We are VDACS approved! Our spreads can now be sold at stores in Virginia! Sara, Pam, and I spent a long, productive day at the Prince Edward Cannery (http://www.co.prince-edward.va.us/cannery_index.shtml)

photo 1

In addition to receiving VDACS approval, we made lots of strawberry spread. At the end of the day, we were tired but very pleased to load up 347 jars of strawberry balsamic, strawberry lavender, and strawberry vanilla.

We got an early start with coolers full of 5 lb bags of defrosting strawberries as well as sugar, IMG_4724lavender, balsamic vinegar, vanilla beans and Pam’s amazing industrial immersion blender. It could easily be mistaken for a jackhammer. Sara and I were a bit intimidated by it, so there was no question that Pam was responsible for pureeing all the berries.

IMG_4741

 

 

Once we unloaded at the Cannery, Emily did the general orientation and began the paperwork process. Next, Chris, my VDACS inspector, went through an overview of the inspection process. Then we donned the very stylish hairnets and plastic gloves provided by the Cannery and got to work.

Sara and Pam were the best helpers I could have had—besides canning experience, each had specialized experience relevant to our task. In addition to operating the industrial size blender, Pam’s experience in a commercial kitchen meant she immediately knew how to use the tools, follow the necessary procedures for cleanliness, and keep the flow going.   Sara’s USDA experience paid off when it came to completing the paperwork, documenting the process, and generating our batch code system. Thank you Sara and Pam! My job to actually make the spread and answer questions posed by Chris, was from my perspective the easiest.

IMG_4725IMG_4734

Sara and Pam were as impressed with the giant steam kettles and 2 minute dishwasher as I had been on my earlier visit. At canning time, the thermal gloves were also a bonus. All of us liked the clean look of our new straight-sided 9 oz jars and appreciated the timesavings generated by the single piece lids.

After making the balsamic spread and before making the vanilla spread, we had a very enjoyable lunch (and caffeine) break at the Fishin’ Pig in Farmville (http://www.fishinpig.com/). By the time, we thoroughly cleaned the Cannery, packed up our boxes, and drove home it was a 12-hour day!

We still have to label all those jars, with our beautiful new labels, but that is getting done IMG_4735slowly on an as needed basis. We discovered that placing a rectangular label on a round jar can be challenging, so Bruce designed a jar holder to assure that the labels go on straight (old engineers never stop engineering, they just become farmers and make everyone’s life easier).

In addition to the Fluvanna Farmers Market and Farmers in the Park, you can now buy our spreads at the following locations:

Great Harvest Bread, Charlottesville (http://greatharvestcville.com/)

Jefferson Pharmacy, Palmyra (http://jeffersondrug.com/)

Salt Artisan Market, Charlottesville (http://saltcville.com/)

The Bakery, Farmville (http://www.thebakeryfarmville.com/)

photo 3

 

 

1 Comment

You might be thinking that strawberry spread is just for toast or peanut and jelly sandwiches but, if you’ve visited our stand at the local Farmer’s Market (Fluvanna, Farmers in the Park, UVA) you’ve heard about lots of other ways to enjoy our Spreads. This post has some edible ideas and some actual recipes.

For breakfast, MFF Strawberry Spread is not just great on your favorite toast but also on biscuits, scones, and crumpets. It’s equally delicious on waffles and pancakes—either straight from the jar or as a quick strawberry syrup (mix with water or fruit juice to create a syrup imagesconsistency and heat in the microwave or on the stovetop). Or, for a healthy option, make a hiker’s breakfast of plain Greek yogurt, MFF Strawberry Spread, granola and fresh fruit.

