When we moved to Oregon almost 3 years ago I realized I was surrounded by orchards of hazelnuts. I decided I would make nutella for my kids for the holidays and so I did. The recipe called for refrigeration and the next year I called the Food Safety hotline at Oregon State University to find out if I could keep canned nutella in the cupboard. They took a few days and called me back with a simple answer: no. So I once again made nutella for the holidays but in small jars, promising to make more midway through the year. I didn’t.
The next year, last year, I had become a professional commerical food processor and still had no answer, but in January of this year at several trade shows I saw lots of nut butters and I spoke with the processors. I learned the “secret”.
By roasting the nuts until they are held above 185 degrees for 30 minutes, any bacteria of concern is killed. The nuts can then be ground and voila! your home processed hazelnut butter is shelf safe. Finding a European recipe for the chocolate version sealed the deal and then I faced a hurdle that was even harder. Finding the nuts at a discounted price proved to be difficult.
Here in Oregon most orchards have contracts to deliver their crop to the distributor and few producers hold out any for their own use or sale. I chatted with a few but was told it was not possible.
Then last week Graham and I headed over to the optician we have learned can do amazing things with difficult prescriptions and there, in the shop, were signs about hazelnuts for sale.
So we quickly got to work and prepared the nuts by soaking and then roasting and then we got to work grinding them.
Last week we were able to produced about a dozen jars of plain hazelnut butter we called Nutty Hazel’s Spread in time for the farmers’ market. We teased customers with the coming attraction of Filbert’s Chocolate Revenge and heard squeals of delight in anticipation.
So today we once again soaked and roasted and went through the grinding but this time we added creo’s 73% chocolate. Creo is a small producer of chocolate working closely with the farmers. They receive the beans, roast and then produce chocolate in Portland.
Adding a small amount of coconut oil to help the spreadability, we were able to jar up 2.5 dozen. Yeah!!!
Now, it is important to note that it does not taste like the commerical Nutella you may know and enjoy. Here is their label.Here is our label. You will notice the list of ingredients is considerably different.
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.
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.
Last summer, in the mad dash of learning how to function smoothly when accepting produce from the participating farms for production into preserved goods, my brain still kept on spinning with new ideas. Canning is great. Canning is appreciated by many. But canning is not the only way we can preserve the surplus from the farms.
In fact, some of the veggies just can not be canned safely. Squash and pumpkin, for example, can be canned in cubes, but not in puree. Sure, you can buy a metal can of puree that is processed in a huge factory, but we’re not at that scale, so we have limitations that are rightfully imposed by our desire not to let any nasty bacteria into your potential gastro-intestinal tract. So no pureed pumpkin coming out of the Can-Do kitchen.
As a cook, I know if I turn to a canned product it is because I want a shortcut, saving me time from cooking the whole food from scratch. A jar of chunked pumpkin or squash is nice, but not good enough. I would still have to smush it into a puree to use it. So, I knew, as the processor, I needed to look for another way to save the squashes that my farmers grew.
Dehydrating offers a way to preserve food also in a shelf-safe setting. So last summer, as the fruits and veggies ripened in our farmer’s fields and on their trees, we asked for items we normally did not can so we could dry them.
We now have a considerable stash of dried fruits and veggies and it is time to get to work to develop those recipes that will work. We’re considering a line of dehydrated soup mixes that will take 30-60 minutes to simmer at home. We’re also planning on a line of cup-a-soup mixes that will only take a few minutes of sitting in boiling hot water. Both of those would be packaged for single serving as well as 4-6 serving sizes
In addition, the dehydrated line will include snack mixes. One type will be seasoned veggies. Another will be fruit snacks. That one will be popular, I think. Many people ask for jams without sugar, but the texture changes so I am not going to go there, even with using stevia. Instead, we will be able to offer no sugar added dried fruit snack mixes.
Finally, I’m thinking about dip mixes. Think about that classic Lipton onion soup mixed with sour cream to become a potato chip dip. So we will have veggie dips you can mix with sour cream or yogurt or tofu.
Right now…..all still in the planning phase. Recipes are selected…..time to enter the kitchen to play with our food!