How to: Garden Huckleberry Syrup

Can-Do Real Foods works with a number of small family farms in the area. One, located high on the ridge above Newberg, is Sunshower Hill Farm, owned by Ranee and Jody Solmonsson. They raise a number of organic crops and Ranee produces amazing teas.

A couple of years ago she had a small crop of garden huckleberries and wanted a culinary syrup which might be used for pancakes and desserts, but was planned to make spectacular beverages from a simple Italian soda with carbonated water to your most alluring adult beverage of choice.

Whenever we mention this product most people assume we are talking about wild huckleberries, the kind you enjoy on summer hikes usually at higher altitudes. Garden huckleberries, however, are a whole different genus and belong in the nightshade family. They grow on cultivated bushes and are ready to harvest after the nights start getting significantly cold. Image may contain: plant, fruit and food

The berries are pretty large and not sweet at all. The skin is tough and the berry, when ripe, is hard. 2017a

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This presents a bit of a challenge in the processing. We need to extract juice from this hard berry, so the first step, after washing,  is to heat it up to help soften it.

Then the berries get milled and having the right tool is an important trick. Using a typical food mill or a chinois is long and laborious, with the container needing to be cleaned out and muscle fatigue in the shoulder usually occurring before the job is finished.

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However, thanks to a friend, we were able to borrow another kind of mill that spit the juice one way, the “must” (seeds, any stems and skins) another direction and it all worked easier on the arm.

Even better, when we ordered one we were able to get one with a motor as well as other screens to help us with other foods we process this way, such as pumpkin, grapes, and quince.

Once we have enough juice, sugar is added and then a bit of lemon juice to add a sparkle. Filling the jars is the final step and then, as in any canned food, letting it process and sit to make sure the seal is tight.2017d

Sunshower Hill Farm will have this item for sale starting late in November.  Contact them directly for obtain this wonderful syrup. Image may contain: drink

 

 

Marketing the Market

Last year something funneled down into my thinking mode and I realized I could ask shoppers at the Farmers’ Market booth if they would like to receive an email early, maybe Tuesday night, maybe Wednesday (leaving myself wiggle room) that would tell them just what we were planning to bring to the Thursday market.   And guess, what? People signed up! About 150 of them.

Since we often make small batches, maybe only a dozen of some yummy, I like to give the Buying Club a chance for first dibs. People are reminded if anything intrigues them to let me know to set one aside for them. It does not mean they need to purchase; just that they have that opportunity. This has been particularly friendly for those people who can not get to the market until late in the day.  (And because there is nothing lost if they do not show up or do not buy the reserved item, I don’t mind. I can always market it another day. The joy of preserved foods.)

I thought you might enjoy the Market Newsletter I emailed out Tuesday evening to the Buying Club for this week. Just to see the kind of communication it is.  If you have any ideas how to make it sparkle and drive more sales, PLEASE let me know.

JAM SESSION!!

Let’s make beautiful music for our taste buds this week! I’m bringing ONLY jellies because we have the new harvests beginning to pop and it is time to remind you that fruit spreads shine in ways more than breakfast toast or peanut butter sandwiches.

 

Our gravenstein apple tree was loaded last year (does not look good for this season, though) and when we heard one of our farm partners, Gratefull Gardens had a wooden cider press, we went over there to make a lot of cider. We took some of that juice and produced a beautiful clear MULLED APPLE CIDER JELLY.  Fall flavors, sure, but you know you enjoy them. This jelly can also be used to cook with sausage, potatoes, peppers and apples. Or as a glaze for chicken.

Two of our farm partners, Bethel Springs Farm and Keeler Estate Vineyard, both grow plums. Those deep purple orbs lend themselves to so many uses. Cara Lagunas of Third Street Oil and Vinegar suggested we splash a bit of pomegranate balsamic vinegar into that mellow plumminess. If you have not even tasted POM PLUM JELLY you might not understand how this deep rich flavor can translate very easily into a magnificent salad dressing.

Okay, the ever-present QUINCE PASTE will not be around much longer (at least until the fall). We have introduced this little known fruit to many people who now fully understand how matching this mellow full flavored paste with cheese is the bomb! Over goat cheese, in a baked brie, or simply with cream cheese, it’s superb. It’s also great with peanut butter.

