When should I harvest my vegetables?

We have been getting a lot of questions this week from callers that want to know just when they should be harvesting different vegetables from their gardens. The Extension Store has a great publication that you may want to download and keep near your gardening supplies.  The chart below was taken from that publication.  In addition to this chart, there are descriptions for planting and harvesting times as well as methods to prolong harvest for some vegetables.

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Remember that if you want to preserve your vegetables, you will have the best quality product if you preserve it as soon as possible after picking.  Please contact us if you have questions about the best way to preserve those vegetables.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Salt . . . Which for What?

salt 2Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt, pickling salt, fleur de sel, flavored salt, smoked salt, low-sodium salt . . .  The list of salt choices has grown far beyond the single salt shaker we once knew.  The grocery shelves are now lined with numerous possibilities.  Why so many choices?  Is one better than another?  Which should you use for what?

The answer to such questions could become an entire SALT 101 course.    Bottom line, all salts are not created equal but essentially are alike.  Salt, in any form, is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium and chlorine, both essential to life.  However, in our quest to get these essential elements, we must be mindful that the American Heart Association recommends keeping our salt intake to less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day or roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt.   Most of the world’s salt is harvested from underground salt mines or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters.  It is the processing after harvest that makes the difference.

Here’s a quick “shake” on salt:

Table Salt – Table salt is available plain or fortified with iodine; iodine is important for thyroid regulation. Table salt also dissolves the quickest making it ideal for most cooking and baking.

Kosher Salt – Many chefs use kosher as it is a flatter, lighter, and flakier salt.  Because of its irregular shaped granules and subtle crunch, it is a good salt to use to flavor food as the larger grains give you less sodium per teaspoon.  Kosher salt is also commonly used to rim margaritas.

Sea Salt – The bigger granules of sea salt offer more flavor with less sodium.  However, it may not be a good choice for routine cooking or baking since it does not dissolve easily and can cause issues with the taste and texture of dishes prepared with it.  It is great for garnishing.

Low-Sodium Salt – The sodium chloride is reduced with the addition of potassium chloride, a mineral that tastes salty but is bitter when heated.  It works well as a replacement in the salt shaker at the table but should not be used by those on blood pressure medications.

Pickling Salt – Canning salt or pickling salt is pure salt and as such is more concentrated.  It contains no additives.  This is the best choice for canning, pickling, sauerkraut making, and brining meat.  A publication by Penn State University, Types of Salt and Salt Substitutes in Canning, offers some great information on using salt in food preservation.

Gourmet Salts – This group might include salts by such names as Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, infused salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, and others.  These salts tend to be more expensive and are used for various purposes in food preparation but largely they make a great finishing salt for the special flavors they may impart.

Rock Salt – Mined from deposits in the earth, rock salt is for making ice cream and deicing.  It should not be used directly on food.  Minerals and other harmless impurities can give it a grayish color.

The above is by no means a complete list of all salt possibilities but will hopefully help you navigate some of the choices available.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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School Safety Tips

School picture1This time of year, our focus is on getting kids ready to go back to school. We give a lot of thought to buying just the right school supplies, reestablishing our school day routine, and packing a safe school lunches. We should also be teaching or reminding kids of tips for staying safe while traveling to and from school.

Remind your child that if they are walking to school, they should:

  • Always walk on the sidewalk.
  • Choose the sidewalk on the side of the street that allows them to face traffic.
  • Of course, always look both ways before crossing.
  • Don’t run out from between parked cars.
  • If possible, have an adult walk them to school

If your child will be biking to school:

  • Make sure your child has a helmet that fits well and that they wear the helmet
  • Always stop before coming into an intersection
  • Teach your kids the rules of the road for riding a bike

If your child rides the school bus:

  • Make sure your child knows the proper way to get on and off of a school bus.
  • Let them know that they need to be able to see the bus driver at all times if they need to cross in front of the bus. That crossing should be 10 feet ahead of the bus.
  • Tell them to stand at least 6 feet away from the curb while waiting for the bus to arrive.

You may want to make a practice trip to the school with younger children who will be walking or biking to school. School will be here before we know it; the first day of school is next week for all of my grandchildren.

These tips courtesy of Mississippi State Extension Service.

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Too many berries? Freeze a pie!

imageMy family loves pie! My son, who lives on the east coast, firmly believes you can’t find a pie there that equals what you can find in the Midwest. With berry season here, you may want to consider making some extra pies now to freeze for later use.

