Here I am toiling away in the commercial kitchen when I get a message from a friend: How about a case of peaches?
Hmmm, more peaches. I have made the Hogan’s Hot Stuff and the Naughty Peach Jam and brought both to the farmers’ market last week. There are more available and local people can contact me to arrange purchase. But as good as those are, both in taste and popularity, these new peaches offer a bit of fun in a different way.
They belong to my friend and I am her personal food processor. She hands over fruits and vegetables to me from time to time and I preserve them for her. This time she requested peach with ginger fruit leather. I love when people want to explore taste combinations and I think she’s right; I can’t wait to see how that turns out.
My friend loves to cook and she recognizes a good deal on raw produce when she sees one. That’s how she ends up with a box here and large sack there of this and that. And after I work my magic, her pantry is a bit fuller and she’s looking for the next item for stocking up.
I’m doing the same thing in a way for one of my farm partners. They actually have no plans for selling any of the yummies I preserve for them from their garden. All items are for their home consumption. They have gotten to the point where they know they personally do not have the time (or energy) to put up tomato sauce or other things. They call me and I can take care of it for them. Right now we are exploring and agreeing that dehydrated Asian pears are the bomb!
And I’m doing the exact same thing for one other friend who really hates to cook. But she ‘ll be the first to declare that she likes to eat. She asked me if I could provide her some simple meals in a jar. I had talked to her how I pressure can left over turkey after Thanksgiving into turkey pot pie. Then, if we come home and are too tired to even think about cooking, we can open the jar and heat it up. This friend and I are exploring what family favorites of hers can be canned up so she can have it easier in her kitchen while her family eats delicious and nutritious meals without the cost of eating out.
I can do the same thing for you. I can cook it here or there, either way. In fact, if you want to learn to can or dehydrate, working in your kitchen makes a lot more sense so we can do the job together and you learn as we go.
The decision to become a commercial food processor was made with a great deal of thought, good advice and, amazingly, a lot of naivety. You just don’t know what you don’t know on any new endeavor and I was in for an interesting ride the first 18 months.
I understood I needed to get certified by the Better Processing School and when I checked to see when the course would be offered in Oregon I discovered it was two weeks before I looked. Okay, not a horrible roadblock, in fact, there was no roadblock at all. The program is one that is established on a Federal level, so although each state offers it generally through its land grant college, University of California Davis offered an online program and so, that was that. Easy enough.
I needed to find a commerical kitchen and that was easier. I knew the kitchen at McMinnville Cooperative Ministries had been designed about ten years ago to enable a crew of novice volunteers to work together to feed 300-400 people each Saturday morning. The space is amazing. The features are abundant. The kitchen is well known to the local Health Department and to the other officials who must approve features before a kitchen is allowed for commercial operation. All was well.I needed to obtain a food processor license from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and there were a myriad of requirements for that. I obtained the license to make jams and other concoctions with sugar but the recipes requiring lemon juice or vinegar fell into another category. Those needed a sample analyzed by a lab specializing in food and only those with numbers meeting or exceeding a safety standard could then move on to the next step. Any delinquents could be modified and then, if passing the lab step, could join the others.
The next step was for those lab numbers and the recipe itself to be reviewed and approved by the Processing Authority. Here in Oregon it is Mark Daeschel, a PhD of Food Science at OSU. He determines the safe parameters for processing and and then issues a letter indicating those requirements.
Only then can I submit all recipes with a copy of Dr. Daeschel’s letter to the Federal government for acceptance. They are working on streamlining that system; the first time it took 5 weeks, this time it took about 15 hours.
Following all those levels of approval I have another visit by the state Department of Agriculture to review my record keeping and make sure all those pesky i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.
Then I can start to cook. Good thing the weather was cooler so far this summer and the tomatoes are still on their way, not stacked up waiting on my action!
So, basically, the step most home canners take is deciding what they want to preserve and finding a good recipe. While Can-Do Real Food is small and makes batches of food just a few times larger than the home canner, we must comply with all the food safety rules and regulations like the mega corporations.
And happy to do so. We are a local to local enterprise, sourcing our ingredients as much as possible within 20 minutes of McMinnville and selling to consumers also within that small area.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
This area of Oregon has massive landscaping plant nurseries and many grow specifically for other areas of the country. Together, with the grass seed that is raised here, you probably have a bit of Oregon in your yard.
A few of the nurseries specialize in plants that are not native to this region but can grow here without being invasive. We were introduced to one last year when we arranged with a farmer in the nearby town of Amity to get pears. She took us over to this bush, already harvested, but a few desiccated berries still clung to the branches. They were sweet and reminded me of raisins.
That was my introduction to the goumi berry, eleagnus multiflora, a little-known berry that is a nutritional power house. Goumis are a great source of vitamins A and E, and have the highest lycopene content of any food – even higher than the widely touted tomato. They are found naturally in Central Asia and have no parasites or insects that affect them. They fruit out annually and the bush is loaded. However, there is an issue: they are small and the pit is large. You can see the shadow of the put in the berries above.
Today we harvested about 8 quarts and will use them, with another fruit, to make a jelly. Not sure yet if we will use apple or plum. If anyone has any experience with these berries, let me know.
Meanwhile, we will enjoy sharing something new with the local consumers. I will be surprised if anyone knows this fruit, but any who want a taste will get one. We enjoy playing with our food and we want you to enjoy it too!
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.
Yes, we play with our food. This is the test kitchen and that is what we need to do so in the summer we can use our time to produce all the new yummies and the crops get harvested.
Imagine, if you will, 50 baggies of various dried fruits and vegetables from the 2015 harvest. They need to be analyzed for various recipes to be processed for your epicurean delight this summer and beyond.
Today, Jana, Graham and I played worked diligently combining dehydrated fruits to make a snack mix. We decided we will offer two different mixes. One will include all those luscious berries that ripen early in the season: strawberries, raspberries, marionberries, and then the blueberries and the blackberries. We’ll call that mix Berry Local. The other mix will include apples, pears, peaches, hunks of fruit leather made from our raspberry-lemongrass syrup fruits after they are pressed and others made from grapes after they are pressed. Also added some roasted pumpkin seeds to that one. That medley will be the Taste of Sunshine, a way you can enjoy summer all year long.
Those combos were easy and needed nothing much more than careful mixing in a ratio that enhances the sweet while providing a snack without added sugar that can also be used for baking muffins or in breakfast cereal or smoothies or even on ice cream.
Then we turned to the vegetables. I dried quite a bit last summer for this test kitchen phase: carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, beets and celery. (We decided not to include the celery but that will make it into the soup mixes, so more on that later.) Carefully weighing each veggie we tried to balance the mixture not only for the wonderful colors but the strength of flavor. Zucchini, for example, is a mild veggie, so it can be added in more bulk to provide more mouth chewiness. Beets, on the other hand, are very sweet and need to be added in a small quantity.
We then decide to enhance the veggie blends with spice and herb mixes. I had been given samples of about 10 different kinds of spice mixes when I attended the Fancy Food show in San Francisco in January. We narrowed it down to two: one with citrus notes of lemon and the other with a bit more tangy spice that hints at a bit of warmth without being hot. We think you’ll like it.
Now you just have to wait until the summer harvest for these mixes to start being offered. They will be great for snacking at home, at work, or on a hike or camping.
A friend in a nearby town let me know there was a specialty food store going to open there soon. I contacted the owner and as we chatted, not only did I explain about Can-Do Real Food and we found our missions to be compatible, but I was also able to provide her some information about local farms to contact based on the people I have met and work I have done since I got to Oregon two and a half years ago. Today she called and placed an order for some of our products to be in the shop!! This is my first “in a store” situation and also, being in another town, will extend the marketing zone of my products! More information later as that shop gets closer to opening in a few weeks.
This past Monday evening we drove into Portland to attend FIX, the Food Ingredient eXpo. Since then we have been receiving samples of items we believed might enhance our products. These, for example, are frozen herbs.
While we use fresh herbs as much as possible, even our organic farmer at Bethel Springs Farm does not have enough basil for our most popular item, the Loaded Pasta Sauce. Last summer we supplemented with dried herbs but we know fresh still has volatile oils that dry up in the dehydration process. This option to use frozen herbs just may be a great way to keep the quality up up up.
Like the farmers I serve, the time between harvests is the off-season. A time to relax, catch our breath, and then start the planning. They were looking at seed catalogs during the winter and I was looking at cookbooks.
Now, they are starting their seeds
It is a time of potential energy….ready to bloom and then fill our pots very soon.