Mitzy Lancaster’s quest for the taste of a favorite salsa led her to create her own, and it eventually led to the foundation of a booming family business.
It all began when Lancaster attempted to replicate a salsa she used to enjoy at a restaurant in California.
“That salsa was unique and reminded me of a recipe my father garnered from an Italian friend of his, which was used on our barbecued meats,” she said. “I remember the first time I tasted it; I thought it was the best garnish I had ever had.”
Twenty years ago, after settling in New Mexico with her family, Lancaster was determined to come as close to that flavor as she could on her own.
“I developed three degrees of salsa: mild, medium and hot,” she said. “They are slightly different from traditional recipes. The blending of flavors has brought many to comment on how fresh the taste is. I love hearing people tell how, once they start to eat our salsa, they go through a whole container in one sitting because they can’t stop.”
A desert garden
Mitzy and her husband, Joseph Lancaster, have been married more than 33 years. Originally from California, they have lived in New Mexico for 25 years.
“Most of my time has been spent raising our eight children and helping my husband with his electrical contracting business in Red River,” Lancaster said. “After the children grew up and moved on their own, we relocated to Costilla, where we own 40 acres of irrigated property.”
She recalls the skepticism that met the announcement that they intended to grow produce in their property — the dirt there has “quite a bit of rock” in it.
But they did make it work.
“One day, when I was getting ditch water, the mayordomo walked over from the ditch gate and gazed out at all the produce we had in the field,” Lancaster said. “Then he told me, ‘Mitzy! This is quite a garden you have here. Maybe we all should grow produce!’”
When the time came to name the salsa, she decided to call it Mitzy’s Garden.
“It is our dream to develop the property into an organic produce farm where we can someday have a farm stand,” Lancaster said, “and perhaps a restaurant where we can make foods from the produce we grow.”
At first, Lancaster made salsa just for her family, but after she began selling produce from their farm to various businesses and residents in Red River, she decided to make bigger batches of salsa and sell them, too.
The response was so positive that it encouraged her to market the salsa on a bigger scale.
“I already had experience in the wholesale and retail business,” she said. “When we heard about the wonderful course offered by TCEDC (Taos County Economic Development Corp.), my oldest son and I took it. Now we continue marketing and selling our salsa through a variety of venues. Our hope is that it will bring in enough money to help us attain our dream of growing our farm.”
Making Mitzy’s Garden Salsa has turned out to be a family enterprise. Lancaster’s youngest daughter, Shannon, became her business partner.
“She makes the salsa with me,” Lancaster said. “Her husband, Noah, helps us as well when he is not busy running the kitchen for Capo’s restaurant in Red River. I could not do any of this without them. They have made this business go much smoother and enjoyable.”
Another daughter, Jenny Lancaster, helped them find the right pungency.
“Getting the ‘heat’ just right was a challenge,” Lancaster said. “When Jenny suggested I try habañero peppers instead of jalapeños, it saved me from struggling with perfecting our recipe.”
Jenny Lancaster’s fiancé is Bilander Conchas, the executive chef at Taos Ski Valley’s Stray Dog Cantina.
Mitzy’s Garden Salsa can be found in Der Markt in Red River; Cid’s, Taos Market, Flowerdust in the Taos area; in addition to La Montañita in Santa Fe.