Tips for using Green Tomatoes

October 8th, 2015

Green Tomatoes


The leaves are starting to turn colors, the farmers are in the field and the nights are becoming cool! These are all signs that fall is here and the end of gardening is definitely in sight! Many home gardeners still have green tomatoes on the vine and they are calling us wondering what they can do to preserve them. Here are some steps for selecting, picking and storing tomatoes.


Selecting and Picking

  •  Pick ripe, nearly ripe and mature green fruits before frost occurs.  Mature green tomatoes are those with a glossy, whitish green fruit color and mature size.
  •  Select fruits only from strong healthy vines, and pick only those fruits free of disease, insect or mechanical damage.
  •  Remove stems to prevent them from puncturing each other.
  •  If dirty, gently wash and allow the fruit to air dry.


  •  Store tomatoes in boxes, 1 to 2 layers deep, or in plastic bags with a few holes for air circulation.
  •  If you have a cool, moderately humid room, simply place them on a shelf.
  •  Keep fruit out of direct sunlight.  They may be stored in the dark.
  •  As tomatoes ripen, they naturally release ethylene gas, which stimulates ripening.  To slow ripening, sort out ripened fruits from green tomatoes each week.  To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.

Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-70° F, will ripen in about 2 weeks.  Cooler temperatures slow the ripening process.  At 55° F tomatoes will slowly ripen, but may of inferior quality. Likewise if tomatoes are stored where the humidity is too high then the fruit can mold and rot.  If humidity is too low, the fruit may shrivel and dry out.  Since homes vary in humidity levels, you will need to learn by trial and error what works best for you.   Unfortunately tomatoes ripened indoors are not as flavorful as vine ripened fruits.  However, compared to store bought, you will be delighted with your own home ripened tomatoes.

If you would prefer to use the tomatoes when they are green and are looking for some recipes there are several to choose from including fried green tomatoes, green tomato pie, green tomato bread and green tomato relish. If you are interested in these recipes use this link to download the publication A Harvest of Green Tomatoes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

Whether you choose to ripen them or use them green you will be enjoying the fruits of your labor and the wonderful dishes that you can make from growing things in your garden.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Horticulture, recipes

Celebrate National 4-H Week With US

October 5th, 2015

national_4h_week_logo1Today is the first day of National 4-H week. Sometimes I think we take for granted what a wonderful program we have available for all our children. 4-H isn’t just for girls to learn how to cook and sew and boys to learn about livestock any more. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning how to cook or sew or care for livestock. 4-H can be about anything a member is interested in learning about. We now have clubs that specialize in culinary, robotics, rocketry, and technology. Just about any topic a member wants to learn about can be a project area and later an exhibit for the county fair. You don’t have to live on a farm to be involved in 4-H. In Story County, we have a large dog obedience program. The member’s dogs range from farm dogs to cherished “members of the family”.

Our children were able to learn an amazing array of skills while participating in 4-H. Conference judging gives members the opportunity to present themselves to a stranger and answer questions. These skills are a great benefit when those members apply for jobs and must interview for a position. Learning to speak in front of a group and feeling confident and competent with new skills are also lifelong benefits.

Over the years, younger children have wanted to join 4-H. Now kindergarteners are able to be Clover Kids which gives them opportunities to explore areas of interest and exhibit projects at the county fair.

Celebrate 4-H week with us. 4-H has been an important part of our lives and our family’s lives.

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Child Development

Applesauce time!

October 1st, 2015

apple treeAs I walk around my yard in the evening, I’ve noticed that my apple tree has way more apples than I will be able to use again this year. Two years ago, I invited Beth and Carolyn out to our farm to pick apples. I’ll have to share the apples again this year. I may also need to make some applesauce from these great apples.

When my children were young, my husband and I would can about 80 quarts of applesauce every fall. It was a huge undertaking, but our family enjoyed it so much that it was worth the trouble. If you want to make some applesauce of your own and can it, you can do this in a boiling water bath canner. It is not a difficult recipe; unless you think you need to process 80 quarts of applesauce.

These days, now that my children are grown and have children of their own, I like to make and freeze my applesauce. I use the same recipe I used to can applesauce but I package it into freezer bags. These bags store in my freezer more efficiently than freezer containers. I just need to remember to cool the applesauce pan by setting my large cooking pot of applesauce into a sink-full of ice water for about half an hour. Stirring it occasionally will release heat and speed cooling of the applesauce. I would not want to stack large piles of boiling hot applesauce into my freezer. That would raise the temperature inside my freezer and the applesauce might take several days to cool enough to freeze. For best quality, it is important for food to freeze as quickly as possible once placed inside the freezer.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Food Assistance Resources

September 21st, 2015

imageHave food costs become too much for your family? Sometimes an unexpected expense, illness, loss of income or job change can leave a family struggling to make ends meet and put healthy food on the table. Currently, many of our neighbors here in Iowa are struggling due to income and job losses associated with Avian Influenza which has affected farms and processing facilities primarily in Northwest Iowa. Now is a great time to remind our readers about the resources available for families that need assistance with obtaining food.


Food Assistance

The Iowa Food Assistance Program can help people access healthy food. Benefits are loaded onto an EBT card that works just like a debit card at the grocery store or farmers market. To learn if you qualify and complete an application, visit the Food Assistance website.

The Iowa WIC Program

WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program is a nutrition program for babies, children under the age of 5 and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who have had a baby within the past 6 months. WIC helps eligible families by providing healthy foods, nutrition education and referrals to other health care agencies. Learn more about WIC by visiting their website or by calling 1-800-532-1579.

Food Banks and Pantries

Iowa has an extensive network of food banks and community pantries that can help families access additional food. To find a pantry near you, call the United Way by dialing 2-1-1. 

SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange)

SHARE is a food buying group that specializes in providing quality food at low prices. Savings can be up to 50% off grocery store prices and SHARE accepts Food Assistance in addition to other forms of payment. SHARE has pick-up locations all over the state. For more information about SHARE, visit their website or call 1-800-344-1107.

If your family is having a difficult time right now, we hope one of these resources will be helpful. As a final thought, remember to call ISU’s AnswerLine with all of your home and family questions, they specialize in connecting families with the resources they need. Call AnswerLine at 1-800-262-3804.





Guest blogger Christine from Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Consumer Management

Stretching Food Dollars

September 14th, 2015

Rent, car payments, utility bills – they can really add up! Some expenses are fixed and we don’t really have the power to change them, but food dollars can be stretched to get you more for your money. Whether your challenge is a period of unemployment, an expensive repair bill or just managing your family’s monthly budget, stretching your food dollars may help free up money for other things. Sometimes it can be as simple as dropping some high-cost habits and picking up a few cost-saving ones.


High-cost Habits

  • Eating fast food or other restaurant food – it’s almost always much more expensive than food cooked at home.
  • Always buying the name brand – for some items, there may be differences between brand name and generic products, but for most the biggest difference is the price.
  • Buying fruits and veggies that are already cut up or food that is already prepared in some way – you can get much more for your money by doing the prep work at home.
  • Letting food go bad before it gets eaten – whether it’s perishables like fruits, veggies and milk or leftovers from last night’s dinner; don’t let them go to waste!

Cost-cutting Strategies

  • Plan meals and snacks one week at a time. First, plan to use what you have to ensure no food goes to waste. Plan larger size meals so you can work leftovers into meals later in the week. This saves time and reduces waste.
  • Use your meal plan to make a grocery list and stick to the list.
  • Be a careful shopper. Only shop in the aisles that have the groceries you need, based on your list. Avoid the aisles that contain items you don’t need. To avoid impulse buys, don’t shop when you’re hungry. Remember that stocking up on foods that are on sale only saves money if the food doesn’t go to waste.
  • Move foods that go bad quickly to the front of the fridge where you can see them and plan to eat them first. Cut up veggies and fruits so they are ready to eat.

Did you spot a high-cost habit you can drop in favor of one of the cost-cutting strategies? With a little time and planning, you can make your food budget go a long way!

Find more information and tips for eating healthy on a budget as well as how-to videos and inexpensive, healthy recipes on ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website.




Guest blogger Christine from Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Consumer Management

Crayon Stains in Clothing

September 7th, 2015



Now that school has started it may be time to get into a new routine.  Remembering to check the pockets of clothing is a task I can often forget. Here are some tips if you miss one of those new school crayons and it goes through the washer and dryer.  Remember, this is a dye stain so you will need to spray or sponge that stain with a dry-cleaning solvent (Goof Off or Goo Gone) then rub with heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent before washing.


