Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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New Flavors

It's Monday morning, and once again I'm doing a bit of stuff online while the canner heats up and my day in the kitchen begins. I'm still trying to can as much of the produce as possible. While I have popular favorites I try my best to keep on the table at the stand, for me, some of the most fun is trying new things. I'll be doing pepper rings and pickled beets this week, because they are so popular. But lately I've tried (and succeeded!) at some new stuff as well.

I love growing hot peppers, and I sell lots of canned products that use them. I have hot pepper jelly, hot and mild pepper rings, and of course, salsa. But a few weeks ago, I expanded my mustard line to include a hot pepper mustard! Although my other mustards are thick, whole-grain creations, this one is different. It's bright yellow, and kind of thin. I had to play around a bit with it to get it to thicken at all, and it's still on the thin side. It's been a big hit with my friends though, who love the flavor and said that the texture is just right for sinking into a bun when you're grilling out. And as the garden slows down even further and I have more time to experiment, I'm also hoping to begin playing around with a few more mustards. I'm still trying to replicate a champagne-dill mustard I love, but I just haven't gotten the results I want, at least not yet. And as fall moves along, I hope to have an Oktoberfest beer mustard, which I think will be fun.

Another new thing I've created recently was a plum preserve. Dan has worked for years for a man who has a small, private orchard and sometimes Dan comes home with a bucket of some kind of fruit or another. Last week, it was some apples and plums. Apples will keep, so I wasn't in as much of a hurry to use them. But what to do with the plums? I found a great recipe, so simple it called for only pitted, halved plums, sugar and water. No chopping the fruit, no adding pectin or lemon juice or anything. I've made lots of jams and jellies, but this was my first time making one without the pectin, so I had to figure out how to do a gel test to figure out when it was done. (A gel test involves putting some metal spoons in the freezer, then dipping them in the jam and observing how it runs off when tilted. It will run off in drips at first, then as it thickens it will look more like it's coming off in a sheet.) The fruit flavor was super intense, and I think it's a great new addition. Time consuming to make, as it needs to cook for a good long while, but in the end I think it was worth it. I may have to try and source some local plums to make more of it!

And this week, I hope to get to those apples. Last year I offered a jam called Apple Pie in a Jar. It was a great flavor, and I plan on doing it again this year. Also, Dan and I bought a cider press, so we're hoping to get to that and make our own cider, at least for ourselves. I'm also hoping to make enough cider that I will be able to set some aside, ferment it, and be able to offer real cider vinegar, which will probably not be done before the stand closes. But vinegar will keep until spring, and if nothing else, I'm excited to have it for my own cooking. I'm also hoping to partner with a local farm to be able to offer fresh apples to our customers in the near future.

Well, the canner is starting to bubble so it's time to get the jars sterilized and begin with the peppers and the beets. Then I also hope to get some sauerkraut started, get the Apple Pie in a Jar done, maybe make some more Bruschetta or Garden Relish, and who knows what else will be canned and for sale by the weekend!


Retiring Canned Products

I truly enjoy canning.  I love the process of creating something wonderful from scratch, something that will last for months or longer until I open it up to savor a flavor of something that was plentiful seasons ago.  I love playing around with recipes and trying out new ones.  For years, my mother in law made the stand famous with her pies and baked goods.  While I don't share her talent for baking, nothing is a bigger compliment to me than when someone says they stopped by just for my dill pickles or some carrot cake jam or any one of the products I work so hard to create.

Taking stock of what has been produced over the course of this year, I've made 9 kinds of jelly, 3 mustards, 2 salsas, various vegetable pickles using cucumbers, beets, beans and peppers, 6 vinegars, some assorted stuff like Bruschetta, Thai dipping sauce, prepared horseradish, or peach barbecue sauce, plus an assortment of dried herbs.  Now that the farm stand season is winding down to the final month, it's been on my mind to take stock and see if I want to continue all of them into next year.  

The answer

 Most of my canned products are the result of trying to preserve something I have a bounty of during the growing season.  If I have to buy all the ingredients, it may not make sense for me to expect to make a profit, especially when I factor in my time and now that I have built up a selection of recipes tailored just to what we grow.  (That's why, to the disappointment of some, I don't offer blackberry or elderberry jams...we don't grow those here!)  So that is a consideration.  The next is how time-consuming the process is, as the more involved it is the less time I can spend on the numerous other things I may need to be doing in the course of a day.  Some of the really messy or hard ones never even make it to the stand, as Dan and I will eat them when I know it's not a project I would look forward to doing again.  I had a recipe that made both blueberry butter and a blueberry ice cream sauce.   Both turned out to be delicious, but took forever, only produced a very few jars of each, and by the time I was done, everything in the kitchen was stained some shade of bluish-purple, especially me. Not a winning recipe in my book.  

But the final and most important test is whether they sell.  If my customers just aren't interested in them, it makes absolutely no sense to spend lots of time and materials making more of whatever it is. I know many folks don't want to spend their hard-earned money on something they've never heard of and might not like, so I have offered free samples of something or another all season long.  While I have a pretty good sense of what's being purchased since I work the counter every week, I also kept track of how much I made of each over the year.  If I only made a batch or two and still have most of it left, it's a good candidate for retirement.

So, I know you're curious, and yes, decisions have been made.  Fans of Carrot Cake Jam or Black Forest Preserves (chocolate & cherry flavored), don't worry.  It looks like these will be around a long, long time.  However, if you're a fan of the Gingered Pear Preserves or the Oriental Rhubarb Jam, you may want to stop by before the close of the season since you won't be seeing them in the spring. The pears don't really use much of anything produced here, even if they are tasty and not especially hard.  I can use up my rhubarb in the Orange-Rhubarb jam, which is much more popular.  This is the first time I've discontinued any of the products I make, and it is a little hard.  But I want to have room to find new recipes that I love and hope you will too!  So come by and stock up on your favorites now so you won't have to miss them over the winter, and be sure to check back next year to see what new things have been dreamed up in the meantime!

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