I grew up in New Jersey, lived in a bunch of places mostly east of the Mississippi until almost four years ago when we moved to Oregon. I call them hazelnuts. Born and raised Oregonians call them filberts.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has about 650 Oregon farm families growing hazelnuts on 28,400 acres. This provides about 90% of all the nut use in the nation and accounts for the third largest crop worldwide after those grown in Turkey and Italy.
As I wrote before in this blog, Tackling a Standard, my kids love Nutella so my task even before I became a commercial food processor was to make a hazelnut spread with chocolate for them. Last year we made a few small batches and they sold out at the McMinnville Farmers’ Market.
Today, we tackled the task again and there is no doubt in my mind we have turned a wonderful corner on production. Both the plain and chocolate versions are amazing……you have to come taste!!
Filbert’s Chocolate Revenge – Known everywhere else as a filbert, the local hazelnuts are offered in a chocolate spread. Perfect on toast but also can be used to make an amazingly decorative breakfast bread. Portland’s Creo 73% chocolate once again is the star. This is not going to taste the same as the one you know because the ingredient list is shorter, with no artificial anything. 9 ounce jar $10. Ingredients: hazelnuts, chocolate (with cane sugar), vanilla. See the Recipe Page for a cookie that uses this as a filling.
Nutty Hazel’s Spread – No, this is not about how my wacky cousin is losing her waistline. This is about one of Oregon’s world famous agricultural crops, the filbert! This delicious nut spread will be available only in small batches and maybe, just maybe, we will make it to the next harvest in the fall. 9 ounce jar $10. Ingredients: hazelnuts, that’s all!
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.
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!
A brainstorm hit me last summer. Possibly it was a comment made by a shopper at the Farmers’ Market. Possibly it was simply a way to try to find a use for the abundance of zucchini that just seems to never end in the summer. The concept of dehydrating produce and developing dried products started me thinking.
As the harvest progressed I dried all kinds of things: carrots (sliced and shredded), potatoes (shredded, sliced and also cooked and mashed), tomatoes (in slices and also the skins which are a byproduct of making the pasta sauce), greens of all kinds, onions (and scallion and leeks and chives), zucchini (sliced and shredded), winter squash (roasted and pureed) and more. Fruit includes apples, pear, plums, peaches, berries, and of course fruit leathers.
We ran special tests on apples and carrots, drying them to the recommended instructions, less, and more. The concept with the shorter drying time was a consideration for the speed of rehydration; if there is still some moisture left in a piece, it will need less time in the soup pot or will have a soft chewy texture in the mouth. The idea behind the longer drying time is to aid in the reduction to a powder. We found the shorter drying time on the carrots ended up with mold after a month in storage, so that idea was nixed. We found the longer drying time was instrumental in achieving a really fine powder.
And we had fun days in the Test Kitchen making up batches of soup from whole ingredients and then trying to replicate with the dried equivalents. We made up 7 soups, two chip dip mixes, and 3 snack mixes.
The time came to have a Tasting Supper. I invited farm partners, Michelle and Steve from Bethel Springs Farm, Gabrielle from Keeler Estates Vineyard and Ranee from Sunshower Hill Farm. I prepared a menu and tasting sheets asking for a rating and comments.
We started with the chip dips and the comments were great. They checked with me that I was handling the critique and of course I told them that was the purpose. We do not want to offer new products that are just “so-so” to the consumers; we want to WOW them and have them clamoring for more.
With that in mind, they proceeded. Graham provided terrific help by heating up the soups and serving them while I could stay at the table to continue the conversation.
We continued through the soups, tasting over nine. The servings were quite small but people were very full, so we took a break for show and tell. I shared some of what I had brought back from the Fancy Food Show in January, especially those items that might be of special interest to our growth but also just fun items.
Then, back to work, tasting the snack mixes. I had also prepared (not on the tasting menu) a berry blend that I had prepared from store-bought items since I did not have dried strawberries or raspberries.
And then, just to end on a sweet note, I served ice cream I had prepared from a recipe book purchased at the Fancy Food show. LOL
We made several decisions:
We will make fewer kinds of products but more of those because they were highly popular in our first season. So, instead of offering an “instant” tomato soup this season (since it needed work to improve texture anyway), we will just use up the tomatoes to make lots and lots of Loaded Pasta Sauce, our best seller.
We will make small batches of products that had limited popularity, like the salsa. Part of the problem there is that the growing season here in Oregon tends to produce less hot versions of hot peppers. We will probably not call any of our potential hot products “hot”, as people who prefer heat found that rating disappointing last season. Keeler Estates has a hotter pepper, though, so we may be able to use her peppers to supplement and bring the heat up.
We are moving from home canning jars to smooth sided commercial jars with a standard commerical lid. This will permit our labels (redesigned now) to fit smoothly on the surface.
The labels will be printed on waterproof paper with laser jet printing, so we will no longer have ink runs in the refrigerator caused by condensation. We’re working for a more commercial appearance and these two steps will help.
We will stay with sugar as our sweetening agent for jams and jellies but we will test a different pectin that is marketed as requiring less sugar for gelling. We will offer two dehydrated fruit snacks as a way for people to enjoy fruit without any added sugar
The Second Annual Tasting Supper is planned. The farmers really liked meeting each other and also being part of the business decision making.
Can-Do Real Food is continually striving to help the farmers use their surplus to gain another income stream and entice the consumers to year-round foods made from locally grown produce. We are always interested in comments and suggestions. In addition, we are able to add a few more partner farms and are actively seeking one that produces hazelnuts and walnuts.
Here in test kitchen land imaginations run wild. My head is full of new ways to use the crops the partner farms are planting this season in the dehydrated products. It seems that instead of doing same old same old, like the soups anyone can buy at the grocery store, our line-up is leaning to international flavors.
A good friend suggested we consider making tortilla soup and when we went to a Mexican restaurant a few days ago I ordered it. It was very flavorful, spicy but not “hot”, but it had chicken. Since our license does not permit any recipe to have more than 5% meat, I then turned to Google for recipes for vegetarian tortilla soup and there were many. Epicurious usually offers recipes that are delicious AND achievable without much work, so that is the one I decided we will test today in the kitchen.
But I ran into a problem. The recipe calls for corn tortillas. And corn tortillas that are inexpensive are made with GMO corn.
Since I market these products locally, I wanted to know what kind of food ingredient concerns people in the area have, so I threw the question out to the Newberg Community Discussion Group on Facebook. I was pleased at all the responses and appreciate that people took the time to write about their needs. I heard about the need to avoid gluten (corn is okay, so as long as I avoid any corn-flour combinations, that is easy), a good number of concerns about GMOs (corn is a major GMOS crop, so not just any corn tortilla will take care of this concern), and the request for farming practices that, if not certified organic, at least avoid the conventional farming practices of chemical herbicides and pesticides.
Now, Can-Do Real Food can’t be all things to all people with diet concerns, but one issue I am trying to address is to bring food that is healthy to eat to more people in the region. And one concern where I sympathize is to try to avoid GMOs. That means we needed to find organic corn tortillas and my store did not have any. Now, there are some available and perhaps even in my town at another market, so we will explore that if the recipe is one we want to pursue. Meanwhile, I think we can proceed.