Not quite two years ago, Shannon Bissonnette, owner of Better Than Average, told us, “We are definitely not your typical jam and jelly company. We try to get people to think out of the box.”
And out of the box she has definitely ventured!
Because demand for her homemade jams, jellies and sauces increased substantially, she outgrew the cramped quarters in her home-based kitchen and moved into a professional-grade kitchen in Mechanic Falls in 2010. Since the rented space prevented her from selling retail, she made another move last summer.
Moving her complete operation across the street into an empty storefront, she gained both more space and more visibility — allowing her to expand even further with her Better Than Average Cafe.
Opening in September 2012 at 1 North Main St., Mechanic Falls, Better Than Average is located at the major intersection of the town’s pint-sized downtown area. Along with homemade breakfast items (such as muffins, banana bread French toast or cinnamon rolls) and made-to-order lunches, customers can also stock up on any of her 20 products now available in the small retail space off to one side.
Bissonnette said the most unique aspect of her cafe is that all of the Better Than Average jams and jellies can be sampled and added to any meal or sandwich you order from the Better Than Average menu. Grilled cheese sandwich? Add a little raspberry habanero jelly, please. Or perhaps a thin layer of apple maple jam, both of which are among her best sellers. And go ahead — shake up that egg salad sandwich a little bit with a touch of either garlic jelly or the newly added horseradish jelly.
As if running a cafe and jam and jelly business wasn’t enough excitement for someone in the food business, Bissonnette could barely contain her herself when she told me about her newest invention: Moxie jelly.
Yes, you read that right. Moxie. For those who love Moxie (that uniquely flavored, dark brown, slightly bitter carbonated soda pop, adopted as Maine’s official soft drink in 2005) you won’t need any convincing — although I’m quite sure you’ll be very surprised by the very mild and delicate flavor of the jelly. For those of us less inclined to take a swig of Moxie straight out of the bottle, you’ll have to trust me implicitly when I say, “It doesn’t taste a thing like Moxie!”
Michelle Gosselin, a friend of Bissonnette’s, echoed that thought when she said, “I don’t even like Moxie, but I love the jelly!”
Bissonnette came up with the idea of Moxie jelly a few days prior to setting up a booth at the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls last summer. Although she made her decision to attend the festival too late to enter the Moxie recipe contest, she decided to give her jelly idea a try anyway.
With two bottles of Moxie in her jam kettle, the first batch failed miserably when it didn’t jell. The second batch? Perfect success! She managed to put up eight cases of the Moxie jelly in time for the festival. She was completely amazed — after about 20 minutes — when the last of the 96 jars was sold.
“Usually it takes me a year to come up with a new product!” she noted.
After talking to Moxie executives (who permitted her to use the Moxie logo), she agreed to use the Fryeburg Fair last October as her next testing ground. “If it sells there,” she thought at the time, “I can sell it anywhere.”
When her dad called from the fair on the first day to say her 20 cases (240 jars) had already sold out, she literally rushed off to buy any and all liter bottles of Moxie she could find within driving distance. She proceeded to make huge batches of jam each day of the week, packing them up while still warm. Selling out each day, she estimates she could easily have sold another 50 cases.
Moxie jelly was, apparently, a big hit. Bissonnette called it “a phenomenon.” It continues to fly off the shelves. And Moxie, by the truck-full, is now delivered directly to her location.
Continuing to think outside the jam and jelly box, Bissonnette will soon introduce her newest jelly in March at the New England Products Tradeshow in Portland: bacon jelly. Yes, you read that right. Bacon. Bissonnette proclaimed it “sooooooooooooooo good on eggs and cheeseburgers!” After sampling the delightfully surprising Moxie jelly, I am willing to believe her. Be forewarned: These new flavors could totally transform your jelly experience.
Better Than Average is a 20-minute ride from Auburn and can be reached at 346-4889, www.betterthanaveragellc.com or on Facebook.
Better Than Average’s award-winning chili
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
4 links hot sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 medium onion
1 diced red pepper
1 diced orange pepper
1 diced yellow pepper
3 cloves fresh garlic
3 seeded and diced jalapeno peppers
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 jar of Better Than Average jalapeno jelly
1/2 cup molasses
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
10 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese
Optional garnishes: Chopped scallions, sour cream
Heat pan with olive oil. Brown ground beef and sausage, add salt and pepper. Add all diced peppers, garlic, onion and jalapenos. Cook until soft. Once soft, add all spices to the mixture. Stir until all combined. Add tomato paste, jelly and molasses. Stir until combined. Add diced tomatoes and all beans. Cook for 1 hour on low heat, stirring occasionally. Place into bowls and add pepper jack cheese and optional toppings. Enjoy!!
Better Than Average's pulled pork
5-pound boneless pork butt or shoulder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
1 jar Better Than Average zesty apple barbecue glaze (8 ounces)
In a small bowl, mix spices together. Rub the spice mixture on all sides of the pork. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
Place pork in a slow cooker. Set on low heat and cook for 10 hours. Transfer from the slow cooker to a roasting pan and shred with two forks, removing any large pieces of fat. Pour broth into a heatproof pitcher or large fat separator; skim off the fat. Put pork back into slow cooker. Combine jar of barbecue glaze with 3 cups skimmed broth. Stir into pork and cook 2 hours. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork from the slow cooker. Place the meat on a serving platter or on individual sandwich buns. If desired, serve on the side the sauce remaining in the slow cooker.
Makes 10 to 15 servings.
Note: Better Than Average owner Shannon Bissonnette says the zesty apple barbecue glaze is made with chunks of apple and chili powder — a great accompaniment to pulled pork — but that there are tasty variations on the pulled pork recipe. Try "Moxie jelly or apple maple jam. The habanero garlic jelly would also go well," she says.