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.

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.

 

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.

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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!