The Not So “Bitter” Truth About Eggplant

Eggplant, also called an aubergine, is now in season as a ‘fresh from the garden’ vegetable.  For many Americans, it is an underused vegetable even though it is highly versatile. It can be grilled, stuffed, roasted, and stir-fried and also used in soups, stews, curries, and kabobs.  Eggplant is nutritious, low in calories, fat, and sodium while high in fiber and nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, folic acid, Vitamin B6 and A.  Eggplants are also recognized as a source of phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants.  All of this “goodness” helps with maintaining good blood cholesterol, cognitive function, weight, and eye health and preventing cancer and heart disease.  As such it is a big component of vegetarian and Mediterranean diets; it is also a family favorite and we are fortunate to have a number of varieties in our garden to enjoy.

While this vegetable provides so much good, many shy away from it because they detect a “bitterness” in it or have heard that the fruit is bitter.  A young, freshly picked eggplant with smooth, glossy skin and intense color will have no bitterness whatsoever if consumed soon after picking.  Old or overripe eggplants or those that are off color or sit out for a while after being harvested are more likely to exhibit a bitter flavor.  Therefore, choose eggplants that are heavy, shiny and firm and avoid eggplants that are off-colored and/or do not exhibit a bright, glossy color. The seeds of a young, fresh eggplant are very small, so the flesh will not have accumulated the bitter compounds found in eggplants that have become overripe and rubbery. 

If bitterness should be of concern, there are some actions one can take to eliminate it.

Begin by peeling the skin to remove any bitter compounds present in the skin or between the skin and the flesh.

 “Sweating” an eggplant with salt will draw out the compound solaine, the chemical found in the seeds and flesh that contributes to the bitterness; it will also draw out some of the moisture making the eggplant more tender.  To do this, slice, dice, cube, etc the eggplant and sprinkle the pieces with salt.  (Canning and pickling salt is best, but any salt will do.)  Allow the eggplant to set for 30 or more minutes, rinse off the salt, pat dry, and continue to prepare.  Sweating an eggplant will also reduce the amount of oil it will absorb during cooking, too.

If salt is a dietary problem, another method used to remove bitterness is to soak the eggplant pieces in milk for 30 minutes prior to cooking.  Drain off the milk and prepare the eggplant normally.  Some feel that removing the seeds from the flesh is helpful.  This may be of some use in an older eggplant as the seeds enlarge with age thereby increasing bitterness.  To remove the seeds, slice the eggplant length-wise and use a spoon to scrap out as many seeds as possible.

In an ideal world, the eggplant is used the day of harvest and is fine on the counter short term.  For longer storage, eggplants can be refrigerated for about a week as long as they don’t get too cold or damp.  They should be stored in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a perforated plastic bag. I find it helpful to also wrap it in a paper towel before placing in the bag; the thin skin is highly susceptible to moisture damage so the paper towel helps with that.  It can be sliced or cubed, then blanched or steamed, and frozen up to eight months for later use. 

Eggplant should be cooked as it has chemicals that can cause digestive upset if eaten raw.  Since the flesh discolors quickly, use right away after cutting.  Lightly sprinkling raw eggplant with lemon juice helps to prevent browning.  Eggplant is best cut with a stainless steel knife since carbon blades will cause discoloration.  Cooking in an aluminum pan also will cause blackening.  Eggplant fruits should be handled with care as they do bruise easily and those flaws quickly turn bad; a bruised eggplant will exhibit brown, corky flesh in the affected area. 

Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, same plant family as tomatoes and peppers.  There are many varieties of eggplant in numerous colors and sizes.  To learn more about eggplant, check out the eggplant fact sheet from the National Garden Bureau. (This site has fact sheets on other vegetables that may be of interest, too.)  Visit ISU Extension and Outreach’s Quickinars, 5-15 minute online lessons, of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation to also learn more about gardening and how to use garden produce.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Exploring Portable Burners for Canning

AnswerLine gets questions each year about using a portable burner (hot plate) for canning.  Usually the question comes when a switch has been made to an electric cooktop from a gas range or when a electric-coil range is replaced with a smooth (glass) cooktop, either radiant heat or induction, and the way of canning needs to change to prevent cracking the cooktop, fusing the canner to the cooktop, or under processing of the canned product posing a food safety risk. 

