About a year ago, an unusual business popped up among the grass-fed jerky specialists and chèvre-makers at New Amsterdam Market. The vendors called themselves Little Wrinkles, and as the name suggests, partners Stephanie Venetsky and Jose Alba were applying a handcrafted, distinctly Brooklyn approach to raisins. They sold varieties made from conventional white and red California grapes, but soon began drying out fruits like sugar plums and tart morellos plucked from upstate trees (almost certainly the city’s first locavore raisins). But when New Amsterdam closed down, Little Wrinkles went on hiatus, eventually popping up again at L.I.C. Flea & Food. But now they’ve moved beyond simply drying the fruits that they want and have begun letting customers commission custom batches — effectively becoming America’s premier purveyor of bespoke raisins.
“It’s really not the most lucrative business,” Venetsky admits. Raisins take a long time, after all. “People say, ‘Oh, you can just put them in the oven and let them go,’” Venetsky points out, but that’s really not the case. At Little Wrinkles, the raisins are dried in a special convection oven at extremely low temperatures (between 160˚ and 180˚ Fahrenheit), and any given batch may take between four and eight hours to prepare, depending on ultraspecific factors like total accrued sunshine. Vigilance is required; Little Wrinkles also doesn’t use preservatives, so the finished batches don’t last long. “I don’t want to bash mass-produced raisins, even the ones with sulfates. We’re not even trying to compete with them,” says Venetsky. “But I don’t want mine to have a shelf life of, like, forever.” In addition to the time and potential for spoilage, the yield is very low: Grapes are just about 81 percent water, so, every 10 pounds of grapes might only yield a scant 30 ounces of product.
But still, they’re very good: “I think the term ‘small batch’ is often over-used and essentially meaningless,” says New Amsterdam Market’s Robert LaValva, “but in this case the raisins were noticeably plumper and juicier than commercial raisins … They were very candy-like without having any added sugar.”
After selling out consistently during their brief tenure as market vendors, Little Wrinkles set up a website and an Etsy shop. They turned to dehydrating blueberries from New Jersey and apricots from upstate New York; they rendered plums into prunes and dried batches of cherry tomatoes still on the vine. Around the time Venetsky and Alba started making chocolate-covered raisins, Little Wrinkles also figured it was about time to corner the handcrafted rum raisin market and began selling double-dried raisins macerating in jars topped off with Brugal & Co. dark rum. Another variety, “Drunken Raisins,” are even more time consuming: They’re dehydrated, rehydrated with a luxurious soak in port or white wine, then dehydrated a second time.
The products are outstanding, the kind of thing that should be at every high-end cocktail bar in America, and maybe will be in a year. But Venetsky is surprisingly ambivalent about such a labor-intensive business. “This started as a platform to raise awareness about food, to open a dialog, and that’s it,” she says. “It sounds crazy, but some people don’t even realize what raisins are, or where they come from, or that they’re grapes.”
So for now, the only way to get a batch of Little Wrinkles raisins is to get in touch with Venetsky directly, either by calling or emailing the info on their website. She’ll work with customers based on what sunset-colored fruit is available at the Greenmarket — which, now that the fall harvest season is beginning, should be plenty.