Archive for the ‘Food Preservation’ Category

Making food ahead

November 19th, 2015

chopping tomatoes for salsaThis is the time of year that we get lots of questions about preparing food ahead of time.  Callers want to make Thanksgiving day (or any day they have family celebrations planned) an easier day by fixing as much of the meal ahead of time as possible.  Often callers want to make and freeze pies and vegetable casseroles days or weeks before the holiday.  Those items typically freeze well and as long as the food is prepared and handled safely there is no problem with an early preparation.

Other callers want to partially cook foods and store them in the refrigerator for a few days before finishing the cooking process and serving.  We typically discourage this sort of short cut as foods that have been partially cooked, cooled, and stored run the risk of bacteria growing to unsafe levels during the storage time.  Those bacteria may not all be killed during the final cooking process. Additionally, the quality of these dishes may not be what we consider “company food”.

We do offer a few tips to people that want to make life easier on the actual holiday.

  1. Dry ingredients can be premeasured and mixed together for baked products and wet ingredients could be premeasured and held in the fridge.  It only takes a couple of minutes to break some eggs and mix all the ingredients together just prior to baking.  And premeasured ingredients don’t make much of a mess in the kitchen.
  2. Plan out the table settings and table linens ahead of time.  Wash and iron linens or wash serving dishes that are used infrequently. This can be done a week or two before the holiday.
  3. Set the table(s) the night before the event.
  4. Either buy precut raw vegetables or cut your own a day or so before the event.
  5. Did you know you can freeze mashed potatoes, or use a recipe that should be prepared a day or so before the event.  There are many recipes for Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes that include garlic, cream cheese, and sour cream.  These recipes should be prepared a day early so the flavors can blend.
  6. Make a time schedule of the preparation times for the items in your menu.  This alone will help you feel more organized and prepared for everything necessary to make the holiday work flow smoothly.

Hopefully these tips will make your holiday easier this year.

    Extension and Outreach Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Freeze some yeast rolls for Thanksgiving

November 16th, 2015

Rolls I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about making food ahead for Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed information in some of the blogs that I read about making and freezing yeast dough ahead of time and then thawing and baking on Thanksgiving Day.  This method is something that I’ve personally been doing for many years.  I have a favorite roll recipe that I often make for our large family reunions, holiday meals, or just family get-togethers.  The recipe happens to be one that includes a fair amount of butter, milk, eggs, and a bit of sugar.  I always use my bread machine, set to the dough setting.  This allows me to measure out ingredients and walk away to do some other chores while the machine is preparing my dough.  When the bread machine is done with the dough cycle, I shape my rolls and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  I freeze them without letting the shaped rolls rise.  Next, I cover the rolls and put the sheet into the freezer immediately.  As soon as the rolls are solidly frozen, I remove the rolls from the sheet and put them into an airtight container.  Sometimes I use a Tupperware bowl, other times I use a zip style freezer bag.

cinnamon rollsI try to make and freeze the rolls within about 2 weeks of the event. On the day of the event, I place rolls onto the baking sheet and allow them to rise until doubled before I bake them.  This step generally takes about an hour to an hour and a half.  I usually bake them while the turkey (or other meat) is resting before carving.  Any deficiency in the rolls caused by freezing tends to be minimized when you are enjoying rolls fresh out of the oven.

There is still time to make some rolls for your celebrations this year.  Enjoy!

   Extension and Outreach Specialist and home baker

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Quanity Cooking

Storing Your Garden Vegetables

November 12th, 2015

imageMost of us have harvested our last produce from the garden for the year. It is now time to find ways to store them to maintain their best quality over the winter months.  Here are some suggestions for some produce commonly found in home gardens from Richard Jauron, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Horticulturist.


Onions should be harvested when most of the tops have fallen over and begun to dry. Carefully pull or dig the bulbs with the tops attached.

After harvesting, dry or cure the onions in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location, such as a shed or garage. Spread out the onions in a single layer on a clean, dry surface. Cure the onions for two to three weeks until the onion tops and necks are thoroughly dry and the outer bulb scales begin to rustle. After the onions are properly cured, cut off the tops about 1 inch above the bulbs. As the onions are topped, discard any that show signs of decay. Use the thick-necked bulbs as soon as possible as they don’t store well. An alternate preparation method is to leave the onion tops untrimmed and braid the dry foliage together.

