Freezing Pies

Pumpkin pie ready to serve.

On Monday, I wrote about problems that you might experience when you are baking a pie. Freezing pies is another topic of interest to callers. We tell callers that they can either freeze the pie raw or cooked. A raw frozen pie baked just before serving it will taste fresher.

If you want to bake the pie first and then freeze it, the directions are pretty simple. Bake the pie, allow it to cool, wrap well and freeze. To serve this pie, thaw it in the refrigerator. If you want to warm the pie, set it inside a warm, not hot oven, for 5-10 minutes.

If you want to freeze a fruit or berry pie, make as usual but add an extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or one-half tablespoon of corn starch to the filling. This will prevent those juicy fillings from running over in the oven. Do not cut a vent into the top crust at this time; wait until baking to cut the vent. Freeze the pie at this point and then wrap it tightly after freezing. To bake this pie, first cut the vent holes in the top crust. Bake it without thawing at 450° F. for 15-20 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 375° F for an additional 20-30 minutes or until the top crust is browned.

You may be surprised to know that you can freeze a pumpkin pie before baking it. Prepare both the crust and filling as usual. Chill the filling before pouring it into the crust. Freeze and then wrap this pie as you would the fruit or berry pie. When you are ready to bake it, bake without thawing at 400° F. for 10 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 325° F to finish baking. Test for doneness by inserting a knife half way between the center and edge of the pie. When the knife comes out clean, the pie is done.

This is a good time of year to do some experimenting with freezing pies. You may find that a frozen pie or two helps with that next big holiday meal.

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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Preserving Gourds

Two cushaw squash, Cucurbita argyrospermaIf you grew gourds in your garden this summer, you may be interested in how to preserve them. If you just want to display them from now until Christmas, follow the first two steps. If you want to keep them indefinitely, follow all four steps listed below. Gourds dried completely will not retain their bright colors but will be great if you want to paint them or make them into a birdhouse.

  1. Pick gourds when they are fully mature. At maturity, the stem attached to the fruit begins to dry and turn brown. Cut the gourds from the vines with a hand shears, leaving a few inches of stem attached to the fruit. Handle the gourds carefully as the skin is susceptible to bruising or scratching.
  2. Gently wash the gourds in soapy water and rinse in a solution of water and chlorine bleach. This should destroy decay organisms, which could lead to fruit rot. Gently dry each gourd with a soft cloth.
  3. Dry the gourds by spreading them on several layers of newspaper in a warm, well-ventilated place such as a porch, garage or shed. Place the gourds in a single layer, spacing them so that they do not touch one another. Avoid sunny areas as colors may fade. Rotate them every 2 or 3 days, gently wiping with a dry cloth to remove moisture. Promptly remove any which begin to rot.
  4. Drying or curing may take up to several weeks. To hasten drying of large decorative gourds, make small holes in the bottom of the fruit with an ice pick or nail. The gourds will feel lighter in weight, and the seeds will rattle when the gourds are fully dry.

Once cured, the gourds can be used in their natural state. They may also be painted, waxed, shellacked or varnished for crafts.

These gourds will make a great Thanksgiving centerpiece or fun seasonal decorations around the house.

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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Plan to pack a healthy school lunch

children at lunchBefore we know it, school will be back in session. We spend a lot of time and money preparing kids for school. School supplies, new clothing, and new backpacks are on sale this time of year. There is another consideration when preparing for a new school year. Your child may be one that takes his or her lunch to school.

This is a great time to stock up on small zipper bags to pack lunches as well as small containers, a small thermos, and plastic silverware. Keeping your kitchen well stocked makes it easier to pack a quick lunch. Consider packing lunches the night before to keep the morning less chaotic.

Many of us consider the start of another school year a good time to start new healthy habits. You may want to try one or more of the following ideas this year.

