Gifts for Canners

May 28th, 2015



Do you have family members that are interested in home food preservation?  Here are some great gift ideas that anyone would be interested in receiving! 

ball blue book1 

The 37th edition of Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving offers 200 pages that will guide you while you learn about preserving. This book provides information about equipment and step-by-step instructions for each preserving method. Also included are over 500 recipes for canning, pickling, dehydrating, freezing food, and much more!


So Easy to Preserve


The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has now published a 6th edition of its popular book, So Easy To Preserve. The book is new as of September 2014. Chapters include Preserving Food, Canning, Pickled Products, Sweet Spreads and Syrups, Freezing and Drying. Ordering information is available on the So Easy to Preserve website.




Clear Jel® is a chemically modified corn starch that produces excellent sauce consistency even after fillings are canned and baked. Other available starches break down when used in these pie fillings, causing a runny sauce consistency.  Make sure that you are using the regular Clear Jel® and not the instant type.  It is not readily available in a grocery store but is available online.  A one pound package will make approximately 7-9 quarts of pie filling.



Complete book of home preserving

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving contains 400 tested recipes that are easy to understand with detailed instructions to preserve your foods safely.   It includes everything from salsas and savory sauces to pickling, chutneys, relishes and of course, jams, jellies, and fruit spreads, such as: Mango-Raspberry Jam, Damson Plum Jam Crab Apple Jelly, Green Pepper Jelly Spiced Red Cabbage, Pickled Asparagus Roasted Red Pepper Spread, Tomatillo Salsa Brandied Apple Rings, Apricot-Date Chutney.  Excellent for new to advanced canners.




Another possible idea is to print off these publications published by Iowa State Extension and Outreach’s Preserve the Taste of Summer.  Also available are hands-on workshops in several areas across the state taught by our ISU Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Nutrition and Wellness Specialists.

With these resources your canner will have tested, reliable information, equipment and recipes to preserve their foods.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, Household Equipment, recipes

Healthy Grab and Go Breakfast

May 25th, 2015

Breakfast burrito Week days can be so hectic in the morning.  Sometimes I think I’m the only one who is so rushed that it is hard to get everything done before heading out the door.  This morning while waiting for a train, I looked at the car behind me and noticed the man in the car was eating and drinking.  I had just finished my own breakfast in the car.  This made me think that if breakfast in the car is a going to happen often for me, then I should find some healthy options.

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart website has so many healthy and easy recipes. I can search for some easy grab and go breakfast food.  My daughter keeps her freezer stocked with breakfast burritosBanana bread is easy to make and very portable. I can also find a healthy granola bar for breakfast if I take some time to read nutrition labels the next time I’m at the grocery store.

Another fast breakfast food is fresh fruit.  Bananas and apples are especially easy to transport and eat in the car.  I can toast some whole grain bread and spread some peanut butter on  it for a quick meal. There are so many options open to me if I just take some time to plan ahead.  You can bet that I will be doing that on my next trip to the grocery store.












Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition

Home Food Preservation Courses

May 21st, 2015

Preserve the taste of summer2There’s nothing better than fresh-picked produce right out of the garden.  Many times we grow more than our families can eat at harvest time and we preserve that extra food to enjoy when the weather turns cold.  During the summer months here at AnswerLine we typically receive hundreds of calls with questions about home canning and other methods of food preservation. Some of the more common calls include questions about what can or cannot be safely canned in a hot water bath canner vs. a pressure canner. We recommend using only recipes that have been tested for safety by a trusted source such as the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or the USDA.

Call or email the staff here at AnswerLine if you need advice or tested recipes. We can mail or email the information or read it over the phone if you need it immediately.

If you’re interested in learning more about home food preservation, there are courses available for both home and professional preservers in each of the three states covered by AnswerLine. Some of the courses are hands-on workshops taught by certified professionals and some courses are online that you can take right in the comfort of your own home.

For information and registration information about these courses, click on the link below for the state you reside in:



South Dakota:


Here at AnswerLine we provide a valuable service to residents of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota with toll free hotline numbers as well as residents of other states who wish to call our non-toll-free number.  It’s not too early to start gathering the information you need for the canning, freezing, and drying season and the staff here is ready and willing to assist you.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety, Horticulture, Nutrition

Power Outage and Food Safety

May 18th, 2015

imageWe receive many calls during the spring and summer regarding power outages and freezer and refrigerator food safety. The callers may have experienced extreme weather conditions such as a severe storm or flooding, or other reasons.

