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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:

Iowa: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/preserve-taste-summer

Minnesota: http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/courses/home-food-safety/

South Dakota:  http://igrow.org/healthy-families/food-safety/home-food-preservation-self-study-course/image

 

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.

jill sig

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:

Refrigerator:

  • 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.

Freezer:

  • 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.

jill sig

Resources:

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/power-outages/

http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/safe-handling-of-food-and-utensils-after-a-disaster

http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster/documents/handling_food_through_flood_000.pdf

http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/safety-of-frozen-foods-after-a-power-failure/

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/preparing-food-without-power/

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/storage/cold-storage-times/

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

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.

COOKING

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.

FREEZING

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.

WILD MUSHROOMS CAN NOT BE CANNED SAFELY.

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

Rhubarb!!

April 13th, 2015

rhubarbIt is a sure sign of spring when the rhubarb patch starts to grow!  Rhubarb leaf stalks are used in everything from pies, tarts, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and even punch.  Although it is categorized as a vegetable, most people think of it as a fruit since it is highly acidic and has a tart flavor.

According to our Iowa State University Extension Horticulturists if you are looking to start your own rhubarb patch spring is the best time to do it.  Rhubarb plants can be purchased at garden center or if you are lucky enough to know someone dividing their plant you can start your patch with that.  Each division should contain at least two to three buds and a large piece of the root system.  Replant in your own spot as soon as possible.  Select a site that will receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.  Plants prefer well-drained, fertile soils that are high in organic matter.

If you have just planted your rhubarb do not harvest during the first two years.  This allows food crown and root development.  During the third year, harvest for a four- week period.  In the fourth and following years, rhubarb can be harvested for eight to ten weeks, ending in mid-June.  Do not harvest after that or the rhubarb plants will be weakened and less productive the following year.  Do not remove more than one-half of the fully developed stalks from any plant at any one time.

If your plants produce flower stalks remove them as soon as they appear.  Flower and seed formation reduces the plants vigor and inhibits leaf stalk formation.  Rhubarb crowns often become overcrowded after eight to ten years.  You might notice that the stalks become smaller and there aren’t producing as much.  Dividing the plant should help with this problem.  Just remember to wait two years before harvesting again.

If your plant is producing more than you can use you might want to freeze some to enjoy later in the summer or next winter.  Here are the directions to freeze yours successfully:

Preparation – Choose firm, tender, well-colored stalks with good flavor and few fibers. Wash, trim and cut into lengths to fit the package. Heating rhubarb in boiling water for 1 minute and cooling promptly in cold water helps retain color and flavor.

Dry Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers without sugar. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.

Syrup Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers, cover with cold 40 percent syrup. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Horticulture

Are you ready for canning season?

April 9th, 2015

Canning JarsThe weather is starting to warm up, it’s time to start planning what you are planting in your garden and time to get your canners ready to preserve your garden bounty!  Making sure that your canning equipment is in proper working order is required for safe, high quality home canning.

If you have a pressure canner with a dial gauge it needs to be tested every year.  Check with us at AnswerLine to find the closest Extension office or hardware store for testing.  A weighted gauge canner does not need to be tested.  If you have a Presto canner they will also test the gauge.  Simply send it to them, they test it and send it back to you.  Just be sure and do it far enough in advance to have it back and ready for canning season.

The canner’s vent and safety value should also be cleaned.  Use a very small bottle brush or small cloth to run through the holes to make sure they are clean and operating freely.  Next check the gasket if your canner has one.  It should be soft and flexible, not brittle, sticky or cracked.  If it needs to be replaced you can usually find them at hardware stores that selling canning supplies or they can be ordered from the manufacturer.

Then do an inventory of your jars, flats and bands.  Check the jars to make sure there are no small chips or hairline cracks.  Nicks, especially on the top sealing edge of the jar can keep the lids from sealing properly.  Hairline cracks in jars caused by old age and frequent use could cause them to break under pressure and heat during canning.  If your jars need to be replaced start watching for specials on them in stores.  Sometimes stores have sales before the canning season officially starts! The bands can be reused year after year as long as they are not dented or rusty.  The flat lids are only used once so make sure that you toss the old ones and have new lids to use for this year’s canning.

The last thing is to make sure that you have your tested canning recipes ready.  Publications and information is available through us at AnswerLine or at your local county Extension Office.  If you do not have a copy of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service canning book called So Easy to Preserve I would recommend purchasing one.  It is a comprehensive book with information on all types of home food preservation methods.  Remember to look over your tested recipes in advance to make sure that you have all of the ingredients that you will need!

With your equipment and supplies ready to go you will have a head start when your garden starts producing!

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Food Preservation, Household Equipment, recipes

Egg Safety

March 26th, 2015

pasteurized egg cartonToday I wanted to answer some questions that we often receive about eggs.

Salmonella is something that we have heard in the news in recent years.  People have gotten sick from eating uncooked or under cooked eggs.  This includes using raw eggs in recipes for homemade ice cream, sauces or even leaving your yolks runny when making fried eggs.  Your only option to continue to make these recipes is to use pasteurized eggs.  Pasteurized eggs have been heated to a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria but not cook the egg.  Pasteurized shell eggs are now available at some grocery stores. Like all eggs, they must be kept refrigerated to retain quality and safety. Unfortunately pasteurizing eggs at home is not an option. The equipment to pasteurize shell eggs isn’t available for home use, and it is very difficult to do at home without cooking the egg. Liquid eggs are also pasteurized and can be used in uncooked recipes.