Later after a busy day, for happy hour or an appetizer, top Brie or Chevre/goat cheese with MFF Strawberry Spread and garnish it with mint or basil. A customer last week had a great variation on this (Thank you!). She suggested filling mini phyllo cups with a slice of cheese, heating them and then putting a dollop of strawberry spread on top--couldn’t be easier. I’m thinking the phyllo cups have lots of possibilities for dessert, too:

filoshellsMelt a little chocolate then top with strawberry spread or
Fold strawberry spread into cream cheese whipped cream (see https://www.preparedpantry.com/blog/make-cream-cheese-whipped-cream/) and fill the phyllo cup.

Then for dinner, the strawberry balsamic is just right for savory dishes. It has just enough acidity to make a great BBQ sauce, glaze or marinade and goes well with any meat, firm white fish or salmon, or shrimp. Bruce has been experimenting with sauces and came up with this recipe:

Bruce’s Strawberry BBQ sauce
Ingredients:
2/3 C MFF Strawberry Balsamic Spreadphoto 1
1/3 C Ketchup
¼ tsp Chipotle Pepper powder
½ tsp Ancho Chili powder

Directions:
1. Mix Strawberry Balsamic Spread and ketchup
2. Add Chipotle and Ancho powders, stir well

Last night he made tasty Shake and Broil Shrimp by pouring the BBQ sauce into a baggie, adding shrimp and tossing until coated. We broiled the shrimp and served over Basmati rice—yum!

photo 5

Finally, for dessert (there’s always room for dessert) try this:

Sara’s Strawberry Lavender Yogurt PopsIMG_6869
Ingredients:
2c plain Greek yogurt
3 tbsp honey (I use more than the original recipe, which called for only 2 tbsp)
1/4 c Middle Fork Farm Strawberry Lavender spread (Strawberry Vanilla is good, too!)

Directions:
1. Mix Greek yogurt and honey until well blended.
2. Pour into ice-cream attachment/machine.
3. Mix until starts to thicken, then drop the Strawberry Lavender Spread in by spoonfuls.
4. Continue to mix until well frosted but not stiff.
5. Spoon into popsicle molds and put in freezer for at least 2 hours.
6. To remove from the molds, turn under hot water until loosened slightly, then slide off and enjoy!

IMG_6839 IMG_6852 IMG_6856

Let us know what you think of these ideas and recipes and send us your favorite Strawberry Spread recipes so we can share them with others.

A lot has happened on the farm since my last post, so here’s an update on the goats, strawberries, vines and bees.

Quizno, our buck,  was happily reunited with the does at the end of the June. Sara says that not only was Quizno elated but the ladies were pretty darn happy to see him, as well. They

photo 2

are now enjoying the ample grass and forage in their new field and, hopefully, all or some of the does are already carrying their next offspring.  The average gestation period for meat goats is 150 days, which means we should start having kids on the ground around December 1 (hopefully, we won’t have an arctic blast during kidding as we had this year!).IMG_4377

This year’s crop of does are continuing to grow (especially their ears) and entertain us with theirIMG_4392 antics. You can see Apple’s ear taking off as she and her friends race down the hill to greet Sara (hum, does Sara have treats in her pocket?). Annabeth is the adorable kid playing hide and seek inside the tree and in the next photo, her friend, ShyGirl, is trying to squeeze in with her.

IMG_4390

Snickers and Doodle are continuing to work as a team to round up the kids for us. This is tremendously helpful when we need to catch them for worming, hoof trimming, or any other reason. Check out this very short video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5iR4oBrgWU&feature=youtu.be. Once they have them corralled Snickers patrols the perimeter like a herd dog should, while Doodle prefers to pass out kisses to any goats that are willing. It’s a tough life for dogs and goats at MFF!

DSC_0037

Our strawberry season was shorter than anticipated due to the rains in early June. We were hoping our ever-bearing plants would make a comeback and produce a July crop but sadly it didn’t happen. We still have plenty of berries in the freezer for our spreads so I’m making it as fast as I can! We sell it at the Fluvanna Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays, Farmers in the

IMG_7256

Park on Wednesday, and the UVA Market on Thursday. This week we introduced a sampler pack which includes three 4 oz. jars--one of each flavor and it sold out in no time. It’s a great choice if you can’t decide which flavor you like best or as a gift pack (great alternative to a bottle of wine).