What foods can you keep and what needs to be tossed?  That depends. If your freezer is full, your frozen food can remain safe for three days, but if it is on the emptier side and the temperatures are warm, it may not last as long.  Here are some guidelines for what to keep and what to dispose of and what steps to take in this situation:


  • Without power, refrigerators keep food cool for four to six hours.
  • Place block of ice in a container in the refrigerator to keep food cooler.
  • Do NOT open the refrigerator.


  • If power is interrupted, do NOT open the freezer unnecessarily.
  • If the freezer is full and you keep the door closed, the food will stay frozen about two-three days.  If the freezer is not full, group packages together so they stay cold longer.
  • If you anticipate the power going off, turn the freezer control to the lowest temperature setting. If you have several days without power, act quickly. Get dry ice and put it in the freezer before the food starts to thaw.  For a 20-cubic-feet, full freezer, 50 pounds of dry ice keeps food frozen for four days.  To use dry ice, place cardboard on top of the food.  Put the dry ice on top of the cardboard.  Handle it with gloves and have the room well ventilated.  Caution: be certain of good ventilation in the room. Carbon dioxide gas can accumulate and cause loss of consciousness/asphyxiation.
  • If power will be out more than a few days, transfer foods as quickly as possible to another freezer or a commercial locker.
  • Do not put food out on the snow-the sun may cause warming.

After Power is Restored:

  • Check food temperatures. If food is above 40 degrees, you need to determine how long it was at 40 degrees. If food items were above 40 degrees longer than two hours, throw away the food.
  • For frozen foods, look for ice crystals and check temperature.
  • Throw away perishables such as meat and poultry leftovers.

Do Not Refreeze:

  • Food that has thawed completely and is less than 40 degrees, especially meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Prepared, cooked foods such as pizza, hot dishes, stews and soups.
  • Foods with off colors or odors.
  • Creamed foods, pudding or other low-acid foods that have thawed.

Safe to Refreeze:

  • Foods that still contain ice crystals.
  • Bread, cake, cookies, doughnuts.
  • Nuts, flour, cereal.
  • Raw meat and poultry that is 40 degrees or less.
  • Cheese, butter.

For more information, call us here at AnswerLine and our staff will be happy to assist you.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety, Home Environment, Household Equipment

Asparagus All Year

May 14th, 2015

AsparagusA sure sign of spring is when you see the asparagus arriving in the grocery store or if you are lucky, in your home garden.  If you are purchasing or growing more than your family can eat you might want to freeze some.   To freeze you should select young tender spears.  Wash them thoroughly and sort them into sizes.  Trim the stalks by removing scales with a sharp knife and cut the stalks into even lengths.  Water blanch the small spears for 2 minutes, medium spears 3 minutes and large spears for 4 minutes.

To blanch, use one gallon of water per pound of prepared vegetables.  Put the vegetables in the water and it should return to boiling within 1 minute.  If it doesn’t you are using too many vegetables for the amount of water.  Start counting the blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil.

After the blanching is complete remove the asparagus form the water and put in ice water.  This allows it to stop cooking and will give the asparagus good color, texture and flavor.  After it is cooled drain and package, leaving no headspace.  Freeze using a freezer container or freezer bags for best results.

Now you can enjoy the treat of eating asparagus all winter long.

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Food Preservation, Horticulture

Experience and answers at our fingertips

May 11th, 2015

AnswerLineOne of the nice things about working on campus with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is learning about the different opportunities for assistance that are available.

AnswerLine staff members are home economists so some of the questions we get are outside of our area of expertise.  We are lucky to have several other hotlines available that we can share with callers to get those questions answered.

The horticulture line 515-294-3108 is available for callers from 10-12 and 1-4:30 Monday through Friday.  Richard Jauron will answer questions for callers throughout the state of Iowa.  Hortline began in 1983.  It was initially a toll-free number.  Because of demand, a second person was hired to answer hortline calls in 1991.  Unable to keep up with demand and after considering several options, the hortline number was moved from an 800 number to a standard (515) direct dial number in 1997.  A single person has answered hortline calls since 1997.

