Tag Archives: VA Food Works

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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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.