Friday, September 20, 2013

Efficiency tips

I just found this post, written in August 2012.  I never posted it.  Oops.  Life has a tendency to get away from us, doesn't it?

As of two nights ago, it suddenly feels like fall in Tacoma.  The nights aren't just cool, they're downright chilly.  My birthday is next week.  Marius gets here from Germany on Friday.  September begins.  Labor Day, our third anniversary, first day of public school, first day of classes at the university where I work, October 1, Halloween. Veteran's Day. Thanksgiving!  Kaelen's first birthday!  Christmas, New Year's... 2013!

Oh crap, does time ever go fast these days.

This weekend I've felt very much like the ant in Aesop's fable.  I've been busily toiling away, putting up local foods for the winter.

The freezer was already packed full to overflowing with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, chicken, corn, and baby food.  This weekend I squirrelled away 50 pounds of tomatoes (24 quarts) and 15 pounds of green beans.  Sadly, three of the green bean jars didn't seal so they got whirred up in the food processor and turned into frozen baby food.

When I worked with MBA students, I realized that I'm what they'd call an "operations" person.  I really dig efficiency, and love finding the best, fastest way to do things.  This is great when canning large quantities because it means I've found or made up some shortcuts to make things go as quickly and easily as possible.  Here are some of those shortcuts, reserved solely for you, my dear readers.

1. Plan your work flow before you start, and set up your work space accordingly.
Though I'm right-handed, I work best right to left, and my kitchen is set up that way.  As I move through the steps of canning, I rearrange my counters so that I'm always starting items on the right and moving them through to the left.

Because I set up my kitchen to maximize my efficiency during canning, I am able to boil 5 tomatoes for 2 minutes while I peel and core the previous batch.

2. Minimum work, maximum outcome
Everyone who cans tomatoes will tell you to score an X on the bottom, to allow the skin to split when you blanch them.  I used to score through the blossom nub  - I think of it as the belly button - until recently.  Now I score the X so that the nub is only in a single section.  Why?  Because those little scars on a tomato skin effectively tack the skin to the flesh, making the skin's removal more difficult.  If the "belly button" is reserved to one section, you are less likely to have to use a knife to cut under it from each section.

3. Tools matter.
I can tomatoes with a dishwashing glove on my left hand.  It lets me:
a) deal with hot tomatoes and boiling water without getting scalded
b) gently squeeze the tomato as I drop it into the cold water, most of the time resulting in the skin coming off entirely
c) squish hot-pack tomatoes down into the jar and get a denser pack

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