Industry has answered the call for canners appropriate for induction cooktops with several options available.  That aside, consumers still have valid concerns about the weight of canners and the intense heat on the surface along with scratching if the canner is slid or drug across the cooktop.  When the options are beyond using the new cooktop or installing a second electric coil or gas burner range top, perhaps it makes sense to purchase a portable electric or gas burner.

Earlier this year, I, too, was exploring acceptable heat options for canning. While I have yet to purchase a new range, my 30-plus year old electric-coil range struggled last summer with the canner challenge; the struggle was sufficiently challenging to make me consider new options before getting into canning this year.  In addition, I know that when I make that purchase, it will likely be a smooth electric cooktop and my pressure and water bath canners will no longer work.  

The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) offers these guidelines for selecting a portable burner for canning purposes:

The burner must be level, sturdy, and secure. Look for enough height to allow air to flow under the burner, but not such that it will become unsteady with a full, heavy canner resting on it.

Look for a burner diameter that is no more than 4 inches smaller than the diameter of your canner. In other words, the canner should not extend more than 2 inches from the burner on any side.  For heating a typical 12-inch diameter canner, the coil must be at least eight inches in diameter. 

 – For electric burners, you want the wattage to be about equal to that of a typical household range large burner which is 1750W or higher.  The best portable heaters found run 1500W which are deemed to be acceptable.

– You want the burner to have housing that will hold up to the high heat under the canner for long heating periods, and not damage counter tops with reflected heat.

An outdoor heat source such as a gas grill is not recommended by The National Center for Home Food Preservation for various reasons; however, a portable burner can be used outside as long as it is in a location away from wind, yet well ventilated. 

In addition to advice from NCHFP, I found a lot of researched based information along with references at the Healthy Canning website.

Having read all the recommendations, I began to explore my options looking at commercial burners used in restaurants. While inexpensive, most home units are too light weight and have insufficient wattage to be considered for canning.  The commercial units seemed to meet the NCFHP recommendations and received the highest recommendations from canning and restaurant users.  My search narrowed to two models made/sold by the same company.  One had a cast-iron burner and the other a coil burner.  In the end I chose the one with a cast-iron burner knowing that it would take longer to heat and cool, but seemed to offer the most stability.

Recently my portable burner made its canning debut as a heat source to water bath a batch of raspberry jam.  It worked very well for this application.  The temperature was easy to control.  Because the jam recipe only made four half-pints of jam, I did not use the big water bath canner so that test is still to be made as I move into canning season along with the pressure canner.  Besides using the portable burner for my primary intended use of canning, it has come in handy to heat water for defrosting my downstairs freezer and keeping food warm for outdoor meals. 

While not an option for me, an electric water bath canner sold by Ball® may be a good investment for water bath only canners says Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Food Safety Specialist.  This is a stand-alone canner with its own heater/burner system much like an electric pressure cooker.  It can also be used to make soups or stews.  However, an electric pressure canner is not recommended by the USDA or NCHFP for canning of any sort despite information one may find on various websites.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

That DECK Job! Cleaning (and Refinishing)

I’ve had an ongoing project for the better part of a month—cleaning and refinishing our more than 30-year old wood deck.  We have a large, second story deck with two flights of steps that I had let cleaning and resealing go for a while as there was ‘hope’ and ‘promise’ that we’d be replacing the wood floor and rails with different materials to reduce maintenance.  For one reason (or excuse) or another, the project has not come about.  As spring came and time outside became more of our normal routine, I found myself knowing I couldn’t go another year looking at the disgusting discoloration and unsightliness.  If a new deck wasn’t to be, something had to be done—and I did!