If freezing an UNBAKED filled pie, add an extra 1-2 Tablespoons flour or ½ Tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the extra moisture that will exude while baking. Do not cut vents in the top of double crust pies before freezing. Wrap, label, and freeze for up to three months. Bake unthawed pies at 425 degrees 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. For easier clean-up, bake the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

BAKED and filled double-crust pies may be frozen up to 6 months. Be sure to wrap them well and label them before freezing. When ready to eat the pie, loosen the wrapping, and thaw in the refrigerator. Warm thawed pies in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning if necessary.

I plan to freeze some pies for the next time my son comes home!

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Can your green beans safely!

imageFor some people, the middle of summer is the Fourth of July weekend. For me, it is when our callers all begin to ask questions about canning green beans.  At AnswerLine, the middle of summer officially started in the first week of August.  That is when our phone lines started to get really busy and we spent most of the day talking about green beans.

The most common question callers have is: “Is it really necessary to process my green beans in a pressure canner?”  Or a variation of that call is “How many hours do I need to process my green beans in a boiling water bath canner?”

The answer, of course, is the green beans MUST be processed in a pressure canner to ensure that the botulism bacteria are inactivated. There is NO safe time that low acid foods like beans can be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

Even though the occurrence of those bacteria your green beans is rare, the consequences are quite severe.  Botulism poisoning can cause death or very severe illness that can have a long recovery time.  I think we can all agree that it is more important to protect our family members than to save a little time or money taking a short cut.

If you don’t own a pressure canner, consider freezing the beans, borrowing a canner, or purchasing one on sale at the end of the canning sale.

Also, remember to always use current, safe, tested canning recipes and procedures. Always make altitude adjustments if you live at an altitude over 1000’.

Follow those rules to preserve safe food for your family. Remember if you have any questions you can always call us at AnswerLine.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Harvesting and Ripening Pears

Pear season is coming.  It typically starts early in August for early maturing varieties and continues into the fall for later maturing varieties.  Therefore, it is time to begin checking your trees for fruit maturity and harvest before the pears are fully ripe for later enjoyment.  While most types of fruit reach their peak on the branch or vine, the classic European* pears are an exception and need to be picked before ripening.  Most varieties ripen from the inside out; if left on the tree to ripen, they will become brown at the core and mushy in the middle.  Further, pears have a grainy texture caused by cells in the fruit called stone cells.  Picking pears before they have matured, and holding them under cool conditions, prevents the formation of the stone cells and resulting gritty pear.

To avoid such results, pears must be picked when they are mature but not yet fully ripened.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a pat answer to knowing when pears are ready for picking.  Due to firmness and variations in color, neither touch or sight are good indicators of maturity.  Here are some tips to help determine whether pears a20160724_104315re mature and ready for picking:

  • Tree attachment:  Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs.  Take the fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally.  The mature fruit will easily come away from the branch at this angle (as opposed to its natural vertical hanging position).  If it holds on to the branch, it isn’t ready.
  • Flesh texture:  A mature pear should have a feeling of springiness to its flesh and give slightly when gently squeezed in the hand.  If it feels rock hard, it’s not ready.
  • Drops: Healthy pears begin to drop as they reach maturity.  If you see fruit on the ground, it is a sure sign that it is time to check the fruit on the tree.

Once harvested, most pears will require about a week to ripen at room temperature (64-72F).  This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh.  If you store the fruit in a paper bag, you can speed up the ripening process.  Adding an apple or a banana to the bag will also speed ripening as these fruits release ethylene gas, a ripening accelerant.  If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator; they will keep for many weeks.

Ripened pears can be used in a variety of ways—fresh eating, baking, canning, freezing, preserving.  If canning, freezing, or preserving pears, check for recipes and guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

*Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree and need no ripening time. Asian pears are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the branch when lifted and twisted slightly and the green skin color starts to change to yellow. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Salsa Time!

It’s salsa time. We are beginning to get questions about making salsa so I thought it might be time to remind people of the rules for making salsa.

First of all, if you have a salsa recipe that has been in the family for years or if you love to experiment and develop new recipes, make all the salsa you want. Just don’t plan to process it in the boiling water bath canner and store it on the shelf.  These salsas can only be stored in the refrigerator (for 5-7 days) or in the freezer (for 1-2 months).  The texture of the frozen and then thawed salsa will be similar to canned salsa but you won’t have the risk of eating an unsafe product.

