Farmers Market Spotlight: My Sweet Indulgence caramels
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Elizabeth Vasko held her first bake sale at age 11.
“My mom made me do a food-cost analysis,” Vasko recalled. “I thought she was just the meanest mother in the world.”
Now, several decades later, Vasko and her mother laugh about it, and Vasko has explored the food industry from every angle. She’s worked front-of-house, serving, back-of-house, cooking and in food trucks, catering. She’s worked at Denny’s and five-star restaurants.
She studied culinary arts at Utah Valley University and got her degree in 2001.
“At school, everyone kept asking which foods I liked best,” Vasko said. “I like it all, the whole thing, the beginning to the end. But lately I’ve been liking pastries. You can do so much with them.”
In 2018, Vasko took home a handful of ribbons from the Routt County Fair — including a master grand champion ribbon — for her blueberry cheesecake, caramel and popcorn balls.
Vasko’s latest endeavor can be found at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market every Saturday through September. Her stand is called “My Sweet Indulgence,” offering an array of hand-crafted and hand-packaged caramels, caramel apples, pastries and other treats. Vasko and her sweet treats attended the last three markets of the 2018 summer season, but this is their first full summer at the local market.
Top seller: Salted caramels — a bag of eight to 10 bite-sized pieces
Elizabeth Vasko’s personal favorite: Caramel apples
What’s new at the stand: Plum and nectarine tarts, sold by the slice or as a full pie
Vasko makes her caramels from five ingredients — the same tried-and-true, Christmastime recipe she’s been using since her kids and their friends were young, eager caramel-eaters.
“Caramels were always something special I’d make,” Vasko said.
When she brought the recipe from Provo, Utah, to Colorado in 2014, the change in altitude was cause for fiddling with the process.
What: Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays
Where: Seventh and Yampa streets
“It’s a lot easier to make caramels at sea level, and at 4,500 feet,” Vasko said.
In the Yampa Valley, it takes her an hour and a half to two hours for a batch of caramels to cook, whereas at 4,500 feet, it takes 45 minutes to an hour. If it’s a rainy day, Vasko noted, it takes longer.
Besides adjusting the technical measures, Vasko also has another habit to help the caramels evolve to their full potential of deliciousness.
“I like to talk to my food,” Vasko said cheerfully. “I tell it how beautiful it is and how everyone’s going to love it.
“They say love is the secret ingredient. I believe that,” she explained.
Vasko makes her goods in her home in Oak Creek, under the Cottage Foods Act, which allows limited types of food products that don’t require refrigeration to be sold directly to customers without licensing.
Vasko aims to bring My Sweet Indulgence to a commercial space soon, which will mean she’ll be able to sell the caramels in more venues. Currently, her treats are available at the Farmers Market and by special order. They will also be at Yampa’s Fourth of July Festival and Oak Creek’s Labor Day Festival.
Vasko enjoys the nature of the Farmers Market.
“When you’re the cook in a restaurant, you get to be with the food; when you’re the waitress, you get to communicate with the people,” she said. “That’s what’s nice about the Farmers Market — I get to do both.”
Find My Sweet Indulgence at the Steamboat Farmers Market this Saturday and every Saturday through the rest of the summer.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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