A talent that sticks
Linda Lee Alley, a native Islander, has been making and selling her New Lane Sundries for 20 years. The business was born in August of 1988 after she had been working at the Homeport Restaurant for two decades. "I had never gone to the Farmer's Market and it's a minute from my house," she remembers. "One Saturday I went and thought that everyone looked like they were having fun. I said to myself 'I can do this. I'm tired of being a waitress.' I whipped up some jelly and I did pretty well the next week. I only had a few recipes at the time, but I just kept adding on. Now I have over twenty varieties."
Between her years of experience and her friendly nature, it is no wonder that she greets many of her customers by name as they stroll into her shop. "I loved doing it from the start and I still do," she says.
Once again you can find Ms. Alley's delicious jellies, jams, marmalades, and mustards at The Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop in Brickman's Basement located in Vineyard Haven. Although she sells her products throughout the year, this approach makes her condiments easily available as holiday gifts. The shop is run much like a co-op - the craftspeople share everything from cost, to insurance, to advertising, to shifts working the store. "It is a good system," says Ms. Alley.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Producing her goods out of her kitchen, which is certified by the Board of Health, Ms. Alley has mastered her technique. No one else samples her recipes as she creates them. When she invents a new flavor, she brings it to the Farmer's Market and lets the people try it. It's trial and error.
She can make a batch of jam, which produces nine jars, in half an hour. The jars are neatly decorated with fabrics and bows matching the season in which they are being sold. Of her packaging skills, she says, "I'm really fast - I can case 12 jars in three minutes."
Ms. Alley has built up quite a clientele over the years. Despite selling her products seasonally at the Farmer's Market, and in local stores such as Cronig's and Vineyard Gourmet, many clients still call her up to place orders. She keeps busy shipping packages all over the country. She is happy to say that her business supports her and allows her to support her home, which is the one she grew up in. She notes that her next step is to create a website, but for now she is happy to have finally invested in a credit card machine.
As to her bestseller, Ms. Alley doesn't hesitate to declare, "The Zinfandel Chili Jam is the absolute favorite." She herself enjoys the savory jelly with crackers and cheese, or with baked Brie and puffed pastry. Other longtime favorites include Jalapeno Jelly and Ginger Pear Marmalade. As for her mustards, the most popular is Horse Radish Garlic, which is great with roast beef, mixed with sour cream and used on prime rib, or spread on a ham sandwich.
Ms. Alley's recipes are not handed down from a distant generation. They are all her own creations. Ms. Alley rattles off a recipe to her Ginger Pear Marmalade: "Two whole chopped lemons, five cups of chopped pears, lemon juice, crystallized and raw ginger, and about seven cups of sugar." Many clients and fans of her sundries ask Ms. Alley to make sugar-free options, but she has yet to find a recipe she likes. Ms. Alley is not one to compromise a good product: "I am very proud of my product. It is cutesy, a good price, and it tastes really good."
But Ms. Alley does not shy away from experimentation, combining different fruits throughout the year depending on what's in season. She's done a cherry/pineapple combination, and in June and July she makes a jelly from the beach roses she collects along State Beach. She smiles when she says that her Exquisite Rose Petal Jelly "comes out that beautiful pink color of the roses and tastes just like it smells."
Ms. Alley's condiments sell for $6 at the Holiday Gift Shop. Along with the individual jars for sale, she offers gift baskets, ranging from $10.95 to $34.95. All of her products are processed and have a shelf life of one year, but once they're in the fridge, "they're probably fine forever," Ms. Alley says.
Holiday Gift Store is open daily from 10 am-6 pm through December 24th. Jelly orders can also be placed year-round by calling 508-693-9561.
Dena Ventura is a freelance writer for The Martha's Vineyard Times.