When Naijean Bernard moved to Austin from her native Grenada in 2006, she missed the flavors of home, especially the fresh juices her grandmother made. Jeany's Ginger Elixir was born many recipe tests later and has grown to include the classic cold-pressed ginger flavor, Very Berry, Hibiscus Spiced Iced Tea, Tamarindo, Cucumber Mint Limeade, and Melon Breeze. So naturally she's branched into vegan egg rolls made with local veggies and bottled hot sauce.
Austin Chronicle: Your recipes are based on your maternal grandmother's recipes; please tell me about her, your relationship (did you cook with her?), and how her influence shaped you.
Najiean Bernard: My grandmother, Lyris Charles, passed away in 2004 at the age of 94. I would visit her in the summer and observe her in the garden and in the kitchen. Although I started cooking at a young age, 10 years old, I never cooked with her. I just stayed close by so I could get the first taste, as I love food. She influenced me in that she lived off of her land, loved gardening, and made her own herbal tinctures from scratch. I have gardened for 20 years and also make my own tinctures based on her recipes. She did not write down the recipes.
AC: Caribbean-inspired? I'd love to hear about your own background and how you decided to transform this into your business.
NB: I was born in Grenada and came to the U.S. as a child so that my parents could attend college. Before COVID-19, I would visit Grenada every three to six months to pick up more spices, tea leaves, fruits, cacao, and sea moss (I have a USDA agricultural permit). I began to miss the juices that my grandmother made and re-created them, from memory. I first shared them at weekly potlucks and then began selling at pop-ups and smaller farmers' markets.
AC: You source from local farms; tell me about the relationship with farmers and your own garden.
NB: I use organic ginger from In the Garden farm. JBG [Johnson's Backyard Garden] Organics supplies the bulk of my local ingredients, such as cucumbers, melons, habanero peppers, onions, garlic, collard greens, cilantro, and mint. Watermelon comes from Big Brazos Sustainable Farm. I also barter with other local farmers at the markets I sell at. I have maintained relationships with JBG since 2017 when I started selling at Hope Farmers Market and also at Barton Creek and Mueller. I am known as the juice lady and make sure that the JBG market staff stays hydrated.
AC: Is there a connection between eating local and health?
NB: I believe that we are what we eat. Food that is grown locally tastes much better, has more nutritional value, a much lower carbon footprint, and the dollars spent stay within the local community.
AC: I also want to know about those egg rolls and hot sauces! And are you bottling your hot sauce?
NB: Yes, I am bottling them. They are available for sale on the Vinder app. [They'll be available on her website soon.] In the Caribbean, we are a very cosmopolitan society. We have strong Asian influence, in particular, India and China. The egg rolls are vegan. The two sauces are Jeany's Sweet Heat, which is a spicy mango habanero sauce, and Tamarindo BBQ sauce, [which] is more subtle, with a hint of spice.
Jeany’s products are available at Barton Creek Farmers Market, Mueller and Lakeline farmers’ markets, Li’l Nonna’s vegan pizza food truck, and Mañana Austin. www.jeanysgingerelixir.com
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