“I don’t like rhubarb!” You know how often I hear that? When asked, it turns out the introduction was very tart. Well, I like my rhubarb sweet so here ya go…give it a try. Mixed with ginger because, as I’ve said it before, I just do not do with other people do. I love it with strawberries, don’t get me wrong. I just want to excite you with new options. Come taste the  RHUBARB GINGER JAM.  Great on ice cream and can be a filling for a cake also.

From Keeler Estate Vineyards we bring you two forms of their pinot noir wine. The PINOT NOIR WINE WOW! is a deep rich jelled spread that will help you introduce this to nonwine drinkers. (Did you know we must boil off the alcohol in order to get to set point for the jelly, so sad or not, there is no “booze” in this.)  We also introduced mulling spices to the mix and so, MULLED PINOT NOIR WINE WOW! is also available with cinnamon and other lovely flavors.

However, there IS booze in the NAUGHTY BUNNY MARMALADE, orange liquor to be exact. This marmalade is full of oranges and that is the flavor that comes through. Excellent as a glaze for chicken or fish. And to explain simply why we developed this marmalade, all you need to do is think of all those slightly pornographic carrots, you will understand that Bethel Springs Farm has more carrots than they can sell to their customers. More excitement in our canning kitchen and your home kitchen thanks to them!

We went to a nearby farm to obtain some pears a couple of years ago and the farmer showed us a bush that, after harvest, had only a few desiccated berries hanging. With the chickens underfoot wanting what little remained, we tasted them and eagerly agreed to harvest the next season. That was last summer and we only have a few jars left of GET YOUR GOUMI JELLY. A Siberian native plant, it has no predators here nor does it spread. It has a huge pit in the small berry, hence its lack of commercial viability here. So, we have this one small batch, almost all gone with a unique sparkling taste.

I love figs. I know many of you do too. We tasted an amazing FIG ORANGE JAM when we were in Croatia several years ago and have been trying to replicate it ever since. This one not only is great as is, but if you take the time to reduce it a bit, it can make a great filling for homemade fig newtons.

BERRRY NAUUGHTY was made for the first time last year when the market was about to open and Can-Do Real Food had next to no inventory until the 2016 harvests could be processed. We raided the freezer and had a few of this and a little of that and a bit more of this other berry. Not enough of any to make a straight jam. So we combined them, added some orange liquor and we sold out! So, now, we gathered our berries from the freezer, this time blackberries from a wild patch on a farm well off the road so no fumes, some raspberries from my canes, and some blueberries from our partner farm Beach Family Farm. It is with great pleasure we offer you a deep rich jam and I suppose you could use if in another way, but only if you can tear it out of the hands of your family members who are putting it on their toast.

See you Thursday noon to 6pm!!

 

 

 

Who Do You Know?

My mom was a nurse and so made sure we ate healthy meals. Each night we’d all sit down together as soon as the parentals were home from work and we’d have a meat and two veggies. Usually a home baked dessert afterwards. Sometimes it was delicious and sometimes I would have preferred to have a “no thank you” helping (i.e, liver).

As I struck out on my own I usually made a meat (never liver) and veggie, trying to skip desserts. Anyone who knows me personally knows I lost that attempt.

And once the kids were on the scene the effort improved and more veggies entered the picture (but never any liver). Most meals were made from scratch in those days but I had my shortcuts, like boboli or frozen bread dough to make pizzas and Betty Crocker brownie mix for the chocolate fix.

About seven years ago I started learning more about how the food we were eating was considerably different from the same food of my childhood. Concerns about pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods were one thing. But then I learned about how fish like tilapia was a farm fish which meant it was raised in man-made ponds that were often pretty polluted. And now, to complicate things more, Congress permitted country of origin information to no longer be on labels. So, really, where DOES that chicken come from?

Around the same time I began to get involved in the farm-to-table movement in West Virginia.  To say I knew nothing is not an understatement. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, and while New Jersey’s nickname may be the Garden State, I lived in the paved part. But I enjoyed visiting farms and asking questions and I learned.

I learned a lot and I learned only a smidgen of what they know. They, the magic makers who take a tiny little speck of stuff, a seed, and manage to make that turn into tomatoes or squash or spinach. Amazing magic. They know how to do it and it definitely takes a lot of skill.

