better Process Control School.
"There's a lot to it," Zieg said of preparing their products for sale in stores and farmers' markets. "We didn't know what we were getting into."
The family garden has been supplemented with beans and other vegetables from suppliers.
Crater Lake Specialty Food products are sold at grocery stores in Southern Oregon, Ray's Markets in Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley while unlabeled canning jars are sold at farmer's markets.
"We haven't tried to promote it a lot," Zieg said, noting his family is unsure how large they hope to grow the business. "At this point I really don't know."
When selling at farmers' markets, Zieg estimates four of every five tasters end up buying a jar or more. He cooks the vegetables just enough to retain the crispness.
"This stuff has a nice crunch to it," Zieg said, noting they can be eaten alone, on veggie trays or in salads. "It seems to have a flavor everybody loves."
Crater Lake Specialty Foods