What Susannah Locketti makes in her small, residential kitchen is nothing like any spice you can buy in a grocery store.
Unlike the fine, perfectly sifted powders and spices available in the baking aisle, Locketti’s signature garlic salt is damp, coarse and so pungent that you can smell it before the cap on a jar is even unscrewed.
“Others made this very dainty, pure white thing and mine was dark, moist and in your face with peppery and garlic flavors,” said Locketti, owner of small business Hippy Pilgrim. “And I thought, ‘You know what? I kind of like this better.’”
One morning in her Plympton home, Locketti pointed to a giant pile of raw garlic on her small kitchen island and said, “It all starts here.”
Harvested from a farm in Plympton and another in Vermont, the garlic is what’s — obviously — at the heart of Locketti’s products. Off to the side of the room sits a small commercial garlic peeler, but it makes a mess and doesn’t move as quickly as Locketti can, she says, so it goes largely unused. And in the corner is a huge, 20-quart standing mixer full of finished salt. What happens in between peeling raw garlic and filling jars with salt is something Locketti says she’ll never tell.
“That’s my best-kept secret,” she said
While most commercial garlic salt companies mix garlic powder with salt and call it a day, Locketti says what she does actually preserves fresh garlic in salt, the oldest preservative known to man. It’s from that preservation practice that the name of her business — Hippy Pilgrim — was born, a nod to the first settlers of America who used salt to preserve fish and pork.
But she’s taking it a little further than the Pilgrims did. In addition to her original blend of garlic, salt and pepper, she also sells a dozen unique flavors, such as shallot (a customer request), Thanksgiving (think stuffing), jalapeno, chipotle lime and wasabi horseradish.
“We’re taking fresh garlic and preserving it along with all these other flavors,” Locketti said. “When you take the lid off our jar, it tastes exactly like it should. It smells like garlic, basil, horseradish, jalapenos, whatever it’s supposed to smell like.”
Every salt has the basic components of salt, pepper and garlic, but Locketti says that combining the unexpected flavors into such a small, easy-to-handle package is what gives her product an edge and gives chefs a simple hack to crushing it in the kitchen.
“For centuries people have put salt and pepper onto their food through shakers, but I’m challenging them to do it a different way,” she said. “With us, you can put all of your flavors into your meal with one easy pinch. You can skip the grinding, the mincing and you can get it all.”
Promoting her brand comes effortlessly to Locketti, a married mother of two, but if you’d told her 10 years ago that running a garlic salt business was in the cards she’d probably have looked at you like you were crazy.
When she first tried a homemade garlic salt in 2005, she was working a desk job and had no idea how to make a spice. It wasn’t for another 11 years that she’d fully quit her job and take on Hippy Pilgrim as a full-time gig, but she says now that she can’t imagine any other job than the one she has at home, which smells constantly of garlic.
In 2013, when Hippy Pilgrim was formed, Locketti said she sold about 250 jars of salt per year. Now, she sells 2,500 every six weeks.
“Corporate America never felt 100 percent right. Those jobs just never felt like home to me and this does,” she said. “It just came down to a choice. I said to myself, ’Are you going to put your whole heart into this job or are you going to put your whole heart into the salt company?”
Locketti sells her salt at a farm stand outside her home on her website, hippypilgrim.com. Large jars of salt are 5 ounces and $10 each, and a sample pack of all 10 flavors is available for $50.
“To have people buy into this thing you created from nothing is the best feeling. It’s really something to have your community support you in such a personal way,” she said. “Just the fact that you can change someone’s habits in the kitchen is amazing to me.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.