  1. Plan to spend time with your child discussing likes and dislikes.
  2. Be sure to stock the kitchen with the things you will need to pack a lunch. Consider a new lunch box to make carrying a lunch to school more special.
  3. Plan menus ahead. You can plan menus for the month, plan some special occasion lunches, or plan a list of menus that you can cycle through over time.
  4. Children that help prepare meals often eat better. Allow your child to choose what they want to eat and ask them to help pack the lunch.
  5. Offer healthy foods as choices for lunches. Remember to model healthy choices for your child.
  6. Occasionally pack a surprise for your child. A note, sticker, new pencil can make lunch feel special.
  7. Remember to pack only as much food as your child can eat during the short time he or she has for lunch at school. A half sandwich is best for younger children. Small amounts of raw vegetables or fruit are best.
  8. Check with your school so you know what the rules are for allergens like peanut butter. Protect all the students by following those rules.

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Preheat the thermos with hot or cold water before adding your hot or cold food. Separate dry, crisp food from moist food. Let the child assemble the cheese and crackers or sandwich that has a moist filling during lunch. Prepackaged foods in individual servings may be convenient but are often more expensive than making your own prepackaged foods. Package some foods in advance and they will remain safe for days. Think nuts, crackers, or dried foods.

With a little planning, you can make this school year a healthy one for your child. You may even improve your own lunches, too.

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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Cutting Watermelon for Quick Treats

With the sun shining and the weather warming up, watermelon comes to mind! Watermelon is a great summertime treat, but also good year round. Watermelon is packed with water and nutrients, contains very few calories, and is exceptionally refreshing making it a perfect snack food.  Below are two quick and easy methods to turn watermelon into easy snacks or finger foods.  Always begin by carefully washing the melon and your hands with clear running water and make sure the work space is also clean to avoid introducing contaminants into the melon flesh.

Watermelon Sticks

Cutting a watermelon into sticks leaves a bit of the watermelon rind on the outside of the slice, thus keeping your hands from becoming too sticky.  Here’s a step-by-step how to:

watermelon cut into one-inch slices Place the cut side of the melon down and cut slices from stem end to blossom end roughly an inch apart.

watermelon cut perpendicular to the first cuts

Next cut slices perpendicular the first slices, also about an inch apart.

watermelon with a stick removedVoila! Watermelon sticks that are easy to serve and  eat.

Watermelon Cubes

quarter of a watermelon with a knife cutting between the flesh and the rind

Start with a quarter of a watermelon. Using a large knife simply cut between the melon flesh and the rind. Start on one side and then move to the other side. The object is to free all the melon flesh from the rind. Do not worry that you will not get every bit of usable melon. You can add that to your cubes when you are finished.

quarter watermelon flesh cut in narrow stripsCut slices from blossom to stem end about an inch apart. Do this on the flat side. Flip to the other flat side and repeat the process.

quarter watermelon cut perpendicular and crosswise through the flesh to create cubes, turned upside down and emptied of the cubsSlice down through the melon from top edge to rind. Turn the melon quarter over and dump out the cubes. Feel free to clean up the rind if you find you have left more melon there than you like.

watermelon cubs Cubes to enjoy!

Once watermelon has been cut, it should be stored in the fridge, tightly wrapped or in an air-tight container.  It will keep well for 3-4 days; after that time it begins to lose it’s freshness as the liquid and sweetness slowly seep out of the flesh.  Over time, it also begins to ferment.

Melon that cannot be eaten within five days to a week, can be frozen.  Remove the rind, cut into pieces, freeze in a single layer on a tray or baking sheet until firm.  Place in an airtight container or bag and freeze up to six months.  The flesh will become soft when thawed so frozen watermelon makes great drinks, smoothies, or ice pops.  Frozen watermelon can also be served as pieces if some ice crystals remain in it to help keep it’s form and a less mushy texture.

Reviewed and updated, 6/2024, mg.

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 stains on leather

Just yesterday, a caller wanted to know how to remove a sunscreen stain from a leather car seat. Leather can be tricky to clean and stains easily, so I had to do some research to find an answer for the caller. Since the weather has been hot and sunny lately, I thought other people might have the same problem.

If you want to clean it with materials you already have on hand, follow these directions:

  • First, blot up any excess lotion on the seat. Be careful to blot and not wipe. Wiping the stain can spread it and make a larger stain.
  • Next, get some cornstarch or some baking soda. You will need enough to sprinkle over the entire stain. Before you apply the starch or soda, lightly rub the spot. Friction can heat the stain and allow you to adsorb more of the lotion before sprinkling the starch or soda.
  • Once you have covered the stain with cornstarch or baking soda, allow it to sit on the stain overnight. The next morning, check the spot. If the cornstarch or baking soda have yellowed, then they have adsorbed some of the stain. If you can still see some of the stain, you can repeat the treatment.
  • If the stain remains, it may be time to use a leather cleaner.
  • You can always contact the dealership that sold you your car as they often have leather care kits for use on the seats. If they do have a kit available, use both the cleaner and then the conditioner after cleaning the seat.

Don’t let a stain keep you from protecting your skin with sunscreen this summer.


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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Asparagus and Rhubarb tips

When should I stop cutting my asparagus?  How long can I harvest my rhubarb?  Is rhubarb that I pull in the summer poisonous?  We will be getting these questions from callers very soon.

Allow a new planting of asparagus to grow for a year at least, before the first cutting.  During the second spring, it is safe to cut asparagus for three to four weeks.  After that time has passed, allow the plant to grow.  During year three, it is safe to harvest asparagus until mid-June.  The safety factor we mention is safety for the plant.  Overharvesting will weaken the plant and may cause plants to be less productive in the future.  Harvest asparagus by cutting or snapping the spears when they reach a height of 6 to 8 inches.  An asparagus bed that has been cared for well can last 15 years or even longer.  Mine has been productive for 38 years and is still going strong.

Harvest rhubarb when the stalks are between 10 and 15 inches tall.  Simply hold a stalk near the base and pull it up and to one side. Another option would be to cut the stalks off level with the ground using a sharp knife.  Remove the leaves from the stalk right away.  After that, rhubarb can be stored in a plastic bag for at least two weeks.  Remember that over harvesting rhubarb can damage the plant; never remover more than half the fully developed stalks at one time.

Start a new rhubarb patch by dividing an older, existing patch. It is best to delay harvesting the new patch for the first two years.  During the third year, harvest only for four to six weeks; stopping harvest in mid-June.  If your rhubarb sends up flower stalks, remove them as allowing the plants to flower will reduce production the next year.  Stopping harvest in mid-June also allows the plant to feed the roots and keep the plant strong. You may fertilize the planting with some all-purpose fertilizer in the spring. Use about ½ cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer early in the spring. Remembering to water the rhubarb during long dry summers will help the planting have a long life.

Callers often ask if they can harvest a bit of rhubarb later in the summer. We tell them that if the patch is an older, well-established one then they could pull enough small, tender stalks to make a pie or a crisp. Harvesting more than that can damage the planting. And, no, the rhubarb is not poisonous if pulled mid-summer.

Enjoy those first foods from the garden.




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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Safe Summer Picnics

It is Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer. One of my favorite parts of summer is enjoying cooking and eating outside. Cooking and serving food outside can make things a bit more complicated. Unless the picnic is on the deck or patio right outside your door, take precautions to ensure that you are serving safe food.

If I do not have my refrigerator nearby, I always use an ice chest with plenty of ice in it. This keeps the meat, salads, and drinks cool and safe. I can then store the leftovers right after we finish eating. Packing plenty of paper plates allows me to use different plates for raw and cooked meat. It also eliminates the possibility of dripping juices onto other items in the picnic basket as I can toss those plates.

It is also a great idea to pack some wet wipes to clean my hands and any other surfaces that I need to set food on. Packing a few zipper bags can keep foods separate and reduce the chance of cross contamination.

The last but possibly most important thing to pack is the instant read meat thermometer. Use a thermometer every time you grill. Remember to cook poultry to 165°F, ground meats to 160°F, and steaks and roasts to a minimum of 145°F. Insert the stem into the center of the meat, avoid touching any bones, and insert the shaft of the thermometer past the dimple.

Enjoy your first picnic of the season and stay safe.

