FERGUS — Two years of retirement was enough for Elisabeth Burrow. Then she went nuts.
When Burrow stepped back from her long career in the medical field, the plan was to take it easy for a couple of years.
“My husband said ‘you’re not going to work anymore,’ and I said ‘great!’” Burrow remembers. “Then I thought about it and said ‘I’ll give you two years.’”
The first year was easy, spending time fixing up the 1880 farmhouse on the 95-acre farm she and husband Mitja Kosir moved to just outside Fergus 10 years ago.
The second year she started packaging nuts flavoured with maple syrup from an in-law’s farm.
“I was making lots of stuff for lots of people,” she said of what started out as a hobby.
“I said to my husband maybe I should take them to a farmers’ market as a thing just for myself to do.”
Then came the idea to plant five nut trees. The handful turned into 145 trees. Now there’s 450 on their property.
It all led to Jewels Under Your Kilt, a natural, artisan nut business that got its humble beginnings in her kitchen and is now a full-fledged nut job.
The oven roasted and flavoured walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans are available in 60 Ontario stores, some outside the province, via the company’s successful web site and they are also stocked in seven Amazon distribution centres.
Some big retailers and even airlines are interested in the product.
“All by word of mouth. Or taste,” Burrow says of the stores she’s in.
Nuts are now brought in from elsewhere to help meet demand.
“We had an online presence from the beginning,” she said. “In six years we’ve gone from just a little nut hobby to full-fledged business.
“It’s at the point now that we either grow big or go back down to being a little hobby,” Burrow says.
The nut flavourings on the nuts are natural — no refined sugar or salt is added.
Flavours created by Burrow’s fruit and spice alchemy include ginger/pear, pumpkin and apple pie. On the savoury side there’s mojito jalapeno and chipotle. A raspberry creamsicle is in the works.
“I do all the recipes in my head. I work them out. You have to figure out what nut works with the ingredients and goes from there.”
In earlier days it paid to be playing pickleball at the Fergus arena. That’s where Burrow used to roast all her nuts, using the pickleballers as taste testers.
A year ago she moved to a new building constructed on her property. Another is planned as demand increases.
“We use the environment to our advantage,” she says of her natural product, which is also vegan, peanut free and kosher.
Fertilizers come from fish oils, kelp and fish wastewater are used for fertilizer. Honey wraps keep insects from crawling up the trees. Crushed shells are used around the base of the tree.
Just don’t ask for beer nuts.
“Traditional beer nuts are so unhealthy for you,” Burrow says, producing her beer nuts, which are flavoured with a coating of craft beer from Block Three craft brewery in St. Jacobs.
With the help of one employee and occasionally her husband, Burrow roasts and packages an average of 500 pound of nuts a week. Sometimes up to 1,000 pounds.
The cheeky name comes courtesy of her husband.
“I was sitting at the computer with the government’s ‘register your business’ page open. Originally we thought it might be ‘Frank’s Nuts’ because my father-in-law Frank gave us maple syrup we used in flavouring. But that didn’t seem to be fitting,” Burrow said.
Her husband jokingly suggested Jewels Under Your Kilt.
“He was joking, but I liked it so much I registered it. He doesn’t joke with me any more,” she said with a laugh.
She’s only had one or two people complain about the bawdiness of the name.
“Everyone loves the name. Ladies in particular get the joke.”
Burrow has 14 different types of nuts growing on her property, some indigenous to the area, others bought through a Quebec nursery.
Her favourite nut is the heart nut.
“It’s in the walnut family. One of my favourite nuts: 28 per cent protein, great omega 3 and 6 like a walnut, but it has the properties that you want … it’s a low fat nut, about 180 calories for a heaping cup. It’s so creamy and so delicious.”
Burrow grows her nuts naturally. Her products are also vegan, peanut free and kosher.
In addition to a great snack, she promotes them for a variety of uses and over the years has spent many an early morning at farmers’ markets selling her product.
She lets the nuts speak for themselves.
“I don’t like to give sales pitches. It’s not me. I don’t want to have to push my nuts on anybody and I don’t want to buy space on a shelf. My nuts should be fine wherever you put them.
“I stand by the nuts 100 per cent. I eat a lot of them.”
In Guelph, Jewels Under Your Kilt nuts are available at Market Fresh, Mosborough Country Market and the convenience store in the new gas station on Clair Road.