Meet Sierra Sparks, Hart’s Culinary Service Team Lead

August 23, 2016

Tomorrow evening, Sierra Sparks will be sharing her knowledge and love for pickling during “Pickling with Hart’s.”. We thought we’d introduce her to you today, let her tell you the story of the time she made 90 jars of pickles (that’s a lot a pickles), and share with you a little bit about what’s in store during tomorrow’s class.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in California and was raised in Fairport NY. I just recently moved to Rochester and am happy to now be within walking distance to work. I’m passionate about people, food, and art. I love good conversations and listening to stories…which is why I’m obsessed with podcasts, Radiolab or Snap Judgement being my top faves.

How were you introduced to Hart’s?

My parents! I was without a job for a long while after I had finished a culinary internship on a farm right after finishing my degree at Alfred University.  They had seen and heard advertisements about this new grocery store that was about to open and they encouraged me to attend the open interview. So I did!

What are you most passionate about in regards to food?

I love the many facets of food and what it’s capable of, but I would like to think I am most passionate about fresh and local food (without the use of chemicals). The taste is so different and the nutritional value is so much higher. There is so much satisfaction in pulling root vegetables from the ground and eating them the same day.

How did you get into pickling?

A friend of mine from college. Alfred is a tiny town in Allegheny County, NY and our senior year was the first year that the town put on a weekly farmer’s market. We were so excited. I had found this amazing apartment that year with a huge kitchen and I knew I wanted to take advantage. My friend Kait and I decided to make pickles using all the local produce we ended up with from the market. The process was long and took me all night, but the results made it worth all the while. I continued to make pickles throughout the year as often as I could…giving most of the batch away to friends and teachers. Pickling had made such an impact on me and my creative practice that I couldn’t not include them in my senior thesis show. My dad came to help me and we made a little under 90 jars of pickles, all using the water bath process. It was nuts, but it was what I loved.

What surprised you most when you started pickling?

How delicious they could be and that others enjoyed them too.

What can people expect in the picking class?

I think people can expect to learn about some of the types of food preservation while getting hands on experience making quick pickles. I hope to encourage others to continue to engage in the delicious world of handcrafted food products, no matter the size of your kitchen!

What is your favorite recipe?

This is one of my favorites, and the time of year is nearly perfect for this meal. Once it gets a little colder I suggest making this dish and pairing it with some warm fresh bread or warm polenta.

Ratatouille, from The Moosewood Cookbook

3 Tb olive oil
4 med cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped onion
1 bay leaf
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp basil
1 tsp marjoram or oregano
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp thyme
2 medium zucchini, cubed
2 medium bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (with juice)
black pepper
fresh minced parsley (optional)
sliced olives (optional)
fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a deep pan. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
2. Add eggplant, salt and herbs and stir. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until eggplant is soft.
3. Add zucchini, bell peppers, black pepper, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for about 10 more minutes, or until zucchini and bell peppers are tender.
4. Top with grated parmesan cheese or sliced olives. (Serve with warm bread or warm polenta!)

p.s. The first 5 people to register for tomorrow’s class will get a $10 gift card from Hart’s to stock up on local veggies to pickle at home! Register here.

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