Tag Archives: canning

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)

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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.

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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.

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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/)

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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

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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.

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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!

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.