REDUCING FOOD WASTE: Understanding how long preserved foods are “good”

I started Can-Do Real Food after working part of one growing season at a farm and becoming aware for the first time just how much food never even reaches people who want to eat. Farmers regularly pull aside veggies and fruit that are imperfectly shaped or start aging while new produce is being harvested. Consumers want the best looking stuff, of course, so farmers are used to feeding their imperfect items into the compost pile or as additives to chicken or pig food.

While I take responsibility for reducing food waste once it gets to me, I very much understand that the volume that ends up in my compost pile instead of my stomach is a teeny tiny amount of waste compared to other places along the food supply line. However, I still want to reduce that as much as possible. After all, I am also wasting my money to purchase food if I have to throw it away! One way is to be aware of those dates that are stamped or written on all commercially prepared foods and to understand them. Then you can apply the same concept to your own home-preserved items, whether they are frozen, canned, dehydrated, smoked or fermented.

One of the conundrums as a commercial food processor was that I had was to determine WHICH standard to use: “use by” or “best by”. There are NO guidelines from the government other than the mandate I use something!

“Use by” implies that the food is unsafe after that date. I know I stopped my youngest from pouring out a half-empty gallon of milk because the “use by date” had passed. You can imagine the “mean mommy” experience that required him to actually sniff (okay, it smells okay) and TASTE (do I have to? YES!) to teach that there is no magic event that instantly occurs that makes something bad at a specific date.

The mayo I purchased a month or so ago has a Best By date with plenty of time to use in other households but we don’t use mayo much……..

A word here that expiration dates on medication also has some wiggle room but I am not an expert on this. If you wonder if you can take something that “expired” 5 years ago……ask! A pharmacist is a good resource.

Back to food. I preferred to use “best by”. In the first season when I learned to can I put up some carrots. I dated my jar and never reached for it until a couple of years later when I was making soup and thought carrots would be a good addition but had none in the frig. I checked the seal….good. I looked at the contents inside the jar. The color was appropriate and there were no little bubbles of gas in the liquid, so far so good. I opened it….no bad aroma. So far all signs show it is SAFE to eat.

But when I put a fork in to pull a carrot out, it dissolved immediately into an orange cloud. It was certainly past the BEST time to enjoy it.

So, since then I put the date on the lid with what it is. (I am long past trying to convince myself I will remember what that jar of bluish-purple color jam is or which spice mix is in that tomato mix in that jar.) I put new jars behind any older ones of the same recipe when I store on my shelves. That way, the older stuff SHOULD be used first.

And remember, share. Seriously, if you have not eaten that jar of peaches that you put up in 1999, please toss it. If it’s from 2016, open one and if it is okay, plan how to use them. And do not make more until you do!

Our State Fair award-winning instant soup…and here is the one in MY cupboard, showing a best by date of last July. I know that means I prepared the mix in June from the pumpkins’ harvest in the fall of 2018. It is dry and good for at least 5 years or longer. That is one of the joys of dehydrated foods.

So, bottom line: besides the fact that this shows one more advantage that dehydrated foods hold longer safely than canned products, most are SAFE to eat beyond the date on the container, but the texture may be diminished the longer you move from initial processing.

REDUCING FOOD WASTE: The joy offered by the supermarket roasted chicken

Oh roast chicken: how many ways can we use you? Whether you buy it already roasted at the supermarket or grab a whole chicken there and roast it yourself at home, the zero waste person can get MULTIPLE meals out of one 3-pound bird.

Roast chickens at a Paris marche (open-air market)

First, roast chicken with roasted veggies. Set the oven for 350 degrees. If you have an uncooked chicken, clean it (yes, you really need to wash it) and then season it. That can be done simply with some dry herb mixture your family enjoys or even a liquid cooking sauce. Veggies should be cut into fairly similar sized pieces and also sprinkled with some seasoning. Roast for 45-60 minutes. There are many many many recipes online if you need more specific info to get started.

