Locally made lasagna comes from the heart
MIDDLEBURY — When Middlebury educator Priscilla Powers last year wrapped up her career at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center her retirement lasted all of five days.
“I left on a Friday and was back to work the next Wednesday,” Powers recalled with a smile.
But she doesn’t really consider her new career to be work.
Powers has swapped a classroom for her own kitchen, where she and son Ben have cooked up a premium lasagna enterprise that is starting to yield some tasty results in stores throughout the state.
“Sales are going really well,” Ben Powers said of the duo’s “Heart to Hearth” lasagnas, which are vegetarian, gluten-free and made with all organic ingredients. The Powers duo, with the help of some college interns, have spent recent months assembling scores of oven-ready lasagnas that are currently available in freezers at almost 30 stores and food co-ops throughout the Green Mountain State. Team Powers is now readying to expand their market reach into other New England states.
“We are taking some small steps right now, but keeping things local and manageable,” Ben Powers said. “A lot of people are excited about the product.”
Heart to Hearth was born out of a long tradition of family dinners at the Powers house.
“We enjoy well-grown and carefully prepared food, and getting together around a big table,” reads a family message on hearttohearthvermont.com, the product website.
One of the family’s favorite dishes has been lasagna, made from a recipe that was never written down, according to the Powerses. Those lasagnas have been built with layers of noodles, chunky vegetables and copious amounts of sauce.
Ben, 33, a 1999 graduate of Middlebury Union High School and now a career coach, saw promise in the lasagna as a retail enterprise — and his mom agreed. But they wanted to add a new twist to the product to differentiate it from other lasagna options already available in stores. So they decided to craft a premium variety that would be sought after by folks interested in a lasagna as healthful as it is tasty.
Priscilla and Ben Powers spent a lot of time in the kitchen fine-tuning a lasagna that they said “fits into a lot of people’s diet restrictions.”
Heart to Hearth sources its ricotta and mozzarella cheeses locally from the Champlain Valley Creamery. Much of the basil, spinach and onions are sourced from the Powers’ own garden. The oregano is also obtained locally, as are the mushrooms, from the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op (MNFC). These and other ingredients, including tomatoes, are carefully layered between gluten-free brown rice noodles.
“We have been calling local farms to see what (organic products) they have,” Ben Powers said. “We know there is a lot of quality produce around.”
After perfecting their recipe, the Powerses began showcasing it at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. Buoyed by its popularity, they began asking stores if they would carry it in their frozen food sections. The MNFC was pleased to become among the first to sell the product. Many other stores have followed suit in communities like Morrisville, Stowe, Norwich, Manchester and Montpelier.
Fans are willing to pay more for Heart to Hearth because of its carefully selected ingredients. The 12-ounce size runs around $9; a 24-ounce package costs around $16; and the 36-ounce lasagna can run upwards of $26. The company offers volume discounts and larger sizes for large family celebrations and/or catered events.
Priscilla and Ben Powers anticipate demand for their product will surge this fall and winter, when people get back to eating casseroles and more comfort food. They are exploring the possibility of renting additional, off-site kitchen space to ramp up production and perhaps bring some more people on board to help assemble the lasagnas.
Plans are already in the works for a new fall lasagna flavor that will forgo tomatoes but incorporate butternut squash and kale.
For now, the Powers home kitchen will suffice. They have some on-site freezers to store the lasagna before it is whisked off to stores.
“We have enough counter space,” Priscilla Powers said. “It’s a nice kitchen to work in.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].