Right now here in the Willamette Valley some of the farmers are finding some fields are drying out enough from the winter rains to get started, but others will have to wait for more sun….or at least more non-rain days.  And then, later, they will deal with the vagaries of the weather, with heat and sunshine and lack of rain. And then, here in Oregon, the rains will start again, maybe in October, maybe in November, maybe with climate change whenever it does.

Those vagaries can make or break a financial year for our local farmers…and your local farmers too. I don’t care where you are when you read this, you have some small farms nearby. About a hundred years ago there were farms all over. The Garden State, for example, had earned its nickname because it was the vegetable garden for New York City.

So, accept this piece: there are farmers near you, raising food you can eat.

Before I started working with the farmers I met in West Virginia and here in Oregon, they used to be invisible. Either I never went down back roads or the roads I drove were not rural enough. But they were there, all along. Maybe just tucked back off a long driveway, or around the hill on the other sides. They are there.

Why am I belaboring that point? Because it is time, past time, for you to know your farmer.

I’ve been using that phrase for years and it seems more and more I am posting it almost weekly as new disgusting things about our food becomes known. But what does it really mean?

It means that it is once again time for you to understand that what you put in your body does make a difference.  It means your food is even more important than who won March Madness.  It means that it is time you understand the difference in your food can make a difference in your life.

I’m not talking any special diet here. I am talking knowing the source of what YOU chose to eat.

First of all, and maybe this is all you need to appreciate, it will TASTE BETTER!  Why? Well, most of the fruits and veggies at the supermarket come long distances, flown in or by train or by truck.  In order to be transported without spoilage, those fruits and veggies are picked green…not ripe. Almost everyone has eaten tomatoes in the winter and then a fresh tomato off someone’s backyard plant in the summer. THAT amazing explosion in your mouth is the humongous difference in eating something picked green and something vine ripened.  ALL fruits and veggies are that way.

Not only that, but if you were brought up with canned vegetables, try all those that you decided you would avoid as an adult one more time, fixed from locally grown fresh produce. If you’re like me, you will be surprised. Those cans of spinach that Popeye crammed down his throat to get strong never convinced me….until I ate fresh spinach in a salad and then braved up and cooked some. Spinach is no longer on my “hate it” list.

Secondly, and this is a bit concerning to me, we know our infrastructure (bridges and highways) have not been getting the maintenance they should have been getting over the past few decades. If there is a problem, as there was with the blizzard here in Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge blocking I-84 and the railroad, the transportation of goods (including food) may be slowed.  If I can get most of my food from local sources, I can manage quite well. Now the Willamette Valley is an amazing garden and so much grows here that we could get by with only a few things missing from our diet, but not all areas are this fertile. Nevertheless, there is food near you. Find out what it is and learn how to prepare it for your meals.

Third, while the economic indicators show that the recession is over, it just doesn’t feel that healthy yet. One way to have a tremendous impact on your local economy is to spend more of your money IN it. In other words, use local shops and farms and services instead of the large corporate entities as much as possible. I, for one, discovered that printing my labels for my canned products cost more at Staples than at a small locally owned print shop. A lot less at Copy Cabana! So, when I go in weekly during my processing season and pay for printing, I know that money will mostly stay right here in my town.  The food I buy from local farmers helps the local economy the same way.

So how do you build a relationship with a farmer?  One easy way is to identify where and when your local farmers’ markets are.  Many market managers make an effort to plan the hours so consumers can stop during lunch hour or after work on their way home. Here in McMinnville, our planned market hours are expanding to noon to 6pm on Thursdays from mid May to Mid October. There are markets every day of the week within 30 minutes of here! Maybe in your area too.

When you go to your farmers’ market you will see four or five or more fruit and vegetable stands as well as other specialties with meat,  bread, wine, beer, candy, and preserved items (yeah Can-Do Real Food!).  Speak to the person at the booth. Ask about how they produce their food. They will be happy to speak with you!  They are proud of what they do and love it when people show interest.

Some farmers offer a CSA. That stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. This is an easy way to get more bang for your buck (more food for your dollar), but there is a catch, maybe two. First, you pay ahead, either by the month or the season or the partial season. This permits the farmer to have working capital during the growing season. Second, you will get some produce you may have never eaten before. That can be a hard hurdle to overcome, but ask the farmer for a recipe or use your internet skills to search for one. Make exploring new foods a regular family adventure. (When Graham and I  first got together we did a cuisine of the week for a few months and learned new ethnic recipes. Now our exploration usually is a new veggie our farmers suggest.)