I started by washing the deck using a power washer to remove as much dirt and debris from the surface as possible.  There are mixed feelings among “professionals” as to whether one should use a power washer.  Concerns suggest that using a power washer may force algae, molds, and fungus deeper into the wood, may cause undo raising of the wood making the deck surface rough, and remove the sealant.  In my case, I had little to lose in regard to removing the sealant and I was willing to take a chance on the other two concerns.  I was careful to use a fan nozzle and keep the wand at a 45-degree angle a foot away from the surface.  The result was amazing!

The second step was to do a thorough scrubbing.  Sometime in the past for a previous cleaning, I had purchased a deck cleaning product for this step; however, it was somewhat toxic and precautions had to be taken to cover vegetation, etc.  Having done so, I still experienced damage to vegetation from the runoff.  Not wanting to repeat history, I used a powered oxygen bleach solution suggested by Decks.com and a 3-ingredient DIY recipe (OxyClean™, Dawn® Dish Detergent, and water) from Bob Villa.com .  I had no damage to any vegetation and the cleaning solution did an amazing job along with my ‘elbow grease’ and a stiff deck brush.  While there are recipes using TSP and bleach, these products are not for me.

Between the power washing and the scrubbing, I found no evidence of the previous sealant so refinishing was definitely needed to preserve the wood, repel water and mildew/mold and block UV rays.  There are numerous products on the market and deciding which one was the best was a task in itself.  Due to COVID-19, all of my research was done online.  After a lot of reading and thinking, I chose a water-based, semi-transparent stain and sealant specifically recommended for older decks.  The cost was greater than using an oil-based product.  However, the cleanup was easy (soap and water), it dried quickly, and had virtually no odor and therefore no volatile organic chemical (VOCs) fumes.  The product was super easy to apply (I used the hand brush on-hands-and-knees method for better control) even though the old deck boards soaked the product like a sponge.  Two coats were applied leaving a flat, natural looking finish upon completion.  There was just enough product left to also spruce up the skirting, rails, and spokes.  Cleaning and refinishing took quite a bit of time as I had to pick my days and times; application of refinishing products should not be done during direct sunlight or wet weather. All of the time and effort spent was well worth it; we are really enjoying the new look of our old deck and hopeful that the resurfacing will last until the ‘promise’ is delivered.

My sister-in-law asked about cleaning a composite deck.  I referred her to the Decks.com website.  After cleaning, she still had stains that were bothersome which lead to the suggestion of trying an environmentally friendly product, Wet & Forget®.  I’ve used this product on our concrete porch and vinyl railing to remove stains and our brick siding to remove barnacles and other biological stains.  It is not an immediate acting product but over time, the stain gradually, almost magically, disappears.  The active ingredient in Wet & Forget® is Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride, an ingredient that most consumers already have in their homes in the form of an anti-bacterial wipe or a similar product. (Unlike these products, Wet & Forget® contains a danger warning on its label because the product is a concentrate with 9.9% active ingredient. When diluted with water for application it is only 2% active.)  The product can be applied to a variety of surfaces safely.

Decks take a great deal of abuse from rain, snow, wind and sun. Although we can’t change the weather, we can prolong the life of our decks by regular cleaning and refinishing as necessary.  Regular upkeep will ensure a safe and usable outdoor space.  Sweep leaves and debris off the deck often to prevent stains and mildew.  A fall and spring cleaning is also recommended.  Don’t let safety issues—loose boards, wobbly rails, raised nails/screws—go.  Decks are a great place to enjoy the warm weather, entertain or just sit on the deck and read.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Here’s to Crisp Pickles in 2020!

Pickle making is just around the corner.  With it comes lots of questions regarding pickle crispness, the essence of a good pickle.  There are several factors that determine pickle crispness including variety, freshness, preparation techniques, ingredients, and processing method. 

Variety.  First and foremost, use true pickling cucumbers for pickling.  Salad cucumbers were never intended for pickles as they are too large and contain a thick seed base compared to pickling cucumbers.   Burpless cucumbers are not suitable for fermented pickles because their skins are often tougher and contain an enzyme which will soften pickles during fermentation.   Look for slim, dark green cucumbers with prickly bumps on the skin no more than 2 inches in diameter.

Freshness.  Start with just-picked cucumbers; it is best to prepare pickles within two hours of picking for best quality.  When that isn’t possible, cucumbers should be refrigerated immediately and used as soon as possible as crispness is lost with time.  Some pickle makers like to place cucumbers in an ice bath for 2 hrs before starting the pickling process to assure crispness. However, once crispness has been lost, it cannot be replaced.

Preparation Techniques.  Proper acidity is needed to produce safe pickles.  Use only researched-based recipes like those found with the USDA Complete Guide to Canning, the National Center for Home Preservation, and university extension publications.  Begin by washing the cucumbers and removing at least 1/16th inch from the blossom end; the blossom end harbors enzymes that cause softening.

Use of Firming Agents.  Depending upon the quality of the cucumbers, recipe, and pickle maker, firming agents may or may not be part of the process.  Firming agents include alum, food grade lime (calcium hydroxide), grape leaves, or calcium chloride (Ball Pickle Crisp® or Mrs. Wages Xtra-Crunch®).
Alum – at one time alum was added for crispness; however it is no longer recommended by the FDA and most modern, science-based recipes no longer include it.  Scientifically, alum has little effect on quick-process pickles but may add firmness to fermented pickles when used at a rate of ¼ teaspoon per pints.  Using too much alum will actually decrease firmness.
Food Grade Lime – Lime or calcium hydroxide has been used for years for pickle crispness as it improves pickle firmness when cucumbers are soaked in a lime solution for 12 to 24 hrs prior to pickling.  Besides the time for soaking, another draw back of lime is the need to remove excess lime prior to pickling with repeated soaking and rinsing in fresh water to render the cucumbers safe for pickling.  The hydroxide component of lime lowers the acidity of the pickling brine; therefore, it must be thoroughly removed to make pickles safe to can. 
Grape Leaves – Grape leaves have historically been used to add crispness.  Grape leaves contain tannins that inhibit the enzyme that makes pickles soft.  However, if the blossom end of the cucumber is removed, grape leaves really aren’t necessary as their function is eliminated.
Calcium Chloride – Calcium chloride is a generic firming agent that is used in the pickling and canning industry. In recent years calcium chloride has become available commercially as Pickle Crisp® by Ball or Xtra Crunch® by Mrs. Wages. These are both granular products found with the canning supplies; they offer fast results with the same great taste and crispness of lime.  Calcium chloride does not have the hydroxide component of lime and therefore does not lower acidity of pickled food or pose a food safety risk.  A small amount is added to each jar of pickles before sealing following the manufacturer’s directions.  (It should not be added to the vat during brining or fermentation.)  Calcium chloride is used by brewers and wine makers and has been found to improve the texture of canned apple slices, pears, and peaches.  It has also been used with canning whole tomatoes to hold the tomatoes together.  (I personally have used the Ball product and like it very much with pickled foods; I have not tried it with the fruits and tomatoes as suggested.)  Calcium chloride may impart a bit of a salty taste but adds no sodium.  These products have an indefinite shelf life but will clump and become hard when exposed to humidity so it is important to keep them in as dry of conditions as possible.

Ingredients.  Use recommended ingredients—salt, 5% acidic vinegar, sugar, spices, water—in exact recipe proportions; there must be a sufficient level of acid to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria.

Processing Method.  Pack pickles to allow sufficient room for the pickling solution to surround each piece.  Process all pickles in a boiling water bath or atmospheric steam canner to destroy harmful organisms and to obtain a strong vacuum seal on the jar.

Here’s to crisp pickles in 2020!  For additional help with pickles see Avoid Getting into “a Pickle” with Pickling Projects or download (free) Preserve the Taste of Summer:  Canning Pickles from the Iowa State Extension and Outreach Store.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

What is this?