In addition to all the traditional uses, we’re discovering lots of new ways to enjoy strawberry spread. Our friend, Mark, served 4th of July ribs cooked with a sauce made from our Strawberry Balsamic spread. I’m trying to get the recipe but Mark’s not a recipe kinda guy -- we’ll see. He also made a chicken marinade by combining Strawberry Vanilla and tomatillo sauce. Daughter Amy created a summer cocktail by combining Strawberry Lavender spread and vodka, then adding sparkling water, and finishing it off with a sprig of mint. Thursday a group of ladies were excited about scones and strawberry spread—a little afternoon tea? And, of course a super simple dessert is topping your favorite ice cream with Strawberry Vanilla spread. If you’ve got a recipe using any of our strawberry spreads, send it to me (with pictures, if possible) and we’ll share it!

photo 1

The vines are prospering and look beautiful! It looks like we had minimal damage from the winter this year (those burning hay bales must have helped)! Our new sprayer and spray program are doing great and the irrigation system for Block A and Block B are photo 5operational. As of Friday, all 400 posts for the new vineyard, Block C, are in the ground---good work guys! Next, comes trellis wires and then irrigation to complete Block C.

The beehives are filling up with honey. Both hives now have two supers and the bees are starting to draw out the wax in the upper super. Its really amazing watching them work and seeing the growth of the honeycomb and development of the eggs. Cover crops and crop rotation are an important part of sustainable farming so Rick planted one of the empty berry fields with cover crops, buckwheat and clover, and the bees love it!

IMG_7246bees7.18.14
Remember to send us your Strawberry Spread recipes and photos!

P1070177Saturday was our first Pick Your Own strawberries event and it was a big success! Our customers left with smiles and berries (lots of berries!), we met some new neighbors and area visitors, Snickers and Doodles made lots of new friends, and at the end of the day the fields were in great shape (which made Rick very happy!). We saw a variety of picking styles from the very serious selector to the random picker, but all variations included some taste testing in search of those delicious ripe red all over berries.

P1070168

P1070158 P1070163

We want to thank all of our visitors for following our one rule, be nice to the plants! P1070180We also want to send an especially big shout out to the moms, dads, and grandparents with young kids—thanks for teaching them to respect the plants! Please come again!

Getting ready was a multiday project. Friday was clean-up day for the strawberry fields, mowing around the area, and staging for the morning. Saturday we got an early start setting up displays, canopies, signs, and (very important) the PortaJohn. Rick made a new two-sided chalkboard from an old farm window frame and we discovered that Sara has a highly valued skill—hand-lettering. From now on, in addition to being our goat whisperer she is also our talented sign writer.

P1070186

In addition to you pick berries, we sampled and sold our yummy spreads —Strawberry-Balsamic, Strawberry-Lavender, and Strawberry-Vanilla.   They are made with twice as many berries as sugar so the taste is much different than what you’ll find at the grocery store. Each has a unique flavor and, borrowing from my (many) wine tasting experiences, I sequenced the tasting to highlight each flavor profile.P1070174

We began with Strawberry Balsamic, which tempers the sweetness to enhance the naturally rich berry flavor. This was our best seller. Sample #2 was the Strawberry Vanilla, which is made with real vanilla beans. It produces a mild vanilla note that pairs well with the sweetness of the berry (Our young customer, Simon, left with 2 jars and a big smile). We ended the tasting with Strawberry Lavender. According to Sara (its her absolute favorite), “the flavor is unexpected and addictive.” It has a strong berry flavor with a floral note at the end—you can smell the lavender, as well as taste it.  All of the flavors make a tasty and quick appetizer when paired with a soft white cheese, such as brie.  Sprinkle a few nuts on the top or garnish with mint or basil and you're set to go.