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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Expired cake mix!

Callers often ask about the safety of using an expired cake mix. This weekend, I discovered first hand just how an expired cake mix performs. I needed to bake a birthday cake for my grandson and remembered that I recently bought a cake mix for another grandson to bake while visiting. I thought I had grabbed that mix and quickly prepared and baked it. When I poured it into the pan, it looked a bit thin and runny but I have not used a cake mix for several years, so I thought I might not be remembering it correctly. When I took the cake out of the oven, I was disappointed in the volume but I was expecting a daughter’s arrival so did not think about it much after that. When I showed her the cake and we looked at the poor volume, she looked for the empty box in my wastebasket. The cake mix had expired in October of 2017. We had just enough time to locate and mix up the actual mix that I had bought in February. The volume difference between the two mixes was surprising. This difference was even easier to see in person. If you look at the back of the pans, you will notice how poorly the expired cake rose.

We tell callers that  while it is not unsafe to use an expired mix; you may experience other problems with the cake. The leavening may not work well and if there are any fats already in the mix, they may be rancid. The texture of the cake was not what I expected, I thought it was very coarse and the cake was not tender when I tore a section out to examine.

After looking at the results of my expired cake mix and the fresh cake, I would recommend tossing an expired mix. I wasted four eggs and a half-cup of oil on the failed cake.

Moral of the story, always glance at the expiration date of a mix before adding other costly ingredients.  

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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Care for stone countertops

In the last two years, several of the AnswerLine staff members have remodeled their kitchens and bathrooms. During the remodeling process, a big topic is always what sort of countertops are the best for my situation and what kind of maintenance will the countertops require. I have done a bit of research on several of the existing options.

Granite counters are very popular right now. They do not require a lot of maintenance but it is a good idea to wash the counters regularly with a soapy cloth to prevent stains. Blotting spills with paper towels eliminates the possibility that you will spread a stain while swiping it with a cloth. Acidic cleaners like lemon juice, ammonia, and window cleaner may damage granite counters. Instead, you can make your own cleaner with three parts of dish detergent and one part rubbing alcohol.

Granite countertops need to be sealed several times a year. Test yours to see if the previous seal has worn away. Place a few drops of water on the countertop and check for beading. If the water beads up, the counter does not need to be resealed. If it does not bead up, then seal the counter with a granite stone sealer. Follow the directions on the package. If you are sealing kitchen countertops, be sure that the sealing compound is non-toxic. Apply sealer to clean countertops and allow it to rest for a half hour or so. Sealing the countertop will not eliminate the chance of staining but it will help the granite be more resistant to staining.

Kitchen countertops are not just functional elements but also contribute greatly to the aesthetic appeal of the kitchen. Choosing the right material and design can elevate the entire look of the kitchen. Besides granite, there are many other options such as quartz, marble, and even custom butcher blocks that can give your kitchen a unique and personalized touch. When selecting a countertop material, it is important to consider factors like durability, maintenance, and budget. Whether you opt for granite or custom butcher blocks, taking care of your kitchen countertops is essential to ensure their longevity and beauty.

When it comes to kitchen countertops, each material brings its own set of advantages and considerations. Quartz countertops, for instance, offer a remarkable blend of durability and aesthetic appeal. Unlike natural stone options like granite and marble, quartz countertops are engineered to be non-porous, making them highly resistant to stains, scratches, and bacterial growth. This quality not only simplifies maintenance but also ensures a long-lasting investment in your kitchen’s functionality and beauty. Additionally, with advancements in technology and design, quartz countertops come in a wide range of colors and patterns, allowing homeowners to find the perfect match for their kitchen’s style and ambiance.

For homeowners in Long Island, NY, seeking the ideal solution for their kitchen countertops, considering Quartz Countertop Installation & Fabrication Long Island NY is essential. Professional installation and fabrication services tailored to quartz countertops ensure precise fitting and flawless integration into your kitchen space. From precise measurements to expert craftsmanship, entrusting your quartz countertop project to experienced professionals can guarantee a seamless installation process and superior results that enhance both the functionality and visual appeal of your kitchen. Whether you prioritize durability, aesthetics, or both, quartz countertops offer a versatile solution that elevates the heart of your home to new heights of sophistication and practicality.

Quartz countertops are also very popular right now. I chose them for my kitchen because they do not require sealing. Quartz is actually a manufactured product, made of quartz stone and a synthetic polymer. They are very easy to care for and do not require polishing. I clean my countertops with a warm, wet dishcloth. Clean spills and sticky foods as soon as the spill occurs to avoid stains. Glass and surface cleaners will not damage quartz surfaces. However, avoid bleach and harsh, acidic cleaners on quartz as well as granite surfaces. In addition, hot pans set directly on the quartz countertops can cause damage.

Marble countertops are not quite as popular as granite and quartz. Marble is a porous surface even though it is very durable. Remember to use only mild dish soap and warm water to clean marble. Test your marble counter top every couple of months to see if the marble needs to be resealed. Test marble in the same manner you test granite. If needed, apply the sealer over clean countertops and let it sit on the countertop for about 30 minutes.

Soapstone is another choice for stone countertops. This stone is very durable and hard to scratch or etch. Soapstone is a non-porous surface that is hard to stain and is tolerant of hot pans. Remember that soapstone can be damaged by dropping heavy objects on it. Soapstone is more likely to dent than scratch or chip. Soapstone does not need to be sealed, but like a butcher block counter, it does need to regular oiling. Oil the counter by spreading some mineral oil on the surface. Use a towel to rub the oil into the stone. Leave for 30 minutes and the remove excess oil. Not oiling the surface will result in dark spots showing on the surface of the stone—over time. Again, harsh or acidic cleaners are not recommended.

We are lucky to have so many different choices for countertops these days. Stone countertops do not require much more care than my old Formica countertops and I do enjoy the look of stone.

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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This year, it seems like winter has a grip on us and just will not let go. One thing that does make me feel like spring is coming is looking at the lettuce at the grocery store and dreaming about planting some out in my garden.

When I look at the variety of lettuce available at the store, it seems like there must be almost endless number of different types. Actually, there are really only five different types of lettuce.

    • Leaf lettuce (sometimes called loose-leaf lettuce)
    • Romaine (sometimes called Cos lettuce)
    • Crisphead lettuce
    • Butterhead Lettuce
    • Stem lettuce (sometimes called Asparagus lettuce)

Leaf lettuce has crisp leaves arranged loosely on a stalk.   Most home gardeners that grow lettuce have leaf lettuce in their gardens. It is the most widely planted salad vegetable.

Cos or Romaine

Cos or Romaine lettuce can be easily recognized as it has an upright rather elongated head. It is great as an addition to tossed salads.

Butterhead lettuce

Butterhead lettuce may be less familiar but are typically smaller, loose headed, and have soft and tender leaves. This too makes an excellent addition to tossed salads.

Stem lettuce is not always available at our local grocery stores. It is actually an enlarged seed stalk often used in Chinese dishes. Sometimes it is stewed or creamed.

The lettuce that everyone seems to be familiar with is the Crisphead lettuce. This type is found in nearly every grocery store—think iceberg lettuce. It seems odd to me that this most common lettuce is actually one of the most difficult to grow. Start this in the garden very early in the spring, as it is very sensitive to heat. If the lettuce is not mature before the hot weather arrives, the lettuce will often die.

Sometimes callers want to know why the lettuce they grew in the garden is bitter. This often happens when the weather turns warmer and stalks for seeds begin to grow. If you wash the lettuce and store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days, the bitterness will dissipate.

Store your lettuce in the coolest part of your refrigerator. The first shelf near the back wall of the refrigerator is usually the coolest spot. Avoid placing the lettuce near pears, bananas, or apples. These fruits give off ethylene gas, which can cause the lettuce to develop brown spots and decay. Discard any lettuce that has black spots or seems slimy.

Due to the composition of lettuce, (94.9% water) there is no way to successfully preserve it. Enjoy lettuce fresh and often.  And remember that spring will be here eventually.


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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