By this time last year we were hip deep in tomatoes but then again, we had a 10-day spell of 100 degree days the end of July and that zipped up the ripening process.
This year we had a warm spring and for a while crop ripening was about three weeks ahead of normal but then, we cooled down.
Oh, it was delightful to be in the low 70s but that meant that the temperature dipped to the low 40s at Bethel Springs Farm, my largest farm partner. So, for several weeks the farmer has been telling me “three more weeks” and she is still telling me that.
However, this past Saturday I got a call from Sarah at Wood Mallet Farm located in Yamhill. She and her husband Elliot are in their first year of farming the land they bought and so had no idea of how marketing would go. They attend the farmers’ market in McMinnville every other Thursday and one in Sherwood on Saturdays, but found themselves with about 60 pounds of surplus tomatoes that afternoon.
I had met Sarah one of the first market days and had explained the mission of Can-Do Real Food, so she found my card and made the call and now we are perhaps ankle deep in tomatoes.
We have tried to streamline the prep process, but if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to toss them out! We wash and trim spots and stem ends and then chop in the food processor.
The recipe calls for first cooking the onion and added carrots and zucchini and garlic.
Then we add the tomatoes and let it simmer for about an hour.
Finally we add the herbs, continue the simmer for a bit. Check the pH and adjust for food safety and then can can can.
We will repeat tomorrow with the rest of the produce and both Wooden Mallet and Can-Do Real Food will be able to offer our very popular Loaded Pasta Sauce this week!
We also made some mild tomatillo salsa today and will make another batch tomorrow with significantly hotter peppers for those consumers who enjoy something that makes them reach for a beverage as well.
Because our food processing endeavor is so closely tied to the local harvest, we enjoyed November through May with very little time spent in the commerical kitchen. We were not slacking, however. Not only did we attend multiple conferences and seminars, we also worked pretty intensely in the “test kitchen” prior to the First Annual Tasting Supper the end of March.
At that time we also asked our farm partners to give us an idea of what they would be planting so we could begin to think about new recipes to develop during the harvest of 2016.
We are in that harvest already. Fruits have been ripening for the past few weeks and we have begun processing some vegetables as well. Greens are dried for use in dehydrated products like soups and carrots and zucchini have roles both in the canned as well as dried product line.
Of course, tomatoes are coming. I feel like John Snow warning everyone “Winter Is Coming” in the Game of Thrones. When the tomatoes start, they don’t stop until the beginning of November! So, while we are excited to be in ramp-up production phase, we know the days in the kitchen will be getting longer.
Meanwhile, we have veggies coming in a volume we did not fully anticipate. One is beets.We currently have a recipe for pickled beets in the approval process. This is a 3-step government regulated process required for all recipes that use the addition of an acid, vinegar or lemon juice for example, as part of the food safety requirements. Pickled beets uses vinegar and so, a small sample of the finished recipe was brought in to the lab that tests for brix, water activity and pH. After that determination is made, if all is well (and we expect it will be) the recipe and the lab information then is reviewed by the Oregon Processing Authority, a professor of Food Science at OSU. Finally, after he gives his approval, we submit each recipe once again to the federal government for their review. This process can take 3 to 5 weeks so balancing the anticipated harvest and the production in the kitchen is important.
We have beets available now, however, and we can not start making pickled beets yet. While they can be stored for a while, Tomatoes Are Coming, and we do not want to build a stockpile of “MUST DO” tasks. So, back into the Test Kitchen to play with beets and see how they can be prepared in a dehydrated format that will be enjoyed by people.
We played with two recipes and believe we have some winners. With good friends willing to come be guinea pigs for a tasting supper, we managed to feed them and keep their friendship, too. Next comes production which involves the dehydration process of each ingredient, and then the assembly of each product with cooking instructions.
I’m holding this one close for another week or so but will soon disclose the new products. I think we have something people can really enjoy AND we may be edging into the “gourmet” area with one.
Michelle Burger is the owner of the organic Bethel Springs Farm and sends out a weekly newsletter to her customers so they can place orders that she delivers to them weekly. I received my newsletter this morning and was very excited to see that she is beginning to harvest carrots and zucchinis.
We have lots of uses for both of those:
Carrots and zucchini both go into the Loaded Pasta Sauce. We have to wait for the tomatoes to process that yumminess, so the veggies will be shredded and frozen to bide their time until the tomatoes start flowing.
The carrot marmalade Naughty Bunny is only so-so popular, so we won’t make another batch for a while but the Naughty Zuc flew off the table at the Farmers’ Market. You’ll be seeing more of that soon.
Both carrots and veggies will be making numerous appearances in our new dehydrated line. In soups, in dips, and in snack mixes, be prepared for new taste sensations!
I know a couple from church who own a commercial strawberry farm about 10 miles from my house. He has about 30 acres of strawberries and arranges for pickers to come in to fill his contract with a company that uses his strawberries for their product. After they finish, he notifies the church we are free to come in and pick whatever we want. Essentially, glean.
Last year Graham and I picked about 20 pounds and made a huge batch of strawberry syrup to be used at the church’s Saturday Morning Breakfast. It was received enthusiastically by the patrons and ran out pretty quickly.
This year Graham, Jana and I worked for about two hours and managed to get 54.5 pounds. They are now in the freezer at the church to start the syrup process when we go back in on Monday.
These strawberries will not be used for Can-Do Real Food products as we try to only use produce that has been raised without sprays. There are a lot of reasons why a farmer chooses to use pesticides and herbicides. There are also many reasons why others choose not to.
I made a decision about five years ago that my personal eating will avoid those chemical applications to the food I eat and I think about 85% of our diet comes from farmers we personally know.
However, these strawberries are food and available and Can-Do Real Food has a driving mission to reduce food waste. Making the syrup for the Saturday Morning Breakfast at McMinnville’s Cooperative Ministries is about the best WIN-WIN I can imagine.
And whenever I spend time harvesting, I understand how back breaking this work is. We should never look at any of our food without thanking the farmers who made it possible for us to eat. I am not a good farm worker, nor a clean one.