A morning drive through rural Noble County presents a bucolic backdrop of simplicity and tranquility, at least by sight.
But in taking the time to notice the landscape further, one can see that nearly every homestead has found some kind of niche, an enterprise that could easily earn the title of “best-kept secret.” From florals to farming, from bakeries to buildings, it’s a snapshot of primitive living serving a dual purpose as vital contributors to local commerce.
One such example can be found at Orla and Carolyn Yoder’s sprawling, yet inviting, residence on the outskirts of Topeka. The husband and wife team exudes warmth and a special kind of sweetness – the latter serving as an appropriate description of the product they have created. Known as Carolyn’s Kitchen, the culinary artisans are generally risen before the sun, working to turn out jars of their luscious homemade jams, all made without artificial sugars, colors, or enhancers. The not-so-secret ingredient that they use to add the right balance of sweetness is white grape juice.
With more than a hint of nostalgia resonating in their voices, the Yoders relay the story of how a basic kitchen condiment became a highly sought staple designed to delight every family pantry.
About a dozen years ago, Orla Yoder’s sister had traveled to Chicago for the purpose of visiting a farmer’s market, where she was selling baked goods. She observed a number of folks purchasing items with reduced sugar content, and suggested to the Yoders that there might also be a following for a similar type of product here at home. In those earlier days, there were just five varieties available, but it wasn’t long until requests for additional flavors came trickling in.
As the foundation of their little business was being established, there were a few life changes along the way. By 2016, they had moved to their current location and were thrilled to be able to make use of a state inspected kitchen facility. What the Yoders now referred to as their “Mom and Pop” operation was having an exceptional run, so much so that they began welcoming tours.
But there was another surprise waiting, and this one was quite a bit tougher to navigate. Orla had a heart attack, rendering him unable to work fully while he was in recovery. This prompted a discussion about whether Carolyn’s Kitchen could grow into a permanent, full-time venture.
As it turned out, they needn’t have worried.
“We’re busier now than we’ve ever been,” Orla says. And that menu of homemade jams has since broadened to include 23 different flavors, available in 8.7 and 2.5 ounce sizes. All of the jars are created, packaged, and prepared for distribution right on the family’s property. There are many repeat customers, Orla notes, because once a customer takes a taste of their jams, they are bound to come back for more.
“Taste is the key,” Orla adds.
The Yoders have become a popular purveyor at various craft shows and festivals around northern Indiana, and they are especially eager to make an appearance at the upcoming Fall Crafter’s Fair at the Michiana Event Center in Shipshewana. One of the whimsical touches that they incorporate into their travels is a doll, dressed in handmade country attire, which Carolyn found at a garage sale for $5. The couple calls him David, and he is often found diving into the sweet treats, with a few smears of jam across his cherubic face. That is always a conversation piece, Orla says, and it entices customers to give the products a try.
Carolyn’s Kitchen has also branched out into offering other culinary specialties as well, including homemade noodles, granola, apple butter, and honey, all prepared by local residents. She can also take requests to create custom gift baskets.
The Yoders recently celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary, and their family includes eight children, five girls and three boys, 44 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Carolyn’s mother also resides on the farm, which means that there are currently five generations in the growing clan.
Carolyn’s Kitchen is hoping to grow their business just as successfully as they’ve created their family. They are currently welcoming inquiries and accepting new retailers and accounts. The Yoders are open six days a week, with the exception of Sundays, and they can be reached by calling 260-768-8160. The operation is located at 5965-1 South 675 West, near Topeka.a
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1 Review for Carolyn’s Kitchen – Topeka
Wonderful jams and salsa
I bought jams at a craft show. It was the best that I have every had. Was disappointed that I didn’t buy more. Went back to Shipshewana a year later and couldn’t find it, googled it and went right to their home. Wonderful people. Bought salsa they had just started making and it’s wonderful. Going back for more.