Recently an AnswerLine client spotted these two products on the shelf with the canning supplies and wanted to know what they were and how they should be used. Both are calcium chloride, a generic firming agent that is used in the pickling and canning industry. In recent years calcium chloride has become available commercially as Pickle Crisp® by Ball or Xtra Crunch® by Mrs. Wages. These are both granular products that offer fast results with the same great taste and crispness of lime (calcium hydroxide) but with less fuss.  Calcium chloride does not have the hydroxide component of lime and therefore does not lower acidity of pickled food or pose a food safety risk.  A small amount is added to each jar of pickles before sealing following the manufacturer’s directions.  (It should not be added to the vat during brining or fermentation.)  Calcium chloride is used by brewers and wine makers and has been found to improve the texture of canned apple slices, pears, and peaches.  It has also been used with canning whole tomatoes to hold the tomatoes together.  (I personally have used the Ball product and like it very much with pickled foods; I have not tried it with the fruits and tomatoes as suggested.)  Calcium chloride may impart a bit of a salty taste but adds no sodium.  These products have an indefinite shelf life but will clump and become hard when exposed to humidity so it is important to keep them in as dry of conditions as possible.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is here to HELP!

While AnswerLine has been providing information and resources for Iowa consumers with home and family questions for over 40 years, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been serving Iowans since the early 1900s.  The Mission of ISU Extension and Outreach is to engage citizens through research‐based educational programs and extend the resources of Iowa State University across Iowa. AnswerLine is just one of the entities of extension outreach. Let me introduce you to some of the other resources available to help individuals and families navigate issues that may concern them. 

  1. Stay informed on general ISU Extension and Outreach resources and opportunities through the Extension home page and news feed.
  2. The Iowa 4-H team has at-home learning resources which are publicly available for members and families to use.
  3. Iowa Concern offers free and confidential calls and emails 24/7 to help with stress management, financial issues, legal aid, and crisis resources.
  4. The ISU Horticulture and Home Pest news page offers download publications, how to improve your garden videos, and a Hortline for answers to lawn and garden questions.
  5. Get help with meal planning and food budgeting through the Spend Smart Eat Smart website.
  6. Visit the Beginning Farmer, Women in Ag and Ag Decision Maker websites for updates on programs and helpful resources from the Farm Management team. You can also contact the farm management field specialists with your questions. 
  7. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers a number of publications and resources for safe food preservation techniques.
  8. For great information on home gardens, farmer’s markets and u-pick operations, plant sales, and more or how to become a Master Gardener, the Master Gardener Program site is a must.
  9. When Teens don’t know who to talk to, Teen Line can help with a variety of issues that affect Teens and their families.
  10. Use the ISU Extension Staff Directory when looking for a specific person or persons in a specific area of expertise.  The Contact page offers additional resources and provides a form to send an email with questions, concerns, or suggestions. Ask An Expert is always available for questions; those questions come to AnswerLine where we either answer the query or send it to someone in Extension (Iowa or elsewhere) that can better answer it.

Besides these resources, one can always find help at the ISU Extension and Outreach extension offices located in each of Iowa’s counties, on social media outlets, and the many blogs written by Extension staff on current topics.  At the present time, most ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events throughout the state have been canceled through May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, ISU Extension and Outreach staff remain committed to serving Iowans during this difficult time; phones and emails are being answered by Extension staff at the county and state levels.  Please check out the resources available that may provide the help you seek and watch for updates on how ISU Extension and Outreach will proceed to serve Iowans after May 31.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Caring for Cloth Masks

As the world makes a slow comeback from the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC is now recommending individuals wear a new piece of ‘attire’, the face mask or any face covering, any time one goes out where social distancing is hard to practice such as to grocery stores, pharmacies, or other places where other people are likely to be present in number.  In recent days, many retail outlets are requiring this new attire of their customers. Employers, too, may be requiring employees who are unable to maintain the recommended 6 foot distance from others during the course of essential work functions to wear masks. It seems that for the foreseeable future, the face mask or covering of the nose and mouth will be a necessary part of our attire.

