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Tips for Freezing Fruits and Vegetables

July 20th, 2015

ripening fruitThis time of year at AnswerLine, we answer so many questions about freezing.  People have questions about freezing fruits, vegetables, and leftover food.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for preserving food.  We use their website and cookbook “So Easy TO Preserve” many times each day. They also write a blog called Preserving Food at Home.

The blog that was published on May 12, 2015 had some great information about which foods can be successfully frozen.  We know that freezing a food affects the texture.  As the food freezes, the water inside the cells expands and causes the cell walls to burst.  The loss of structure as those cell walls break down makes thawed food seem soft or mushy.

In that blog post they mention a quick way to know if a food will freeze well.  Foods that are generally eaten raw–such as lettuce or celery– do not tend to freeze well.  Those foods that are generally eaten after cooking–such as green beans or corn– do freeze well. Cooking foods also breaks down cell walls, so cooked foods will have a similar texture to those frozen and then thawed.

Any of the above mentioned foods would not be unsafe to freeze, that is, you will not cause anyone to become ill from eating foods that do not freeze well.  You will NOT enjoy the texture and possibly flavor of those foods.

Some foods can lose flavor after freezing.  Onions stored in the freezer will lose their characteristic flavor over time, while garlic will become strong and bitter.

Remember if you have any questions about freezing food; don’t hesitate to contact us at AnswerLine.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety

Jam and Jelly problems?

July 9th, 2015

Late spring is jam and jelly season at AnswerLine. We get lots of calls this time of year from folks wondering what went wrong. I’ve listed some of the more common problems and their causes for jam and jelly.

Sugar crystals in my jelly:

  • You may have used more sugar than the recipe listed.
  • There might have been undissolved grains of sugar on the sides of the pan that washed into the jelly while ladling into the jars.
  • Overcooking the jam or jelly by cooking too long.
  • Doubling or tripling the batch.
  • Crystals could be tartrate crystals—these are found in grape juice that has not been allowed to settle and strained.

Bubbles in my jelly:

  • Trapped air in the jelly—remember to skim foam before filling jars.
  • Fill jars quickly to prevent partial gelling before jars are filled.
  • Bubbles may be an indication of spoiling. If the bubbles are moving discard.

Jam or Jelly did not set:

  • You may have overcooked the fruit while extracting the juice or used too much water in this part of the process.
  • You may not have measured the ingredients accurately—or doubled the recipe.
  • You may not have cooked the jam or jelly quite long enough.
  • You may have moved the jam or jelly before it had a chance to set up in the jars.
  • Or, the jam or jelly may need several weeks to set up properly.

Jam or Jelly seems to be weeping:

  • There may be extra acid in the juice that made the pectin unstable.
  • You may be storing the jam or jelly in a place that is too warm.

My Jam or Jelly seems to be darker than I expected:

  • You may have boiled the jam or jelly too long or cooked it too slowly.

The jam or jelly may have been stored in a place that is too hot

My Jelly is cloudy:

  • You may have used fruit that is under ripe.
  • You may have squeezed the juice bag while straining the juice from the fruit. Just let the juice drip out next time.
  • You may have waited too long to place the jam or jelly in the jar. Ladle it into jars before it begins to set up.

My Jam or Jelly is too stiff:

  • You may have overcooked the jam or jelly.
  • The fruit you used may have too much pectin in it—remember to use ripe fruit.

Remember to call us for directions to remake jams or jellies that do not gel properly. We love to be able help.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

All About Apples

June 25th, 2015

 

Even though it is not officially apple season I have been finding great prices on apples at the grocery store.  Since apples vary in taste and texture some are better for eating, some for making applesauce and some for baking in pies.  Here are some varieties that are available locally and how they are best used courtesy of the Washington Apple Commission.

Usage Chart

apple chart

 

Here are some apples facts that will help you in determining how many apples you will need to purchase.

  • 3 medium sized apples equal approximately 1 pound
  • Pared and sliced, 1 pound apples yields 2 3/4 cups
  • A peck of apples weighs 10.5 pounds
  • A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds
  • A bushel of apples will yield 15 – 20 quarts of applesauce

So take advantage of these great prices and enjoy some apples today!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation

Freezing Eggs

June 24th, 2015

eggs1We have had a lot of calls lately asking about freezing eggs. Yes, you can easily freeze eggs for later baking or scrambling. You have the choice to either freeze whole eggs or separate the eggs and freeze yolks and whites by themselves.

Whole eggs inside the shell should not be frozen.  If you have a carton of eggs freeze accidentally, discard the cracked eggs. You can safely use a whole, frozen, uncracked egg.  Just store it in the refrigerator until you need it. It may be best to hard cook the uncracked eggs that froze. The yolk in those eggs may become thick and syrupy; this change makes it difficult to use them in baking.

If you would like to freeze eggs at home, you will need to add either sugar, corn syrup, or salt to the egg yolks or whole eggs. Add one and a half tablespoons of light corn syrup OR one and a half tablespoons of sugar OR one half teaspoon of salt to every cup of eggs or yolks you freeze. Addition of the salt or sugar prevents the yolks from thickening and allows you to use them in baked products. The way you plan to the eggs will help you determine which ingredient (salt, corn syrup, or sugar) to add to the eggs. (E.g. Scrambled eggs with sugar added might not be very tasty).

Blend the egg mixture gently; avoid whipping air into the mixture. Package the eggs and freeze. Add the previously listed amounts to either whole eggs or egg yolks that have been separated. If you choose to freeze the whites alone, they do not need to have any salt, sugar, or corn syrup added. If you freeze the eggs in a clean ice cube tray and store them in a freezer bag, you will be able to use the frozen eggs easily. Remember that one egg equals about ¼ cup. Measure the amount of water it takes to fill one section of the ice cube tray so that you will know how many egg cubes it takes to equal one egg. Thaw frozen eggs in the refrigerator. Stir or shake them before using. You must use the thawed eggs within 3-5 days.

Remember to purchase eggs before the “sell by” date stamped on the carton. Once you have the eggs home, they can be safely used for another 3 to 5 weeks. The “sell by” date will have passed during the storage time but they are still safe to use.

Callers often ask if the egg floats in water, does this mean the egg is “bad? No, it does not mean the egg is bad. As the egg ages, the air cell inside enlarges enough to make the egg buoyant. This means the egg is older, but it may still be safe to use. Break the egg into a bowl to examine it for an off-odor or unsuitable appearance before you decide to use it or toss it away. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you open the shell—raw or cooked.

Never buy cracked eggs; bacteria can enter an egg through the crack. If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover tightly, and keep refrigerated. You must use them within 2 days.  Do not worry if the eggs crack during hard boiling; if they do the eggs are still safe.

We know that as the price of eggs increases, we will have more questions about eggs. Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we are always glad to help.

Food Preservation, Food Safety

Make your own flavored vinegar

June 22nd, 2015

With the popularity of cooking shows, cooks are looking for more exotic ingredients.  One such item is flavored vinegar.  Flavored vinegar is really easy to make as long as you follow the recipe carefully to ensure a safe product.

Glass jars or bottles are best for home flavored vinegar.  Be sure to check for cracks or nicks in the bottle.  Choose bottles that can be easily sealed with a cork or a screw top.  Wash the jars thoroughly with hot soapy water.  Next, sterilize the bottles by boiling for 10 minutes.  More complete directions are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Choose flavoring herbs that you can pick just before you want to make the vinegar.  Choose sprigs that have not yet blossomed for the best flavor.  Pick them early in the day—just after the morning dew has dried. Use only the best, freshest looking leaves.  Discard stems, browned, or blemished leaves. Allow 3-4 sprigs per pint (2 cups) of vinegar.  Wash and dry the herbs before dipping them in a sanitizing solution.  Use 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of household bleach to make the sanitizing solution.  Rinse the herbs after dipping and blot dry again.  You can also use dried herbs to make flavored vinegar.  If you want to use dry herbs, use 3 tablespoons per pint of vinegar.

Choose white vinegar if you want to use very mild tasting herbs.  Apple cider vinegar is less harsh tasting but has an amber color that may not be appealing.  You can also choose champagne vinegar for mild flavored herbs but it will be a more expensive choice.  Red wine vinegar will work best with strong flavored herbs like rosemary but would overpower the flavor of a delicate herb.

Prepare to flavor your vinegar by placing the herbs in the sterilized jars.  Avoid overfilling the jar; use only 3-4 sprigs or 3 tablespoons of herbs per every 2 cups of vinegar.  If the herb you choose has large, broad leaves, you may want to coarsely chop them or bruise the leaves.  Heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point.  Then pour over the flavoring herbs.  Fill the jars to within 1/4 of an inch from the top.  Screw on the lids and let the jars cool, undisturbed.  Store them in a cool, dark place for at least 3-4 weeks to allow flavor to develop.

You will want to check the flavor after a month. Test your vinegar by putting a few drops on a slice of white bread.  If the flavor has developed enough for you, strain the vinegar, following directions listed below. If the flavor seems too strong, dilute your flavored vinegar with more of the base vinegar you used previously. 

You can strain the vinegar with cheesecloth or a damp coffee filter.  You may want to strain the vinegar several times to remove any cloudiness.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Tips for Storing Fruit

June 4th, 2015

Fruit Wash 1Fresh fruits from the grocery store are a wonderful addition to any meal. It is recommended that we eat between 1 ½ to 2 cups a day (depending on age and activity level).  Once you bring it home how you store it determines how long it have maximum flavor and how long the fruit will last.

Many fruits are picked before they are fully ripe and shipped to the grocery store.  These fruits will continue to ripen and should not be refrigerated until they are mature.  Refrigeration before they are ripe could cause them to lose flavor and have a mealy texture.

Some of these are:

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew melons
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapples
  • Tomatoes

If you want to make it ripen more quickly place the fruit in a single layer in a large paper bag.  Fold the top down and check it every day to see if it is ripe and ready to enjoy.  When it is fully ripe it can be eaten and the rest put in the refrigerator.

Some fruits need to be stored in the refrigerator immediately.  These are fruits that will not continue to ripen after they have been picked.  If they are left at room temperature it will speed up their decay.  These include:

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb

Some fruits can be left at room temperature or stored in the refrigerator.  These fruits will not ripen any further after picking but can also be left out at room temperature without harm.  Many of these are perfect to store in a fruit basket.

  • Apples
  • Clementines
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Watermelon

When shopping, be sure and look for fruits that are not bruised or cut since this will cause them to spoil more rapidly.  Avoid excessively soft fruits since they are at the end of their lifespan.  Remember to wash all fruit before eating.   Follow these tips and store your fruit properly to avoid costly waste from spoilage.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety

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.

 

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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.

 

preserve

 

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

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.

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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:

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.

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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