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Claremont Spice Shop Owner Offers a Taste of Something New

  • Nancy Nash-Cummings, of Windsor, Vt., looks over a long line of spices at Claremont Spice & Dry Goods on Oct. 24, 2018 in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Lucier owner of Claremont Spice & Dry Goods outside his store in Claremont, N.H., on Oct. 24, 2018. Power was out in sections of the city, Lucier was checking on the status of the outage. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Richard Cummings, of Windsor, Vt., sniffs a ground chili at Claremont Spice & Dry Goods when at the Clarenmont, N.H., store on Oct. 24, 2018. His daughter Suzanne Walker of Lopez Island, Wash., was at the store with her parents stocking up on spices. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Claremont Spice & Dry Goods offers a variety of individually packaged spices. Jars of the spices are available to be sniffed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

David Lucier is a consummate problem solver.

Let’s start with the problem of cold, wet wind stirring leaves around ankles, signaling that the jaws of winter are clamping down and likely won’t ease up for a good long time.

Claremont Spice & Dry Goods, which Lucier owns with his wife, Ingrid, is the kind of place that draws you in with promises of warmth and color and zest to balance out the harsh elements. Inside the shop, where scents of the homey and exotic mingle and row upon alphabetized row of herbs and spices beckon, you might find answers to problems you didn’t know you had.

For example, that beef stew you make every year when the weather turns raw. A perfectly fine beef stew, warm and hearty as any respectable comfort food. Mention it to Lucier, and seconds later he’ll be waving a clip-top canning jar under your nose, extolling the virtues of porcini mushroom powder or minced toasted onion in imparting new dimensions to your standard (read, kind of lame) stew without overriding its rustic charm.

He’s not out to prescribe a particular ingredient, mind you. He just wants to fire up your imagination.

“The joy of cooking is you don’t have to follow a formula. You can play and have fun,” said Lucier, who opened the store seven years ago and expanded it to include a kitchen gadget shop in the summer of 2015. “People just like to try new things.”

That’s another problem. When it comes to herbs and spices, trying new things can be expensive.

Who hasn’t scrapped an intriguing new recipe after seeing the list of spices they’d need to buy in the spice aisle of the grocery story?

Whose spice rack doesn’t contain a bleacher-seat section of oddball herbs purchased to make some novel dish and then forgotten?

The solution: Instead of jars of spices, the Luciers sell zip-top pouches in sizes as small as ¼ ounce.

Shoppers can purchase a half ounce of basil or mediterranean oregano for $.99. Or, they can try one of the more unusual seasonings on offer — asafoetida powder, anyone? Perhaps some urfa biber chile flakes? — without committing to a 4-ounce jar.

Sniffing, of course, is free. Beside each row of packaged seasonings is an easy-open jar designed for olfactory sampling.

Solving the consumer problem required Lucier to first solve a common retailer problem: storage. To do that, he drew on his background as an electrical designer, setting up multiple spreadsheets to meticulously record data and then monitoring and extracting key information to build a system of just-in-time delivery.

“I wanted to be able to keep it absolutely fresh,” he said, adding, “I was always a spreadsheet fanatic.”

A love for numbers was not, however, the lure that brought Lucier to the world of spices. Quite the opposite, actually.

When Ingrid Lucier burned out on the daily demands of cooking after 25 years of marriage, David Lucier, who’d generally cooked for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas, took up the mantle without hesitation.

But after poring over math equations all day at the Pennsylvania engineering firm where he worked, he was hardly in the mood to deal with fractions in the evening. Instead, he cooked by instinct, trial-and-error, and lots and lots of sampling.

Sharing his love of creative cooking with the world — well, that was the solution to another problem. In 2010, with the country still recovering from recession and public budgets being slashed, the engineering firm where Lucier worked fell on hard times. Seeing the writing on the wall, Lucier and his wife headed to one of their favorite vacation spots in search of a new start.

“I always loved Claremont. I liked the architecture, people seemed friendly ...” Lucier said.

Lucier explored several employment options in the area, but all of the companies wanted to send him overseas, a prospect with little appeal. Brainstorming alternatives, he and Ingrid recalled a spice shop they loved to visit in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“I said, ‘We always loved that store. Why don’t we re-create it but in a modern way?’ ” Lucier said.

Modern technology may be the backbone of the business, but Lucier’s convivial nature is without a doubt a draw as well.

Well-versed in both the functions and lore of the 230 varieties and grinds of seasonings sold in the shop, he is quick with a story, a suggestion, a tidbit of trivia.

Customers, who come from as far away as Pennsylvania and Canada, often hang around and chat. And chat often drifts to another of Lucier’s fondest subjects: Claremont history.

While he doesn’t deny that the comparatively low rent was a key factor in his decision to open shop in Claremont, Lucier adores the city for reasons that go deeper than operating expenses.

He’s fascinated with the buildings and loves flipping through old photographs that depict a bustling city lined with shops. While he might hesitate to characterize it as such, Claremont’s languishing economy is just one more problem Lucier is working on.

“Demographically and geographically, this is naturally a market town,” he said, pointing out several other specialty businesses that have popped up in the city in recent years and started to build a critical mass. “I think Claremont’s becoming a market center again for the region.”

For Paula Wilson, of Newport, and Waltraud Minickiello, of Charlestown, the spice shop is a mandatory stop on a day trip that includes donuts at a local bakery and lunch at a downtown restaurant.

Last week, the friends came to pick up Prague powder for making sausage and peruse the selection of loose-leaf teas that the Luciers offers in addition to their herbs, spices and seasoning mixes.

They also sell numerous varieties of fresh-roasted coffee beans and other culinary goodies from area businesses, including smoked meats, quail eggs, jams and vinegars.

“I just like the idea that you can try them, and you don’t have to buy the bigger containers,” said Wilson, sniffing a jar of sweet ginger green tea.

“They have good stuff here,” said Minickiello, who’d just found a jar of muffaletta olive salad and was headed next door to the adjoining gadget shop.

Though he supplies seasonings to a few professional chefs, including an original non-MSG Latin spice blend he concocted for the nearby Revolution Cantina restaurant, Lucier deals mostly with people like Wilson and Minickiello, casual shoppers and home chefs popping in for this or that and poking around for something new.

He tries to oblige their desire for novelty by offering trendy new items in addition to seasonal favorites such as cardamom for Christmas baking. On deck for the coming months: Vietnamese pho seasoning.

As an off-the-cuff chef, Lucier isn’t much for recipes, but he does like to suggest “adjuncts” to traditional dishes.

Beef Stew

This recipe takes a classic beef stew from bettycrocker.com and adds a bit of intrigue in the form of porcini mushroom powder, minced toasted onions and angostura bitters.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or shortening

1lb boneless beef chuck, tip or round roast, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 16-ounce container beef stock

2 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large unpeeled potato, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium stalk celery, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small onion, chopped (1/4 cup)

1 dried bay leaf

½ teaspoon minced toasted onions

¼ teaspoon porcini mushroom powder

1 shot angostura bitters (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

½ cup cold water

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

In 12-inch skillet or 4-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat 1 to 2 minutes.

Add beef; cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown on all sides.

Add beef stock and additional water if needed. Heat to boiling.

Reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes or until beef is almost tender.

Stir in remaining ingredients except cold water and flour. Cover; cook about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaf.

In tightly covered jar or container, shake cold water and flour; gradually stir into beef mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.