In Minnesota, callers may call the Yard and Garden line at 612-301-7590.  These callers will be instructed to leave a message and will receive a return call with an answer.

In South Dakota, the website allows consumers to ask questions on-line or callers can phone us at AnswerLine with the question and we will submit the email for them. Consumers will receive a call with an answer if they do not choose to use email.

We also have a Plant and Insect identification lab.  You can reach them by phone or email.  They can help identify plants or insects you find in your home or yard.  They also have some great articles and pictures to help you solve problems or identify insects.

The Iowa Concern line is another hotline that you can call at 800-447-1985.  They can help with legal issues, financial questions and family transitions.  They began in 1985 and were called Rural Concern as they assisted the agricultural community during that farm crisis. During the floods of 1993 the name was then changed to Iowa Concern as the program began assisting in urban areas as well.

If Iowans call us with entomology questions, we will likely transfer you to the Entomology department at Iowa State University.  Dr. Donald Lewis is often the specialist you will speak with and he will be able to assist you.

We are really fortunate to have so much expertise and experience readily available to answer your questions.










Entomology, Horticulture

Gift Ideas for Your Special Mother

May 7th, 2015

flower potMother’s day is a special time to tell our mothers and grandmothers how much they mean to us.  It isn’t always easy to come up with a gift that is as special as they are.  Here are some suggestions that she will enjoy not just on mother’s day but for many days after as well!

  • Gather pictures and print a photo album, calendar or notebook.
  • Arrange to take a family picture. Then have it developed and framed.
  • Select a flower pot with her favorite colors and plants. Be sure and pay attention to where she can put it. Some plants do better in shade and some need lots of sunshine!
  • If she has a tree near a favorite chair or window in the kitchen, get a bird feeder and food. She will enjoy watching the birds and the birds will enjoy it as well.
  • Arrange with a local florist to have a flower arrangement delivered each month, every other month or even a couple of times a year. It will be something that she will be able to look forward to and is perfect to bring cheer especially during those cold winter months.
  • Give a gift card to her favorite coffee shop or lunch spot.
  • If she has a cell phone have a case made personalized with a family picture. Many photo processing stores can do this. Just make sure you get the case for the phone that she has!
  • If your mom likes to garden give her some gardening tools or new gardening gloves. A favorite of mine is a pad to kneel on when weeding!
  • Purchase rose bushes, day lilies or other plants that grow every year. To make the gift even more special arrange for a time to help plant them together!

Mom’s and grandma’s do so much for us.  Coming up with a way to thank them can evolve into a fun activity for the whole family.

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Holiday ideas, Horticulture

Tips on Selecting Home Canners

May 4th, 2015

boiling water bath cannersHome canning can be a fun and rewarding way to preserve the produce you are growing in your garden.  The only way to safely preserve food is to process it in either a boiling water bath or pressure canner.  The boiling water bath canner is used for foods that are high in acid or are acidified like fruits, pickles and salsas.  The pressure canner must be used to can vegetables and meats, things that are low in acid.

A boiling water bath canner can be anything from a stock pot with a lid to a granite ware canner.   It just needs to be tall enough so that the water is at least one inch above the top of the jars and has a rack on the bottom so the jars are not sitting directly on the heat source.  The advantage of the granite wear canner is they come with the rack included.

When you are shopping for a pressure canner there are two types that are safe to use.  One is a dial gauge and the other is a weighted gauge.  Make sure that you are purchasing a pressure canner and not a pressure cooker.  A pressure canner must be able to hold at least 4 quart sized jars.  If you are purchasing a 16 quart or larger canner it should be big enough.  A pressure cooker or saucepan is smaller and not intended for home canning.  They heat up and cool down faster than a pressure canner and could cause spoilage and botulism risk in the foods.

A dial gauge canner has a dial that shows the pressure.  The pressure must be maintained the entire time.  If the pressure goes below the recommended level, bring the canner back to pressure and start over from the beginning with the time.  In order for the food to be safe it must maintain the correct pressure for the correct length of time.  Dial gauge canners are a great choice if you live at higher altitude since pressure adjustments based on altitude are easy to make.  The disadvantage is that they should be tested yearly for accuracy.  In some states canner testing is not readily available.