If the crayon accidently end up inside a dryer load of clothes and left multiple stains:

  • First place the amount of detergent you would use for that size washer load into the washing machine.
  • Next, add 1 cup water conditioner (Spring Rain, Calgon or Rain Drops) and 1 cup baking soda.
  • Fill up washer with clothes and water and agitate the load for 5 minutes.
  • Allow the load to soak for a bit before you finish washing.
  • Check before putting in dryer. You may still have to try a dry cleaning fluid on remaining spots.

If you need to clean the dryer:

  • Unplug or shut off the gas. Use a non-abrasive, non-flammable cleanser (Soft-Scrub) and clean.
  • Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
  • Then tumble a load of old rags or towels on regular cycle to remove rest of stain.

Hope that this helps when you find yourself with this problem.



Cleaning, Laundry

Removing a Red Wine Stain

September 3rd, 2015

I had a friend tell me that her husband had a red wine stain on his white dress shirt after trying to open a bottle of wine at a wedding recently.  Since it was at a wedding it wasn’t easy to rinse the shirt out so the stain was well set in by the time they got home.  After trying all of the suggested tips and even taking it to the dry cleaner nothing was taking the stain out.  I love a good challenge so I asked if I could work on it for her.

I tried to pretreat it with a dry cleaning solvent and liquid detergent and rinsing it in hot water and nothing happened.  Wine is a tannin stain so the recommendation is to wash in hot water with detergent making sure to not use a natural soap (bar soap, soap flakes or detergents containing natural soap).  Using a natural soap makes tannin stains more difficult to remove.  When this didn’t work I decided to try using fresh lemon juice and salt.

To be honest it made me nervous because when I squeezed the lemon juice on the salt and the stain was getting brighter!  But what I found was that it was pulling the wine out from deep in the fabric.  After it sat in the sun for several hours I rinsed it off in the sink and the stain was definitely getting lighter.  After repeating the process several times the stain was completely gone and the shirt was wearable again!

If you have a problem stain give us a call at AnswerLine.  We will use our research based knowledge to help you remove your tough stains.

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What’s in a Seed?

August 27th, 2015

Have You Had Your Seeds Today?

My kids accuse me of turning into a bird with all of the seeds I include in my diet. The health community has paid more attention in the last few years to seeds that are on the market such as chia, hemp, flax, pumpkin and others.  Seeds are nutritionally dense and are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and healthy fats.

The little guys can be tossed into salads, used in recipes or added to breakfast smoothies.  Here’s a run-down on just a few of the different seeds available in most markets and the nutritional value they bring to the table.

CHIA           Rich source of ALA omega 3 fatty acids. One tsp. of chia has 2.5X more protein than kidney beans, 3X more iron than spinach, 6X more calcium than milk, 7X more vitamin C than oranges, 8X more omega 3 than salmon, 27% of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) for phosphorus which promotes bone health, and 15X more magnesium than broccoli. One serving provides 33% of the RDI for fiber. Soak chia in water and use as egg replacement.  They are also high in soluble fiber which lowers cholesterol and lowers blood sugars.
FLAX           Also high in ALA omega 3 fatty acids, one tablespoon provides more omega 3 than the RDI.  They reduce inflammation, promote bone health and may help reduce blood pressure.  Flax seeds contain lignin which may help prevent certain types of cancer. These seeds are Flax seeds are also high in soluble fiber for lowering cholesterol and blood sugars., playing roles in the prevention and management of both heart disease and diabetes.  NOTE:  Flax seeds should be ground to obtain the nutritional benefits from them! Whole flax seeds pass through the intestines undigested and the nutrients are not absorbed.
HEMP         These seeds contain all 9 essential amino acids making hemp a source of complete protein.  They are also good sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, omega 3 fats and fat soluble vitamins A, D and E.  Hemp seeds are safe and do not contain psychoactive ingredients.
POPPY SEEDS         These seeds come from the plant that produces opium. Rich in cholesterol-lowering oleic and linoleic oils, they spoil quickly.  They’re high in B vitamins, iron, copper, potassium and zinc as well as both soluble and insoluble fiber.
PUMPKIN           Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, copper, B vitamins and vitamins K and E.
SESAME            These are also high in calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and other antioxidants. They also contain fiber. Two unique substances, sesamin and sesamolin, part of the lignin family, have been shown to lower cholesterol and protect the liver from oxidative damage.