Hand washing and social distancing remain the critical means of disease prevention. When going out for essentials or required in the workplace, cloth masks are becoming essential attire.  While not as effective as clinical masks, properly made cloth masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking large droplets from coughs and sneezes. 

Many have put their DIY skills to work and created cloth masks at home for themselves and others.  In a previous blog, I shared guidelines for DIY face masks.  However, acquiring a face mask is only step one.  Step two is wearing it to limit the spread of germs.  STEP THREE IS CARING FOR IT TO KEEP IT EFFECTIVE AND SAFE.  There are differing reports on whether coronavirus can live on clothing or cloth.  The general thought is that the coronavirus is more likely to live on hard surfaces than soft surfaces like fabric.  Despite that, the CDC urges laundering of cloth masks after each use, daily, or when wet or soiled.  When regular use is required, having multiple masks will be necessary. 

A piece by Kansas State University Environmental Health and Safety says a washing machine and dryer is adequate for cleaning.  The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab suggests that face masks be washed with hot water (160֯F) in the washing machine and tumbled dried on high heat with other similar items.  Masks can also be hand washed by lathering masks with soap and scrubbing for 20 seconds or more with warm to hot water, rinsing, and tossing into the dryer.  Non-scented/allergy-free detergents should be used for laundering masks per guidelines from the University of Iowa and dryer sheets should not be used.  Further, masks can be ironed on the cotton or linen setting to further kill any remaining germs provided the masks are made of cotton.  Sanitizing face masks in the microwave, oven, or boiling water is not recommended.   A mask that is damaged or that no longer fits properly to the face should be disposed and replaced.

If filters are being used in conjunction with a cloth mask, filters too, need to be properly cleaned or replaced.  Coffee filters and paper towels are not washable so should be replaced after each use.  HVAC filters and non-woven interfacings are washable so can be laundered in the same way as the mask; however, the filter’s effectiveness decreases with each washing and will eventually disintegrate.

Masks need to be carefully removed from the face after use.  Individuals should take care not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth when removing the mask; only the elastic ear pieces or head/neck ties should be handled.  Used masks should be placed outside down on a piece of paper or in a bag until laundering with hand washing following immediately.

As discussed above, cloth masks can provide limited protection.  Proper care of the mask is important to provide protection and to maintain the health of the wearer. 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Mask Makers, Mask Makers, We Love You!

Experienced and inexperienced sewers alike have found their way to a sewing machine in recent times.  For some, sewing is their hobby or passion and they have a love affair with their machine.  Others, have dug an old machine out of the back of the closet, dusted it off, oiled it, and once again have learned how to thread it.  And still others who have never owned a machine and/or perhaps have never used a machine, have purchased one or borrowed one from a friend, and are experiencing the joy of using (or frustration) of having a sewing machine.  What all of these sewers have in common is a drive to help others by making masks and other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that is in short supply as we combat COVID-19.

MY HAT IS OFF to all those who are giving of their time, talent, or donations to help our frontline workers as well as friends, neighbors, and loved ones.  While many do it in the quiet of their home and donate as they desire, others have achieved some fame for their outreach.  There have been numerous stories of this selflessness including Iowa 4-H members who have exceeded their goal of 10,000 masks.

I, too, opened my sewing machine and made several dozen masks for a local group.  As I started this venture in March, I was frustrated by the mixed information that was coming forth from varying agencies and individual groups.  Each had a different idea of what was the best mask and each wanted a given style which in most cases was unlike someone else’s.  As the need grew, so did the number of mask styles and the formation of groups, locally and nationally.  As I write today, there is an unknown number of mask styles available online with YouTube tutorials showing how to make them.  Really anybody can do it!  And for the most part, most groups are now accepting masks regardless of pattern as long as they meet CDC guidelines. 

