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Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?

August 17th, 2015

BWB1Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?  Callers are sometimes a bit frustrated with us when we answer canning questions.  We often have to tell a caller that the old family recipe for a canned product is not safe.  We must advise them that oven canning, canning low acid vegetables in a water bath canner, and using “any old recipe” for pickles are not safe practices.

Times have changed since Great Grandma was canning for her family.  We now have recipes that have been scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  They are available through several resources.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has the Preserve the Taste of Summer series of recipes, The National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia has both a website and a cookbook “So Easy to Preserve”, the USDA has a Home Canning Guide, and the Ball company has the Ball Blue Book (new expanded edition this year) as well as their Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The recipes and procedures in these books have been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure the coldest part of a canning jar gets hot enough long enough to kill the botulism bacteria if present.  We don’t want you to cut corners and put your family at risk.  Botulism can be a deadly disease and those at the greatest risk are those who are often most dear to our hearts; the elderly and the very young.  Pregnant women and those people with a compromised immune system are also at great risk.

We sometimes don’t enjoy our role as the “canning police” but our main goal is to help you keep your family safe for years to come. Please contact us if you have any canning questions or need some tested recipes.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Freezing Fruits

August 13th, 2015

imageFreezing is a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables.  It is quick and easy to do and if you follow the directions you will have a high quality nutritious product.  We have talked in previous blogs about the enzymes that are contained in fruits and vegetables.  If these enzymes are not inactivated they can cause a loss of flavor, color and nutrients.   Blanching is essential for high quality vegetables to stop the enzyme activity.  Fruits are usually not blanched.  Instead ascorbic acid or a commercial mixture of ascorbic acid and citric acid are used to control the enzymes and to keep the fruit from turning a dark color.

Today I am going to focus on different ways to freeze fruits.  Fruits can be frozen using a syrup pack, sugar pack or dry pack.  Many fruits have a better texture if they are frozen using sugar but it is not a necessity if there are family members that cannot eat sugar.  The way that you preserve the fruit depends on how you will be using it when it comes out of the freezer.  Fruits in a syrup work well for desserts that are uncooked.  Dry pack or unsweetened fruits are best in cooked recipes.  Remember always use fruit that is of optimum maturity.  Freezing does not improve the quality of fruits that are either over ripe or under ripe.

  • Syrup Pack

The sweetness of your fruit is will help you determine the proportion of sugar to water syrup to use.  A light syrup is best for mild-flavored fruits and a heavy syrup works well for sour fruits.  To make the syrup, dissolve the desired amount of sugar in water.  Allow ½ to 2/3 cup syrup for each pint.  Add fruit and cover with additional syrup leaving ½ inch headspace for wide top pint jars, 1 inch for wide top quart jars, ¾ inch for narrow top pints and 1 ½ for narrow quart jars.  To keep the fruit from turning dark add powdered ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) to the cold syrup.  Keep the fruit submerged in the syrup by using a piece of crumpled parchment paper or freezer paper to press the fruit down in the syrup before closing the container.  This will ensure that the fruit is not out of the syrup where it could turn dark.

  • Sugar Pack

Peaches, strawberries, plums, cherries and other soft fruits work well when freezing in a sugar pack.  Simply sprinkle sugar over the fruit and mix gently until the juice is drawn out and the sugar is dissolved which usually takes about 15 minutes.  Dissolve the ascorbic acid in 2-3 tablespoons of cool water and add it to the fruit before you add the sugar.

  • Dry Pack

Berries work well freezing without any added sugar.  To freeze this way put the fruit in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with freezer paper.  Put the sheet in the freezer for a few hours or until the fruit is frozen then transfer it to a freezer bag.  The fruit will be frozen individually so if you want to grab a handful to put on your cereal you will be able to, without thawing all of the fruit in the freezer bag.  If the fruit you are freezing in a dry pack typically darkens, dissolve ascorbic acid in 2-3 tablespoons of cool water and add to the fruit before freezing.

  • Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar substitutes can be added either prior to freezing or just before serving.  They give a sweet flavor but they do not provide the benefit of color protection or thickening of the syrup like sugar does.  Use the directions on the sweetener to determine how much you should use.

By preserving fruit in the freezer you will be able to enjoy it year round, but for best quality use within 8 to 12 months of freezing.

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Food Preservation

Which fruit will ripen after picking?

August 6th, 2015

imageMy favorite part of summer is the abundance of fresh ripe fruit available.  It is so nice to have a variety of fruit available at a reasonable price.  For me, this is the easiest time of the year to meet the daily requirement for fruits and vegetables.  Remember that a serving of fruit is roughly ½ cup of fruit or an entire medium sized fruit.

We always like to choose the ripest fruit available when grocery shopping but sometimes it would be nice to have fruit that is dead ripe later in the week.  Often at AnswerLine we get questions about which fruits will ripen at home and which can be purchased a bit under ripe that will ripen further.

These fruits will continue to ripen at home:

  • Avocados
  • Papayas
  • Bananas
  • Honeydew melon
  • Mangos
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Tomatoes

You can speed ripening by placing the fruit into a brown paper bag.  Adding a ripe apple to the bag can speed ripening. Be sure to check the fruit daily for ripeness. Wait until the fruit is ripe to refrigerate it. Bananas can be refrigerated or frozen.  The peel will turn brown but the fruit inside will remain light colored.  You can prolong the life of your bananas with refrigeration.

These fruits will not ripen further after picking.  You can store them in the refrigerator when you bring them into your home.

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cherries
  • Citrus fruit
  • Grapes
  • Pomegranate
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Enjoy the bounty of summer.  Remember that you are able to freeze or home can many of these fruits to enjoy this winter.

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Food Preservation, Nutrition

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

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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.

 

clearjell1

 

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