A weighted gauge canner has weights of 5, 10 or 15 pounds.  Each canner will give instruction on how often the gauge should rock or jiggle.  If the rocking or jiggling stops, pressure must be returned, and the food should be reprocessed for the entire time.  These canner do not need to be tested yearly so if you live in an area where testing isn’t available this may be a better choice for you.

Electric multi cookers are now showing up on the market.  The tested recipes that we provide have not been tested in these cookers and therefore are not safe to use in them.  Remember to use tested recipe in any of the canners you purchase and use.  This is the only way to ensure that you are preserving your food safely.  Do not use old family recipes, internet untested recipe or even old out of date leaflets from your canner.  Make sure that you have the latest publications based on current research.

To make sure that you are using tested recipes and safe methods give us a call at AnswerLine.  We are here to help!

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, Household Equipment, recipes

Hunting for Morels

April 30th, 2015

morelsMy family tells me that it is morel mushroom hunting time!  They have been out in the fields and have spotted some of the delectable treats.  Growing up I only attempted morel hunting once and we didn’t find any but I am told that they really do exist!

Many people are very secretive about the spots where they find them but a common theme that I hear from everyone is to look for them around dead and dying trees, especially Elm but also Cottonwood, Sycamore, Apple and Ash.  When you start hunting is more dependent on the weather and soil conditions than by a certain date on the calendar.  Morels don’t emerge all at once so if the weather conditions stay favorable you can actually hunt them for several weeks.

While true morel mushrooms are fairly easy to identify and safe to eat, there are some false morels in the woods that are dangerous to eat. Both the true morel and dangerous false morels have a cap or top that looks similar to a sponge. However, the true morel has a hollow stem and top. If the interior has chambers, or cottony mass, it is likely a false morel and should not be eaten. According to Dr. Mark Gleason, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Plant Pathology Specialist, a good way to remember if it is safe to eat is: if the stalk isn’t hollow don’t swallow!  It is always a good idea to go with someone that can positively identify the edible, true morel during your first few hunts.

Remember to bring a basket, paper or mesh bags with you to carry your harvested morels.  They are very delicate and moist can be easily crushed.  They can also spoil if they are left in plastic bags for very long.  Morels can be kept as picked (not washed) in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, three days at the very most for safety’s sake.     They are best cleaned by using a mushroom brush right before you cook them.  If you want to clean them with water do a quick rinse.  Do not soak them in water.

So once you find them here is information on how to prepare them.


Most people cut in half or slice, rinse, dip them in beaten egg, and dip in flour or cracker crumbs. Fry in small amount of margarine or butter. They usually are crisp and brown in 3-4 minutes.  Serve immediately.


Prepare as for a meal (noted above).  Put them on a tray and freeze individually and then package in freezer bags or boxes. To prepare them for eating, place on a baking sheet and heat in the oven.

Morels can also be blanched (anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the piece), chilled in cold water, drained and frozen.  Mushrooms frozen using the blanching method would be best used in soups, stews and casseroles.


So strap on your boots and head out to the woods. You will have enjoyed the day outside and the time spent with family and friends. If you are lucky enough to find some morels you will also enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, recipes

Spring Cleaning Your Grill

April 27th, 2015

Once the weather gets warmer we use our grill about every day.  Cleaning it before you start to heavily use it is always a good idea.  Here are some cleaning tips that will keep your grill working well for years to come.

  • Start off by washing the outside with warm soapy water. Rinse well after washing.
  • If you have a stainless steel burner on the side of your grill you can use a mild stainless steel cleaner. Use a non- lint cloth to clean and polish.
  • Next move to the inside. If on the lid of your grill you have deposits that look like peeling paint it is carbonized grease. Use a stainless steel grill brush to remove them then wash with warm soapy water and rinse.
  • Brush the grates with a stainless steel brush and then wipe them clean with a rag and soapy water, then rinse.
  • To clean the burners and tubes use a stainless steel grill brush. Brush them sideways not lengthways to avoid moving debris from one hole to the next.
  • Be sure and clean the bottom of the grill. If the grease is excessive use a spatula or putty knife to scrape it off into the bottom tray. Clean the tray and the drip tray.

Just like cleaning your oven, maintaining your grill will keep it working for a long time.  Your food will cook more evenly and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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Cleaning, Household Equipment