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.

 

 

Test Kitchen Continues

Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger
Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger

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.

Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Berger
Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Berger

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.beetsbWe 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.

closeup

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.

Playing with food is FUN!

 

ANTICIPATION

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.zucchini marmalade
  • 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!

Summer is here!

Rare Fruit to Share

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. IMG_1332

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.IMG_1338

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!

 

Tackling a Standard

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.IMG_1260

So we quickly got to work and prepared the nuts by soaking and then roasting and then we got to work grinding them. IMG_1291

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.IMG_1290

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.IMG_1264Here is our label. You will notice the list of ingredients is considerably different. label

I would hope it would taste different.

Respect for Agricultural Workers

I know a couple from church who own a commercial strawberry farm about 10 miles from my house. He has about 30 acres of strawberries and arranges for pickers to come in to fill his contract with a company that uses his strawberries for their product. After they finish, he notifies the church we are free to come in and pick whatever we want. Essentially, glean.IMG_1209

Last year Graham and I picked about 20 pounds and made a huge batch of strawberry syrup to be used at the church’s Saturday Morning Breakfast.  It was received enthusiastically by the patrons and ran out pretty quickly.IMG_1210

This year Graham, Jana and I worked for about two hours and managed to get 54.5 pounds. They are now in the freezer at the church to start the syrup process when we go back in on Monday. IMG_1233

These strawberries will not be used for Can-Do Real Food products as we try to only use produce that has been raised without sprays. There are a lot of reasons why a farmer chooses to use pesticides and herbicides. There are also many reasons why others choose not to.

I made a decision about five years ago that my personal eating will avoid those chemical applications to the food I eat and I think about 85% of our diet comes from farmers we personally know.

However, these strawberries are food and available and Can-Do Real Food has a driving mission to reduce food waste. Making the syrup for the Saturday Morning Breakfast at McMinnville’s Cooperative Ministries is about the best WIN-WIN I can imagine.

And whenever I spend time harvesting, I understand how back breaking this work is. We should never look at any of our food without thanking the farmers who made it possible for us to eat. I am not a good farm worker, nor a clean one.IMG_1212

 

Buying Club Now Open

We have had two very exciting weeks at the McMinnville Farmers’ Market and have an interesting problem. We are concerned we will run out of products before our member farms start sharing surplus with us.

We’ve been working diligently to prepare for this week’s market and I think we will have a full table:

Fruit Preserves of Various Types:

Pinot Noir wine jelly – rich and deep. Great with cheese but surprisingly perfect with peanut butter also.

Pinot Gris jelly – a lighter touch.  Great on crackers, ideal with a super creamy cheese.

Lemon Peppered Pinot Gris Jelly – zipped up with lemon peel and black pepper. Not hot but full of flavor and can stand up to a stronger cheese.

Naughty Zuc marmalade – got you scratching your head on this one?  Well, you know how zucchinis just take over a garden? We tried to offer a lemon zucchini marmalade last season to a limited success but we have zipped this up with double the lemon and a touch of limoncello…hence the naughtiness.

Berry Naughty – a freezer raid netted blackberries, golden raspberries and strawberries. The naughty touch is an orange liquor.  Adults only.

Asian Plum Sauce – wonderful sweet and sour sauce that you are used to when you dip your eggroll at a Chinese restaurant. Also called Duck Sauce, it is excellent as a basting sauce for poultry. You can use it on the grill, in the oven, or even on the cooktop.

Rhubarb chutney – chunky relish like mixture that also has sweet and sour flavor notes with raisins and vinegar. Perfect on salmon. Also excellent on pork.

 

Flavored Salts:

Pinot Noir salt – a finishing salt perfect on your steaks or burgers

Pinot Gris salt – a finishing salt great for chicken, pork or fish but absolutely superb on vegetables

 

Herb Blends:

Scarborough Fair blend – sing along now…are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Amazing mixed with softened butter and tucked under the skin of chicken. We introduced this last fall and sold out prior to Thanksgiving. Now the herbs are growing again so you can enjoy this blend this summer.

Italian herb blend – superb to use in any and all cooking, but it shines with tomatoes and cheese and the yumminess of pasta. Great on meats as well.

 

Craftsy Things:

Breadboard – Graham made me a breadboard to knead my dough. Works for rolling out pie crusts also. Treated to minimize sticking. Beautiful as well.

Cutting boards – Several sizes and wood types and designs, some with a “show” side and a “cutting” side so you can hang it on the wall when not in use. Can be custom ordered with a design of your choice.

Anniversary trivet – This is a custom order item that is perfect for a wedding, graduation, or other very special event. Design it with Graham and receive it in about 2 weeks.

Rice bags – With headaches and muscle aches, I keep one in the freezer for a cold compress and store another in a cupboard to pop into the microwave for a warm touch. Ahhhhhh Just a hint of lavender in some to provide additional soothing aromatherapy.

Being a member of the buying club will offer you several benefits.

  1. Once you receive your email you can request to reserve an item. You will need to indicate about what time you will make it to the market so we can offer it for sale if you don’t show up.  We know this system can work especially well for people who can’t get to the market when it opens at 1:00.
  2. Once in a while we will produce a very small batch. Buying club members will have first dibs.
  3. A volume discount is offered. If you want to purchase a mixed half case (6 products) you will get a 10% discount. If you want to purchase a mixed full case (12 items) you will get a 15% discount.

Anyone can come and taste whatever we are offering and purchase all they desire!!!  If you want to join teh Buying Club, just provide your email address.

First Annual Tasting Supper

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.IMG_0644

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.

One test bag was eaten by mistake
One test bag was eaten by mistake

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.

2016 Tasting Supper Menutasting gridThe 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.

Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Berger
Gabrielle Keeler and Steven Burger

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.

Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Berger
Ranee Solmonsson and Michelle Burger

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.

Fancy Food show boxThen, 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to the Focus Group

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.idea

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.IMG_0595