Preserving Pumpkin Safely

pie-pumpkin1Its fall and time to visit your local pumpkin farm to get pumpkins and gourds to decorate your house. Carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds is a tradition for many families including ours.  While you are there getting jack-o-lanterns why not get a pie pumpkin as well.  These are the pumpkins grown for use in pies, breads and bars.  They are sweeter and have less water in them than the traditional carving pumpkins which tend to have a stringy flesh.

If you are cooking a pie pumpkin this year remember that pumpkin puree cannot be safely canned at home.  The best way to preserve puree would be to freeze it.  To freeze simply wash the pumpkin and cut into cooking size pieces and remove the seeds.  It can be cooked in boiling water, in steam, in the oven or in a pressure cooker.  Cook until soft then remove pulp from rind and mash the pulp.  Place the pumpkin puree bowl in another bowl filled with cold water and stir occasionally till cool. Package in freezer containers in the size you want to use (2 cups equals 1 can).  Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it.

If you would prefer to pressure can pumpkin it can only be done in cubes and in a pressure canner.  The steps to can cubed pumpkin are to first wash and remove the seeds.  Next cut the pumpkin into 1 inch wide slices.  Then peel and cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Fill the jars with the cubes and cover with the cooking liquid leaving 1 inch headspace.  Process according to your altitude using this chart from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Pumpkin can be dried or made into fruit leather. To dry cut strips no more than one inch wide by 1/8 inch thick.  Steam the strips over boiling water for 3 minutes then dip in cold water to stop the heating process.  Drain well then dehydrate in a food dehydrator until brittle.  For making pumpkin fruit leather use pumpkin puree and spices with this recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Be sure to follow safe preservation methods when dealing with pumpkin. Using safe freezing and canning methods will allow you to enjoy your pumpkin all winter!

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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Preparing your home for winter

fall-tree1The leaves on the trees are turning beautiful colors outside our windows reminding us that fall is here and winter is on its way! Is your home ready for winter?  Doing some simple tasks now can reduce your utility bills and keep problems away.

  • Clean out your gutters. The leaves and debris can cause water to back up. In the fall that could cause water to overflow and instead of being diverted away from your house it could cause basement water problems. In the winter frozen water from thawing snow can cause ice dams that can cause moisture damage to your roof and interior ceiling. Running water through the gutter will also show if there are leaks that need to be fixed.
  • Have your furnace checked. Regular maintenance of both your air conditioning and furnace will keep them running well. There is nothing worse than waking up on a cold morning and not having the furnace working! Changing the furnace filter regularly will help with utility costs since air does not circulate well through dirty filters.
  • Check the weather stripping on doors and windows. Sealing gaps around doors and windows will keep cold air out and warm air in.
  • If you have a wood burning fireplace be sure and have the chimney inspected. Regular cleaning can keep soot or creosol from depositing inside the chimney. Regular cleaning reduces the risk of a chimney fire.
  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.   This should be done once a year. Test the detectors monthly to make sure they are working properly.
  • Since the days are shorter replace light bulbs with LED or CFL lights. These ENERGY STAR bulbs last longer and save you a lot of money on your electric bills. When you are decorating for the holidays look for LED Christmas lights.
  • Make sure you drain your outdoor hoses and store them in the garage for the winter. Drain any irrigation system and rain barrels that you have been using this summer. Allowing water to freeze can cause damage that you will find in the spring.

Many of these items can be done without hiring a professional. By spending some time in the fall you will enjoy the energy saving and the peace of mind knowing you are ready for the snow to fly!

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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Do you have more apples than you know what to do with this fall?





Apple trees seems to be fully loaded this fall! Are you looking for some new ideas to preserve your apples?  Here are a few that you can try this year!






Apple butter

This is like a concentrated applesauce that is excellent on muffins or toast. It is a great flavor paired with pork chops.  Try it instead of jelly on a peanut butter sandwich.

Spiced Apple Rings

Add these beautiful red pickled apple slices to a relish tray or add them to a salad for flavor and color. Serve them on the side with turkey or ham.

Apple Pie Filling

There couldn’t be anything simpler than opening a jar of home canned pie filling and adding it to a pie crust. This tested recipe calls for Clear Jel which is a modified corn starch for thickening.  This is the only thickener that should be used when canning pie filling.

Dehydrated Apple Leather

Make your own apple fruit rollups in your dehydrator. Fruit leathers can be made without sugar so it is a very health snack for your kids or grandkids. If you have apple pulp left from making apple jelly use that for your fruit leather.  Add other fruits to come up with your own favorite flavor.