Second, trim all meat off the bones. Place meat in a sealed storage container in the frig (to use within 2 days) and prepare to make broth. You need a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the bones to the pot. Cut up an onion. Wash and peel a couple of carrots and slice them in. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a slow simmer, covered, for two to five hours (YES! The longer the deeper the flavor!) Add washed and peeled small diced potatoes or pasta or rice, salt and pepper and other seasonings. Veggies will be cooked in another half hour and you have some soup to enjoy!

Third, those meat trimmings. Adding chopped onions for tang, green or red peppers for crunch, maybe walnuts if you are leaning towards something different, and then mayo or your favorite salad dressing for a salad or sandwich filling.

Does anyone have more suggestions???? Add them below in the comments.

Welcome to the World of Reducing Food Waste

Can-Do Real Food had its genesis about 6 summers ago when I worked as a farm laborer (yes, me!) for about eight weeks. It was hard work and I ate a lot of Advil those days. As I had helped establish a local indoor food market in West Virginia, other than some small gardens at home, I had never “farmed.” I am NOT a farmer. I am not even a good gardener. This is why I LOVE my farmers. Thank them every chance I have for producing food for me to eat.

My job then becomes important: how can I use these foods raised with such dedication and effort in all kinds of weather, how can I be careful not to waste any bit of this nutritional yumminess.

Let me help you with some daily tips. With all the other projects I have, I will limit it to short tips. Please add your own in the comments on the blog or on Facebook when it gets posted.

FREE SOUP: Some have called this “Depression Soup”, as the concept was taught to them from moms and grandmothers who lived through financially hard times. When you trim your produce for salads or for cooking, put all clean pieces into a container (I re-use and re-use and re-use a gallon ziplock) in the freezer. When the bag is full, pull out a dutch oven, fill with your veggie scraps and a potful of water. Simmer 1-2 hours for veggie stock and the basis for a flavorful soup.

(Then rinse the bag and let it air dry and re-use it with more veggies!)

Juggle Juggle, but don’t drop the Tomatoes

In my weekly market reports recently I’ve been mentioning that we seem to be at the peak of the harvest. How can I tell? Simply, when I walk down Cowls Street as the farmers’ market is setting up I am amazed at the overflowing bins of produce the farmers haul there. Tomatoes of all kinds, peppers both sweet and hot, potatoes large and small, sweet corn, summer squash glowing green white and yellow, winter squash in acorn and spaghetti models, strawberries from everbearing varieties, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, apples, and on and on and on.

In the past week in the Can-Do kitchen we handled 50 pounds of blueberries, 40 pounds of Asian pears, 30 pounds of tomatoes, 30 pounds of prune plums, and still have about 100 pound of onions to deal with. Today we were gifted about 20 pounds of peaches and the day is only half over.

asian pears in dyrerI keep our dehydrators running almost all the time now. The Asian pears are in there as I write this (plain and cinnamon) and the peaches will go in next. (Onions after that probably)

Mike, the guy who owns Cream ice cream and I have a good time chatting flavor combinations each week at the market. When I told him I was getting this gift of peaches (more coming this next week that are already planned for 2 types of jams) he suggested something which fed a need of his: powdered peaches he could add to ice cream in the winter.  So we will chop the peaches and then dehydrate it, powdering some, leaving some small chunks.  Mike can get some for his ice cream and you can get some for your yogurt or baking or other yumminess you like to do.

carmelized onionsThe onions……oh my. We add onions to our Loaded Pasta Sauce, so some will be used on Monday when we prepare that.  But I’ve made a few very small batches of caramelized onions for our home kitchen and one friend’s and I suppose you might be able to enjoy after I get some of these 100 pounds cooked up and then dehydrated.

 

So, you might ask, why was that “one friend” so lucky as to gain some caramelized onions?  Well, she presented me with some extra onions she had.  That’s pretty much all it takes and now she tells people she has her own “food processor.” One person responded, “oh yeah, I have one of those chopping machines too,” but you know it’s a tad more involved than that.

