Kathleen Gurney continues to follow her own path with Salsa Sisters
By Bob Audette
BRATTLEBORO — Kathleen Gurney, originally from Memphis, a hamlet in upstate New York, started making salsa for family and friends and for cookouts and barbecues.
And like many home cooks, she heard, “Oh, this is great! You should bottle it and sell it.”
“People told me that for years and finally one day I said, ‘You know what, I’m gonna get serious about this.'”
She started Salsa Sisters with three flavors.
“A ho hum, a medium and a honkin’ hot,” said Gurney.
Now, she makes 25 different varieties.
“I’m a crazy lady,” she said. “I work Monday through Friday and then on the weekend make salsa.”
Gurney has been in the Brattleboro area for two decades, landing here after college with a degree in computer science and business administration.
She has applied her training and education across a spectrum of organizations: as an accountant with the Brattleboro Area Community Land Trust, now known as the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust; followed by two years on a job in Greenfield, Mass.; 11 years at Marlboro College; and now, with Kurn Hattin Homes.
Of course, salsa is Gurney’s passion. Her first recipe was made with whatever peppers she could get a hold of.
“And I’d make it as hot as I felt like making it that day,” she said. “I was making it, no recipe at all.”
Once she decided she was going to make it a business, Gurney began to write down and create the recipes that make up her product line.
These days, she has a local farmer who supplies her peppers.
“Bars Farm in Deerfield, Mass., has the most beautiful peppers I’ve gotten from anybody,” she said.
Her original batches of salsa contained local tomatoes, too. But to do that commercially, that means spending two days cooking down tomatoes per batch.
“So, the tomatoes come out of a can, but the peppers and onions and garlic are all local and fresh,” she said.
She even mixes up her own spice batches to keep everything consistent, too.
Her first fruit salsa was a pineapple salsa. Now, she has an apple cinnamon salsa (she picks the leftover apples after the kids finish in the orchards at Kurn Hattin), peach salsa and cranberry salsa.
She charges $8 a pint, $15 for two and $20 for three.
“Except for the bacon,” she said. “The bacon salsa is $10, because there’s lots of bacon in there.”
Gurney does special events and craft fairs, will deliver directly and also ships her salsa. It can also be found seven days a week at the Vermont Gift Emporium in the Vermont Marketplace at Exit 1 and Canal Street in Brattleboro.
She posts regularly on Facebook to let folks know where to find her in person.
Her latest creation is Vermont Maple Stout salsa, made with Shadows Maple Stout from Vermont Beer Makers.
It’s hard for her to keep up with demand, and it’s also hard finding a commercial kitchen that can meet her needs.
She’s got her eye on a facility, but she’s not ready to talk about it yet.
“A lot of people would like to put my salsa in their stores, but I don’t have the volume,” said Gurney. “I can’t make enough, quick enough.”
Bob Audette has been writing for the Brattleboro Reformer for close to 15 years. When he’s not working or hanging out with his 6-year-old son, he can often be found on one of the many trails leading to the summit of Mount Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire.