Spring means it is time for rhubarb!

A sure sign that spring is arriving is rhubarb starting to grow! Although it is technically a vegetable, it is used as a fruit since it is highly acidic which gives it the distinctive tart flavor. It is delicious combined with strawberries for a pie, made in bars or crisps, or a sauce poured over ice cream or cake.

According to our Iowa State University Extension Horticulturists, if you want to establish a rhubarb bed, early spring is the best time. 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 bed is newly planted patience is required since you should not harvest it until the second season to allow for good 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 in Iowa and late June in Minnesota. It is a good idea not to remove more than one-half of the fully developed stalks from any plant at any one time. An old wives tail that we hear often from callers is that rhubarb is poisonous if eaten later in the summer. Rhubarb does not become poisonous, but harvesting later in the summer may weaken the plant and make it less productive the following year.

Spring weather can change quickly in the Midwest and fortunately, rhubarb is a sturdy plant that can withstand cold temperatures after it has started to grow. If a frost occurs, check your plant in a few days. If the leaves and the stalks are blackened and soft, remove them. Any new growth will be safe to eat. If the stalks do not show any sign of damage from the frost those stalks are safe to eat.

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.


Rhubarb is easy to grow and a treat to eat! If you would like more information on growing rhubarb, the University of Minnesota Extension has some very helpful tips on watering, controlling weeds and harvesting.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Happy Holidays from AnswerLine

2020 has been a year that none of us will forget! As it ends, we thought we would share with you some of the things that have been happening at AnswerLine. We have had the privilege of answering calls and emails from Iowa for the last 45 years and Minnesota for almost 20 years. That amounts to over 18,000 calls and emails received over the last year alone! In addition to the calls we normally receive, this year we dealt with questions on how to keep safe and sanitize with COVID-19, preserving food since so many people were home from work and were growing their own foods, and also helping with the preservation of food when canning supplies ran short all across the country. In Iowa we also were dealt with the deracho and we helped callers with the loss of electricity and all of the food safety questions! It was quite a year!

Our current staff of four home economists have a blend of different backgrounds and interests. We have all worked in professional careers before coming to AnswerLine. We are able to share our knowledge and ability to find research based answers to callers questions. Our specialty area is answering home and family questions but we are proud to be a part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the University of Minnesota Extension service where we have a wealth of experts whom we can call upon when a question is out of our expertise area. These specialists help us answer questions regarding horticulture, entomology, wildlife, agriculture, farming and child care, just to name a few areas. We are also proud of our other Extension and Outreach hotline Iowa Concern. They are a wonderful resource to help with legal, financial, crisis, disaster and teen issues.

It has been a joy to talk personally with numerous people across Iowa and Minnesota, to help them resolve problems, issues, and concerns that affect their daily lives with research based information. Many people are thrilled that our phones are answered by live people, since so many calls are now answered by computers. Further, we have had the opportunity to share similar information with people around the world through email and Ask An Expert questions that come to our inbox daily. Many of our callers are friends we’ve never met; they call frequently and in doing so we’ve learned something about them and they about us. We love talking to people and NO question is silly or foolish. While there is great satisfaction in helping each individual find a solution that works for them, the greatest satisfaction comes when a caller calls back or there is an email response, saying “you made my day.”

If you would like additional ways to contact us, try using our email at answer@iastate.edu. We also have a blog that we post weekly and Facebook posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week.


Thank you to the many consumers, past and present, who have challenged us daily with questions. We hope consumers will continue to challenge us with both calls and emails and that they share with their family and friends that AnswerLine is ready and willing to help should they need us. Our phone lines are available from 9-12 and 1-4 M-F.

We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!


Your friends at AnswerLine,
Beth, Marcia, Marlene and Carol

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Safe Summertime Grilling

It has certainly gotten hot out lately and rather than heat up my house by turning on the oven I am using my grill more and more! It is important to remember that food must be handled correctly both in the kitchen and on the grill. Here are some quick reminders to keep the food you are grilling safe.

Remember to keep your cold foods cold. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature, so keep your meat in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. If you want to marinade meat do it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. If you plan to grill away from home make sure that you transport meat in a cooler with some ice. The goal is to keep meat at refrigerator temperature.


Do not reuse the plate that you use to take the meat out to the grill. Juices from raw meat and poultry are high in bacteria that could contaminate the cooked meat.


Do not use color as an indicator of when meat is done. Recent USDA research studies indicate that some ground beef may turn brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature of 160°F. The only safe way to determine if food is done is to use a meat thermometer. An instant read thermometer takes the guess work out of grilling.

It is not a good idea to partially cook meats. If you must cook ahead, cook the food completely, cool it quickly in the refrigerator in shallow containers and reheat it later on the grill.

Remember these Safe Internal Minimum Temperatures

Whole Poultry 165°F
Poultry Breasts 165°F
Ground Poultry 165°F
Ground Beef and Pork 160°F
Other Pork cuts 145°F (followed by a 3 minute rest)
Beef, veal and lamb(steaks, roasts and chops) Medium rare 145°FMedium 160°F


So get out there and enjoy your grill, knowing that you are doing all you can to keep your food safe.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Rhubarb

Somehow it has already become the middle of June and with that comes the end of the rhubarb season. If you have a well established rhubarb bed and you continue to harvest it later than the middle of June in Iowa or late June in Minnesota, it will weaken the plant. Over-harvesting can reduces the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks also develop a woody taste later in the summer but they do not become poisonous.

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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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Create Your Own Cooking Channel

Our completed scones!

We have had a weekly Zoom call with my entire family most Sunday evenings. That call has included my parents and all of their kids, grand kids and great grand kids. We are living in three different time zones and we have had the best time getting caught up on what is happening in every ones lives. This is one of the benefits of the pandemic-making us realize the importance of staying connected with family.

On one of our calls we were talking about cooking and we decided to schedule a Zoom class where I could show those interested how to make scones. After a search on the internet, we chose a white chocolate raspberry scone recipe for us to make together. I sent the recipe to everyone who was interested and available and scheduled the call. We ended up having 4 participants and everyone was pleased with how their scones turned out. Our next class is going to be on making homemade pretzels and I think we will have even more participants! I have even had some friends ask if they can be included on the next session.

Keeping in touch with others is so important especially when we are still social distancing. This was a really fun way to spend a morning together and to learn to make a delicious treat.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Celebrating Friendsgiving

We have been blessed to live close to family for a number of years. Especially when it comes to holiday time. When my husband and I first got married we would try and make it to both “coasts” of Iowa so that we could see all of our family. After we started having kids that quickly changed!

One year the Thanksgiving celebration was going to be at our house. Unfortunately, the weather was not going to be good and I had everything purchased for the meal. We found out that our neighbors were having the same issues. We decided that it would be a lot of fun to celebrate together! Our neighbors grew up in the south and they brought all of the typical southern Thanksgiving foods, and we have the traditional Midwest foods. Needless to say we had a feast, and we enjoyed an afternoon of telling family traditions and stories.

Our middle son played college hockey in Oklahoma. Since Thanksgiving was in the middle of their hockey season he was not able to come home. For four years he and his teammates and friends would be assigned a food to bring and they would have a huge “Friendsgiving” celebration together. They would send us pictures of amazing food, impressively including homemade pumpkin pie, and all of the kids gathered around a very large table. It always made me feel good knowing that the holiday was spent with friends and with lots of good food. Plus I loved getting the call at AnswerLine to make sure they were cooking the turkey safely! The coach would not have been happy if the whole team had food poisoning!

Whether you are celebrating with family or with friends we wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Green Tomatoes

We have had several frosts recently and we have been getting many calls on what to do with green tomatoes harvested before the frost.  It is possible to try to ripen green tomatoes indoors, but there is a greater chance of spoilage.  Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-79 degrees F, will ripen in about two weeks.  If stored in cooler temperatures it will slow the ripening.  Below 55 degrees F they may still ripen but the quality will be inferior.  Also, remember that if the humidity is too high the tomatoes can mold and rot.  If the humidity is too low they may shrivel and dry out.

If you would rather use them as green tomatoes, there are a number of recipes that you can try.  This link is to a publication entitled “A Harvest of Green Tomatoes” from the University of Alaska Extension. It includes recipes for Fried Green Tomatoes, Green Tomato Egg Bake and Green Tomato Pie just to name a few.  There are also green tomato relishes and pie filling recipes that are preserved in a boiling water bath. The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has information on preserving green tomatoes both in a boiling water bath and by freezing.

Enjoy these recipes and using the tomatoes that were grown in your garden.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Fajita Seasoning

The temperature is so cold today that it is a perfect day to stay inside.  I like to take advantage of these kind of days to mix up some spice blends that I will use year round.  One of my favorites is a fajita seasoning mix from a recipe that I found on the internet years ago.  I have been making it ever since.  The combination of spices and the addition of cornstarch make great flavor and it thickens up sauces when used on both meats and vegetables.  I now provide jars of this seasoning to my extended family as well!  You can be assured that they let me know when their jars are getting empty!  There are many combinations of spices that can be put together, but here is the recipe that I use.

If you are interested in other spice mixes check out these recipes from North Dakota State Extension.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Using Creativity In The Kitchen

This is a big month for our family. In addition to expecting a new grand baby, we are also celebrating a birthday for the baby’s older brother! Since both events are happening within a few weeks, the grandma’s have gotten involved to help plan a birthday party. One of our favorite books to read to our grandson is The Little Blue Truck series of books. Therefore, what could be better than to plan a Little Blue Truck birthday party!

After looking for party ideas on Pinterest, Grandma Nyla and I have come up with a menu. We will be making pigs in a blanket, Rice Krispy treat hay bales, wheel shaped macaroni and cheese, Chex mix (chicken feed), deviled eggs (farm fresh eggs), carrot and celery stick with dip (farm fresh produce) and pulled pork sandwiches. Quite a combination of foods, but all contributing to the theme of the party!

My undertaking was to try to make little blue truck cookies. After checking at numerous kitchen stores in multiple cities, I finally decided that if I wanted the truck shape I would make my own pattern. After drawing the truck in the size that I wanted, I printed two copies on card stock. I used double stick tape to connect the two pieces together to make it a little sturdier. Using a sharp knife to cut around the edges of my rolled out cookie dough and I had my truck cookies. Since the pattern was thicker due to the two layers and the heavier card stock, I had no problems cutting around them with the knife.

I have frozen the cookies and they are ready to decorate as the party approaches! I did decorate one cookie so I could see how it would look and I am pleased to say that when my grandson came for a visit last week he picked up the cookie and started driving it on the counter! I would say that is a true sign of success!

Making my own cookie cutter was actually a fun challenge! Do not hesitate to let your creative juices flow and design your own. I have even more ideas for next Christmas!

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Making Scones

One of my favorite things to make are scones. I like to make them enough that I have even purchased an official scone pan that makes 16 small scones from one batch. The scone pan is not necessary but it makes all of the scones the same shape and size so I look like a professional even though I am not! I have experimented making many different kinds including orange, vanilla, chocolate chip and lemon but my favorite one is a mixed berry scone that I found when looking at recipes on the internet. Through trial and error, I know that adding sour cream to a recipe makes them extra moist and delicious so I like to add some to all of the recipes I try. I know that the dough will be very crumbly and that if I over mix it will cause them to be tough. I thought I would share with you some of the techniques so you can try making some at your house.

 

 

 

First measure your dry ingredients into a bowl. This includes flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

 

Grate butter into the flour mixture and blend into flour with your fingers.  Be sure that your butter is very cold!

Grating the butter makes it blend into the four much easier than cutting it into small pieces.

Mix wet ingredients together in another bowl. This includes milk, sour cream, egg and vanilla.  Add the liquid ingredients and the frozen berries (I used frozen blueberries, raspberries and blackberries). Don’t let the berries thaw or they will color the dough and you will not have any whole fruit pieces in your baked scone.

Mix until just combined. Do not overmix or the scone will be tough.

Shape into a square on a floured cutting board. I then cut it into 16 pieces (four squares with four triangle shapes).  If you wanted larger scones you could cut them into 8 instead of 16.

After putting the pieces in the pan I sprinkle with a course sugar before baking.

Bake at 400° F. for about 18 minutes until the scones are just starting to turn light brown. I cook mine in my convection oven at 375° F. for approximately 15 minutes.

If using a pan, allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from pan and place on a cooking rack.

Making scones is easy and fun!  Try it out for yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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