How much of these nutrition-packed little gems should you eat? Amazingly, just 2 tablespoons of seeds will provide heart healthy-benefits.  So sprinkle some seeds into your meals for an easy healthy addition.

jill sig

Food Preparation, Nutrition

Cookie Troubleshooting

August 24th, 2015

Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies

We often get calls from consumers that are having problems with baking cookies.  I thought it might be good to share some of the common problems and what they might be caused by.


Excessive spread, loss of shape

  • Use of the wrong margarine. Make sure that your margarine has 100 calories per tablespoon. Light margarine, tub or corn oil margarine contain too much liquid and will make the cookies spread.
  • If you are using butter make sure the dough is cold. Butter has a lower melting point and if the dough is warm the butter melts before the cookie is baked and they will spread more.
  • Do not place dough on a hot cookie sheet. The dough will start to melt before they are baked and will be flatter.

Tough texture

  • Overmixing of the dough.
  • Too little sugar or fat. If you want to reduce sugar or fat look for recipes that have been tested with lower sugar and fat. It doesn’t always work to just reduce fat and sugar and have them turn out.

Bottom crust too dark

  • Cookie sheet not centered in the oven.
  • Dark cookie sheet used. The dark color absorbs the heat.
  • Crowded oven.

Dry and crumbly

  • Wrong proportion of ingredients.
  • Incorrectly measured.
  • Rack position not centered.
  • Oven temperature wrong


  • Overbaked.
  • Using flour that is too high in protein (bread flour).

Off flavor

  • Rancid shortening, nuts or coconut.
  • Poor quality of ingredients. This could include old flour.
  • Too much baking powder.
  • Storing cookies improperly causes cookies to become stale and pick up off odors.

If you are having problems with your cookies give us a call at AnswerLine.  We would be happy to discuss with you what the problem might be.

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Food Preparation, recipes

Cleaning Windows

August 20th, 2015

imagePearl, my weimeraner dog, liked to leave her mark on any window she was near in our house and vehicles.  Nose prints to be more specific!  It was a constant struggle to keep windows clean and the outside world visible.

Here at AnswerLine we frequently receive calls about window cleaning and what cleaners are best to use. Here are a few solutions for making those windows sparkling clean again. Too much chemical or soap solution causes streaks and leaves residue on the windows.  Ammonia cuts heavy grease and soil and vinegar helps remove hard water spots.


  • Mix two tablespoons of ammonia OR white vinegar with two quarts of warm water.
  • Mix one tablespoon liquid dishwashing detergent with one quart water.
  • For a heavy duty cleaning solution mix one-half cup ammonia, one pint of 70 percent rubbing alcohol and one teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent. Add enough water to make one gallon of solution.


  • Wipe really dirty windows with a damp cloth. Don’t rub dirt because it will scratch the glass. A vacuum cleaner with an attachment will work for this job, too.
  • With a clean sponge or cloth lightly wet the window. Don’t flood it!
  • When using a squeegee, tilt at an angle to the glass and wipe the blade of the squeegee after each pass with a damp cloth.
  • You may use a cloth or paper (such as newspaper) to clean also.
  • Don’t clean windows in direct sunlight – the window may dry too fast and streak.
  • Exterior windows should be first washed with a hose or clean water to remove grease and grime.
  • Wash windows side to side on the inside and top to bottom on the outside. If there are streaks, you will know which side they are on.
  • Change wash and rinse water often.
  • Vacuum screen to remove dust, etc.
  • Outside screens can be scrubbed with warm water and rinsed with clean water. Allow to air dry.
  • Choose a “hard” paper towel (soft ones leave lint) or cotton cloths such as old t-shirt or socks. Micro-fiber cloths also work well for cleaning windows.

Using the right tools and cleaners helps the dirty job of washing windows much quicker and easier.  I hope these tips help you clean those nose and finger prints, grease and grime off of those windows so you can get back to doing the activities you enjoy!

jill sig

Cleaning, Home Environment