Yes, We Can!

Due to the hotter-than-average summer we have experienced, again, this year we have had to deal with a surplus of tomatoes at an earlier time in the food processing season. To be more specific about local climate change, our “degree-day” total this year is roughly 15% above “normal”. It’s not that the tomatoes ripened much earlier; it’s just that the hot dry summer led to greater and more blight-free growth, causing larger yields. But, as those of you who frequent our website know, we focus on saving energy used in food processing. To that end we have been experimenting with ways to either boost our electrical inputs via more solar (PV) panels or to add a new source of cooking fuel through the production of home-made methane. It looks like, for us at least, the photovoltaic panels have won out.

We had been trying to use the extra power supplied by three more 135-watt PV panels to boost our electric car’s charge rate. But when the car is full it leaves more available for cooking. First, we tried a locally available Rival 900-watt electric “hot-plate” cooker to make stove-top meals at lunchtime. But when we tried to use it for tomato canning its power was insufficient to bring our steam-canner to a full head of steam. So we turned to to find a Deni 1500-watt model that actually does a fine job on the 40-minute processing cycle required for quartered tomatoes. In both cases the burners get their cast iron plates up to the maximum temperature chosen on their “duty-cycle” controls. The burners turn on and off as required to maintain the chosen temperature (usually half time off, half time on). But in the case of the Rival unit the resulting temperature was just a bit too low while the Deni was more than sufficient, actually allowing us to turn it down slightly when the canner is “up to steam”. For others trying this a 1300-watt unit might be just perfect, reaching full steam nearly as fast, and maintaining the right temperature without further adjustment.

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