Did you know that older eggs are easier to peel? That’s because the air cell, found at the large end of the shell between the shell membranes, increases in size the longer the raw egg is stored and as the moisture inside the egg evaporates through the shell. As the air cell enlarges, the shell becomes easier to peel.  Also just because an egg floats in water doesn’t mean it is bad. As the air cell increases it will make the egg become buoyant. It means the egg is older but it may still be perfectly safe to use. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you break open the shell, whether it is raw or cooked.

Here are a few other tips from the Food Safety and Inspection Service on handling eggs in dishes.

  • Egg mixtures are safe if they reach 160 °F, so homemade ice cream and eggnog can be made safely from a cooked egg-milk mixture. Heat it gently and use a food thermometer.
  • Dry meringue shells are safe. So are divinity candy and 7-minute frosting, made by combining hot sugar syrup with beaten egg whites. Avoid icing recipes using uncooked eggs or egg whites.
  • Meringue-topped pies should be safe if baked at 350 °F for about 15 minutes. Chiffon pies and fruit whips made with raw, beaten egg whites cannot be guaranteed to be safe. Instead, substitute pasteurized dried egg whites, whipped cream, or a whipped topping.
  • To make a recipe safe that specifies using eggs that aren’t cooked, heat the eggs in a liquid from the recipe over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 °F. Then combine it with the other ingredients and complete the recipe.
  • To determine doneness in egg dishes such as quiche and casseroles, the center of the mixture should reach 160 °F when measured with a food thermometer.
  • Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F (74°C) before serving.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, recipes

Tips for produce storage

March 2nd, 2015

potatoes with eyes4This is the time of year we begin to get calls from folks that worked hard all summer raising vegetables. After harvest and a few months of storage, some crops begin to deteriorate. Potatoes grow eyes, onions sprout, and acorn squash turn orange.

If these problems are happening in your home, we have great information from Richard Jauron at the Hortline.

Sprouting potatoes can be caused by storing at temperatures above 50°F. Potatoes prefer storage in cooler temperatures; but not in the refrigerator. Storage in the refrigerator can begin to turn the potato starch into sugar. Also, storing potatoes near fruit can cause sprouting as potatoes are affected by the ethylene gas produced by ripe fruit.

Sprouting or rotting onions can also be caused by storage at temperatures above 50°F. If the bulbs are kept in a damp area or stored with poor air circulation they are prone to rotting. The main determining factor in storage life of onions is the variety or cultivar of onion that you plant. For best storage life, choose varieties such as Dopra, Stuttgarter, and Red Zeppelin. If these onions are harvested when the tops begin to fall over and are cured in a warm, dry well ventilated location they should keep well.

Yellowing of acorn squash is also due to improper storage conditions. They should be stored between 50°F and 55°F. Storage above these temperatures can also cause the flesh to become stringy.

Next year when you are harvesting your garden produce, you may want to refer to

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Food Preservation, Horticulture

Valentine’s Day Treat Storage

February 12th, 2015

You may be surprised to learn that Valentine’s Day started with the Romans. There are two theories about the origin of Valentine’s Day. The first is that the day derives from Lupercalia, a raucous Roman festival on February 15 where men stripped naked and spanked young maidens in hopes of upping their fertility. The second theory is that while the Roman Emperor Claudius II was trying to bolster his army, he forbade young men to marry (apparently single men make better soldiers). In the spirit of love, St. Valentine defied the ban and performed secret marriages. For his disobedience, Valentine was executed on February 14.

Either way, Americans love to celebrate the holiday as a symbol of love and romance, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you might be wondering how to store some of the goodies that come with the holiday.

Here are a few guidelines on cookie and chocolate storage from StillTasty.com, a website for food storage guidelines using research-based information.

Store boxed chocolates at a moderate room temperature. Stored at these temperatures, most types of boxed chocolates will retain their quality for at least 6 to 9 months, even after they’ve been opened. (The exception to this is premium gourmet, handmade chocolates. They will usually remain at peak quality for only about 2-3 weeks at room temperature.)

  • Ideal temperature for storing chocolates is generally between 60⁰ and 70⁰ Fahrenheit – much warmer than that, and the chocolates’ texture and appearance can begin to suffer.
  • In hot, humid conditions – or for longer-term storage refrigerate or freeze chocolates.
  • Refrigeration can extend the shelf life of your chocolates by at least 25%, while freezing can prolong it by 50% or more. Place the original box in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag, seal and refrigerate for up to one year, or freeze for up to 18 months for best quality. Thaw frozen chocolates in the refrigerator.
  • If the climate in your home is routinely above 70⁰ Fahrenheit and humid – or if you can’t polish off your entire box of chocolates within a few months – your next best option is to refrigerate or freeze your boxed chocolates.
  • Chocolate absorbs nearby odors like a sponge. So it’s important to keep your boxed chocolates well-covered, no matter where you’re storing them. For maximum taste and freshness, place opened boxes in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag and seal it tightly.

Bakery or homemade cookies can be stored at room temperature 2 – 3 weeks or 2 months in the refrigerator.  Cookies retain their quality when stored in the freezer for 8 to 12 months.

The best way to store cookies is in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag with the air pressed out.

Baked cookies are best stored separately according to their type, crispy or chewy. For long- term cookie storage, freeze them.  Thaw at room temperature in their wrappers.

Moist bars, such as cheesecake and lemon bars, can be refrigerated for 7 days.  For best quality, store bars in the freezer for up to 2 to 3 months.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

jill sig

Food Preservation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Uncategorized