As we blogged about last week, farmstead chefs can launch a business from their own kitchens, often with little to no red tape or expense, thanks to cottage food laws. A good way to start making money is with canned food.
What makes canned goods perfect for beginning farmers and backyard growers is that you can add value to your homegrown fruits and vegetables by turning them into tasty, shelf-stable treats. If you’re already stocking up your own pantry, it can be easy to make a few extra batches for sale. Popular high-acid, “non-hazardous” food items, like pickles, jams, jellies and salsa, are often included in cottage food laws across the country. Plus, if you opt to sell them as gifts, you can often charge more for them at venues like holiday markets.
“We increasingly find that our customers enjoy the tried and true: pickles, salsa and fruit jams,” says Erin Schneider, who operates Hilltop Community Farm in LaValle, Wis., with her husband Rob McClure. Their farm is one of the featured stories in Homemade for Sale. (For a chance to win a copy, visit our Facebook page through the end of the month.)
Value-added items are often referred to as specialty food products, defined by the Specialty Food Association as “foods and beverages that exemplify quality, innovation and style in their category. Their specialty nature derives from some or all of the following characteristics: their originality, authenticity, ethnic or cultural origin, specific processing, ingredients, limited supply, distinctive use, extraordinary packaging or specific channel of distribution or sale. By virtue of their differentiation in their categories, such products maintain a high perceived value and often command a premium price.”
Specialty foods are big money makers, according to the SFA. Specialty food sales grew 22 percent between 2010 and 2012, reaching $85 billion in 2012. While grocery retailers are the primary distributors of specialty foods, many states’ cottage food laws also allow cottage food operators to sell them through direct channels, such as farmers’ markets or direct order. (Note: Most cottage food laws prohibit cottage food operators to sell via grocery stores.)
“Many customers appreciate expanded options to appease their palette and add to their winter larder when it comes to enjoying farm-fresh preserved products year-round,” Schneider says. “Our quince and raspberry spread we debuted at a pickling workshop during the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest was a success, as is anything with currants and elderberries. Rob has also obtained quite a fan base and following during the holiday fairs with his garlic dill pickles.”
Schneider provided a recipe below for another winner, their Sweet Pickle Relish, which was passed down through her family. You can find a similar recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
“This is a particularly good recipe for cucumbers that have gotten too big for pickling,” she says, noting that even the most attentive farmer misses a few cukes here and there. “If the seeds are large, start by slicing the cucumbers lengthwise and scooping out the seeds with your fingers. Hand-dicing the ingredients will give a pleasantly chunkier mouth-feel than using a food processor.”
Whenever canning, whether for home or for sale, be sure to follow the best practices outlined on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. (LINK http://nchfp.uga.edu/).
Recipe: Sweet Pickle Relish
Courtesy of Erin Schneider, Hilltop Community Farm
Yield: about 5 pints
- 8 cups diced pickling cucumbers
- 4 cups diced onions
- 1-2 red pimiento or bell peppers, diced
- 1½ quarts plus 2 pints cold water, divided
- 1/2 cup pickling salt
- 2 pints white or cider vinegar
- 2-3 cups sugar (depending on how sweet you like your relish)
- 1 T. celery seed (heaping)
- 2 T. yellow mustard seed
Mix diced vegetables in nonmetallic container. Dissolve pickling salt in 1½ quarts cold water, and pour over vegetables so they’re covered. Place mixture in refrigerator for a few hours to make relish more crunchy.
In large enameled or stainless steel pot, boil vinegar, sugar, 2 pints water, celery seed and mustard seed. Stir to help sugar dissolve.
While syrup is heating, strain diced vegetables through colander or sieve, expressing as much liquid as possible. Add vegetables when syrup is boiling; bring to boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, reducing liquid. Transfer to heat-sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes in hot water bath.
Get more recipes that can be canned from HobbyFarms.com: