Not once did I consider it an April Fools joke but we have no idea how the photo showed up on Graham’s Facebook feed last night. Kentucky State University has a mobile fruit and vegetable processing truck that visits farms in season to help them preserve their harvest.
Finding no info to take me specifically to the person in charge, I emailed the head of the agricultural school at KSU, dropping The Wild Ramp market experience to give me local “street” cred (more like farm cred). And now we are setting up an appointment for me to go look-see!
Why the excitement? Two factors. In case you missed it, I am setting up a business here in Oregon to help small farmers preserve their surplus fruits and vegetables. AND we will be in Kentucky for Graham to do some forensic business in May, less than an hour from where the KSU research farm is located in Frankfurt!!
WOW! Life is good! Now, who can I get to help me write a grant application?
So, remember back when I was working as a farm hand for 3 months this past summer? There was a LOT of time spent weeding which meant my mind was working, dreaming dreams, solving problems, making others.
Did you know that 30% of the food we have here goes to waste? Think about your own kitchen. How much food gets stashed in the frig, only to turn some dark green color, dripping with slime? I’m guilty. We cook too much, put the leftovers in containers and usually remember to eat as lunch the next day, but if we are out and about, they tend to migrate to the back of the shelf and then, when I realize I am low on storage containers, I look and there they are…..needing to be sterilized!
Well, on the farm there was waste also. Michelle Burger of Bethel Springs Farms has exacting standards for her customers, and rightly so. When we picked green beans only those that were perfectly straight and of course without blemishes made it into their bags. The rest were trashed! Well, not exactly. As we were picking, the curved beans got left on the ground. In the cleaning process, anything imperfect went into the compost. It all eventually gets returned to the soil as green fertilizer, but it got me thinking that much of it was edible.
I started taking the imperfect produce home. Lots of it. I got paid minimum wage but boy oh boy, I was bringing home tons more in food than I was earning in dinero. And so, I started canning. And canning. And canning. Buying more jars. Canning some more. Some recipes, like the blueberry barbecue sauce, were keepers. Others like the zucchini marmalade, not so much.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, I was also thinking about the Bethel Springs business model. When Michelle hired me she took a gamble with a 60-year-old arthritic chubbette, but she saw I could (almost all the time) keep up and what she also gained was all the insights I had learned from years of farm visits. Seeing the many different ways small farmers tried to make their work as income effective as possible.
So, I suggested to her that I could provide her another income stream. I can take those cast off green beans, not ordered zucchinis, tons and tons of excess tomatoes and can can can can can for her. She’s intrigued. So are a couple of other farmers and one other approached me.
I have to draw the line there for this coming season. I need to stretch my wings and keep it manageable.
Meanwhile, as the fields are slumbering, I am doing all the groundwork. I went to a wonderfully timed convention this week sponsored by the Northwest Food Processors Association. Walking through the exhibition hall made me realize very quickly just how “small potatoes” this business concept is. When I talked to one vendor about a dehydrator I learned his best option for me costs $100,000. Graham suggested a Kickstarter; I’ll wait a bit. The family just pitched in to buy me a $250 Excalibur. That should last a year…maybe two. Next is the Better Processing School, and a whole bunch of legal things like state and federal licenses and certifications, including business filing. Amd Curt Chiarelli, a friend who is a graphic artist, is designing my logo, bless him!
Now, I COULD do all this from home if I was selling it all myself at a farmers’ market. Perfectly legal within a certain dollar amount. But by offering this service to farmers who have no time to process their product this way and packaging it for their own label means I need to step up one notch to a commercial endeavor.
So, new venture and lots of excitement! If you want to share a scrumptious recipe you use, please do!!!
Waking up to eating local food as much as possible happened when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She tells the story of a year in her family’s life when they moved from Arizona to a family farm that had long been abandoned in southern Appalachia. The family decided they would eat only what they raised or what could be traded with another local farmer, with the exception of only a few things, coffee and French wine among them.
This got me thinking and I asked Graham to read the book also. The idea of eating locally, in season, was a brand new concept compared to the way we grew up with supermarkets stocking all kinds of foods all the year. Yes, we could buy strawberries in time for my sister’s January birthday cake. Yes, we could get a can of pumpkin to make a pie in the summer. But might they be more appreciated when they came into season right near where we lived?
This book and then continued reading and discussing with others made us realize how our eating habits were adding to increased use of fuel for transporting food from the southern hemisphere to us, and more important, we realized we really had never thought about who was raising the food we were relying on for nutrition.
For the same reason we didn’t particularly eat seafood when living in landlocked West Virginia. We very much enjoyed eating our fill of fresh fish and seafood when we traveled to either coast. Some food just tastes so much better when it is fresh. If you think about it, except for freshly caught trout and fresh water fish, almost all seafood served in the center of the country is fried, the better to mask a bit of age. In fact, most people will swear they prefer fried fish, and again, that is because most of the ocean fish served in the landlocked states is NOT particularly fresh.
