Freezing Strawberries

I have been seeing strawberries in the grocery store since mid-winter. Before we know it, strawberries will begin bearing in our area. When strawberries are ripe, we get many calls asking for directions to freeze strawberries. So, if you need directions and AnswerLine is not open now, read on.

Freezing or any type of preserving of food never improves the quality of the food. So choose only fully ripe and firm berries. Look for a nice deep red color on the berries. Do not freeze anything that is immature, green, or damaged. Always wash produce well before freezing. Remove the caps from the berries.

Often, the recommendation for freezing fruit includes using a sugar syrup. The reason for this is to preserve the color and texture of the food. We do not use syrups to make the berries sweeter. There are several different syrups to choose. You will want to choose the one that best fits how you will use the strawberries once you have thawed them. Whole berries are best to freeze in syrup.

 

Syrups to use when freezing fruit

Type of syrup Percent syrup Cups of sugar Cups of water Yield of syrup
Very Light

10%

½

4

4 ½ cups
Light

20%

1

4

4 ¾ cups
Medium

30%

1 ¾

4

5 cups
Heavy

40%

2 ¾

4

5 1/3 cups
Very Heavy

50%

4

4

6 cups

 

You can also freeze whole berries in a sugar pack. Simply add ¾ cup of sugar to a quart of strawberries. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves or you can let it stand for 15 minutes. Place into a container but allow enough room so the strawberries can expand in the freezer without pushing the lid off.

If you prefer sliced berries, use the sugar pack after you have prepared and sliced the berries. Stir until the sugar dissolves or let them sit for 15 minutes. Freeze and enjoy.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Cupcakes

Cupcakes made by Beth Marrs

One of my favorite hobbies is baking. Now that I am an “empty nester”, there is a limit on how often and what sort of foods I can bake. Baking bread every week helps satisfy that need to bake but I also love reading about cooking and baking. Yesterday I read an interesting blog on the King Arthur Flour website. The blog had directions for making cupcakes out of your favorite cake recipe. This blog included some information that I had not heard before so I thought that it would be fun to share that information.

Most cake recipes will make great cupcakes. I had never thought of making angel food cupcakes or chiffon cake cupcakes and apparently, they do not make great cupcakes. I think with the difficulty of making those cakes, you would be happier with the full sized version.

It has been a while since I have needed to make cupcakes so I had not realized the variety of cupcake pans available. When the kids were home, I think that the mini cupcakes would have disappeared too quickly. Making jumbo cupcakes might have made the kids happy but would not have made enough cupcakes for everyone to have more than one.

It does not matter what size pan you choose, you will want to fill the wells in the pans most of the way full. King Arthur Flour says to fill them about 4/5 full. I did not know that the baking temperature affects the shape of the top of the cupcake. Using a lower temperature like 325° (but a slightly longer baking time) will yield a flatter topped cupcake. Sometimes this is desirable depending on how you want to decorate the cupcake. Baking at a lower temperature will also allow the outer rim of the cupcake to brown a bit. If you want a nice, domed top to the cupcake, bake at 375°. This higher temperature activates the baking power in the cake and results in a more even crumb inside the cake. You will also shorten the oven time for the cupcakes.

I have always wondered how to calculate the baking time for cupcakes and King Arthur Flour has some tips for that, too. They say to reduce baking time by 5% if your recipe called for 9” pans and you plan to bake at the same temperature listed in the recipe. If your recipe called for a 9”x13” cake pan, reduce baking time by as much as 40-50%. However, the most important thing they recommend is recognizing when the cupcakes are done cooking. The surface should be lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center should look crumb free when removed. The cupcakes should spring back if lightly touched. If you have a thermometer, you can insert that and if the temperature is between 205° and 210° the cupcakes are done.

This makes me want to leave the office and go home and bake some cake. Or cupcakes.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

My rhubarb froze, help!

We had some nice warm days around Easter and then we have had a bit of cold weather this year.  Some places even had a bit of snow.  I’ve had five calls about rhubarb already this morning so I thought that I might repost this blog post from two years ago.  This information is very timely.

A sure sign of spring at AnswerLine are the calls from people concerned about the safety of their rhubarb plants. It seems like every year we have a week or so of really nice temperatures that allow the rhubarb plants to grow vigorously. Then the temperatures take a dive and we have a frost or freezing weather.  There is an old wives tale that says rhubarb that has frozen is poisonous and that you should destroy or dig up your plants to stay safe.

That old wives tale is just that; a tale that is not correct.   If your patch of rhubarb freezes, the fleshy part of the plant will freeze.  After a day or two, the frozen leaves and stems will become soft and blackened.  This is a result of the damage that freezing and thawing cause to the plant.  Most people, when they pick rhubarb, are particular and choose the nicest, freshest looking stalks.  They would not choose softened, black, or mushy stalks.  Those stalks should be pulled and discarded; this is something most people would do without thinking.