It seemed that for many of the kids the creek (the Middle Fork of Cunningham Creek—the source of our farm name) was a bigger attraction than the berries. Laura and Maya graciously Kids@Creekshowed visitors where to find and sometimes how to catch fish, crayfish, and frogs. Of course, rocks, sand and water are enough to keep most kids busy for a long time and on Saturday it really did. I think we even had a few adults cooling off in the creek after doing their time in the berry field.

 

At the end of the day, we “debriefed” about the pick your own experience. We talked about a lot of details but the big question was, should we do this again? We all agreed that Pick Your Own will become a regular part of our strawberry season and we will do it again later this summer.  Next time, we're thinking we'll open "picking" from 9-12 on Saturday morning and 1-3 on Sunday afternoon.  We'd love to know what you think of the Sunday option (send us an email).  As soon as we have dates, we'll post it on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middle-Fork-Farm/540326095986621). And, next season we’ll start Pick Your Own early in the season so more people can enjoy getting their berries straight from the field.

In other farm news, Bruce has finished his winemaker certificate courses through PVCC and UC Davis--kudos! Just for fun, he’s going to make some strawberry wine this summer and then in the fall, he’ll start making red wines so they’ll be aged just right for our tasting room opening in the spring of 2016.

2 Comments

IMG_6084In my last post I said that spring is fickle (and that rain was coming) – both were an understatement! The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster (or maybe farming just makes us manic)---one day we’re euphoric and then bam, spring’s fickleness hits again and we’re sad and frustrated (but not defeated!).

After the April freeze and midnight bonfires, we were feeling quite accomplished. We’d planted our new grape vines and populated berry field #2 with about 20.000 daughter plants. Life was good! Or so we thought…

On the night of April 30, the rains slowly hung over central Virginia and by morning portions of our new berry field had transformed into a fast moving stream. Many of the new beds were flattened, daughter plants, plastic cloth and irrigation lines were scattered in the fields, creek, and wrapped around trees.  It was not a pretty sight! The creek flowed over the bridge and carried away trees and the natural bridges we’d made, as well as an Adirondack chair and a 60-gallon tank. Rick philosophically said, “who needs Las Vegas when you’re a farmer?”IMG_6030IMG_5986

Like beavers, with our wonderful crew, we put it back to together. The sun shone and life was good again, for a while! Every day we watched the plants produce more blossoms and eventually we saw the first reddish strawberry. Our lovely green fields were speckled with spots of red. Rick guessed that our first harvest would be yesterday but the forecast said rain. So to be safe we opted to harvest on Thursday, using our brand new strawberry carts designed and crafted by Rick. IMG_6072

It was a small harvest but, oh what beautiful, delicious berries! Life was good!

And then as predicted the rain came, again—about 6” of it! It didn’t start gently, it just poured and kept going through the night, along with its sidekick, the wind.   Because of the intensity and the wind, the damage was different. The daughter plants in our newly rebuilt and smaller berry field #2 were undamaged (yeah!) but the water in the creeks and the wind ripped out a portion of the anti-critter fence surrounding field #1 and flattened six rows of mature berries. It also took the other Adirondack chair and all but one of our picnic tables somewhere downstream.IMG_6061

The good news is the plants will recover; the bad news is we lost a substantial part of today’s harvest and we have to delay Pick Your Own.

Even so, today ended with the roller coaster going up. Our friends at Jefferson Pharmacy at Lake Monticello invited us to put a strawberry table in front of the store. Customers were thrilled to find local organic strawberries and strawberry spreads available. One customer bought strawberries, tasted one and came back for more! Pretty cool!IMG_6075

A musician friend of ours used to end his shows by saying, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, see you next time.” Jimmy, we’re going to borrow that salutation and say, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise (again), starting in June we’ll be at the Fluvanna Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Farmers in the Park (C-ville) on Wednesdays. And, we’ll definitely post dates and times for Jefferson Pharmacy and Pick Your Own (hopefully) on our Face Book page.IMG_6020

For all its promise and beauty, spring in Virginia is quite fickle…

Every part of the farm is alive and showing growth.  The does are enjoying their lush new pasture and the kids are just plain cute! P1050806 P1050830

Isn't she adorable?

The bulbs and flowering trees are creating new displays of color everyday. 

P1050784

 

The bees are making honey and the frogs are reproducing (by the millions!)

IMG_5855

IMG_5869

Strawberry field #1 is packed with blossoms and field #2 has about 10,000 daughter plants!

IMG_5857

 

About the fickle part… 

The new vines are in the ground and we were starting to see bud break when a nasty cold front blew in freezing temperatures--not good for vines (strawberries are much hardier). We decided that our best preventative would be to strategically place round hay bales around the vineyard and create a smoke layer to insulate the ground (helicopters and wind machines are more effective but just a bit more costly).

IMG_5824

In the afternoon of Day 1, Bruce and Rick checked the wind direction and put 8 round bales in the vineyard (with the help of Snickers and Doodle), ready for lighting sometime around midnight. Unfortunately, in the process of igniting bales the truck got stuck in the mud, so it wasn't until about 2 am that they called it a night.

That just about finished off the farm's supply of old round bales so the next day we called friends and neighbors and located a large stash of really old musty bales, ours for the taking and burning—thank you, Channing!

IMG_5833

Again, we checked the wind and placed the bales. When we were almost done, we looked across the vineyard and noticed that we’d dropped a bale on a smoldering pile from the night before—oops! That one went up in smoke.

When Spring came to her senses and returned to central VA, we checked the vines and it looks like our big burns did some good, despite the 26F temperature-- only limited damage to the vines.

So, enough of the fickleness!  Like all farmers we want spring to bring rain (just enough), plenty of sun, and warm temperatures!

As I write this, our "just enough" rain has turned into 2" with another 2" possible--we might be needing rain boots for our goats!

1 Comment

Our critter population has increased by about 600 and things are buzzing at Middle Fork Farm-- we’ve added two honey bee hives.

The hives started as kits with not just some, but all assembly required and no instructions. Even though Langstroth hives are really common, assembling them was not intuitive so, I opted for the 21st century default method–YouTube.  After a couple of videos, I had a plan.

Normally, I’m pretty useless at construction projects but not this time! Bruce put together the P1050736P1050757P1050758P1050761boxes, aka supers, and I (proudly) assembled the frames, where the bees make honey. Each super has 10 frames that hang like folders and can be easily removed when full of honey. Step 1 was to use the claw end of a hammer to remove a portion of the top piece called the wedge cleat—which then gets reapplied later. Next,  I used the staple gun to assemble the frames and checked each one to be sure it was square. I know as far as power tools go, the electric stapler isn’t impressive but for a novice it was still a little challenging as the staples didn’t always go where they were supposed to or as deep as needed to hold the frame together. Due to my skill level  I made slow but steady progress.

The next part was inserting the wax foundation (ultimately where the honey is stored and eggs are laid, see http://galwaybeekeepers.com/bees-wax/ for a good explanation) into the frame. The foundation drops into a groove in the bottom of the frame and then the wedge cleat is set  on the foundation wire and stapled to the top of the frame. This was even slower and more frustrating as the wax is limp and easily punctured. Each super has 10 frames and each hive has two supers, yep, that's 40 frames.

Once this was accomplished we were ready for the bees.   My friend and experienced beekeeper, Marca-Maria and I picked them up in Remington from VA Bee Supply (http://www.virginiabeesupply.com/). When we got back to the farm Bruce was setting up cinder block pads for the hives on Possum Hill (so named because used to Doodle return from there regularly with possums.  One day, she even got 2!  Currently, she seems more interested in collecting cow bones. She’s added another vertebrae since this photo was taken).DoodleBones

Back to beehives…After Bruce leveled the hives on cinder blocks with the opening facing east, we set the slatted rack and bottom board, then the super, the feeder, and finally the cover. The second super will be added once these frames are full of honey.

Until spring comes into full swing, we need to provide the bees with food. Marca-Maria traded out one of our new frames for one of her frames that was full of honey. We also added honey water (1:1 solution) to the top feeder, which despite its simple appearance required another visit to YouTube as well as a phone call to VA Bee Supply.

Finally, we hived the bees--actually Marca-Maria did. First,  wearing bee hood and gloves,  she removed each Queens’ chamber from the carrying container and hung it between two frames in each of the hives.

IMG_5669

Then she released the rest of the bees downward into the hive and replaced the top feeder and cover. We put the case by the entrance to allow the remaining bees access to the hive.

IMG_5689

Two days later, we refilled the honey-water feeder, checked to see if the bees had started drawing out the wax (yes!), and if there was pollen in the bottom board (there was !).

IMG_5710

Most importantly, Marca-Maria opened the hive to see if the queens had left their chambers and, hopefully, taken their nuptial flights. Since we didn’t camp out or have video surveillance we couldn’t be sure about the nuptial flight but both queens were out of their chambers and the hives were full of activity, which was a good indication that the deed had been done and the queens were with children! If you want to see an actual mating, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaJ3K9qRVwo. This segment is from a British film about the global bee crisis called More Than Honey. They say it took 10 days to capture that 36-second flight!

Our last set-up task was a bear fence around the hives. Our good friend, Lois, told us that the Farm is a known black bear route—oh boy! Since Possum Hill doesn’t see a lot of activity except by a certain Australian Shepherd and during haying season, we decided that an electric fence around the hives would be a good investment.  So, with a combination of planning, care, and luck, we’re hoping that it'll be a sweet year!

IMG_5650

The peepers are chirping, the daffodils are up, and the trees are showing their colors--spring has come to central VA!  But, along with spring comes spring work, and this year it’s compounded by tasks we weren’t able to get done during out snowy, wet, and ridiculously cold winter.   So, this past week we were busy in the vineyard, berry patch, and barnyard.

To begin, we had 4,330 new bare root vines arrive—our new varieties, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Cab Franc, as well as replacement vines for plants we lost during 2013.   Normally, we would have already set the poles for the new vines but this year, we were lucky to just get the IMG_5737new two-acre section ready to plant.   This is a multistep process…ripping then rototilling the soil and then digging a trench for irrigation pipe and laying the pipe.  Once this was accomplished the rows were staked and marked with string for straightness and the location of each plant was marked (yes, that’s a lot of marks!). Finally, holes were dug and our new vines were planted in their homes.

Once that was done, each new vine got a bamboo stick and a grow tube to protect it from the ever present and ever hungry deer, as well as other hazards.  The grow tube also acts as a miniature green house and keeps the young plant warm.  Next week we’ll get started on the posts and the trellis wires and in about 2 weeks we hope to have bud break!

And, the strawberries should be budding soon, too. Last fall we covered all our berries with hay to protect them froIMG_5588m the winter weather so we’ve been uncovering them and cutting them back to prepare for their new growth.   Rick’s also preparing berry field #2 for the daughter plants.  We’re expecting A LOT of strawberries starting mid to end of May and continuing through July. Beginning in June, our berries will be available at the Fluvanna’s Farmer Market (www.facebook.com/pages/Fluvanna-Farmers-Market-Pleasant-Grove/368116841344) on Tuesdays, Farmers IMG_5638in the Park (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Farmers-in-the-Park/81048539935)  on Wednesdays, some Saturdays at the City Market (http://www.charlottesvillecitymarket.com/), Salt Artisan Market (http://saltcville.com/), local restaurants, as well as on the farm during TBA Pick Your Own days.

S0070194Goats unlike plants have a lot of opinions. Much to the dismay of the moms and kids we weaned the baby goats. There’s really no way to do this without a lot of unhappy, noisy goats.  Our plan was to move the does to a different field and confine the kids inside the barn, aka Goat Palace, for a couple of days.   We were hoping to separate them by more than a fence for a couple days.  No one was happy, but it appeared all was well until 11 pm, when I looked out the window and saw kids in the field.  Bruce and I promptly changed from our PJs to barn clothes and went out.  It was like the first day of school for new moms and toddlers…all the does were on their hind legs and emotionally calling, “Buttercup, Peanut, Apple…” while all the kids were on their side of the fence crying, “Mom, don't leave me!”DSCF0184

 

We started to catch the kids one by one and put them back in the Goat Palace until there were about 6 nimble kids left.  After running in circles and tripping over ourselves (it was dark!) and goats, we realized that once we returned them to the Goat Palace there was nothing to prevent them from escaping through our clearly ineffective “kid proof ” fencing again.  We gave up, opened the gate and got back in our PJs.

Thinking we were really done for the night, Bruce went to brush his teeth and discovered we didn’t have any water—some nights just go on forever!  The problem wasn’t in the cottage so back into our photobarn clothes to find the problem.  It seems that Jackson, our adorable but precocious mini-mule, had opened a hydrant in the field and drained our well.  Fortunately, after we locked the hydrant, our well refilled relatively quickly!

On Saturday, we said good-bye to all of our boy kids and two of the girls.  The doe kids staying on the farm were again noisy as their siblings and friends departed but seemed to quickly forget when thIMG_5768ey realized that the dinner table was much less crowded.

All in all, it was a productive week with just enough comic relief.

If you haven't already, please Like Us on Facebook to see more photos and updates  (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middle-Fork-Farm/540326095986621).   Even if you are not a Facebook user, you can Like Us (and any other business sites).

 

 

Last week, I spent a busy day at Virginia Food Works/Prince Edward Cannery and began the Cannery_Cannery Borderprocess to sell our fruit spreads commercially.  With the help of Emily Wells, the commercial manager, I finalized my recipes, learned to use the canning equipment, and made test batches of yummy strawberry spread.

I went prepared to make our three favorite varieties: strawberry-vanilla, strawberry-lavender, and strawberry-balsamic. I used the approved Virginia Food Works strawberry jam recipe but added our special ingredients for each variety.   I was excited because their recipe used Pomona Pectin, a brand of pectin that requires far less sugar than the pectin available at the grocery store.  In fact, it uses twice as much fruit as sugar!  Maybe we should call our spreads No Guilt Strawberry Spread?

The night before I cleaned and prepped about 25 cups of strawberry puree (I used an immersion blender—one of my favorite kitchen tools-- but kept some chunks).  Unfortunately, our stash of frozen strawberries from last summer’s harvest was not enough and I had to buy some fresh berries.  I couldn’t resist tasting a couple while hulling them with my new OXO strawberry huller.

Wow, the flavor of store bought strawberries picked days ago and shipped to VA does not compare to fresh picked berries!!  They may be pretty but they lacked the amazing sweet flavor and aroma that makes fresh berries (especially our berries) so delicious.

After processing the berries, I made jars of puree for each variety.  For the strawberry-vanilla spread, I split and scraped 2 vanilla beans and put them in the berry puree to soak overnight.  I pre-measured the sugar for each batch, and packed a pouch of culinary lavender and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  It was kind of like packing a strawberry picnic.

Emily began by going over the rules and regulations for using the Cannery and the related paperwork.   A lot of the do’s and don’t were familiar like I had to wear a hairnet, wear gloves in the food area, and wash my hands frequently--because I spend a lot of time with the animals or in the garden, I’m a compulsive hand washer so except for the plastic gloves this seemed pretty normal.  The dishwashing process used three sinks (soap, rinse, sanitizer) just like I remember using ions ago when the girls went camping with the Girl Scouts.