Place the cured onions in a mesh bag, old nylon stocking, wire basket, or crate. It’s important that the storage container allow air to circulate through the onions. Store the onions in a cool, moderately dry location. Storage temperatures should be 32 to 40 degrees F. The relative humidity should be 65 to 70 percent. Possible storage locations include a basement, cellar, or garage. Hang the braided onions from a rafter or ceiling. Since the temperature in an unheated garage may fall well below 32 degrees F, an alternate storage site will be needed when bitterly cold weather arrives.


Potatoes can be harvested when the tubers are small and immature (“new” potatoes) or when the crop is fully mature. “New” potatoes are dug when the plants are still green and the tubers are greater than 1 inch in diameter. New potatoes should be used immediately, as they do not store well.

Potatoes grown for storage should be harvested after the vines have died and the crop is mature. To check crop maturity, dig up one or two hills after the plants have died. If the skins on the tubers are thin and rub off easily, the crop is not fully mature. Allow the crop to mature for several more days before harvesting the potatoes. When harvesting potatoes, avoid bruising, skinning or cutting the tubers. Damaged potatoes should be used as soon as possible.

After harvesting the potatoes, cure the tubers at a temperature of 50 to 60 F and high relative humidity (85 to 90 percent) for two weeks. The curing period allows minor cuts and bruises to heal. Thickening of the skin also occurs during the curing process.

Once cured, store potatoes at a temperature of 40 F and relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.  Store the crop in a dark location, as potatoes turn green when exposed to light. If storage temperatures are above 50 F, the tubers may begin to sprout in two or three months. When stored below 40 F, potatoes develop a sugary, sweet taste. Sugary potatoes can be restored to their natural flavor by placing them at room temperature for a few days prior to use. Do not store potatoes with apples or other fruit. Ripening fruit give off ethylene gas, which promotes sprouting of tubers.

Winter Squash and Pumpkins

To insure a long life, pumpkins and winter squash must be harvested, cured, and stored properly. Immature fruit are poor quality and cannot be successfully stored. Mature fruit that have been removed from the vine are still alive. Proper curing and storage slows the rate of respiration and prolongs the storage life of the fruit.

Harvest pumpkins when they have developed a uniform orange color and have a hard rind. Mature winter squash have very hard skins that can’t be punctured with your thumb nail. Additionally, mature winter squash have dull-looking surfaces. Harvest all mature pumpkins and winter squash before a hard freeze. A light frost will destroy the vines but should not harm the fruit. However, a hard freeze may damage the fruit.

After harvesting, cure the pumpkins and winter squash (except for the acorn types) at a temperature of 80 to 85°F and a relative humidity of 80 to 85 percent. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches. Do not cure acorn squash. The high temperature and relative humidity during the curing process actually reduce the quality and storage life of acorn squash.

After curing, store pumpkins and winter squash in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55°F. Do not store pumpkins and squash near apples, pears, or other ripening fruit. Ripening fruit release ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of pumpkins and squash. (Actually, the best storage temperatures for most apples and pears is 30 to 32°F.) When storing pumpkins, place them in a single layer where they don’t touch one another. Good air circulation helps to prevent moisture from forming on the surfaces of the fruit and retards the growth of decay fungi and bacteria. Placing pumpkins in piles generates unwanted heat which may result in the rotting of some fruit. Periodically check pumpkins and winter squash in storage and discard any fruit which show signs of decay.

Properly cured and stored pumpkins should remain in good condition for 2 to 3 months. The storage life of acorn, butternut, and hubbard squash is approximately 5 to 8 weeks, 2 to 3 months, and 5 to 6 months, respectively.


Home-grown apples that will be stored should be harvested when they have reached minimum maturity but are not yet ripe. Mature apples are full-size and have a light straw or greenish-yellow undercolor. The undercolor is the “base” color beneath the red blush. The intensity of the red color is not an indicator of maturity. At minimum maturity, apples will be hard and crisp. They will have developed their characteristic flavor but will be somewhat starchy.

