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Walterboro resident thrilled with prospect of Kitchen Incubator Project

Theresa Smoak cans and freezes fruits and vegetables. Photo by Rick Tobin.

Colleton County native Theresa Smoak has been preserving fruits and vegetables through canning and freezing since she has been very young. When she heard about the Kitchen Incubator Project, she was thrilled.

“I’ve been doing this since I’ve been a little girl. We’ve been growing, preserving, and freezing fruits and vegetables ever since I can remember.” Theresa said that gardening for food has always been a tradition within her family. She added she plans to keep this tradition a part of family life. She is teaching her granddaughter, Lindsey Warko, the art of food preservation. Theresa and Lindsey has been freezing and canning fruits and vegetables for the past few years. Looking at her filled pantry, Theresa noted, “Lindsey has helped me can everything here. I’m teaching her so she can also pass down this tradition to future generations.”

“This kitchen incubator program is something I would utilize, because I want to learn how to get my products to the public,” Theresa said. “I need to learn how to do this right in order to sell them. I hope to utilize the kitchen when it opens to learn all the legalities and specifications, because this is something that I really enjoy doing.”

Theresa noted that, when you freeze fruits and vegetables, you almost always blanch them before putting the individual bags up. “It seems that almost every vegetable has its own time limits when blanching. It’s sort of on a trial and error basis.” Theresa noted that okra or any type of peppers should never be washed before being frozen. “You just put then in the bag and put them up,” she said, adding that, if these vegetables are washed before freezing, they will coat with ice, which changes the taste and makes them mushy and unusable. She added the same is true when dealing with blueberries. With any other fruit or vegetable, they need to be washed before being frozen. “You need to either blanch or cook just about everything else before freezing.

Through experimentation, Theresa came up with a method of freezing peaches so that all that needs to be done is to unthaw individual bags filled with just enough to fill a pie-shell, pour the contents into the shell, then cover the pie with a top shell and put it straight into the oven. “This also works well with cobblers and crisps.”

Theresa termed the canning of fruits and vegetables as a “more detailed process.” She noted that almost every vegetable has different time limits and recipes for canning. Theresa noted that her special recipes for canning include pepper jelly, old south lime cucumber pickles, and chow-chow.

“You don’t sit down at this house when eating beans and rice without an open jar of pickles,” Theresa said. She added that chow-chow also goes well with beans and rice, and is also great on hot dogs and sausage dogs. “Chow-chow is just a mixed vegetable relish and can be made to be either mild or hot, and you can eat it with almost everything,” Theresa said, adding that people are always asking her for her jars of these delicacies, and also for her pickled okra.

Theresa also makes her own jams and preserves. “I use peaches, pears, plums, figs, and almost any other fruit to make my jams.” She noted that figs are a great substitute for making strawberry jam when strawberries aren’t available. “You just use figs, add strawberry flavoring, and you can’t tell the difference.”

When Theresa puts up peppers, she just washes them and puts them into jars and fills them with either a vinegar-base or oil-base fluid. “These go great with any greens,” she said.

Theresa noted that, last year, a huge crop of muscadine grapes were harvested locally. “We made grape jam and jelly out the ying-yang and didn’t know what to do with the rest of them.” So Theresa found a recipe and made “deep-hole wine.”

Deep-hole wine is made by digging holes three feet deep. The grapes are washed and packed into glass gallon-jars. Two cups of water and one-to-two cups of sugar are then added, depending on taste, and the jars are then buried for 90 days. After that, the jars are dug up, put into a fine strainer, and mashed. What filters through is then bottled.

Research phase of commercial kitchen projects launched

Colleton County recently announced that the initial research phase of its Kitchen incubator program, in conjunction with Clemson University’s Extension Program, is underway.

The Community Commercial Kitchen Project will continue the Colleton County Museum & Farmer’s Market tradition of successful economic development within Colleton County.

Because a residential kitchen cannot be utilized for commercial food manufacturing and processing, the Community Kitchen Incubator Project will provide a unique opportunity for farmers, caterers, restaurateurs, cart or food truck vendors, and other food entrepreneurs to process their product in a certified facility without having to assume the level of financial risk generally associated with commercial food sales.

The launch of the program has met with broad support from Colleton County farmers, Farmers Market vendors, Eat Smart Move More South Carolina, the S.C. Department of Agriculture, the Colleton County Economic Alliance, Clemson University’s Extension Service, Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative and the Colleton County Council.

In order to provide the best equipment and services, the County needs the input of potential users of the shared kitchen facility. Please participate in the brief survey at http://www.colletoncounty.org/department-a-services/museum, or contact Alta Mae Marvin at (843) 549-2595; extension 126 for further questions. Your participation is greatly appreciated!