Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Egg storage and Cold room

 Keeping it cool and eggs fresh...

When we were planning Mark's business, egg storage was an important consideration.  There are lots of regulations about cleaning and storing eggs to keep everyone safe.  Forewarning...there is a lot of technical information presented in todays blog post but I just wanted you to have all the background knowledge.  In some of my research, I learned that eggs stay freshest if stored at cool temperatures and high humidity.  Most refrigerators have cool and dry conditions.  I started to investigate about how we could increase humidity for the egg storage.  I actually looked into maybe getting a wine refrigerator/cooler.  Wine is best when stored at 50 C and 75% humidity.  Eggs are best when stored at 45 C (or lower) and 80% humidity.  Wine and eggs both need humidity to keep fresh and from drying out!  (FYI:  Wine cooler are also VERY expensive.)
See, when a hen lays an egg, a natural, protective coating is deposited on the outside of the shell.  This is referred to as the "bloom".  It is referred to as the egg cuticle and is a layer of protein that seals the porous shell.  This prevents bacteria from entering the egg and causing infection.  This protects a developing embryo if the egg has been fertilized.  The bloom also keeps unfertilized eggs fresh longer by preventing moisture loss and keeping contaminates out.  

When eggs are washed the bloom is also washed away, thus leaving the eggs more susceptible to spoiling – particularly when stored at room temperature.  That is why it is considered a food safety best practice to store eggs that have been washed in the refrigerator – store-bought or home-raised.  Because washed eggs are more porous, it is best to store them in an enclosed container within the refrigerator to reduce moisture loss and also the absorption of off-odors or bacteria. I bring all this up because we have to wash the eggs to be able to sell them off farm.

A few more words about egg anatomy and how to determine how fresh your eggs are...

Air inside the shell gives a chick the ability to breathe when needed during the development process.  As the egg ages, evaporation takes place and the air cell becomes larger.  The size of the air sac is one characteristic used to grade eggs.  For example, a bigger egg sac means it is an older egg.  

The egg white is comprised mostly of albumen and water. It contains approximately 40 different proteins and would provide food for the baby chick if this egg were fertilized and allowed to develop. The egg white also provides cushioning and protection for a developing embryo.  As eggs age, their protein structure degrades. This causes older egg whites to become more runny, and the yolks to stand less round and tall. 

In the center of the egg is its most familiar component: the yolk. The egg yolk is full of the vitamins and minerals, as well as cholesterol and fat, that the baby chick requires in order to develop properly. The color of the yolk depends greatly on the chicken’s diet.  The egg yolk is held in place by the chalazae.  Of note is the fact that the more visibly prominent the chalazae, the fresher the egg.

More on egg storage...

Once eggs are refrigerated, they should be kept in the refrigerator, washed or not. According to the USDA, “a cold egg left out at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the movement of bacteria into the egg and increasing the growth of bacteria”. Therefore, refrigerated eggs should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. 

Store the eggs on a central shelf in the refrigerator. Many people think stashing their eggs on the inside of the door is more convenient. However, the main body of the refrigerator is better for preserving eggs because it allows them to maintain a more consistent temperature. To maximize their lifespan, keep your eggs at around 40 degrees F or cooler.

We have a refrigerator that we store eggs in before taking out on delivery or to the Co-op.  BUT we are still hoping to expand the egg business (once the coops get built) and there will come a time when we will not be able to put all the eggs in one refrigerator.  

Our house came with a root cellar.  It is built into the side of a hill and under the garage.  One side is exposed and there are 2 windows in it.  I am not sure why there are windows (because normally in a root cellar you would want it to be dark) but I am glad there are because we were able to make some modifications to the root cellar to turn it into a walk in cooler for the egg storage!

Here is a pic of our root cellar before we converted it to a walk in cooler.  We were fortunate that there was some shelving.  The windows are on the right in the pic.
We hired a contractor to build a "wall" and put a door in to access the cold room.  
We needed to make the cellar smaller so that a window air conditioner could cool the area down.  We mounted the air conditioner in the window and hooked up a Cool Bot.  The Cool Bot tricks the air conditioner into running and cooling it down to 40 F in the cold room!
Air conditioner on the left hooked up to Cool Bot on the right

Because the root cellar is partially underground, the humidity in the root cellar is higher.  
To increase the humidity more, we have several bins of wet sand in the cold room.
Here is a pic of the humidity reading in the refrigerator.  It says 38%.  A fridge is great for short term storage but for longer egg storage, it is great to have the higher humidity.
Most of our egg customers get fresh eggs each week so this is really not a concern for them.  We also like that most all eggs are sold within a week.  BUT if we do get to the point that we need extra storage space...we have plenty space with the walk in cooler!  Of course, we also store other things in the walk in cooler and I think that might be the subject of my next blog post...winter cold storage of fruits and vegetables...