So, speaking of loving fresh fish, when we moved here the first thing I learned to can with a pressure canner was tuna and it is that time of year again! My sister lives on the coast and has a friend whose husband fishes for tuna and she was able to get them at a really good price. Today Graham started early, trimming 40 pounds of tuna. After sterilizing all the jars we cut the tuna into chunks, packed the half pints and then topped them off with a bit of salt, a spoon of lemon juice and some olive oil.
We put my sister friend Linda to work too!
100 minutes later at 10 pounds of pressure we had our first 48 jars, and a second round brought us up to 99. Canned outside thanks to my friend Jana who loaned us her propane stove and her much better pressure canner.My sister and one of her friends each took a quarter, with Graham and I keeping the rest. We finished about six hours after we had started, but again, we had to process two batches, each taking 100 minutes. It was a full day and one we will enjoy all year long, when we savor our canned tuna.
So, you say, you can buy tuna fish. And so, back at you, I tell you that you would never eat your favorite, Bumble Bee or Chicken of the Sea ever again….not after you taste what fresh tuna canned at home tastes like!
My raspberries are slowing down a bit so I have begun to get more thoughtful of how I plan to preserve them. While my first batch of jam ended up too watery, it made an absolutely wonderful raspberry sauce so I decided to repeat that. I discovered, though, that I had tossed the recipe since it had “failed” its intended goal. A bit of internet research later, I was busy simmering and, following my sister’s suggestion, filtered out the seeds. But I got to thinking. (Rousing chorus of “uh oh” now)
I started preparing my tried and true hot fudge sauce recipe from my Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream recipe book. It takes almost 2 hours to prepare and is worth every second.
So then I had a finished batch of raspberry syrup and a finished batch of hot fudge sauce. Checking a few recipes for proportions, I set up 5 bowls for Graham to taste test: 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4 and 1:5 with raspberry being the increasing proponent.
When I laughed at him going back for a second taste, he assured me scientists take second measurements.
1:4 won and I have now canned 8 half-pints.
And of course have a pint jar in the frig for immediate consumption. Have to be sure it’s tasty, you know. All part of the experiment!
Brownie sundae with homemade vanilla-blueberry-strawberry ice cream and chocolate raspberry sauce
We’re renting our house in McMinnville and lucked into a backyard full of food. There’s an herbal garden that got Graham excited from day one, a rhubarb plant that had my name on it, two blueberry bushes that are full full full right now of green berries and I have been warned about the birds, two apples trees, and a eight foot long bunch of raspberry canes.
Those canes have been producing a ton of raspberries and the unripe ones show we still have weeks ahead of us, so I knew I had to develop some canning skills.
My past attempts of making jam has been mixed. I have made my share of rubber cement and I have made a couple of edible jars. My first attempt making raspberry jam a week ago ended up producing terrific syrup.
I have now switched recipes (Back to the Ball pamphlet) and yesterday managed to make several jars for enjoyable edible consumption. Also tried to dry some (so-so results) and made some leather (that was better).
Years ago my mom took the family to Alaska to celebrate the high school graduation of my oldest two kids. One of the amazing foods we experienced there was some home-canned salmon. It was so much better than anything we could purchase commercially in the grocery store so I simply stopped buying it.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email that one of my favorite seafood restaurants, Local Ocean in Newport, Oregon, was offering tuna at an amazing price. The tuna are running and the time was perfect to earn how to home can some! Local Ocean is located opposite the commercial fishing boats in Newport’s harbor and although it has a restaurant, the store is well known as a fantastic fish market.
My sister Laura was the courier, picking up the fish and bringing it to us when she also so graciously arrived to help with the unpacking. She could not be with us for the activity, but for her service, she will get some of the finished product!
I purchased a pressure cooker for canning, 2 packs of half pint jars, and the needed ingredients: tuna, lemon juice, salt, and Charles brought the olive oil.
Tina started us out cutting the fish fillets into small chunks, roughly 1-2 inches square. We put a very small amount of lemon juice and salt into each jar, put in chunks of the tuna and then filled with the oil. Jars were closed up and the pressure cooker loaded and then the cooking started.
We had some rain but Graham and I put up a canopy and a table outside and set up the burners out on the deck. We had been advised to do the work outside because of the anticipated aroma, but one other person had suggested that if the fish was fresh there would be no bad smell. As it turned out, the fuel canisters on the outside cookers did not get the pressure cookers to the temperature/pressure needed so we ended up on the kitchen stove. (the house does not smell.)
Each batch takes 100 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, and then time to release. We ended up processing 48 jars and still had tuna left over, so I froze it in the chunks and we will have tuna kabobs in the future.
This was my first pressure cooking canning experience and was a lot of fun! Thank you Tina for your patience and smiles….and the vanilla ice cream you made for the apple pie (from my back yard apples!!)