Made in Mississippi: Grumpy Man Foods
By Susan Marquez
There’s nothing like an excellent product that comes with a colorful backstory. Grumpy Man Foods has quite a colorful backstory, found on the company’s website, which explains that Grumpy Man’s beginnings go back to the 1700s.
According to the legend, the Spanish landed on the shores of what is now St. Augustine, Florida, in search of magnificent riches. Little did they know they had brought the real treasure with them in the form of a tiny pepper called a datil. As they came upon the Mississippi River basin, a single pepper fell unnoticed from the pocket of a brave Conquistador. One day, a grumpy man was farming behind his Mississippi cabin when he came upon a strange seed on the ground – a seed from the very pepper dropped by the Spanish soldier. The Grumpy Man planted the seed in the corner of his garden, and the next day he awoke to see that a bush appeared where he had just planted the seed! He plucked a single pepper from the bush and popped it into his mouth. The flavors filled him with delight, and he began making delicious salsas and pepper jellies to share with his friends and family.
Nathan Sandford is anything but a grumpy man, but he does run Grumpy Man foods. While the legend of Grumpy Man may be a bit exaggerated (if not entirely made up), the products are the real deal. Nathan says the story is true in that it all started with a pepper. The datil pepper is a small, hot and flavorful pepper. “My parents started playing around with it in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” says Nathan. “They had an idea of doing a salsa company. They even went as far as talking with the folks at Mississippi State University about how to make their salsa shelf-stable.” But the only shelf the salsa saw was the shelves of friends and family members who were gifted with the salsa each Christmas. “Like a lot of products, people loved it, and they wanted it, but it wasn’t known if people would be willing to pay for it.”
Nathan graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in economics. After trying a couple of things, his dad asked if he would like to do anything with the salsa. Nathan began making the salsa in Purvis, where it is still made today. “We got the product into the Hattiesburg farmers market, then a few other markets and festivals,” Nathan recalls. “That helped us figure out our price point before we got into Corner Market and Ramey’s supermarkets.”
The company expanded into making pepper jellies as well. The original name of the company was, perhaps, “too clever,” says Nathan. His father, Darrell Sandford, pulled out some old photos, and one was a picture of his dad wearing his grandfather’s old hat. “He had a grumpy look on his face, and we kind of ran with that. We played with a few names before landing on Grumpy Man. We had a painting done, and that’s been our logo ever since.”
The salsa recipe is still the original recipe developed by Nathan’s parents. There are three levels of heat, mild, medium and hot. “I’m partial to the hot,” says Nathan. When they decided to expand the product line to include pepper jellies, Nathan developed the recipes. “There has been a lot of trial and error, with some being hits, and others not so much.” The recipes are often seasonal, such as peach salsa, pineapple salsa and cranberry salsa. “I have also developed recipes that tie into events where we will be selling our products. For example, when we did the Blueberry Festival in Poplarville, I developed a blueberry pepper jelly.”
Nathan says he likes the hotter pepper jellies, like the one they make with ghost peppers. “We do a regular ghost pepper jelly that is hot and flavorful; then there is a ghost x2 that is too hot for me.” The Grumpy Man logo is often altered for the product, such as adding sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt on the Grumpy Man for the pineapple pepper jelly. Their graphic artist also made the Grumpy Man a skeleton for the ghost pepper jelly.
The best way to enjoy the pepper jellies, according to Nathan, is heaped on a block of cream cheese and served with crackers. “We also like to use the peach and pineapple pepper jellies to slow-roast a pork tenderloin.” The jellies are also a great addition to charcuterie boards.
There is more on the horizon for Grumpy Man Foods. “We are working with Mississippi producers to create a line of quail eggs and honey,” Nathan says.
All Grumpy Man products can be ordered online through their website at www.grumpymanfoods.com.