I was in hurry to get this blog post out...hopefully, most of this makes sense...let me know if you have any questions!

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Jams, Jellies, and Preserves...

In the Kitchen

It's jammin' season so I thought this might be a good time to say a few words about fruit preserves.  First, a word about pectin because if you don't have pectin you can't make some fruit preserves.  Pectin is a type of starch that occurs in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables to give them structure.  Some fruits, such as apples, naturally have more pectin than other fruits.  Commercial pectins are usually made from citrus rinds. When combined with sugar and acid (usually lemon juice), pectin is what makes jams and jellies develop a semisolid texture when they cool.  

Now, on to the preserves.  I think most people know the difference between a jelly and a jam.  Jelly is made from juice so it is totally smooth and often clear or opaque.  Jam is made from chopped up fruit so it has pieces of fruit in the spread.  Preserves is made from whole fruit or larger chunks of fruit.  Do you know about conserves and chutneys?  Here is a handy chart from Cookery Nation showing all different types of fruit preserves:

I kind of made up a fruit preserve that I call "jammy".  It is a cross between jelly and jam.  I make it with raspberries and blackberries.  I put the fruit through a sieve.  This helps to remove some of the seeds.  What comes through the sieve is like a thick paste and I use this to make the jammy.  So, it is not a liquid juice like what is used to make jelly and it is not chopped fruit like jam.  It is kind of in between so I call it jammy.  I have also seen other people just call it "jelly jam".

I like to stick to the basic jam and jelly recipes for items that I sell at the Farmers Market.  All items I sell at the Farmers Market have to be approved by the local Health District.  The low sugar jam recipes must be tested before you are allowed to sell them and the testing costs around $50 each!  Luckily, you just have to have it tested once.  They have to make sure the acidity is good so it will not get anyone sick.  Also, if you make anything "different" it must be tested.  I invented a Red Sunflower Jelly and it had to go through the testing process before I could sell it.  It is unique and a lot of people buy it for that reason.  You are not allowed to sell fruit butters because they are not considered safe because the mixture is so thick, it is hard to heat the jars sufficiently to get all contaminants killed.  Of course, you can make them for your own consumption...they just cannot be sold.  Just ask someone in the canning community about canning pumpkin and you are opening a big can of worms.  But, I digress...I have not really experimented much with conserves because once you start adding nuts, your input costs go way up.
Speaking of input costs...all the jams/jellies that I make are from fruit that we grow or forage for.  We have raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, plums, white and black currants, and apples growing on our farm.   In the past, I have foraged for dandelions, wild blackberries, huckleberries, elderberries, grapes, plums, pears, and I am sure there are other things that I am forgetting.  This year, we had an abundance of cantaloupe so I decided to make a Cantaloupe Basil Jam   It turned out great!  If we have extra cantaloupes in the future, I will make this again but I am not planning on planting extra cantaloupe just for this reason.  Just to be clear, I did not invent this recipe...it was in one of my preserve making books.
Another new jelly I made this year is a Crabapple Hot Pepper Jelly.  The peppers did not grow so well this year so I only had enough to make one batch but I think that will be good enough.  To juice the crabapples, I used my new steamer juicer.  I love that thing!  In this video I am juicing white currants...
I know that when most people think of preserves, they probably think of bread.  BUT, jams, jellies and other preserves do not need to just be used on toast and bagels. Consider using them in other creative ways:

Filling or topping for crepes, pancakes, and waffles

Topping for cakes and tartes

Top muffin batter with a dollop before baking

Create a glaze for pork or chicken

Add to homemade salad dressing (like a raspberry walnut dressing)

Add to yogurt (I like to buy plain yogurt and add fruit preserves for flavor)

Add to oatmeal

Add to BBQ sauce

Add to milkshakes, smoothies or tea

Use in cookie recipes (thumbprint cookies)

Top custard and ice cream

I only have a few more jams/jellies that I want to make for the rest of this year.  I want to try a new Apple Mint Jelly recipe that came with the steamer juicer.  Also, one of my ultimate favorite preserves is Pear Preserves and I am looking forward to making some of that as soon as the pears are ripe!  Our apples are not doing so well this year.  If I get enough, I will probably make some Apple Pie Jam too which is something I have made in the past.

One last note, something that I have not experimented with is making Lemon Curd.  Lemon Curd involves 2 of my favorite things...eggs and preserves!  I will be honest, I never even really heard of Lemon Curd until I started working in a French Bistro when the boys were toddlers.  We would sometimes have a "tea" party and lemon curd was served with the pastries.  Another fun item preserve to experiment with!

What is your favorite fruit preserves?  How do you like to eat your preserves?