Applesauce Frozen or Canned

Freezing and canning are both options for preserving applesauce. Instructions for both are listed here.

Enjoy the abundance of apples and the variety of ways to preserve them. You will appreciate your efforts this winter when you are enjoying them!

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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How to use your frozen fruit



We have had many calls about food preservation this summer and fall. Many people have chosen to freeze extra produce. I thought it might be good to review the best ways to thaw and use the fruit you have in your freezer.


Here are some tips for using frozen fruit:

  • Don’t allow the fruit to completely thaw if you are serving frozen fruit as a dessert. If allowed to thaw completely it will have a mushy texture but if a few ice crystals remain the texture will be much better.
  • According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation frozen fruit can be thawed safely in the refrigerator, in a sealed bag under running water or in a microwave if you are using it immediately.
  • If you plan to use the frozen fruit in baked goods like muffins or bread keep the fruit frozen when adding. If it is thawed the fruit will be soft and the color will bleed into the final product.
  • If sugar was added when freezing be sure and count that when making a baked good. Be sure and mark the packages with amounts before putting them in the freezer.
  • Only thaw the amount that you are needing for a recipe. If too much fruit is thawed you may refreeze it (if it was thawed safely) but the texture will be even softer when you are using it.
  • You can use frozen fruit to make jam and jelly. Thaw it in the refrigerator and measure the fruit and the juice after it is thawed.
  • Use frozen fruit in smoothies instead of adding extra ice cubes. Your drink will contain even more nutrition since you are not watering it down.
  • Frozen fruit will remain safe indefinitely as long as they stay solidly frozen. They will lose quality if they aren’t well protected. Use freezer bags or containers since the more protection you give them the better quality they will be.

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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Try Grilling Pizza

Have you ever tried using your grill to cook a homemade pizza? If you haven’t done it before you should try it!  Not only is it easy to do, the pizza has a wonderful crispy crust and you are not heating up your house cooking it inside!  I usually make a homemade crust but there are several options available at the grocery store if you want to save that step and purchase one.  If you use your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe spread both sides with corn meal to keep it from sticking to the grill grates.


You are then ready to put the pizza crust on a hot grill. The crust will cook quickly so watch it carefully to make sure it doesn’t get to dark. Usually it will only take a couple of minutes. Once you see grill marks simply flip it over so both sides are cooked evenly. *We will be putting it back on the grill with the toppings for the final cooking.)  When finished the crust should have char marks on it.


When it is done remove the crust to a cutting board or cookie sheet. Now you are ready for your toppings. We like to be creative but you can use any toppings that you like. Our favorite is chicken, bacon, ranch with spinach. The ranch dressing is our pizza sauce   Make sure that your toppings aren’t piled too high since we will be returning it to the grill to finish cooking.


If you have a charcoal grill the last cooking will be done with indirect heat meaning that you will want to gather your coals to one side of the grill. The pizza will cook in the other side. I have a gas grill so I simply turn off one side of the burners. This indirect heat will be like putting it in your oven. The toppings will heat and the cheese will melt. The result will be a pizza that your family will rave about!



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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Too many berries? Freeze a pie!

imageMy family loves pie! My son, who lives on the east coast, firmly believes you can’t find a pie there that equals what you can find in the Midwest. With berry season here, you may want to consider making some extra pies now to freeze for later use.

If freezing an UNBAKED filled pie, add an extra 1-2 Tablespoons flour or ½ Tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the extra moisture that will exude while baking. Do not cut vents in the top of double crust pies before freezing. Wrap, label, and freeze for up to three months. Bake unthawed pies at 425 degrees 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. For easier clean-up, bake the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

BAKED and filled double-crust pies may be frozen up to 6 months. Be sure to wrap them well and label them before freezing. When ready to eat the pie, loosen the wrapping, and thaw in the refrigerator. Warm thawed pies in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning if necessary.

I plan to freeze some pies for the next time my son comes home!

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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Removing More Summer Stains

baseballWe talked in an earlier blog post about the challenge of summer food stains but there are other stains that challenge us in the summer months. I thought we would address some of these as well.

Pollen – Resist the urge to rub the fabric to remove pollen! Instead gently shake the item to remove as much pollen as you can.  Then use the sticky side of a piece of tape to lift off the remaining particles.  Treat with a pre-treater before laundering.  You may also wash with chlorine bleach, if safe for the fabric or a color safe enzyme cleaner like Biz or Clorox 2.

Tree sap – Spray or sponge with a dry-cleaning solvent like an aerosol Shout, Spray’n Wash or K2R Spot Lifter and rub in some liquid laundry detergent. Allow to work for 10-15 minutes then scrub the spot with hot water in your sink.  Treat again before washing in water temperature safe for the fabric.  You could also try using a cleaning solvent like Goo-Gone or Goof-Off and then washing the garment.

Sunscreen – If the stain is oil based treat as an oil stain by applying a pre-treater and washing in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. If your sunscreen contains avobenzone and you have hard water you may notice an orange stain on your clothing.  This is caused when the avobenzone oxidizes the iron minerals found in the water resulting in the orange color spotting.  If this has happened, soak in a color safe enzyme cleaner and then wash in the hottest water safe for the fabric.  Make sure the stain is gone before putting it in the dryer.  To avoid this from happening again apply your sunscreen and allow it to dry on your skin before you put on your clothing.  There are also avobenzone-free sunscreens available.

Mud or dirt – Let it dry and scrape or brush off as much as you can. Use a pre-treater or liquid laundry detergent and rinse in hot water in your sink.  Then wash in the hottest water safe for the fabric.  Do not dry until the stain has been removed.

Latex based paint – Treat the paint while wet. Soak in cold water or wash in cool water with detergent.  After paint has dried for 6 to 8 hours removal is very difficult.  After soaking treat with a dry cleaning solvent and rub in some liquid laundry detergent.  Allow to work for 10-15 minutes then scrub the spot with hot water.  Treat again before washing in the temperature recommended for the fabric.

Oil based paint – Again treat this spill while wet. Use a thinner that is recommended for paint.  Use a spot treatment method*(directions below) and thinner on spots until paint is softened and can be flushed away in the washing machine.  Usually turpentine, paint thinner or alcohol work as solvents.

By treating stains promptly you can avoid permanent spots. As always if you have a stain you need help getting out call us at AnswerLine and we will give you some suggestions.

*The spot cleaning method sometimes called “sponging,” confines the stain to a small area and keeps it from spreading. You need absorbent material, such as clean rags or white paper towels, and a dry-cleaning solvent, spot remover, or aerosol pretreatment spray.  Follow these steps:

  1. Pad the working surface with clean rags or paper towels that can absorb stains.
  2. Place the stained area or spot on the garment face-down over the padded surface.
  3. Dampen a small white cloth with solvent.
  4. Use the dampened cloth to pat the stain from the wrong side. Feather the edges of the stain working from the outside toward the center to keep the stained area from getting larger.
  5. As the stain transfers to the absorbent material beneath the fabric, move the stain to a clean place on the absorbent material so the stain has a clean place on which to transfer.
  6. Repeat this procedure until all traces of stain are gone. Launder to remove any ring that might be left by the solvent.

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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Plants to avoid this summer

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all things that we want to avoid when spending time hiking, camping or even golfing (can you tell I have looked for a few golf balls in the woods). The first and most important part of prevention is learning to identify the plants. The attached links show what these plants look like to help you to know which ones to avoid when you are out having fun!

Here are some things to remember if you come in contact with any of these plants.

  • It is important to wash the oil off as quickly as possible with soap and water. The oil enters the skin quickly and can leave skin with an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters. Make sure that you pay attention to your fingernails as well.
  • The rash does not spread by the fluid from the blisters. Once the urushiol oil has been washed off the skin it will not spread from person to person.
  • Most people don’t react to the urushiol immediately. It can vary from 6-8 hours or it may even be days before you see the rash develop.
  • All items that have come in contact with the plant oil need to be cleaned well. The oil remains on tools, clothing, shoes and pets for a very long time. If you come in contact with those items in the future it can cause the rash to return if it was not cleaned off.
  • Keep your pets from coming in contact with these plants so the urushiol doesn’t stick to their fur which can spread to you. If you think your pet has been exposed give your pet a bath and use long rubber gloves to keep from spreading it to your arms.
  • Wash all of your clothes immediately in your washing machine. Be careful to not have the clothes touch the outside part of your washing machine or the floor. If you feel those areas may have been exposed wash with soap and water. Remember to wash sleeping bags, jewelry, gloves or anything that may have come in contact with the oil.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks when you are walking in areas that may have these plants.
  • Do NOT burn poison ivy, oak or sumac to get rid of it. The resins can be spread in the smoke and anyone breathing it could have severe reactions. See a medical professional immediately if you are having trouble breathing and you think you may have been exposed to smoke from the burning of these plants.

