Produce is undoubtedly the core of the merchandise at local farmers’ markets, but John Sapienza is proving that there’s plenty more to buy there. The chef and restaurant proprietor has been in the food industry for 25 years, and he exerts his “shop local” mind frame to the fullest. That is precisely why Sap’s Pudding has become an instant classic at the Fenwick Island Farmers’ Market.
Sapienza has been perfecting his rice pudding recipe for 15 years but only started marketing it in the last several months. The rich, creamy treat is made with milk and milk cream straight from Lewes Dairy and is becoming an increasingly popular complement to breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“It’s been a really big seller,” he said during the product’s second week at the Fenwick Island Farmers’ Market, which this year expanded from one day a week to two – Fridays and Mondays. “The first Monday of the market was sort of slow, and we still sold 45 pounds of pudding.”
Quality is among the most important thing that Sapienza wanted to get right when developing the rice pudding.
“There are a lot of people who say they don’t like rice pudding,” he said, “but they taste this stuff and love it. I haven’t heard any complaints from people once they try it.”
Sap’s Pudding is made with fresh Madagascar vanilla beans, and local milk, cream and eggs, and has a fresh vanilla flavor. It is also available with golden California raisins.
“There’s a lot to get right with rice pudding,” he said. “Sometimes the rice is too hard or the pudding itself is runny. The texture might be wrong. My product is comparable to ice cream.”
Samples are often swiped off the farmers’ market tables as quickly as he places them. Sapienza serves small ounce-sized portions, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar for a sweet touch. He also plans to distribute other flavors, including chocolate, and a couple of seasonal ones, such as pumpkin and eggnog.
The popularity of rice pudding began in Asian countries but has spread rapidly, worldwide, over generations. It has become widely popular in European traditions, too.
“Rice pudding is one of the major desserts out there,” he added. “Many countries have their own form of rice pudding. It’s all a matter of making it your own.”
Rice pudding has taken off for a few names in the United States. Companies such as Spillson in Michigan, Miami Rice Pudding, which started in southern Florida, and Kozy Shack, which has been producing pudding products since the 1960s, have all helped bring the taste of rice pudding to homes across the country.
Sap’s Pudding is not only a way to enjoy the treat locally but is a healthier alternative than many of its predecessors, Sapienza emphasized.
“This pudding is all-natural with no preservatives,” said the Dover native. “It’s gluten-free and there are no trans fats. A lot of people can’t believe how healthy it is for as good as it tastes.”
And that first taste is usually all it takes to get a curious passerby to purchase a pound.
“If you can get it on a spoon to their mouth, that’s usually all it takes,” he said. “People are hooked from the first bite.”
Because, until recently, he had never marketed the pudding as a separate product outside of restaurants and grocery stores, it still in the process of getting it out there to the public.
“Word is spreading quickly,” he said. “In the first week, I had to make 500 pounds to keep up with all the demand, and that was my goal.”
Pound containers are available at the Fenwick Island Farmers’ Market every Monday and Friday, from 8 a.m. until noon, now through early September. Sap’s Pudding is also available on the menu at Jake’s Seafood in Rehoboth, Wings to Go in Long Neck and Milton, and Capriotti’s in Milford.
Customers can also pick up tubs at local grocery stores, such as Hocker’s Super Center in Millville and Harris Teeter in Fenwick Island. It’s hit the shelves, as well, at stores including Lloyd’s IGA in Lewes, Kulp’s Bulk Foods in Long Neck, Fifer’s Market in Dewey, Harris Teeter in Long Neck, Willey Farms in Townsend and Witt Brothers in Camden. Sapienza is trying to expand into Philadelphia, too.
“People are saying great things, and hearing them,” he said. “It’s a great way to help out local businesses and giving people something they’ll really enjoy.”
For more information about Sap’s Pudding, contact John Sapienza at (302) 934-7574 or at JLSAP2007@aol.com.
Sap’s Pudding is among the many foods available at the Fenwick Farmer’s Market on Monday and Friday mornings from 8 a.m. until noon, at the corner of Coastal Highway and Essex Street, on the lot between PNC Bank and Dairy Queen. The Bethany Beach Farmer’s Market, going on now, too, offers more great local foods and produce, every Sunday from 8 a.m. until noon, now through September at the PNC parking lot, at the corner of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue.