Change, the only Constant

Seeing the writing on the wall……and it is time to make a decision and then issue an appeal to you.

writing on the wall

 

If you follow me on my personal blog or you actually stop and chat with me at the farmers’ market, you are probably aware that this has been a difficult year for me with my health.  First breathing issues had me at 30% of my lung capacity…that finally has improved to about 70%.  Then a second opinion on my bad knee agreed with the first guy that my issue was “only” arthritis, even tho I was in a new world of pain since I twisted my knee in June 2016. Then my opposite hip started complaining loudly. Then I needed a cornea transplant.

Still, I kept on with lots of help from alternative medicine but I am concerned that all the needed activity is not helping me heal nor is this boding well for my husband who has admirably stepped up with no (audible) complaints. I do not want the extra workload to get him ill.

So, it is with a rational mind but a disturbed heart that I have to end Can-Do Real Food after this harvest season.

It has been an amazing journey and I hope someone out there wants to take over the activity. dv1636041

The concept of helping small local farms gain a new income stream with the sales of preserved foods from their farms is important. Reducing food waste is something we each recognize needs to be done. And yes, local consumers have been learning they can eat this year’s harvest even during the winter using the canned and dehydrated foods Can-Do has prepared. mission

You need not have vast canning experience to do this job, just enjoyment of the task. Some of you may know, but most probably do not, is that I learned to can four years ago. I started the business the next July 1 with my certification achieved over the winter.  Did I make mistakes…..oh yes, but that’s what life is. If you never make mistakes, you probably are playing it too safe.

You do need to be a planner personality. You need to know what will be needed before it is needed. Today, for example, I will pick up one ingredient for a new dehydrated meal mix we hope to make tomorrow. Since it needs to be dehydrated itself, I will get that going so it is ready for the morning Kitchen time.  For every hour in the Kitchen I spend an hour doing planning or wrap-up.

You need to be a people person, too. Selling products at the farmers’ market is a lot of fun when you enjoy chatting with strangers and turning them into friends. You also need to be able to communicate effectively with the farm partners.

One benefit to whoever might want to take on this endeavor: you will have a mentor and not have to learn by the seat of your pants, as I did. I can provide a certain amount of information as you gear up before the harvest and market seasons begin, and while the kitchen time gets busy.

mentor

Please email me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com if you are interested, even if only a bit. I can help you determine if your skill set will make this feasible!

What’s On a Label?

Remember how Oregon had a referendum about requiring food makers who use ingredients which are from genetically engineered plants to have to specify them on the label?  Remember the desire to “know”?

Even though that referendum did not pass, you CAN know certain things from labels.  I wrote about the newest label requirements by the government for a year-round local food market in West Virginia a few years ago.  There are may rules, but Can-Do Real Food is exempt from a few because of our small size.

Some people have asked me for nutritional information; most of the time I’m asked for the total sugar grams. I don’t know. I can tell you how many grams of sugar goes into the recipe, and I suppose a mathematical extrapolation could be done by someone who has the time, but I personally have no idea if that is how the number is figured out for the serving size.

I’m not required to include that (and a few other things) on my labels because we are tiny. The government does not make many exemptions from the regulations for small companies but this is one, so basically I save money and time because I need not provide samples at some lab (no where near McMinnville) and pay a fee so a food lab technician can run a test that provides the nutritional breakdown.

So, sorry, I don’t know. If you need to avoid sugar the best I can tell you is not to eat my jams.  I usually have some dehydrated fruit available if you want fruit without added sugar.

However, I can tell you this:

  • Food produced by Can-Do Real Food is made almost completely from local ingredients. Our exceptions are spices, vinegar, oil, sugar, citrus, chocolate, and coffee. The last two are obtained from local processors who procure the raw ingredients from Fair Trade farms and roast and do what they do in their shops in Portland and Newberg. All other raw ingredients are grown nearby.
  • Our partner farms are either certified Organic and/or Biodynamic or are in the lengthy process. They grow with organic methods. The ONLY exception to this are the hazelnuts. There are some organic hazelnut farms in the area but the cost, already high, restricts the consideration. I have talked to commercial hazelnut farmers as well as one of our partner farms which has a long neglected hazelnut orchard. Those neglected trees, untreated by my partner, had almost no edible nuts. The commercial farmer explained the various parasites that can destroy a crop. We make several products with the local hazelnuts: butter (plain and chocolate) as well as adding them to one canned yummy (plum conserve).
  • We also obtain produce from what I call “backyard gardeners.” These are our neighbors who have a fruit tree or bush or a garden that is just being way more productive than they can personally use. We ask if there is any chemical application to their produce and only accept those that have not been treated.
  • We chose to not use any additional preservatives. The sugar in the jams is the primary factor to keep away botulism. The recipes that have added lemon juice or vinegar have been rigorously tested at the food lab and then approved by a food scientist at Oregon State University who is the Processing Authority for the state. He indicates specific instructions of how the recipe is to be produced and no deviation is ever acceptable.  The level of acid is what helps preserve the food to be safe for eating once canned.  We typically do not add salt to our recipes. We had one comment that the Loaded Pasta Sauce was not as good the second year as it was the first. The major difference, besides our sneaky addition of zucchini, was that we got the recipe approved without added sugar or salt. This permits people who have restricted sodium to enjoy our sauce, and everyone else can add a little if they prefer. So salt, also a natural preservative, is not used in any way for food safety. We do, however, have a line of gourmet salts, and of course these are salt, so the food safety issue is a sure thing.
  • We do not use emulsifiers besides the pectin as called for in some recipes. So, our culinary syrups are not as thick as others you can buy at the supermarket.
  • We started using nutritional yeast in some of our dehydrated products. On commercial food labels this may be one of the ingredients that can be listed “natural flavorings”.  When we were developing our dried soup mixes in the Test Kitchen over a year ago we felt something was missing. Normally, if we were cooking at home we would start with a broth, either homemade or commercially produced. The long slow simmering of the bones or the vegetables is what helps give a homemade soup that deep rich flavor. But we wanted to provide a soup mix that would be ready in a short time (3 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on which soup mix) and we do not have a license to include meat in our products. Immediately we realized there is something we used at home, made from nonmeat sources that boosts flavor. Developed in Great Britain during World War II because of the shortage of meat at home, Marmite is a high protein paste made from nutritional yeast.  We were able to identify (one of the fun conventions and expos I visit during the off-season) several producers of powdered nutritional yeast that can boost the flavor of our recipes. I use the term “nutritional yeast” on the label because I personally dislike the all encompassing “natural flavors” that is the suggested listing.

We are proud to say “No artificial anything.”

What else can you tell from my label?

Well, the photo will either be a picture of what the stuff inside looked like while it was cooking or the raw ingredients in the mix. 

The side panel has all the legal requirements taken care of. First, my name and location so you can find me. Then, the ingredient list. I will never be able to call any of my products “organic” as the kitchen is not a certified organic kitchen, but when my ingredients are certified organic, they will be noted in the list.

Also, a reminder to store the opened but not emptied jar in the frig. By the way, how long something will last in the refrigerator is is also a common question. For something like the pasta sauce, I say to use it within 2 weeks. Something high in sugar like the jams, will last longer. I open a lot of jars to offer tastings at the farmers’ market and keep them on ice while there. They get put in the frig as soon as we get home. I just tossed a half empty jar of one we offered for tasting back in early December, so that lasted over 4 months.

The weight or volume of the product is next…..jars are in volume. The dried yummies are by weight. The next item is a batch number. It helps me know immediately when I made it and where the main ingredients came from.  If I need to have a recall, I will issue it with a batch number like that.

The last item is the “best by” date. Here the government gets fuzzy in their logic, not that they do that anywhere else, eh?  They require food processors to put something in there like a “use by” or “expired by” or a “best by” date. But they have no standards for canned and dehydrated foods. Personally, I do not like “use by” or “expired by” dates because they may result in perfectly good food being thrown out. How many times has that milk been okay for a week after the date on the carton or bottle?  Preserved foods typically last a long long time. How many people have a grandmother who cans? Ask her when to throw away unopened jars and she will probably look at you with “that” look you try to avoid.  However, there are some foods, even when safe to eat, that lose their appeal. I canned some carrots and opened the jar about 18 months later…..they were kind of mushy, not at all the quality a similar jar had been at 12 months. I typically put 13 months in my “best by” but would much more prefer you to eat it up and come back the next week to buy more!

If you have a question about the products that are not now currently on the labels, let me know. Also, our slow season is now over. The Downtown Farmers’ market starts this coming week so we are in prep mode and will be in the Kitchen one day each week for a while. When that changes to our normal three-day Kitchen week depends on Mother Nature.

 

 

 

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

 

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!

 

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.