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

 

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

How many of us have considered Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich to be one of our favorite comfort foods?

I was excited to find a possible runner-up or winner when I saw Cabot Cheese (one of the nation’s well known cheese makers) offered a recipe for tomato soup using their cheese.

So, back to the test kitchen, first making the recipe from whole foods. We thought it needed about 1 teaspoon of salt and also needed to increase the thyme to 1 teaspoon.

IMG_0584Then, calculations complete, we had the amounts needed for each ingredient in a dry form and put it together. Cooking took 3 minutes.  We adjusted the water added from 3.5 cups to 4 cups and voila! much better!

We have another instant soup offering in our dehydrated line!!IMG_0586

Playing With The Food

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.

Jana tastes the fruit to determine its sweetness level.
Jana tastes the fruit to determine its sweetness level.

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.

Taste of Sunshine will remind you of summer during the winter when you can enjoy this snack.
Taste of Sunshine will remind you of summer during the winter when you can enjoy this snack.

 

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.

Weighing the various veggies helped us balance the flavors.
Weighing the various veggies helped us balance the flavors.

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.

The hardest part, narrowing down the spicy/herby mixes. I think we found two winners.
The hardest part, narrowing down the spicy/herby mixes. I think we found two winners.

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.

 

Excitement is Building!!

So many things are coming together!!!

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.  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.

Busy in the Off Season

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.  Seed-catalogs-2They were looking at seed catalogs during the winter and I was looking at cookbooks.IMG_0562

Now, they are starting their seeds

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and I am gathering information about ingredients and testing the recipes.

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It is a time of potential energy….ready to bloom and then fill our pots very soon.