Anyway, lots to share with you. If you want to know if I can make something, shoot me an email at BethRankinOR@gmail.com. If there’s a safe way to preserve it, I’ll let you know.

tomatoes

Also, if you want Loaded Pasta Sauce, let me know how many and in pints or quarts. This has been a funny tomato season. It started late (really only about 3 weeks ago) and looks to be ending early. So I probably will not be getting a lot of tomatoes. Right now I have orders for 40 quarts so they will be fulfilled first. If you want some, tell me now. In a few weeks it will be too late.

 

 

My Daughter: My Muse

From the time Lisa was pretty small she made her opinion known about…well, everything.  In regards to food and flavor, her earliest wonderful contribution was to suggest a change in the banana bread recipe I had gotten from a co-worker in 1976. “Remove those raisins!”, she demanded at age 3. “And definitely add chocolate chips!”  We renamed the new recipe “Banana Bread a la Lisa” and enjoy it that way to this day.

age 4 ribs on trip to Vermont
A good eater, even at age 4!

Always willing to try new foods, she encouraged her younger brother on a trip to France when he was 11-years-old that trying escargot was worth it. My budget on the trip became strained as he decided that yes, garlic butter sauce makes everything worth trying and those snails just are not anything like the imagination tried to fool him.

Lisa has become quite an outdoor enthusiast. In the past 10 years she has trekked through New Zealand, Australia and parts of Indonesia. Over to Southeast Asia on another journey she and Josh traveled throughout Myanmar and Cambodia. She’s been to parts of Europe and I’m sure I’m forgetting some of the wonderful places she has seen. Closer to home, she has trekked the John Muir Trail in California, throughout Utah and the Canyonlands and they are planning the Washington leg of the Pacific Coast trail this summer.

Canyonlands
Canyonlands

As I began to explore dehydrating food for Can-Do I kept in mind the way Lisa and Josh need to cook. Most of their food is dehydrated because it is lightweight and condensed. They have to carry their water for drinking and cooking and washing, so I try to keep in mind recipes that do not need too much water. They also must carry fuel because wood fires are not permitted. The risk of wildfire is just too great. So, recipes need to be able to be prepared with minimal fuel usage also.

Once, visiting me with her sibs, we served the Can-Do Real Food Loaded Pasta Sauce and the discussion evolved into the quality of commercially prepared hiking foods. Most have considerable additives and of course, the flavor may be a disappointment.  So, Lisa often prepares the food they bring but the gauntlet was thrown down: I needed to prepare a dehydrated pasta sauce.

Gabrielle and Steven
Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger

My Can-Do farm partners have come to my house for a Tasting Supper several years. The last one was the tasting for 3 versions of the dehydrated sauce.

  1. We sliced and dehydrated the tomatoes hard, the better to grind them to powder.
  2. We roasted the sliced tomatoes and then dehydrated them hard for grinding, and
  3. We cut up the tomatoes, macerated them overnight in red wine, then oven roasted them etc etc.
  4. And for fun, we also served our canned Loaded Pasta Sauce.

Each recipe was essentially similar, using the same herbs and surplus carrots and zucchini as the canned version.  The only difference was how the tomatoes were prepared.

We did not tell our taste testers about the difference in the 4 recipes. And we are pretty formal with these efforts, with no talking allowed until after everyone writes down their thoughtful critique and overall rating for the recipe. tasting grid

Perhaps it is no surprise to you that the version that was most enjoyed was the one with the wine. It provided the most complex, deep and enjoyable flavor.