1368801833383Always, and I can’t say this enough, always choose and use a tested recipe for home preserved salsa. That means look at Preserve the taste of Summer publications, recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA canning guide, or the Ball Blue Books for a safe tested recipe.  These recipes have been tested to ensure that there is enough acidity to balance the amount of low acid vegetables in salsa.  The onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes are low in acid so they must be combined with a quantity of acid to make a mixture that is safe to process in the boiling water bath canner.   If there is not enough acid in the salsa, the botulism bacteria can grow.

When callers ask how long a salsa should be processed, how long it should be processed in a pressure canner, or the processing time for quart jars of salsa; we know that the caller is likely not using a tested recipe. Since salsa is not heated before eating it, the salsa must be unquestionably safe.  Using a tested recipe and following it without changing the recipe is the only way to guarantee safety.

Until a year ago, you could not use much creativity when making salsa. You could vary the type of peppers but not the total quantity of peppers in a recipe.  So, you could make a mild or fiery hot salsa by using either bell peppers or ghost peppers.  Now the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a choice salsa recipe that allows a bit of creativity when you make salsa.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any salsa questions.

Enjoy.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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No No Cookie Dough!

ecoli-1184px

picture courtesy of CDC

With the recent recall of some Gold Medal flours, it is more important than ever to NOT eat any raw products made with flour. The reason for the recall is a multistate outbreak of E.coli 0121.

E.coli 0121 is eliminated by heat through baking, frying, sautéing or boiling products made with flour. All surfaces, hands and utensils should be properly cleaned after contact with flour or dough.

Some E.coli strains are harmless but E.coli 0121 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Seniors, the very young, and persons with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to food borne illness. Once you have ingested a product with E.coli, it can take anywhere from 2-10 days for symptoms to appear. In addition to the diarrhea and dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting may also be present. Usually there is little or no fever.

General Mills continues to collaborate with officials to investigate the outbreak. The Gold Medal flours being recalled are: 13.5 oz Wondra; 2 lb All Purpose; 2 lb Self-Rising; 10 lb All Purpose; 5 lb All Purpose; 5 lb Self Rising; 4.25 lb All Purpose; 5 lb Unbleached; 10 lb All Purpose Flour-Banded Pack; and 2 lb Signature Kitchens All Purpose Flour Enriched Bleached. If you have specific questions about your product being safe, you can check online at the General Mills or FDA websites or call us at AnswerLine.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Removing More Summer Stains

baseballWe talked in an earlier blog post about the challenge of summer food stains but there are other stains that challenge us in the summer months. I thought we would address some of these as well.

Pollen – Resist the urge to rub the fabric to remove pollen! Instead gently shake the item to remove as much pollen as you can.  Then use the sticky side of a piece of tape to lift off the remaining particles.  Treat with a pre-treater before laundering.  You may also wash with chlorine bleach, if safe for the fabric or a color safe enzyme cleaner like Biz or Clorox 2.

Tree sap – Spray or sponge with a dry-cleaning solvent like an aerosol Shout, Spray’n Wash or K2R Spot Lifter and rub in some liquid laundry detergent. Allow to work for 10-15 minutes then scrub the spot with hot water in your sink.  Treat again before washing in water temperature safe for the fabric.  You could also try using a cleaning solvent like Goo-Gone or Goof-Off and then washing the garment.

Sunscreen – If the stain is oil based treat as an oil stain by applying a pre-treater and washing in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. If your sunscreen contains avobenzone and you have hard water you may notice an orange stain on your clothing.  This is caused when the avobenzone oxidizes the iron minerals found in the water resulting in the orange color spotting.  If this has happened, soak in a color safe enzyme cleaner and then wash in the hottest water safe for the fabric.  Make sure the stain is gone before putting it in the dryer.  To avoid this from happening again apply your sunscreen and allow it to dry on your skin before you put on your clothing.  There are also avobenzone-free sunscreens available.

Mud or dirt – Let it dry and scrape or brush off as much as you can. Use a pre-treater or liquid laundry detergent and rinse in hot water in your sink.  Then wash in the hottest water safe for the fabric.  Do not dry until the stain has been removed.

Latex based paint – Treat the paint while wet. Soak in cold water or wash in cool water with detergent.  After paint has dried for 6 to 8 hours removal is very difficult.  After soaking treat with a dry cleaning solvent and rub in some liquid laundry detergent.  Allow to work for 10-15 minutes then scrub the spot with hot water.  Treat again before washing in the temperature recommended for the fabric.