Sort the apples that are to be stored. Remove any that are bruised, cut, or show signs of decay. Plan to consume the larger fruit of any cultivar first, saving the smaller ones for later in the season. The larger apples are usually the first to lose their quality and show signs of internal breakdown.

Low temperature slows the respiration rate and preserves good quality. Apples last several times longer at 32°F than they do at 70°F. Most apple cultivars should be stored at 30 to 32°F for optimum storage. However, McIntosh apples should be kept around 36°F. If possible, the storage temperature should remain constant. The freezing temperature of apples is 27.8 to 29.4°F, so it is best not to store apples in unheated locations where the temperature may get too low. Once thawed frozen apples deteriorate quickly, resulting in softening of flesh and loss of texture. Relative humidity must be kept high, between 90 and 95 percent, in a fruit storage area. If the humidity is not maintained, apples dehydrate and shrivel, particularly Golden Delicious.

Apples can be kept well in humid cellars that maintain a cool temperature below 40°F. They also can be stored in unheated outbuildings or garages, in Styrofoam chests, or with hay or other insulating materials piled around them to prevent them from freezing.

If you are interested in harvesting and storing other vegetables here is some additional information.

  signature,  AnswerLine Specialist

Food Preservation, Horticulture

Freezing a Pumpkin Pie

November 5th, 2015

pumpkin pkeAre you wondering how to freeze a pumpkin pie?  We get so many calls from people that are having a huge group for Thanksgiving and want to prepare as much food as possible ahead of time.  If that is your situation this year, follow these directions.

Freeze your pumpkin pie unbaked. Prepare the pie shell and filling as usual. Have the filling cold before adding it to the unbaked, chilled pie shell. Package and freeze.

When you are ready to use your pie, bake it without thawing at 400F for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325F to finish baking. Use the pie within 4-5 weeks of freezing for best quality.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Holiday ideas

Enjoy pumpkin seeds

October 29th, 2015

It’s time to get those pumpkins carved and it is my husband’s favorite time of year.  He loves pumpkin seeds but the ones he buys the rest of the year just are not as tasty as those we make at home.  So he is glad imagewhen it is time to roast our own seeds.

It really is an easy thing to do.  As you carve the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds into a colander and rinse the pumpkin “goo” off the seeds.  You will need to get your hands a little dirty as the stream of water will not remove all of the “goo”, you will need to move the seeds around with your hands. F. for

Next, place the wet seeds onto a dry cookie sheet.  Salt or season as desired and bake at 325°F. for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Store in an airtight container.  Enjoy.

You also have the option of roasting the seeds unseasoned and then drizzling with a bit of butter or olive oil and then adding seasoning.  Ranch can be a popular choice.

Extension and Outreach Specialist and mom

Food Preparation, Food Preservation

More Apple Recipes

October 19th, 2015


It has been a great year for apples! We are helping consumers can pie filling, make apple butter and applesauce and freeze them for use in the winter.  Here are several more unusual recipes that I wanted to share that will give you even more ways to preserve and use the abundance of apples.



There are many berry syrups but try making this Apple-Cinnamon Syrup from the newest Ball Blue Book.

Apple-Cinnamon Syrup

(about 6 pint jars)

6 cups apple juice, fresh or bottled (without added calcium)

3 sticks cinnamon, broken

5 cups sugar

4 cups water

3 cups corn syrup

¼ cup lemon juice

COOK: Combine apple juice and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes; set aside. Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; boil to 230°F. Add apple juice, cinnamon sticks, and corn syrup to sugar syrup; boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. Remove cinnamon sticks.

FILL: Ladle hot syrup into a hot jar, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Clean jar rim. Center lid on jar and adjust band to fingertip-tight. Place jar on the rack elevated over simmering water (180°F) in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

PROCESS: Lower the rack into simmering water. Water must cover jars by 1 inch. Adjust heat to medium-high, cover canner and bring water to a rolling boil. Process pint jars 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation). Turn off heat and remove cover. Let jars cool 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner; do not retighten bands if loose. Cool 12 hours. Check seals. Label and store jars.


