It’s Corn Time

It may seem late in the season to think about this but I read an article by Richard Jauron, Extension Specialist in horticulture today and thought you may be interested in this information.

It can be hard to know when to harvest sweet corn but using a simple test you will know when the corn is at just the right maturity to enjoy. Using your thumbnail, make a cut in a kernel of corn. The fluid that comes out should be milky in appearance. If the fluid is clear and the kernels seem under filled, the corn is not yet mature. If no liquid comes out or if the kernel has a dent in it, the ear is over mature.

We often have callers ask how to store corn that they cannot use the day they purchase it. Corn should be stored in the refrigerator as quickly as possible. Corn not stored in the refrigerator within 12 hours of harvest can lose up to 50 percent of the sugar in it. Store that unhusked corn for no more than eight days. Try to use it in the first four days if possible.

If you want to freeze corn on the cob, or cut off the ear, here are directions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Enjoy that fresh or frozen corn.

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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Canning Tomatoes

It seems that the tomato plants are finally bearing fruit and we are starting to get tomato canning calls at AnswerLine. Callers are sometimes confused about canning times and recipes.

It can be hard for callers to understand that we recommend using only safe, tested canning recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the Ball Company, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are great resources for these recipes. We do not recommend old family recipes or recipes from random places on the internet. Those recipes were not tested to ensure you would preserve a safe product. Sometimes callers want to extrapolate canning times from one recipe to another. The canning times really differ between methods for tomatoes. If you skin, core, and cook the tomatoes before placing in the jars, the canning time is 45 minutes for quart jars in a boiling water bath canner. If you merely skin and core tomatoes and pack them into jars with no added liquid, the processing time in a boiling water bath canner is 85 minutes. The differences in canning times reflect the rate of heat transfer inside the jar. For a denser product, the canning time increases.

I spoke with a caller for a long time yesterday explaining that if she were using a tested recipe, the exact processing time and method of preparing the tomatoes would be included in the recipe. If she is asking about the correct processing time, and comparing several recipes, then the recipe she was looking at was likely not a tested recipe.

We want you to use a tested recipe, exactly as written. We want to help you keep your family safe while you are preserving food this summer.

Remember that you can take a canning class through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The class, Preserve the Taste of Summer, begins with an online section. Get started today.

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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Washing Produce

Last week we had a question from a food safety educator located in Minnesota. She wondered if it was necessary to wash onions, garlic, and ginger root before using them. She told us that she found information from both schools of thought. Some resources indicated that it was necessary to wash before using while other resources were vague on that point.

We did some research and had the same problem the educator from Minnesota had; we could not find a definitive answer either. We contacted our own food safety specialist and fortunately, she had a contact at the Partnership for Food Safety that knew the answer.

By now, you too, may be wondering if you should wash those vegetables before using. The answer is that you should always wash vegetables before using. Like cantaloupe or watermelon, we cut through the peel or rind when cutting into these foods. That means that any bacteria living on the outside of the food could potentially ride on the knife through the food contaminating the surface.

We often get callers wanting to know what type of soap works best when washing produce. According to the Partnership for Food Safety, running water and the use of a brush are enough to remove bacteria. Patting the produce dry with a clean paper towel will also help remove surface bacteria. The Partnership does not recommend using soaps and bleach on produce and are not something people should eat.

I had not realized that I needed to wash my garlic and onions; I rarely use ginger root. I plan to start washing all my produce before using it.

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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Call AnswerLine

As I am sitting at work today between phone calls, I am reflecting on the tornados and damage that happened in Iowa yesterday. I have a daughter and family that live in Marshalltown. Their home had no damage and they were lucky enough to finish dental appointments early and be off the road and safe in their basement before the tornado hit.

Fortunately, there were no lives lost in the tornados that struck our state. There was a lot of property damage. Electricity is out in many homes and businesses, which leads to questions about food safety. We are always happy to help callers determine which foods to keep and which foods to discard. If your power has been off for a long time, remember to check the condition and temperature in the freezer and refrigerator when the power comes back on. Give us a call and we can help you keep your family safe.

Sometimes callers have damaged property from flooding or landing in the mud after a storm. Call us at AnswerLine and we can try to help you salvage property and prevent the growth of mold on your damaged possession.

The AnswerLine staff really care about our callers and we want to help you as much as we can. Please call us as often as you need an answer and know that we do not mind visiting with a caller as often as necessary.

 

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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Watermelon

When I remember eating watermelon as a child in suburban Chicago, I remember it as a rare treat. Thinking back, I can only remember eating watermelon in a thick, flat slice. It was always in the shape of half a watermelon.

I think that we see watermelon in the store almost year-round these days. I know that I have eaten watermelon in lots of different shapes. Sometimes scooped out with a melon baller, sometimes cubes, or small triangular slices. Watermelon is one of my husband’s favorite treats and I like to buy at least a half melon and cut it up so it is easy to grab a bit and enjoy it any time.

Here are two of my favorite ways to cut watermelon. One reason that they are my favorite methods is that they are quick and the other reason is that it is easy to enjoy a quick bite between meals.

Method 1

The first method is also a great way to cut a melon for a picnic or pot luck dinner. This method leaves a bit of the watermelon rind on the outside of the slice, thus keeping your hands from becoming too sticky.

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


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


Now you have watermelon sticks that are easy to serve and easy to eat.


Method 2

The second method is nearly as easy.

In this method, you will 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.


Next cut 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.


Then slice down through the melon from top edge to rind. You can now dump out the cubes. Feel free to clean up the rind if you find you have left more melon there than you like.


Enjoy.

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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