There are some who take the phrase “cottage food industry” very seriously. Becky Battle of Thyme to Garnish is one of those. She and daughter Lindsey Conway create, mix and package their herb and spice blends in the light-filled kitchen of Battle’s Candler Park bungalow.
The assembly line is a long counter under a bank of windows. Making their Sorta Spicy Very Veggie mix requires eight stainless steel bowls in varying sizes. One large bowl is filled with dehydrated onion, and another with a mix of dehydrated red and green bell peppers. Smaller bowls have dehydrated jalapeno or cumin. Battle stands at one end, pops open a bag and starts scooping from each bowl, moving down the line. At the end, the bags are passed along to whoever’s helping with packaging.
One day, it’s Beth Grashof sealing bags and adding the printed labels and raffia bows that are a Thyme to Garnish signature touch. Another day might find Linda and Rudy Massengill working. “Our friends love to help,” Battle said with a laugh. “We pay them with dinner and wine.”
Every bag is hand-filled, hand-labeled and, sometimes, hand-delivered. Battle and Conway sell the mixes online, and at big neighborhood events, such as the Candler Park Fall Festival and the Virginia-Highland Summerfest. If you order online and live nearby, they will deliver their products.
It was Battle’s onion dip mix that inspired this home business. She was working at a Virginia-Highland herb and spice store, and one day got a craving for onion dip. “We had a bag of potato chips in the kitchen and some sour cream in the fridge,” she recalled. “I took a bowl and went around the shop putting together a variety of onion seasonings. By the time I was through, I had seven different allium products in there. Writing it down as a I went, tweaking it a bit, I mixed it with sour cream and served it to my co-workers. I had a hit!”
The shop’s manager, Laurel Jacobs, suggested they put it out by the cash register, so customers could sample. And, they all loved it. The corporate office liked it, too, and now her creation is on the company’s roster of products.
“When that store location closed, it was my opportunity to take my recipe, make it my own, and start my company,” Battle said.
Battle has loved cooking since she was 13, when her very first project was baking a cake from scratch with a recipe from McCall’s magazine. It was her love of McCall’s that got her the job in the herb and spice shop.
“I was retired from the commercial nuclear power industry and looking for something to do part-time,” she said. “I saw a sign in their window and applied. When I told Laurel I started reading McCall’s for the paper dolls, and then started noticing the recipes, she burst out laughing and I was hired.”
With its 450 products, the shop was a playground for Battle, and has continued to inspire her mixes. Ingredients like white wine vinegar powder and Dijon mustard powder make it possible to incorporate these flavors into a dried spice and herb mix.
Thyme to Garnish may have started with her Loaded Onion Mix, but she and Conway quickly added flavors, such as Sorta Spicy Very Veggie, Call Me Corny and Here’s the Rub. Their latest creation is Rippin’ Ranch. “Mix it with buttermilk and sour cream, and you have that traditional ranch dressing, but it works great sprinkled on corn on the cob or popcorn, and it’s delicious used to season chicken,” Battle said.
Suggesting nontraditional uses for their products is one of the things Battle and Conway enjoy most. Battle’s love of cooking, and Conway’s culinary training, have resulted in recipes such as Call Me Corny Chowder With Shrimp and Dukka-Spiced Black Bean Patties, all posted on their website.
They’re considering developing an Asian blend that would include wasabi powder and black and white sesame seeds. “And I’m dying to do a curry blend with coconut milk powder,” Battle said. “But, we want to grow slowly. We don’t need to go so big and complicated that it’s overwhelming to manage.”
Selling at festivals and farmers markets is hard work, but the customer response makes it all worthwhile. “You have to pitch your tent and arrange your products, then you’re on your feet all day, smiling and talking to people for hours and hours on end,” Battle said. “But, when people like what you’re doing, and turn into repeat customers, it’s a great feeling.”
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