Being out in the woods is a fun summer activity but being aware of your surroundings and able to identify these plants is important. Teach yourselves and your kids what to look for and what to do if you are exposed.

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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Summer Food Stain Removal

BBQSummer is here and we have shed our dark winter clothing for our light colored clothing. Spills and stains are inevitable but they can cause laundry challenges when it comes to stain removal.  Remember the sooner that you treat the stain the easier it will be to remove.  Here are some common food stains and some suggestions on how to remove them.

  • Kool-Aid: Dye stains are difficult to remove. First, pretreat the stain with a liquid laundry detergent. Allow it to work for several minutes than rinse the spot in hot water in your sink. If it is still there a colored garment can also be soaked in a dilute solution of enzyme pre-soak like Biz or Clorox 2. If the garment is white, soak in a dilute solution of liquid chlorine bleach and water. Be sure that your bleach is fresh and soak no longer than 15 minutes. When using bleach if the stain is not removed in 15 minutes it can’t be removed and further bleaching will only weaken the fabric.
  • Catsup or barbeque sauce: Scrape off any excess. Rub liquid laundry detergent into stain before washing in warm or hot water if safe for the fabric. If stain remains, soak colored fabrics in an enzyme pre-soak which are color safe and rewash. Make sure stain is gone before putting in the dryer.
  • Butter: Pretreat with liquid laundry detergent. Allow to work for several minutes then rinse the spot in hot water in your sink. After, treat again with detergent then wash in the temperature that is safe for the fabric. Do not put in the dryer until you are sure that the spot is out.
  • Watermelon: Make sure that these spills are rinsed out as quickly as possible. Many times as the spots dry the stain seems to disappear. Unfortunately if left over time, the stain oxidizes into pale yellow or brown stains. To make sure this doesn’t happen launder it in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric.
  • Berries: Berries are tannin stains. Fresh tannin stains can usually be removed by laundering the fabric using detergent (not natural soap) in hot water, if safe for the fabric. If hot water is not safe for the garment rinse the spot in hot water in your sink before washing. Natural soap (bar soap, soap flakes, or detergents containing natural soap) makes tannin stains more difficult to remove. Old tannin stains may need a bleach solution.

So enjoy the warm weather. Eat and drink knowing that if you spill something we are here to help you get the stain out!

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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Getting Your Groceries Home Safely

As the weather gets warmer it is always a good idea to review safe food handling when shopping and bringing foods home from the grocery store. I wanted to share with you some tips to make sure your foods are handled correctly both for food safety and for best quality.

Here are some things to think about at the grocery store:

  • Look over any fresh produce you are interested in purchasing. Make sure they are not bruised or soft. If you are purchasing precut fruits or vegetables only buy if they have been refrigerated.
  • Do not buy any canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusty. Many stores sell dented cans at a discounted price but there is a risk of the food in the can being contaminated so do NOT buy those!
  • Keep foods separated in your grocery cart. Raw meats, seafood, and poultry could cause cross-contamination if their juice comes in contact with other foods you are purchasing. Make sure that meats are bagged separately when checking out.
  • Look at the dates on the foods. “Sell by” is a date the store should sell the product by.  “Best If Used By” means the manufacturer says the product will remain at peak quality until this date. It is not a safety date. “Use by” means the product should be eaten or frozen by this date.
  • Put the refrigerated and frozen items in your cart last, so they don’t have time to warm up when shopping. Many times the grocery store is where I see friends and food can warm up quickly when it is sitting in a grocery cart while you are talking!
  • If you have hot foods have them put in a double paper bags to maintain their temperature.

So we have handled the food safely at the grocery store now we need to safely transfer it home!

  • Make sure that the grocery store is your last stop. Run your other errands before you get your groceries. The key to all perishable foods is to refrigerate within 2 hours.
  • Put your perishable foods in the coldest part of your car. This is not necessarily your trunk unless it is open to the back seats. If your travel time home is more than a half hour think about bringing a cooler along to store your refrigerated and frozen foods. If the weather is above 90° F. food needs to be refrigerated within 1 hour.
  • Unload your car as soon as you get home. Don’t get distracted! Put the perishable foods away first.

Following these tips will help to keep the food you purchase safe and will prevent food waste and illness.

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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