Look, some people (you?) have a close reliance on a hair dresser, a nail person, a massage therapist. We want what makes us feel/look/move healthy to be a regular, reliable part of our routine.  Where is your decision about the source of your food in that list of important people? Where is the consideration of how you CAN influence your health with what you eat?

It’s easier than you think. There are many ways to find local information, but an easy place to start is Local Harvest. Stick in your zip code and hit the search button. You will then see a list of farms and more that are near you. Have fun exploring…..and share your stories!

 

Name That Food!

My husband has told me that in Texas there is a store where there are a kazillion kind of peppers and the employees must be fluent in two languages and neither need not to be English.  Houston, for example, is a major city with many many immigrants, and a wise business understands that many non-English speakers who live there love those peppers. He said he often brought visitors there because it was fun to play “Name The Vegetable” since the produce department had global selections.

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Today, the regular supermarket has selections that sometimes even a new cash register clerk does not recognize. This is a sad but perfect example of how many people no longer cook from scratch and so they do not know the appearance of “whole food” .

Recognizing a plant that is growing is the next step for many. For example, I am not a farmer. No green thumbs. I do everything I can to support them by buying locally from farmers I know to working with them to use surplus in our recipes so they can have another income stream with shelf-stable foods to offer to their customers. Farmers work hard, long days, no time off in season or if they have animals, all year. The LEAST any of us can do is support American farmers! But I grew up in suburbia and can recognize those few plants my dad grew in our garden.

Several years ago I wrote a blog for Huntingon, West Virginia’s Wild Ramp Market. Visiting a farm I snapped photos of plants in the garden and posted the pictures  asking people to Name That Veggie. Many people were able to guess just about all of them. 

Today I saw something online that provided photos of some common things we eat (and some I personally have never seen let alone had a chance to taste) like coffee and capers. Check it out! See how many you can identify.

And after that, if you can try to eat one you’ve never tasted, let me know!

 

And the Beat Goes On!

The weather changed into its winter wet cycle here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon a bit over a month ago but, believe it or not, we are still busy in the kitchen processing our farm partners’ harvests!

This week we processed over 200 pounds of garden huckleberries, making a deep rich culinary syrup. Sure, you could use it on pancakes, but it shines in making beverages. One of the Can-Do kitchen staff started dreaming of a kind of mojito….we’ll have to get her recipe.  We expect another 500 pounds of the berries after this weekend so there will be plenty of syrup for everyone!

Thanksgiving last week was a time to pause and think of all we have accomplished this year. Tied to the harvest, we very much feel blessed with living here in this fertile area. Here is a list of all we prepared this season:

 

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And even now, as we enter the slower time of year, we are busy in the Test Kitchen developing some new concepts.  We have seen that many of the people who purchase our products really enjoy cooking, so with them in mind we are developing some specialized recipes that will cut down cooking prep time. Just to tease you a bit, we have been asked by Creo Chocolate, the Portland chocolatier who supplies the 73% chocolate for our dessert sauces, to develop a mole sauce.  This will enable you to have all the ingredients you need to add to your broth and your protein. Very affordable and our focus group thought it was just the right mix of heat and sweet.

Until then, enjoy the treats you have purchased…..come see us at the McMinnville Grange Farmers’ Market Saturday, December 10 from 10-2 to stock up your pantry, find some wonderful items to enhance the holiday meals and festivities, and perhaps even pick up something to gift to someone special.

 

Hip Deep but the Flood May be Slowing

We had a day of rain on Saturday. The rain here in Oregon is very different from every other place I’ve lived, mostly east of the Mississippi. Except for summer late afternoon or evening thundershowers, east coast rain usually is settled in for hours and hours, maybe days. It comes down hard and there is no way to go out without an umbrella.rainbow-nov-7a

Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon most rain is a gentle misty event. It’s the kind of rain that requires the “sweep” setting on the windshield wiper and a hat and waterproof jacket is all that is typically needed. During the winter the clouds overhead scuttle east, blown by high ocean breezes. In the winter, our rainy season, there are breaks in the clouds and we get to see lots of rainbows.

