BY TARA TAFT / PHOTOS BY BETTY LIU
A smoky sweetness emanates from the peach and cherry chutney I’m tasting. The smokiness is subtle, the cherry flavor bold, fresh and a little tart—not too sweet and not at all salty. Celeste Croxton-Tate of Lyndigo Spice says it took her about six months to figure out how to get the smoky flavor into the cherries without the bitterness she found in smoked spices or the strong flavor in liquid smoke.
“I woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m going to smoke the peaches!’” she says. Using a perforated pan and a little ingenuity, she created a chutney with complex flavors but simple and natural ingredients. Especially good with a sharp cheddar cheese, Celeste says, “It took some time to figure out how long to smoke the peaches, but I got it.”
The Spicy Peach & Cherry Chutney is just one of Lyndigo Spice’s products. All four chutneys, three relishes, two fruit spreads and one spice rub are made with organic and fair trade ingredients whenever possible, and according to Celeste, they’re “full of flavor with a spicy attitude.” They’re also low in sugar and in sodium, according to Celeste, to accommodate her family’s health and dietary needs. “I wanted to make products my family could eat.”
During the day Celeste cooks, but at night, she is a Boston police officer. She currently works the night shift, and cooking is how she decompresses from the stresses of her job. The other night, there was a shooting just 45 minutes after she got to work at 11:45pm, she says. “I leave all of that at work, and I come home and cook.”
Celeste learned how to use different spices and different types of herbs while growing up in Roxbury, where her neighbors’ culinary roots were places such as Mississippi, Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Kitt’s and Cape Verde. According to Celeste, “It was a culture fest every day.” The neighborhood was a community, she says; everybody always had their doors open and were watching everyone else’s kids. “I was always sitting in someone’s kitchen,” she says. “It always smelled so good.”
When Celeste was about 11 or 12, she began cooking recipes she found in her favorite magazine, Elle. Her mother loved her wild-rice-stuffed Cornish game hens so much she asked Celeste to make them for dinner every Sunday night for several months. Celeste continued to cook into her adult years. “My first marriage wasn’t great so I would cook,” she says, but it wasn’t until 2006 that at the urging of friends, she started a catering business. Unfortunately, the recession hit, and soon her would-be clients were having potluck suppers instead of catered dinners. Though Celeste quit the catering business, her former clients continued to ask where they could buy the pineapple chutney she served with her Jamaican jerk chicken. Finally, in 2014, Celeste began selling her pineapple chutney commercially.
“The hardest part of this whole thing was doing the formulas, because I never write anything down,” she says. Made with pineapple, sweet onions, ginger, curry and chili spice, Celeste likes to serve her Pineapple Chutney instead of mayonnaise and mustard with lamb burgers, goat cheese, mint and arugula on sandwiches with jerk turkey, or with collard greens. She’s even been known to eat it on ice cream. “My girlfriend eats the Pineapple Chutney out of the jar,” she says. “I get a lot of inspiration from the Caribbean. Everything is so fresh.”
Celeste’s husband loves barbecue but his hypertension requires a lower-sodium diet than most barbecue dishes allow, so Celeste created a low-sodium paprika-based spice rub. “We put it on everything,” she says, describing a family dinner of steak tips marinated in a tablespoon of the rub mixed with Guinness stout. She and her husband even gave their wedding guests jars of the rub, labeled “We Got Hitched,” with a recipe for baby back ribs when they married in August 2015.
She roasts chickpeas with the spice rub (check her website for the recipe) and often uses them to offer samples of the rub at farmers markets or food events. At last year’s Vegan Fest, Celeste says, “My girlfriend was with me, and she was eating some popcorn.” That gave Celeste an idea, and when she ran out of chickpeas, she mixed popcorn with the spice rub and handed out “popcorn shots,” which, she says, turned out to be a big hit, especially with the college students.
“Most of my recipes come out of me not wanting to waste food,” Celeste says. Her favorite day is Tuesday, the day before garbage day, when she tries to use up any leftover food. That’s how her Ginger Blueberry Fruit Spread was born, with fresh ginger left over from making the Pineapple Chutney.
As she creates each recipe, Celeste uses whatever she has on hand to spice it up. When each vendor was asked to bring a strawberry product to a farmers market in June, Celeste created a new chutney flavor containing strawberries, shallots and balsamic vinegar. When her husband asked her, “What’s the Lyndigo spin? What’s the Celeste spin?” She thought a minute. “At the time, I was on the grill,” she says. “So, I said, ‘I’m going to smoke those strawberries.’” She used the juice that was created when smoking the strawberries to make a strawberry barbecue sauce.
She stir-fries shrimp and serves it with Spicy Red Pepper Relish on spaghetti squash. “I took the seeds from the squash, roasted them and tossed them with the spice rub,” she says. She created the Fennel & Fig Chutney with half a bulb of fennel left over from a shaved fennel salad. She added some figs, a few currants, some brown sugar, spices and a little balsamic vinegar. “It just came together,” she says. Her family’s dinner that night: the Fennel & Fig Chutney over lamb with mint, lemons and some Greek potatoes. “It was so good,” she says and offers me a slice of pizza made with lavash bread, arugula, prosciutto, cheese and the chutney. “I cook in layers so you taste in layers,” she says, anticipating when the ginger will hit my taste buds as I taste the Fennel & Fig Chutney. The flavor, she says, “It keeps coming.”
“Behind most of my recipes, there’s a story,” Celeste says. “When I get stressed from work or everyday life, I cook.” When her husband and her sons, now ages 22 and 24, are home for dinner, they want to know if she had a stressful day. They know from experience that if she’s stress-cooking, it’s going to be good.
Celeste and her Lyndigo Spice products will be at Boston Public Market December 5–18. New for the holiday season are her products in 3.4–ounce jars, specially sized to make it through airport security. You can also find them at several Whole Foods locations and online.
TARA TAFT loves to explore new places, new food and farmers markets. You can read about Tara’s travel adventures on snapshotsandsojourns.com. She is the author of a travel memoir, The Tucker-Tyler Adventure, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.