Remember, only the stalks or petioles should be eaten because the leaves contain moderately poisonous oxalic acid.  It is generally recommended that home gardeners stop harvesting rhubarb in early to mid-June. Continued harvest through the summer months would weaken the plants and reduce the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks may become somewhat woody by mid-summer, but they don’t become poisonous. Sometimes we have callers wanting to harvest enough for a crisp or a pie during mid-summer.  We tell them to look for some smaller, tender stalks that could be pulled.  If the rhubarb patch is an older, established patch pulling a few stalks should not cause permanent damage to the patch.

Enjoy your rhubarb.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Sunscreen questions?

Spring seems to be starting slowly this year. We have had some beautiful warm and sunny days and I realized that I need to get back into the habit of applying sunscreen. One of our favorite pastimes, when my grandsons visit, is walking down the hill to the bridge over the creek and tossing stones into the stream. The boys could do this for hours. It is so easy to just head outside without a thought to how long we will be standing in the sun.

Both my husband and I have had MOHS surgery for skin cancer. I would like to avoid that for my grandsons. I do not always understand all the factors important to choosing an effective sunscreen so I thought a little research was in order.

Sunscreens come in two different varieties; they use either an organic filter or an inorganic filter.

Organic filters are chemical compounds designed to absorb UV radiation and convert it into a small amount of heat. These filters include oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octocrylene. Some people incorrectly think that these chemicals can cause skin cancer but research has demonstrated that this is not the case.

Inorganic filters are minerals that physically block the UV light from contact with skin. The minerals may be zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They actually reflect and scatter the UV rays. Inorganic filters are often in sunscreens designed for children. These products are often thicker and look whiter than sunscreen made with an organic filter. These formulas also tend to be easier on skin so adults with sensitive skin may prefer inorganic filters too.

SPF can also be confusing. The recommendation for most people is an SPF of 30. This will protect against 97% of the UVB rays in sunshine. Sunscreens with SPF of over 50 add only a slight additional protection.

No sunscreen will perform well if not applied correctly. Think about the shot glass and teaspoon rule when applying. Use a teaspoon on your face and a shot glass amount on the rest of your body. Remember to reapply sunscreen containing an organic filter every two hours or after getting wet or sweating.

Stay safe this summer and prevent sunburns.

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Easy Sewing Projects

Last month, I was able to visit my son and his family in Idaho. Since I love to sew, I always try to pack something fun that the grandsons there can learn to sew. My goal is to teach all of my grandchildren to sew. Since I do not have the opportunity to spend much time with most of them, I always have an easy project with me when I do visit.

If the 4-H member at your house wants to try sewing, start them on something simple and small. Zippered bags, or even open top bags are quick and easy to make. This year, we made small zippered bags. They are ideal for hiding a treasured item, packing small items in a suitcase, or holding sewing supplies. This version of a bag (there are many different patterns available) requires a zipper and fusible quilt batting. The quilt batting provides some structure or stiffness to the bag without requiring a more difficult sewing technique. You simply iron the lining piece onto the batting and then sew each strip onto the opposite side. Zipper installation does not require a special zipper foot, you simply sew along the inside edge of the zipper tape. After sewing side seams and a bottom seam, you open up the bottom and sew a diagonal line across the side and bottom seam to give the bag some volume or shape.

It occurred to me that a bag similar to this one would be a great first time sewing project for a 4-H member. Each bag would take only an hour or two to construct and members could make multiple bags for themselves, friends, or family members. Making multiple bags would allow 4-H members skills to increase. You can eliminate some of the frustration that comes when you have to fit a garment and have take out seams that need to be changed. This exhibit could be finished months ahead of the County Fair.

 

 
Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Is my milk still safe?

We had a family gathering over the weekend and as things were drawing to a close; my daughter questioned the safety of the milk in my refrigerator. She noticed that the date on the milk jug had just passed. We had a short discussion about how long milk is safe to drink past the sell by date marked on the carton.

In case you are wondering, milk that has been properly stored will remain safe and drinkable for about a week after that sell by date. Of course, if you notice an off flavor, odor, or appearance, you should toss the milk. One of the things that keeps milk safe for the week after the date is storing it in a refrigerator kept below 40° Fahrenheit.

At AnswerLine, we get many calls about food safety. After reading the sell by date on eggs, callers often ask how long

they can safely use eggs. The sell by date on an egg carton, as on milk cartons, refer to the time the store has to sell a product. They cannot legally sell the milk or eggs after the date marked on the carton. Producers of those products do not expect that you will be able to use an entire gallon of milk or a dozen eggs overnight if you happen to purchase them near the date.

It is important to remember that very few items have actual expiration dates. Baby formula is a food that does expire, so remember to always check the date and discard expired formula. Canned foods that have been commercially canned are good for 3-5 years past the best if used by date. Food you home canned should ideally be used within the first year or two at the most after processing.

We ae always happy to help you understand just what food products you have in your home are safe and which ones would be best discarded.

 
Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Storing chocolate

If your sweetie got you some chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just how long you can safely keep them. I did a little research and discovered that you can store that box of chocolate longer than you may have thought.

Chocolate should be stored at temperatures that are slightly cooler than room temperature. Try to keep them between 60° and 70° Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, they should keep well for at least six months. If you need to store them longer, consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Chocolates will keep for a year in the refrigerator and for a year and a half in the freezer.

If your sweetie went all out and bought some handmade or premium chocolates, enjoy them now. These chocolates have a much shorter shelf life and will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Chocolates will absorb odors from their surroundings so store them in the box they came in or place the box into a freezer bag and keep it sealed. Enjoy that special treat.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Baking bread

Baking bread is a creative outlet for me and satisfies that “need to bake”.  I started searching for the perfect white bread recipe last November.  I’ve been baking two loaves a week since then.  The first recipe I tried made a loaf that we thought was a bit dry.  I’ve been using this recipe since early December.  I like it and we always get a nice tender, light loaf.  It just takes me a short time to mix up the dough.  Proofing (or letting the bread rise) takes a couple of hours and baking takes about 35 minutes. 

I usually use my bread machine to make the dough for rolls and then take the dough out of the bread machine pan and shape and bake it. I like to use my mixer to knead the bread. Using the mixer for a specific time, 8 minutes for this recipe, ensures a similar result every time.

Of course, not every bread recipe requires kneading.  King Arthur Flour had this recipe as their recipe of the year last year.  My son made some when we were visiting last week and we enjoyed the nick crusty, rustic loaf.  If you want to try something super easy with guaranteed great results, give this recipe a try. This recipe would not be appropriate for a 4-H member to take to the fair if they allow it to raise for more than one day in the refrigerator.  Call AnswerLine if you have any questions about using this recipe.

I love to get some bread started early on a Saturday morning and let it proof while I’m doing laundry and other chores around the house.  This way we have some nice fresh bread to start the week, and a great treat of warm from the oven bread before lunch.  Try some homemade bread this weekend.  Or on a snow day.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Be prepared for a winter storm

As I write this, I’m at home waiting to see if the next big winter storm will hit. Over the years, I’ve learned that as winter approaches I need to check the pantry to make sure I have enough staples to make it through being snowed in for a couple of days. Since I live on a farm, we usually have a freezer (or two) filled with enough beef and pork to provide meals for several months. When the kids lived at home, we always had a big garden and canned and froze a variety of fruits and vegetables. Now that it is just my husband and myself, I always try to have a variety of commercially canned and frozen vegetables and fruits on hand. As long as I keep my flour, sugar, and oil containers reasonably full, I know that I can bake just about anything else we might need. Keeping powdered dry milk on hand also helps me avoid the grocery store when everyone else is rushing in to pick up that loaf of bread and gallon of milk. We don’t really enjoy drinking reconstituted milk, but when you need milk for baking it is great to have some in the house.

We have blogged over the years about keeping a winter kit inside the car with items you may need if you get stuck in the snow. I try to check my kit before Christmas so that I have those things fully stocked when the first big storm hits. We have also blogged about understanding weather terms and just how to prepare your home and pets to stay safe. We are lucky to live in a time when it is so easy to wait out a winter storm and stay safe.

I’m still waiting for those first snow flakes to fall.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Planning a 4-H exhibit wisely

It hardly seems possible, but we are beginning to get calls and emails from 4-H members about projects for county fair. Many members are planning food preservation projects for the fair. This is a great time of year to preserve food, especially canned foods. Many members choose to can jams or jellies, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Home food preservation has some stricter rules than other food products that you may want to exhibit. ALL home food preservation exhibits must be made using research based information. This includes the USDA canning guide, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications (Preserve the Taste of Summer), anything from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or their So Easy to Preserve book, a recent Ball Blue Book (or anything on their website). Additionally, the printed directions in a pectin package or Mrs. Wage’s products may be used. We do not consider old family recipes to be research based, nor recipes from the neighbor, church cookbooks, or Better Homes and Gardens or random websites.

It is important to remember that Pinterest by itself is not a resource. Pinterest is more like an index. Each Pinterest post connects to a website. If you follow the post back to the webpage, that would be your resource.

If you decide to prepare a baked product, the recipe does NOT need to be listed in an approved resource or research based. Cookbooks are great resources for recipes as the recipes listed in them have been tested to ensure the product turns out as expected. Recipes from random websites likely were not been tested and you may not end up with the product you expect. That does not mean you are not allowed to use these recipes, but you may wind up wasting time and ingredients.

There are some limits on what baked or cooked foods can be safely exhibited at a fair. We have a resource to help members know what products can be exhibited and what products may need to be prepared at home and photographed for entry to the fair. In the case of a food requiring refrigeration, like a pumpkin pie, it is fine to bake and taste at home. Bring only the write up and pictures. Since the judge will not see the pie, remember to make a very thorough write-up to take to the fair. This method works as long as the product is considered safe to eat normally. Making an unsafe product, such as using a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner for green beans can neither be exhibited at the fair nor exhibited through the use or a write-up with pictures.

Reports or posters on nutrition or the effects of a certain vitamin or mineral do need to use research-based information. It is important to provide accurate information when reporting to the public. Members will want to use the same effort to report on a nutrition topic as they would when writing a report for school.

This is only a short list of the mistakes it is easy for members to make when planning an exhibit for their County Fair. Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call (1-800-262-3804) or email (answer@iastate.edu) away. Contact us, we love to help.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

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