Kate had also given Kelly the assignment of designing and fabricating a kitchen that could can food on an industrial scale. She also specified that it be energy efficient so there was more to the project than simply scaling up the traditional, home canning set-up.
Kelly and Rick Salazar were batting around various ideas on how to accomplish what seemed like conflicting requirements.
“My parents and grandparents canned food.” Rick said.
“I remember them canning applesauce.” he said. “What they liked about applesauce was that it went into the jars hot and the canning kettle didn’t take long to come back up to a boil.”
“The other thing is, they didn’t have to add a bunch of cold water to the kettle.” Rick said.
“Why would anybody add cold water to the kettle when the whole point is to get the food hot?” Kelly asked, mystified.
“Because the jars crack and break if you put a jar with cold food into the canning kettle and it has boiling hot water in it.” Rick said.
“It was something of an art.” Rick said. “Even then, sometimes they guessed wrong and did not add enough water and we lost jars.”
“So what I hear you saying is that we can speed up production if we have a way to preheat the contents of the jars.” Kelly said.
“When we can.” Rick said in agreement. “Also makes it easier to pack more food in a jar. A lot of foods shrink or get limp when you cook them, foods like green beans. You cannot get very many raw green beans in a jar, compared to cooked ones.”
“You know, it would be a neat trick if we could recover the heat in the jars after we pull them out of the kettle.” Kelly said. “It is quite an investment and it would be nice if we didn’t have to leave them on a table and let them cool off in the air.”
Rick got excited. A picture had just popped into his head. “What if we had a wash-tub filled with warm water and we put the hot ones out of the kettle on one side and the filled-but-not-hot jars on the other?”
“I am not sure that would work.” Kelly said. “We would still break some of the jars and I don’t think the cold ones could stay in the tub long enough to either pick up much heat.”
“What if we had more than one tub?” Rick said as the picture took on more detail in his head.
“What if we had three or five or ten tubs?” Rick said. “The one closest to the canning kettle has the hottest water and the one farthest away has luke-warm water.”
“The person doing the canning is always pulling the oldest jar out of its respective tub and either moving it away from the kettle or closer to it.” Rick said.
“Geeze! That is a lot of jars.” Kelly commented.
“Kate wants to can an industrial amount of food, enough to last hundreds of people for much of the year. I think ‘lots of jars’ is more of a feature than a defect.” Rick said.
“If we go that route we might as well duct some of the heat from beneath the canning kettle to the warming tubs.” Kelly said. “Maybe we have the canning kettle lower than the table holding the tubs and have a cover so the exhaust has to percolate past the sides of the tubs.”
“The next thing Kate is going to ask for is to make it portable. Is that going to be out-of-reach?” Rick asked. There are benefits to being married to somebody for a long time. You can anticipate what they will want next.
“Don’t see why not. We can fabricate tubs that nest inside of each other. Tables can be set-up on folding saw horses.” Kelly said. “Why would she want it portable?”
“Canning is going to use a lot of firewood and it makes a mess. It would be just as easy to take the canning factory to the food as it is to bring the food to the canning factory. Besides, once canned, the less the jars get handled the better.” Rick said. “Might as well do it close to where they are going to be stored and be done with it.”
The trial production run was to can small jars of nettle greens. Residents were more than happy to bring baskets of nettles, which grew in profusion, to Kate’s store in exchange for credit. Kate specified that she only wanted the top eight inches of growth and that slightly wilted was not only OK but was prefered because they stung less.
Ms Sheridan proved to be a life saver. She was organized by nature. She was the one who came up with the idea of using shelving from dishwashers as dividers within the tub. She also came up with the idea of alternating rows of finished good that were cooling an unfinished jars that were warming up. She kept the oldest and newest jars identified with poker chips on the tub’s flange.
Kate had a concern about botulism because greens are not acid and they were not going to be pressure canned.
Kelly saved the day when he remembered a batch of beer that had “turned” to vinegar.
Every kind of jar was pressed into service. Wood is cheap. Water is nearly free. Nettles grew in rampantly in every ditch and barnyard. It was a test run to see what worked and what did not.
Jars were segregated by size but other than that they were run through the system with no special consideration.
At the end of the day, Ms Sheridan figured they cranked out one jar every two minutes and, by her thinking, they had only scratched the surface at improving productivity.