Courtney Werp is an English teacher in Seattle who also happens to run Ballard Extracts, where she produces organic, small-batch extracts to flavor cocktails, baked goods, and more. We got a chance to ask her more about how Ballard came to be, and how she finds the time to be a professional educator and a professional foodmaker at once — we're in awe, and you will be, too.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Shoreline, WA — about ten minutes north of Seattle.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
That is a good question! I don’t think I had a clue. I know that I enjoyed working with my hands and creating things. I also liked to work hard. I did bake with my mom starting at a very young age, and she taught me all that I know in the kitchen. She always made things from scratch: mozzarella by hand, cinnamon rolls that take hours to rise, chicken stock from a chicken. All these things growing up made me understand the importance of the basic ingredients.
You clearly love cooking and baking — how did you get into extracts, in particular?
My mom and I love to bake, and with the most basic ingredients. Since we make our own extract and use it in our baked goods, we decided to make it available to the public. It has been such an awesome learning experience — figuring out how to design a label, finding packaging that fit our vision, and creating the best extracts sourced with ingredients as close to home as possible. Since I live in Ballard, and the kitchen space we rent is in Ballard, we decided to include Ballard in our brand.
Is it difficult to make extracts? What was the learning process for you?
It is not too difficult to make extracts. The hardest part is getting the percentage of alcohol right for what you’re extracting, since it depends on the acidic level of the food being extracted. We did try every possible type of vanilla bean, as well as all different types of alcohols, before we found our perfect balance and combination. It was all trial and error for us. Luckily, we have a large family to test all of our baked goods on!
What makes the difference between a really great extract and a less-great one?
Great question! We use all organic alcohol, and the percentage of alcohol is probably higher than others you find at the store. Others have more water than our extract. Also, we extract the product and don’t use oil like lime oil, which many of the extracts you find at the store use.
We zest our fruit and use only the best organic vanilla beans. We use vanilla beans from Madagascar and organic alcohol. Our vanilla is pure vanilla extract, in that it fits the criteria for pure vanilla extract by the FDA. We don’t use imitation vanilla or any synthetic versions of vanilla to make our extract. For the chocolate extract, we use Theo Cocoa Powder, which is produced locally and is fairtrade and organic.
Courtney's elixirs, in all flavors and aromas.
What’s the most inventive way you, or someone you know, has used your extracts?
People like to use our extracts in their cocktails!
What other flavors do you want to make down the line?
We are working on a Ginger Syrup, Grapefruit Syrup, and Vanilla Syrup.
What led you to become an English teacher?
Good question! I really enjoyed reading British literature in college and just followed the path of least resistance to get my degree. While I adore my students and teaching, I am more of a hands-on type of girl. I like to create things and work hard!
How do you balance teaching and making extracts? Do your students know about your business, or about your love of cooking?
Yes — my students do know about my love for cooking and baking! I often work in the evenings on the extracts and focus my time during the day teaching. During the holidays, my mom and I like to sell our extracts at local events.
Do you and your mother work well together? What was it like starting a business together? Has it changed your relationship, and how?
We do! I handle the business side of things, and my mom manages the kitchen. Our relationship has strengthened since we have endured setbacks as well as accomplishments together.
What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?
Since I have two small children, we like to go to Phinney Market. I also enjoy going to Patxi’s Pizza, Stoneburner, and Brunswick & Hunt.
Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?
I listen to Pandora — currently Lorde radio.
What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?
Gyros are my go-to easy recipe.
What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?
I usually make wings with my mom’s homemade jelly, or I bring a dessert such as lemon bars or cupcakes.
What’s your favorite drink of the moment?
We're going to ask you some quick-fire questions — answer these before you have a chance to think about it! Dog or cat?
Tomato sauce or pesto?
Regular fries or waffle fries?
Chocolate or caramel?
Pizza or pasta?
Wine, beer, or cocktail?