So, there we had the test and next was to wait for the tomatoes. Last summer we prepared what we thought was a significant amount but it still surprises me how condensed dehydrated food becomes when processed.closeup

I have set aside plenty for Lisa and Josh to enjoy on their trek next month, but we now have eight packages of Oven Roasted Double Loaded Pasta Sauce available for you. Each container has one cup of powder which, when mixed with 4 cups of water, makes 5 cups of sauce. Add more or less water depending on how dry or wet you prefer your sauce.  This is enough to feed 3-5 people, depending on serving sizes. double loaded pasta sauce

Excellent with our Forksize Zoodles which take next to no time nor water when mixed into the sauce to rehydrate!  Or enjoy with your favorite pasta.

 

 

 

Can You Manage Your Sweet Tooth?

We just made an amazing batch of Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream Sauce.  Maybe the word “amazing” is unnecessary.  Redundant. Superfluous.

The Stellas are a deep purple, almost black sweet-tart cherries, grown overlooking  Newberg at Sunshower Hill Farm. We add just a touch of sugar and then a bit of lemon to punch up the flavor. Then the 73% Creo chocolate. By leaving it a bit tart, the contrast with the sweet ice cream is phenomenal. But then again, you have to be the kind of person who allows yourself a treat like that. And if you do, it should be something excellent, like this!choc cherry ice cream sauce

Enough said. We have 24 9-ounce jars. They will be priced at $8.  If you want one, let me know. They will be popular.

Purple Power

The garden huckleberry (Solanum scabrum) is a member of the nightshade family. It grows on higher bushes and harvests late in the season, usually after the first frost. It is not sweet at all; in fact, eating it raw is not the enjoyable treat you find with wild huckleberries or other forms of cultivated blueberries.

This photo will give you the obvious clue that garden huckleberries are not the same as wild huckleberries!

This fruit is a powerhouse of nutritional value, providing anti-oxidants, inflammation reduction, and more!

I joined the purple hands club last week when we made up the Huckleberry Culinary Syrup for Ranee Solmonsson of Sunshower Hill Farm in Newberg. She sells that wonderful treat through several buying clubs in Sherwood and Dundee. It is fantastic mixed with carbonated water for an Italian soda, or in your adult beverage of choice. Yummmmmm. IMG_0004

Meanwhile, we did what we try to do on whatever recipes of ours that will permit it…..we used a “waste” product to turn into a new food to enjoy. Let me explain.

Ranee is a very considerate farm partner. She cleans the berries of all leaves before she brings them to us, permitting us to give them a wash and then into the pot quickly. Our first step is to soften the huckleberries, so maybe just short of a boil gets them soft enough to put them through the mill.

2017gLast year was the last time we used a hand mill. We then were purchased a new “toy” that is an electric mill. Not only does this save Graham’s shoulder from several hours of repetitive turning, but it takes the milling down to minutes instead.

The mill separates the juice, which gets back on to the stove with some sugar and lemon juice to prepare the syrup, and the “must”, the waste. This waste is essentially the skins of the berries as well as the teeny tiny seeds.

We dry the must, grind it, mix it with some cane sugar and voila! You have PURPLE POWER! Huckleberry dust can be used by you to add that wonderful blueberry flavor to oatmeal, yogurt, and to drinks or however else you might want to play with it. 

High in anti-oxidants, this is a star in our offerings. All are healthy, some more than others. This one, with only a little sugar (believe it or not, garden huckleberries are not sweet at all!) wins out because of all the healthy benefits it providesHuckleberry Dust.pub

You can order Purple Power! and other Can-Do Real Food Products by going to the store offerings page on the website 

 

Which Diet?

Recently we had a friend living with us who has diabetes and it made me realize how fragile our systems are when we stray into areas where we react or don’t deal with certain items that are available to eat.  I thought it is time to mention that Can-Do Real Food fits into any number of diets.

Preservative Free

Can-Do Real Food has a couple of tag lines and the one that will help you relax is “Nothing artificial added”. What preserves our food from spoilage is the sugar in the jelly recipes and the low pH (using lemon juice or cider apple vinegar) in our savory canned recipes. The dehydrated foods are dried either to a “bend” (like the fruit roll-ups) or a “snap” (used to powder the item for easy mixes and quick rehydration.