Sunday was partly cloudy, with some clouds pretty dark with moisture but no new rain fell. Today was more grey but no rain. Tomorrow it is expected to be about the same with some more sun, daytime temps in the low 70s.

Why the weather report?  Well, tomatoes. img_1719

When the fall rains really begin, the tomatoes absorb the moisture and split…and so, that season will be done.

On Sunday when I did my farm pick-ups only one farm had tomatoes. We are still processing somewhere about 150 pounds, trying to make our wonderful Loaded Pasta Sauce as fast and furious as we can. Because, well, when the tomatoes stop….so does the pasta sauce processing.loaded-pasta-sauce

Choosing to eat locally with the seasonal garden production is a wonderful way to get connected to the earth and its cycles, even if you live in the city or suburbia. With our food processing business tied to the farms, we feel this ebb and flow all the time.

Highest and Best Use

I learned a new term in college that has  always been part of any evaluation since then: highest and best use. In terms of land planning, it relates to the greatest economic development that is permissible by law on any given piece of land. For example, a forest has some potential for income generation through recreational fees as well as tree harvesting, but a factory that produces whatever widgets it makes can end up with lots of value.Profit

Highest and best use in those terms relate to economics only. What is the most money you can earn from any piece of property.

But there are other meanings to highest and best use, really.

Yesterday, at the Oregon State Fair I had some time prior to my Can-Do Real Food presentation, so I went around and sat with people in the audience and chatted. Most were really receptive to conversation but one person cut it short.

I started by asking if they were a farmer or a gardener. Yes, I farm was the proud answer. I held up my thumbs and clearly showed they were not green and told her I highly respected the work she did to produce food.

So far so good.

I then told her I am a food processor using the surplus food from area farms.  She asked what that meant.

I told her how I had worked on a farm and had been really surprised and pretty appalled how much food ended up in the compost pile only because it was shaped funny.IMG_1690

So? she responded…and there was an edge to that tone of voice.

When I explained how I had developed my business to capture that unsold healthy produce to preserve it for local consumers she was visibly shaken. She informed me that compost has value.

I agreed,. I know, as the farmers at my partner farms have told me, that compost goes back into the soil as green fertilizer.

But, I suggested, it can be used to not only feed people, but to provide another income stream for the farmer.

At that point she stood up and told me that she didn’t NEED any more income. She then walked out.

So, she is probably right. When I was in college and learned about highest and best use I was being taught that the epitome of best is collecting the most money.

Perhaps this woman had a message she could share that would be valuable.

The Flood in Oregon

2014-10-03 11.21.47By 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. IMG_1626

The recipe calls for first cooking the onion and added carrots and zucchini and garlic. IMG_1627

Then we add the tomatoes and let it simmer for about an hour. IMG_1628

Finally we add the herbs, continue the simmer for a bit. Check the pH and adjust for food safety and then can can can.IMG_1632

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!

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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.

 

FIGS!!!

My introduction to figs was Fig Newtons and boy oh boy I could eat a package by myself. Love them.  I was introduced to fresh figs the summer of 1972 when walking across a field in Israel with one of my cousins. We came upon a large tree and he said , “I don’t know the name in English but it is very good to eat.” It reminded me of something but I could not place it. After all, dried/fresh  tastes differ slightly and it was not wrapped in a cookie. We got back to his house, pulled out the Hebrew-English dictionary and my gastronomic education had been enhanced.fig tree

Here in Oregon we have a lot of figs and I have been trying for several years to get some. This year I have connected with three different people who have fig trees and it appears that the first is ready to be gathered this weekend. I am so excited!!!

Assorted milk & plain chocolate in blue bowl
Assorted milk & plain chocolate in blue bowl

So I have two ideas of what I would like to do with them…..I tasted an amazing fig-orange preserves at the Fancy Food Show in January and hope to replicate that. I also would like to prepare a fig paste that people can use many ways, and with a recipe I will provide, bake their own version of fig newtons.homemade fig newtonsfig-orange-jam-5

I wondered if any of you have made any fig preserves of any kind and had a recipe to recommend. I’m also interested in savory recipes, as I will dry a bunch and hope to develop a dehydrated recipe for the 2017 season.

 

 

Test Kitchen Continues

Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger
Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger

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.

Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Berger
Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Berger

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.beetsbWe 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.

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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.

Playing with food is FUN!