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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

Reducing Food Waste

February 9th, 2015

photo (2)With our last child leaving to attend college we have become empty nesters.  This has brought about a huge change in my grocery shopping and meal plans!  It has caused me to reevaluate how much I purchase and how many leftovers we are able to consume.

According to the National Resources Defense Council 40 percent of food in the US goes to waste.  A lot of the household waste is due to over purchasing, food spoilage, and plate waste.   About 2/3 of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other 1/3 is caused by people cooking or serving too much.    With this in mind here are some suggestions to reduce your food waste and save money.

  • Be careful of buying in bulk.  Foods have limited shelf life and even thought the price may be much cheaper in a larger quantity, if you end up throwing the excess away the overall cost will be higher.
  • Plan your meals before you go to the grocery store using the grocery ad.  Then you will know what is on sale and not end up with impulse purchases and you will have the foods you need for the meals you have planned.
  • Store foods properly.  If your produce was purchased in the refrigerator section of the grocery store it should be refrigerated when you bring it home.
  • In the refrigerator store fruits that emit ethylene gas (apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, kiwis, melons and plums) away from other fruit and vegetables in a refrigerator drawer. Ethylene gas can contribute to overly quick ripening of other produce when stored together.
  • Remember to freeze foods that will not be consumed within a few days. Freeze leftovers in single serving sizes in freezer containers.  Then you will have small meals or lunches available to reheat when you want them and you don’t have to eat the same meal for days at a time.
  • Use fruits and vegetables in various ways. Besides eating them as side dishes or snacks put extra fruits in smoothies or mash for ice cream syrups or pancake toppings and cut fruit up to make fruit salsa. Roast extra vegetable and add them to stir fry dishes, put in a tortilla or use as pizza toppings.  Remember fruits and vegetables can also be frozen.  Be sure to blanch vegetables for best quality freezing.

Help reduce your food waste and decrease what you are spending on foods by being a smart consumer.

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Consumer Management, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Storing Whole Grains

January 22nd, 2015

Many of us are preparing more foods with whole grains these days.  Whole grains require more careful storage than regular all purpose flour.  Since whole grains contain the healthy oils in the germ of the grain it is more sensitive to heat, light and moisture.   Once they are brought home from the store they should be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer to maintain their freshness.

Whole grains can be purchased as either whole intact grains or whole grain flours and meals.  Wheat berries and brown rice are examples of whole intact grains.  They last longer than flour because they still have the protective coating of the grain kernel which keeps it from oxidizing as quickly.   Just like flours and meals they will keep longer if stored in air tight containers.   It is good advice to buy what you can use within 2-3 months.

Since each type of grain varies in fat content the Whole Grains Council has put together a chart to help you with how long they can be stored.  Remember to look at dates on the packages to find the freshest whole grains to bring home.

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If you are new to using whole grains start by substituting 1/4 to 1/2 of the all purpose flour for a whole grain variety.  Enjoy the health benefits of whole grains!

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Food Preservation, Nutrition

Make or can your own cranberry sauce

November 6th, 2014

 

Cranberry sauce2Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce is hard to imagine for some people. If you are feeling adventurous this year you may want to try something new. The cranberry is a very versatile fruit and in season now.

When you are shopping for cranberries, choose full, firm berries that are dark red or red and yellow in color. Cranberries that are soft, shriveled, and have dark spots should be avoided. Store them in the refrigerator when you bring them home from the store. The crisper drawer will help you keep them fresh for 3-4 weeks. You can also freeze the berries until you are ready to use them.  Wash the berries just prior to cooking. Discard any shriveled or damaged berries. Cranberries can be eaten raw or cooked. You can also add them to breads and muffins. Plan to stock up now while they are available.

Remember, you can change up a waldorf salad or any other fruit salad with the addition of cranberries.If you want to make your own fresh cranberry sauce this year, follow this recipe from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service.

For sweet cranberry sauce, use two cups cranberries to one cup sugar and one-half cup water. After the cranberries have been sorted and washed, put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar crystals completely. Boil gently for about 10 minutes, or until skins crack. Remove from heat and skim foam. Sauce may either be served hot or allowed to cool before serving.

You also have the option to preserve cranberry sauce  to enjoy throughout the year. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a recipe  for cranberry  sauce. Cranberry Jam is another fun and  easy project.

You have so many options to use and enjoy cranberries this season.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Holiday ideas

Canning Apple Pie Filling

October 13th, 2014

Canning pie filling is a fun way to preserve apples that are abundant right now. Each quart jar will make one 8-9 inch pie.

apple pie filling1

Table 1. Apple Pie Filling.
Quantities of Ingredients Needed For
1 Quart 7 Quarts
Blanched, sliced fresh apples 3-1/2 cups 6 quarts
Granulated sugar 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp 5-1/2 cups
Clear Jel® 1/4 cup 1-1/2 cup
Cinnamon 1/2 tsp 1 tbsp
Cold Water 1/2 cup 2-1/2 cups
Apple juice 3/4 cup 5 cups
Bottled lemon juice 2 tbsp 3/4 cup
Nutmeg (optional) 1/8 tsp 1 tsp
Yellow food coloring (optional) 1 drop 7 drops

 

Table 2. Recommended process time for Apple Pie Filling in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 3,000 ft 3,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints or Quarts 25 min 30 35 40

Use firm, crisp apples. Staymen, Golden Delicious, Rome, and other varieties of similar quality are suitable.  If apples lack tartness, use additional ¼ cup of lemon juice for each 6 quarts of sliced apples.

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Wash, peel and core apples. Cut apples into slices, ½ inch wide.  Place in an anti-darkening solution.  I used ½ cup bottled lemon juice to 2 quarts of water.

 


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Remove from antidarkening solution and drain well. Next blanch the fruit by placing small amounts in boiling water.  Boil each batch for one minute after the water returns to a boil.  Remove the fruit from the blanch water, but keep the hot fruit in a covered bowl or pot while you prepare the Clear Jel mixture.

 

 

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Combine Clear Jel, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large saucepot with water, apple juice and food coloring. Stir and cook on medium high until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.  Add lemon juice to the boiling mixture and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.

 

 

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Immediately fold in drained apples slices and fill hot jars with hot mixture. Leave 1 inch headspace.

 

 

removing bubbles pie filling

 

 

Remove air bubbles with a plastic knife. Wipe jar rims.

 

 

 

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Put on lid fingertip tight and process immediately in a Boiling Water Bath.  Make sure that the water is at least 1 inch above the top of the submerged jars.  Use the chart above for processing times according to your altitude.

 

 

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Food Preservation, recipes

Freezing Apple Pie

October 9th, 2014

 Freezing apple pie is really as easy as 1, 2, 3!

 

image1.  Prepare the apples–peel, core, slice. Place in a bowl and cover with water and lemon juice; this prevents browning while you make the crust. When filling the crust, add 1 extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch. This will help prevent leakage of filling during baking.

2. Prepare the crust, roll and place in pan. Add the top curst but DO NOT cut vent holes. You will do this just before baking.

3.  Wrap the finished pie well, or place in large freezer bag.

 

When you want to use the frozen pie, follow these directions for baking:

 

1.  Cut vent holes in the frozen crust.

2.  Put pan on cookie sheet.

3.  Bake without thawing at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until top crust is brown. Enjoy the taste of the freshly baked pie.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes