The usually conflicting concepts of the traditional and the innovative come together in the personality of Vangie White, the soft-spoken proprietor of Meso Nutso, a Coburg, Oregon, all-natural, specialty food business
Growing up, Vangie spent many happy hours learning about cooking, baking and entertaining from her beloved grandmother. Years later, she was browsing through some of her grandmother’s recipes, and came across one for candied walnuts. Seeing the recipe sparked an idea to make up a batch of the flavored nuts and share them with her then-co-workers (she was a medical assistant at the time). The nuts were a hit and word spread, eventually leading Vangie to leave her job and embark on her own business. “I always had the inclination to make something, be creative, and do something with my family,” she said.
Fresh from the Farm.
Her parents’ 70-acre farm had been in the family for three generations, and contained groves of walnut and fruit trees. They became a source for the ingredients she uses in the artisan foods she handcrafts…namely, candied nuts, dried fruits and other items she sells through her Meso Nutso website. Her father is a big help, cracking nuts and picking fruits she uses from the family orchard, and her husband—who still works full time—pitches in when he can.
Although the Meso Nutso concept originated from family and tradition, Vangie’s objective as a business owner is to encourage her customers toward new and different ways of thinking about food. “My goal is to demonstrate how to incorporate unique, fun flavors into everyday foods, and to get people to think outside the box when it comes to different flavors; get them to experiment and not be afraid to try different things,” Vangie said.
As an example, she suggested uses for the regionally-sourced, organic lavender extract she sells. It can be made into a simple syrup to flavor teas or for mixed drinks, even lavender-scented whipped cream. Berry extracts, such as raspberry, blueberry or blackberry, can be used to flavor vinaigrettes, baked goods, and cocktails. Walnut extract can be used, she said, in exchange for vanilla in many baked goods.
Local and regional sourcing of her food products is very important to Vangie. The apples and pears she dries and sells are organic and come from her family’s farm. So are the nuts. Other ingredients—honey, organic sugar, lavender, herbs and spices—she sources either locally in the Eugene, Oregon, area, or regionally elsewhere in Oregon. She estimates that currently about 85 percent of what she sells is organic. Her goal is to increase that to include all of her products as soon as she can.
For example, the berries she uses to produce her fruit extracts are currently locally sourced, but not organic. However, she plans to grow and use berries on the family farm later this season that will be organic. “Mainly, what I want to do is to offer my customers products they can feel good about eating, using no artificial ingredients that are toxic to the body,” Vangie said. She also enjoys creating new products and sharing recipes which use them in her test kitchen, and posts many of them on the Meso Nutso website.
“I’m always trying to find something new to try. … I’m experimenting with flavored salts—lemon salt, lavender salt, maybe citrus salt. The creative aspect of what I do makes me happy!”