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.

 

Fantastic Feeling

This week was amazing. Not only did we have plenty to do thanks to our farm partners, but we had a full crew in the Kitchen. Generally, it is just me, Graham, and Jana.

Graham is not only my husband but the Vice President of Research and Development. He jokes it is a better title than chief prep cook and floor mopper. Truthfully, Graham is a really good cook and while he is rarely at the stove in the Can-Do Kitchen, he can analyze what a recipe needs to enhance flavor and he has also developed several recipes that are now part of our offerings including the Plum Basting and Grilling Sauce and the Scarborough Fair herb mix.

Jana was the first new friend I made right after I moved to Oregon a bit over three years ago. She taught me how to can and she has forgotten more than I will ever know. So she is the Vice President of Production and if I need to leave the stove, Jana is on it! She is great at finding fresh herbs in a number of gardens in the area that are accessible and spray-free. She’s a super problem solver and enjoys the achievement of getting a “wow” flavor prepared when we’re cooking.

Mary, a friend from church, asked if she could come help about three months ago and except for a couple of trips to visit family (I can not nor will I even try to compete with a beloved grandson!) Mary has been coming to help daily.  She became our tomato prep person extraordinaire and celebrated when I announced no more fresh tomatoes until next summer. She tackles each day with a smile and says being part of Can-Do is better than watching television and she enjoys being a part of such a great activity.

Recently, another friend messaged me asking if she could come help. Since then she has come daily and even dragged her husband in one day.  Vanessa has a good amount of experience in the kitchen as she likes to cook from scratch and she was a super quick study in the commercial kitchen, coming up with a solution to a situation that we had not considered because she had fresh eyes.

Periodically other friends have come to help and an extra pair of hands is always appreciated!fig-paste-keeler

With all that help we got a lot done this week:

  • two kinds of fig jam and paste…one with oranges and the other with lemon and thyme
  • plum basting and grilling sauce
  • jazzy grape jam
  • apple pie filling
  • apple sauce
  • quince paste
  • vegetarian tortilla soup mix, and
  • strawberry syrup for the Coop’s Saturday Breakfast

The inventory in the storage area is great and we will be bringing quite a lot to the Grange Farmers’ Market on November 12th. Our goal at that market will be to help you with your holiday meal prep and presentation.  We have a great number of items which will enhance your meal and party enjoyment.

Our goal in the next few weeks is to work through items that have been stored in the freezer while we were dealing with more fragile produce like the tomatoes, and to also prepare more wine wow (jelly spread) as well as salts.  Let me know if there is something you are hoping we will have again in the November and December markets.  Just leave a message here or email me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com

 

Know When to Fold ‘Em

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Kenny Rogers
So, for Kenny it was a hit song called The Gambler.  For me, today, it is recognizing that one of my products just is not right.

We introduced a pickled pepper this year and the first batch came out perfectly. If you bought some, that is the one you tasted at the Farmers’ Market. pickled-peppers

However, the subsequent batches  GG1822164 and GG1823164 taste bad. I know you won’t eat them so there is no risk to your health because it just is not right.

A later batch, GG297164, is not bad, but doesn’t taste the way it should. We know the reason for this but there is nothing unhealthy in the jar, just not “rightness of flavor”.bad-taste

So, unlike the Gambler, I am not walking nor running away. I want any buyers of these products to notify me for a refund or an exchange for another product.

Please email me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com.  I will ask you to bring the jar with its contents so I can be sure of the batch.

The issue of food safety is very important and again, I do not believe this issue will make anyone sick, but something is not right, so the recall is wise.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Many Steps to Approval

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.better process school

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.2014-07-19 09.00.01I 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.  ph approval

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.2016 license

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. mission

 

 

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Figs, Take Two

So we went to pick figs last Sunday and came home with about 20 pounds and plans to return for more. These are green figs, maybe Spanish King and we picked the ones that were slightly to mostly squishy, letting the rest ripen a bit more. IMG_1573

The choices for processing are endless but right now we have narrowed it down to three ways. We will dehydrate for snacking, make a fig paste for eating with cheese or baking into fig newtons, and try to replicate an amazing fig orange marmalade I tasted at the Fancy Food Show.IMG_1577

Yesterday we started cooking the figs down into a paste and since it was taking FOREVER, we stopped after four hours and refrigerated it. Today we continued and a couple of hours later were able to can it.

I brought a pint home and prepared the dough which needed to chill in the frig for about four hours. This gave the fig paste a chance to cool itself.

So, after supper this evening, I tackled one of the fig newton recipes I pulled from the internet. IMG_1584

Excuse me, that is fig paste!!!
Excuse me, that is fig paste!!!

I am not a superb baker, but boy oh boy, if you like figs, you need to stop at out table at the farmers’ market this Thursday to taste and to buy!IMG_1586

Almost done baking

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And about to be eaten!!!

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.