Spiced Apple Rings are a great side dish with Roast Turkey or Chicken. The red color of the apple rings are especially fun to serve around the holidays!  This recipe is from So Easy to Preserve, Sixth Edition, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

Spiced Apple Rings

(about 8 or 9 pint jars)

12 pounds firm tart apples (maximum diameter, 2 ½ inches)

12 cups sugar

6 cups water

1 1/4  cups white vinegar (5%)

3 tablespoons whole cloves

¾ cup red hot cinnamon candies or 8 cinnamon sticks and 1 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)

Wash apples. To prevent discoloration, peel and core one apple at a time.  Immediately cut the apple crosswise into ½ inch rings and immerse in an anti-darkening solution.  To make flavored syrup, combine sugar, water, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon candies (or cinnamon sticks and food coloring) in a 6-quart saucepan.  Heat to a boil, stirring constantly.  Simmer 3 minutes.  Remove apples from anti-darkening solution and drain well.  Add to hot syrup and cook 5 minutes.  Fill half-pint or pint jars (preferably wide-mouth) with apple rings, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Fill jars to ½ inch from top with hot syrup.  Remove air bubbles.  Wipe jar rims.  Adjust lids.  Process 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) or 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation) in a Boiling Water Bath.


Sweet Apple Relish is a perfect complement to barbecued meat. This recipe is also from So Easy to Preserve.

Sweet Apple Relish

(4 pint jars)

4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin

1 ¼ cup distilled white vinegar (5%)

1 cup sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

2/3  cups water

1 ½ teaspoons whole cloves

4 pieces stick cinnamon   (1 ½ inches each)

1 teaspoon whole allspice

Immerse apples in a solution of 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid and 2 quarts of water to prevent browning. Combine sugar, corn syrup, 1 1/4 cups white vinegar, water, cloves, cinnamon and allspice; bring to a boil. Drain apples and add to syrup. Simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove cinnamon sticks from syrup and place one piece in each jar. Fill hot fruit into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fill jars 1/2 inch from top with boiling hot syrup. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) or 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation) in a Boiling Water Bath.


Taking advantage of all of the wonderful apples this year will give you enjoyment all through the winter. Remember you don’t have to just make applesauce or pies.  Be adventuresome and try these new recipes that will become family favorites!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Family Gardening and Food Preservation

October 15th, 2015

raspberriesMy oldest son after graduating from college, getting married and buying a house has become quite an urban gardener! This summer they planted about 15 different tomato and pepper plants. He has been supplying his neighbors and the family with wonderful produce. We have canned salsa, pickled peppers and frozen tomatoes. Some of our canning lessons have been in person but one was even done by Facetime! My how things change with technology! I love that they are interested in food preservation and that they want to learn the correct and safe way to do it!

Recently they transplanted some raspberry bushes from my daughter in laws family farm. They picked their first berries this spring but the production this fall on their everbearing bushes has been incredible! They have over 10 pounds in the freezer already with many more to pick. I thought I would share with you some of the recipes that I shared with them. Just use the attached links for recipes and directions for raspberry jam, raspberry jelly, raspberry syrup, freezing and canning. These are from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and are tested, research based recipes.

I have also shared with him information on maintaining healthy plants from our Extension and Outreach Horticulture specialists. He was having a problem with small black bugs and with the suggestions given he has eliminated the problem.

Little did I know when I started my job with AnswerLine how the resources that we have could not only help consumers that call in, but also be learning experiences that I can share with my family!

Now our middle son and his wife have purchased a house and are moving into it in November. One feature of the house is that it has a garden. I can’t wait to help them as they grow, can and freeze. The wonderful tradition continues.

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Food Preservation, Horticulture, recipes

Tips for using Green Tomatoes

October 8th, 2015

Green Tomatoes


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


Selecting and Picking

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


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

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

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

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

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Horticulture, recipes

Applesauce time!

October 1st, 2015

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

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

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


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

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.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety