Beth Rankin, President and Processor of Can-Do Real Food, typically froze freshly harvested food but never had enough freezer space. She decided she would learn to can after her move to Oregon and serendipity led to meeting with Jana Brown who taught how to water bath can tomatillo salsa and Tina Schneider who instructed how to pressure can fresh tuna. When Beth took the part time job at Bethel Springs Farm she earned minimum wage but enjoyed taking home any of the produce that was below the farmer’s high standards for sale to customers. It was that summer of 2014 when the pantry shelves started filling with canned goods. Beth finally understood the pride of a farmer she had met in West Virginia who displayed her shelves of preserves.
Comfortable with canning, albeit in no way an expert, Beth tackled the task of starting a commercially licensed food processing business. First, certification with the Better Processing School. Then inspection of a commercial kitchen and approval of recipes by the State of Oregon. All the boxes were checked and the processing began in July 2015.
Developing recipes for production involves research through cookbooks, online as well as proffered by numerous friends and family. Food safety considerations are always the key factor: can any recipe of something exquisitely delicious be safely preserved?
Coping with a jam recipe that did not jell required us to get creative and we used that to season our apple pie filling. Taking the milled seeds and skins from our hot sauce permitted us to develop a grilling and roasting rub. This kind of creativity is part of who this team is and the epitome of what Can-Do Real Food is about: we will minimize food waste.
And then, I injured an already arthritic knee and movement became painful. The summer of 2017 was physically demanding on all of us, as Beth had to have a number of surgeries. A decision had to be made about the business but closing it just did not sit well. Finally, after the success of the limited dehydrated offerings in 2017, the emphasis in 2018 was set on expanding the variety of dried foods with an eye on the needs of backpackers. With the need to carry water and fuel, backpackers prefer dried food that rehydrates quickly and tastes great. We Can Do that!
Graham Rankin, Vice President of Research and Development uses his amazing knife skills to prep most of our recipes. His background in chemistry is also invaluable when identifying alternative ways to solve some issues, like a cloudy grape juice prior to processing it into what became a clear jelly. His comfort with math helps us convert recipes from household yield to commercial yield. And he’s also a good sport by helping with some picking and the Farmers Markets and is in charge of sweeping and mopping the floors in the kitchen.
Graham says his mom taught him some cooking basics but his real learning happened in front of the television watching Julia Child. He has enjoyed numerous culinary school classes and being on several competitive cooking teams. His knowledge about using herbs when cooking to enhance flavor helped him develop another use for the abundant yellow plums one of the farms produced, the Herbed Plum Grilling and Basting Sauce, which became a bestseller and won second place at the 2017 Oregon State Fair.
The switch to dehydrated products provide an additional aspect that canning does not. Sometimes, in the drying process volatile oils that influence aroma and color get compromised. Graham’s challenge is to determine if a preparation is needed prior to dehydration, from a simple step of blanching to a more complicated need to roast to develop flavors more deeply. It’s all part of the joy of being able to play with our food.
Mary Wolfe serves as the Vice President of Production. Her primary duty is prep so it is not unrealistic to say she has had her hands on every single tomato that we process. Her sense of humor got tickled with the many funny shaped tomatoes, carrots and potatoes we received from the farmers. Mary also helped at the Farmers’ Market just about every week in 2016 and 2017 which became a lot of fun with all the people she knew and called over to the booth.
We also enjoy periodic help from many friends and family. If you want to see what it is like in a small commercial production, give me a call or email and we can arrange it….but be warned, you will be put to work!