Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tomato Processing and Canning in Panama

F2F volunteer Carmen Pacheco-Borden with
one of her training groups
Carmen Pacheco-Borden recently traveled to Panama on a F2F assignment in Tomato Processing and Canning with Partners of the Americas. F2F has been working with participants in Partners' EducaFuturo program which focuses on reducing child labor in the region. In a joint effort to improve the livelihoods of families and reduce child labor, EducaFuturo and F2F are working together to build the local capacity of community members. Ms. Pacheco-Borden shares about her experiences below:

"This project provided me with the opportunity to work with native Ngabe-Bugle women in two rural villages, where the potential to help and make a difference was huge. I was able to conduct hands-on training to process tomatoes in my native language. Because my family immigrated to the United States when I was twelve, improving and maintaining my Spanish has been a life-long goal. [...] In 2013, I felt my roots pulling me back and I decided to start a small Salsa and Moles farmers’ market business. Following my passion for Mexican food and reconnecting to my roots has brought many unexpected opportunities like working as a volunteer in Panama with the Ngabe-Bugle women.

We conducted four tomato-processing workshops in each community successfully. We formally trained a total of 53 individuals, including 41 females and 12 males in both communities. We learned the main steps in processing and canning: removing jars from simmering water, adding an acidifying agent, filling jars with product, measuring head space for accuracy, removing trapped air bubbles, wiping jar rims, adjusting top until fingertip-tight, placing filled jars onto a canner rack, bringing the water to a rolling boil, keeping the jars in for the entire processing period, letting jars cool for 12 hours, and finally testing the jars for a vacuum seal. Figures 1-7 show some of the key activities from the workshops.

One activity that stayed with me was teaching how to make salsa. Training to make the roasted tomato salsa to the Ngabe-Bugle community stands out in my mind; it was the look on their faces when we roasted tomatoes and peppers. What I found very interesting was that the concept of roasting tomatoes and peppers was new to them. Mexicans have been roasting tomatoes and peppers for ages. I was thrilled to see that they really liked the smoky flavor of the roasted tomato salsa. This simple yet delicious salsa is what made me start my business in the first place, and why the recruiter of the Partners of the Americas found me."
Figure 1: Making tomato sauce using a food mill
Figure 2: Acidifying tomato products and measuring headspace
Figure 3: Blanching tomatoes for making
peeled whole tomatoes
Figure 4: Adjusting band until fingertip tight during
whole tomato processing
Figure 5: Testing jars for a vacuum seal, before dating and labeling
Figure 6: Roasting tomatoes and peppers
Figure 7: Peeling roasted peppers and tomatoes
Figure 8: Finished product - Roasted Tomato Salsa!

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