Because we don’t add preservatives, our foods are safe to eat but will taste best if eaten within the time frame indicated on the label. Canned goods are “best by” 13 months after preparing. Dehydrated foods are presented in bags that are rated for five years but I have noticed that some fruit roll-ups prepared over a year ago taste fine but feel dryer.   I use “best by” dates instead of “use by” or “good until” because the food is perfectly safe to eat afterwards, but again, the best taste or texture diminishes over time.

Image result for preservative free food logo

Low Carb

Whether it is South Beach (the diet we followed while our friend was staying with us) or some other low carbohydrate diet, Can-Do Real Food fits in. Some foods that are vegetable based are without any doubt, allowed. Others, like the fruit snacks, need to be eaten with moderation.

 

Salt Free

We add no salt to any of our canned recipes. In fact, the decision to do that had an interesting side effect when we resubmitted our best selling canned Loaded Pasta Sauce for food processing approval the second year. We added zucchini to the mix (after all, we deal in farmer surplus and anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows how much of a surplus a plant produces) but we also removed the sugar and salt from the recipe. The original recipe had been given to us by a chef and we realized he might have been working with  the kinds of tomatoes that you find in supermarkets in the winter…picked under-ripe to red up during travel, the sugar in the recipe helps with the subdued flavor, as does the salt.  A few customers complained the pasta sauce was not as good but once we suggested they add salt to taste, they once again were happy.   “Add salt to taste” is now on that label.Image result for salt free foods

As we have developed the dehydrated Pasta Sauce, even I realized it has to have salt for better flavor.   Chatting with our backpacking experts made us aware how much salt people doing intense exercise need, so we are adding salt to the dehydrated mix.  If you are on a salt-free diet, do not eat this product.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan

 

We can assure everyone that there is no meat, no eggs, and no dairy in our products. First of all, we do not have a license to work with meat. To add a chicken flavor to our dehydrated Tortilla Soup or beef flavor to our dehydrated Hearty Borscht soup we use culinary yeasts with those flavor profiles. Culinary yeast is an ingredient that is usually marked as “natural flavorings” on labels. Our labels will tell you “culinary yeast”. Image result for vegetarian logo

The ONLY exception (and we’re not sure it will be offered this year) is our popcorn flavoring mix because that has included dehydrated butter or cheese when we made it in the past. It sold well, so we want to make it again, but currently not available.

 

Gluten Free

We’re not a bakery so this is pretty easy. The ONLY recipe that has been altered to stay gluten free is the dehydrated Tortilla Soup where we provide a small snack size baggie of corn tortilla chips to break into the hot prepared soup.

Image result for gluten free logo

GMO Free

As mentioned right above, we use corn chips instead of flour tortillas in the Tortilla Soup mix. We use only organic tortilla chips.  In addition, one of our farm partners, Bethel Springs Farm, is certified organic and everyone else we purchase surplus produce from grows in the organic style with no conventional spraying or GMO seeds. Image result for gmo free logo

Kosher/Halel

No, we’re not certified kosher or halel, but neither do we include any restricted ingredients in any of our foods. Not having a license to process meat, we stick to fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts in our kitchen.  So, you’re level of comfort with this category depends on how strict you observe the religious dietary rules.

 

If you have any questions about any ingredients, please contact me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com or message me on our Facebook page.

Know Your Farmers…and Appreciate Them

A friend shared a post from a farmer  friend of hers and it is important to read.  As you know, I feel my ability to grow anything is challenged…..no green thumbs. I do like good food, however, so I honor my farmers not only with my business to preserve their surplus and give them another income stream, but I tell people again and again that the best they can do with their food dollar is to support their local farmers.  If you personally do not know where that steak came from, that tomato, or that egg, you are missing out on the best the agricultural work has to offer.  And you probably really do not know the real taste of the food you are eating. 

Soul Food Farm is quietly tucked into the rolling hillsides of Northern California. Since 1988, the Koefoed family has continued the legacy of this historic farm, and today it is bountiful with both wild and artisan flowers, lavender fields, and an estate olive orchard where,  every year, the local community gathers to help with the harvest. Happy chickens sunbathe in the fields while the sheep, goat, steer and cow nurture the soil with their grazing. Whether you’re visiting the farm for one of our many workshops or attending a farm-to-table dinner or special event, Soul Food Farm will leave your heart enchanted and your soul nourished. Read more about our story here.

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Over the years I made a deal with myself to stop apologizing for the price of our farm products. It took a long time to develop that frame of mind, but eventually, I understood that hard work needs no defense. End of story. But, yesterday at a Farm to Fork event I had an encounter with a couple that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Image may contain: drink

A couple walked up to our little Soul Food Farm table and so naturally, I expected them to be interested in our olive oil Why else approach the table? Instead, I got this look of suspicion while they picked up a bottle and turned it over and then it came. They looked at me and said, “we don’t want to be rude, but why is it sooooooo expensive.” And then I was face to face with a choice. Try once more to explain what it takes to farm or dismiss the question. The irritation this dilemma caused in the past crashed through my memories and in a moment I decided to answer her question. Deep breath, positive expectation, begin. I started to explain that I prune the trees myself, and we pick the olives by hand, and we pay the mill upfront to press the oil, and as I ’m talking, she waves her hand in my face and says’ yeah, yeah, whatever” and walks off.Image may contain: table and outdoor

Instead of getting mad I was left wondering why is there still this lingering suspicion that farmers are price gauging? Customers would never walk into a grocery store and expect a discount before they bought an item or demand a sample. The utter contempt that’s conveyed not only by demanding to know why farm food is priced the way it is but just the plain rudeness of walking away when someone is speaking to you astounds me. Now, I could brush this off as a one-time occurrence but I know it’s not. I have many farmer friends who are up against this every time they sell at a farmers market. The constant and varied questions about price that always fall just short of an outright accusation of trying to cheat the customer.

As I walked around the farm today putting animals away, collecting eggs, filling water troughs, my frustration started to compound. What is it going to take for us to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers? When are small farmers going to be treated with respect? Not only from folks shopping at farmer’s markets, but the restaurants that buy their food, and the farm to fork dinners, festivals and conferences that are continually popping up. What do I mean by respect? I mean not haggling with farmers at the market over their price per pound. Do folks think farmers are running some racket? A get rich quick scheme with carrots and tomatoes? Restaurants need to start paying farmers at the time of delivery, COD. Farmers already cover the total cost of production; it is simply wrong to expect farmers to wait thirty to sixty days for payment after deliveries. And all those farm to fork events, how about actually having a good representation of local farmers at these events. Better yet, stop asking small farmers to donate food items to events that charge a ticket price.Image may contain: plant, fruit, outdoor, food and nature

We have to let go of the imagery that farmers are part of a pastoral fantasy. Farming is not a fable but a job, that’s necessary to the very fabric of our existence. Farming is often soul crashing hard work. Long, lonely days in the field. Planting seeds. The sun beating on your back. Nights comforting animals. Cold, early mornings, to harvest, pack and get to market. The burden of the cost of production yours and yours alone. Farming is not only a career it’s a service to the surrounding community. In return, only one thing is asked or expected, that the work is appreciated and treated with respect.

One rude couple, won’t make or break a small farm, but it’s a good reminder we have a long way to go.

The Joy of Having a Personal Food Processor

Here I am toiling away in the commercial kitchen when I get a message from a friend: How about a case of peaches?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!

asian pears
Dehydrated pears with 5-spice powder

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.

personal pantry
Bottom 2 shelves of our personal pantry with dehydrated mixes and canned items 

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.

You can eat local food year round!!