After Emily reviewed all the procedures with me, she brought out her cool tools---scales, thermometer, and pH meter.  We carefully calculated amounts in both volume and weight for each ingredient.  And then finally, we made fruit spread!

Since I was making micro-batches we used the smallest kettle, which was a mere 20 gallons. I equipment2guess its not surprising that everything is big—it is after all a commercial kitchen.  The kettle is not a kettle you set on your stove—it’s attached to the floor and heated by steam!  (Kind of like a witch’s cauldron but not black). First, we made the strawberry-balsamic then we cleaned everything (using the three sink protocol) and repeated the process with the strawberry-lavender and then the strawberry-vanilla.

Some parts of the process were just like home canning and some like testing the pH of the fruit and then of the mixture were not at all familiar.  We also checked the temperature of the fruit spread before putting it in jars and then instead of using a boiling water bath, we inverted the jars.  The jars, of course, had to be sterilized but we did it in 2 minutes in the Cannery’s new dishwasher—I want one like this at home!!

At the end of the day, I had 21 jars of very tasty strawberry fruit spread.  I know because Emily and I sampled each variety and gave it 2 thumbs up.  StrawberrySpread

So basically, getting our spread approved for market requires 4 steps.  My day at the Cannery fulfilled Step 1, becoming familiar with the rules, regulations, and procedures, working out recipe details, and making a test batch of each variety.   Step 2 is submitting the recipes for approval, which can be done at the same time as Step 3, designing food labels.  The Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) must then approve the labels. Finally, step 4 is scheduling a state inspection visit at the Cannery after the recipes and labels are approved.

Hopefully, this will all come together before strawberry season!
In the meantime, stay tuned for recipes using our strawberry spreads.

 

 

 

 

This is not the post I planned to write today—I planned to write about making strawberry fruit spread at the Prince Edward Cannery, and I will but first, how to de-skunk a dog…

Tuesday is yoga night so Bruce and I were pretty relaxed when we made the mistake of thinking we could add Internet service to the farm’s new IPad quickly & maybe watch an epiSnickers&DoodleSnowsode of Chopped.  An hour into my phone conversation with tech support, Snickers and Doodle, our wonderful but precocious Australian Shepherds appeared on the deck after cruising the farm.  It took Bruce only one whiff to know who they’d been hanging out with.  We ignored them and continued with our futile tech support call knowing it was going to be a long night.  Finally, after almost 2 hours we got to the fun task of de-skunking our favorite canines.

If you’re wondering, tomato juice does not work!  But, we do have a recipe that works. We found it on-line years ago so I no longer have the link but I keep it on my phone as a Note – you never know when you’ll need it

De-Skunking RecipeDe-skunk

1 qt. 3% hydrogen peroxide

¼ c baking soda

1 tsp dish soap

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bucket. We use one recipe per dog
  2. Wet the lucky pooch
  3. Wear rubber gloves and use a sponge to apply the solution (we pour any extra over the dogs as a top dressing)
  4. Rinse, sniff, and repeat

We live in a small cottage so washing stinky dogs in the house is not an option.  Fortunately, our horse barn has a wash rack with warmish water.  It was 350 F outside so we prepared the first batch, bundled up, and with dogs mistakenly excited about our late night walk headed for the barn.

We woke the horses, mini-mule, and chickens but the barn cats, Jewel, Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, were happy to see us. We sealed all the exits—there would be no escaping!  I held and Bruce de-skunked Snickers first.  She was definitely more stoic about it—and stinkier! Doodle was sure it was the end of the world as she knows it, but Doodle is a professional worrier.  The cats gathered around and supervised.

Around midnight, our overalls were in the laundry, Snickers and Doodle were happily tucked in their crates and we capped the evening with yesterday’s Daily Show.

Today we bought 6 more quarts of hydrogen peroxide—skunk season has just begun!