Oil based paint – Again treat this spill while wet. Use a thinner that is recommended for paint.  Use a spot treatment method*(directions below) and thinner on spots until paint is softened and can be flushed away in the washing machine.  Usually turpentine, paint thinner or alcohol work as solvents.

By treating stains promptly you can avoid permanent spots. As always if you have a stain you need help getting out call us at AnswerLine and we will give you some suggestions.

*The spot cleaning method sometimes called “sponging,” confines the stain to a small area and keeps it from spreading. You need absorbent material, such as clean rags or white paper towels, and a dry-cleaning solvent, spot remover, or aerosol pretreatment spray.  Follow these steps:

  1. Pad the working surface with clean rags or paper towels that can absorb stains.
  2. Place the stained area or spot on the garment face-down over the padded surface.
  3. Dampen a small white cloth with solvent.
  4. Use the dampened cloth to pat the stain from the wrong side. Feather the edges of the stain working from the outside toward the center to keep the stained area from getting larger.
  5. As the stain transfers to the absorbent material beneath the fabric, move the stain to a clean place on the absorbent material so the stain has a clean place on which to transfer.
  6. Repeat this procedure until all traces of stain are gone. Launder to remove any ring that might be left by the solvent.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Go ‘Bananas’ for Summer Treats

July is National Ice Cream month and even has its own day on July 17th in 2016! Ice cream as we know it is made from dairy products, sweeteners, gelatin, flavorings, fruits and other ingredients. America loves ice cream. In fact, the average American consumes nearly 22 pounds of this delectable dessert per year (IDFA.com).

But look out ice cream, there’s a new ‘one ingredient ice-cream’ in town and it’s taking the internet and media by storm! It’s low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and is a great source of dietary fiber, potassium, and manganese. Further, it’s perfect for those looking for a guilt-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, egg-free, or vegan treat with no added sugar. What is it?

If you guessed BANANAS, you are right!! Thanks to banana’s high pectin content and a bit of kitchen wizardry, bananas make a wonderful soft-serve treat. And because it’s a simple, make-it-yourself treat, you can personalize it with additions of other fruits, nut butters, chocolate chips, nuts, cocoa, spices, or any other add-in desired. Or, bananas can be the only ingredient.

Besides bananas (and any other fruit or add-in desired), you will need a high-powered processor to pulverize the fruit. There are designated frozen dessert soft-serve processors on the market which work very well such as the Yonanas, Big Boss, and Dessert Bullet. However, a blender or food processor will usually work equally as well as long as it is powerful enough to pulverize frozen bananas.

So how do you make this magical treat? It starts with the bananas. Always use bananas that are ‘cheetah spotted’ or over ripe. 20160531_223140These bananas are the sweetest and have developed their pectin potential. 20160531_223509

 

Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch coins if using a food processor or blender; if a designated dessert processor is used, follow the manufactures directions.20160531_223744

Place the banana pieces in an airtight freezer bag and freeze for at least 2 hours before using; 24 hours is best. Do the same with other fruits you intend to use with your bananas. Remove bananas and other fruit from the freezer and let thaw for 10-15 minutes before making your treat.

One large banana will make two servings especially if additional fruit is used. The ratio of banana to other fruit is about one banana to 3/8 cup fruit. You can make a bigger batch as long as the food processor or blender is big enough and powerful enough. If using a designated dessert processor, follow the manufacturers’ directions for preparing your soft-serve treat by feeding the fruit through the tube into the pulverizing part of the machine.

20160609_203407If using a blender or food processor, follow these instructions: place the frozen banana pieces (and other frozen fruit , if using) in the blender or food processor and pulse. At first the banana pieces will look crumbled, then mushy and gooey something like oatmeal, and suddenly they will magically become smooth and creamy. You will have to stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and help move the fruit into the blades. After the magic happens, continue to blend for a few more seconds to add a little air and blend in any nut butters, cocoa, flavorings or spices desired. 

20160609_204819The banana soft-serve is now ready to eat. Stir in any additional whole or chopped add-ins or top off as desired. OR, put it in an airtight container and freeze until solid or for later use.

Recipe ideas are endless. To get started, check out Banana “Ice Cream”, Chocolate Banana Ice Cream, and the Yonanas recipe website and let your imagination go. Enjoy your ______-free treat!

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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