So if one is interested in joining the cause, here’s some basic information:

  1. Masks should meet the latest CDC guidelines.  If masks are to be made for a designated group, check their specific guidelines to be sure that your work will be used.
  2. For open donations, the exact style is entirely up to the donor.  Masks may be made with elastic, ties, nose pieces, or pockets for filters.  After trying many different patterns, the one I found to be the fastest and easiest for me was shown on YouTube by The Brick Ballroom.  When elastic ran out, it was easy to convert to ties.  It is also easy to add a channel for a nose piece and accommodates a filter if desired.  JoAnn Fabrics has mask kits available free of charge.
  3. Fabric used must be new, washable, tightly woven, cotton or cotton blend.  Quilting fabrics (scraps or yardage) are perfect.
  4. Masks should be made in a coronavirus-free home.
  5. Use clean hands and sew in a clean, smoke-free place.
  6. Package donations in clear plastic, zipper lock bags.

If one is unsure of where to send or take their masks, one place is Mask Helpers, a clearing house created by Keokuk, IA brothers who help connect those who need free, non-medical grade, reusable masks with those who are able to make and donate them.   They also provide information on how to send the masks without leaving the safety of your home.

Again thank you to all the Mask Makers.  We LOVE you!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Steaming Vegetables

Recently an AnswerLine client called with concerns related to the safety of microwaving steam bag vegetables such as those sold under the Birds Eye Steamfresh label. These bags are sold with the vegetables inside as stand-alone products containing just vegetables or with sauces or seasonings. In general, microwaving foods in plastic containers may carry some health risks due to the transmission of BPA and pthalates from the plastic to the food. However, the bags being used for the steamed vegetable products are specifically manufactured for microwave steaming and do not contain BPA or pthalates.  These bags are designed for a one-time use.  If there is any concern, the packages can be opened and the vegetables steamed or prepared by another method.

Whether you purchase the microwave steam bag vegetables or not, there are advantages to steaming vegetables.  Frozen vegetables are usually flash frozen right after picking.  As a result, frozen vegetables may be more nutrient dense than fresh vegetables that have spent time in transit, sitting in a warehouse, or on display at the store. 

Steaming by way of the microwave, stove top, or pressure cooker are healthy ways to cook vegetables to prevent nutrient loss and retain flavor, texture, and color.  Steaming also helps to retain the water-soluble vitamins and minerals that would otherwise leech into cooking water.  Water soluble vitamins are also heat sensitive, so quick cooking times helps to reduce nutrient loss.  Vegetable nutrients along with fiber and phytochemicals, help to lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and vision loss.

Steam bag vegetables can be used in the same way as any frozen vegetable.  While steam bags do add cost to the vegetables, there definitely is convenience in using the steam bag packaging as there is virtually no clean up involved.  One doesn’t need to be confined to using an entire bag when a smaller amount is needed.  The bag can be opened and a smaller portion taken out and steamed using another method. For additional information on steaming vegetables, check out Cooking Fresh Vegetables by Purdue University.

Steaming is also a great way to prepare frozen vegetables for use in a salad. One should not thaw frozen vegetables and eat them without cooking.  Blanching prior to freezing stops the aging of vegetables but does not necessarily take care of contaminants that may be found in the field such as salmonella, listeria, and E.coli; contaminants can penetrate the tiny cell walls which are broken when the vegetables are blanched.  All vegetables are packaged as ready-to-cook, not as ready-to-eat. Therefore, vegetables should be cooked to 165 degrees for that reason. In most cases this temperature can be reached by steaming the vegetables to tender-crisp and then letting them sit in a closed container for 5 minutes before serving.

Bottom line is that the best cooking method for frozen (and fresh) vegetables is steaming.  If accomplishing that is by using pre-packaged steam bag vegetables, know that it is safe when package directions are followed.  Besides nutrient retention, steamed vegetables will have better flavor and more desirable textures.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Substitute Ingredients for Coronavirus Baking

When people feel anxious, they look for something to do, a distraction of sorts, and baking provides just that for many people.  During these challenging times, it seems that people are baking more at home than previously and psychologists have coined the baking frenzy as “coronavirus baking” or “stress baking”. I, too, have found myself baking more while at home to fill in what we don’t have on hand and maybe for a distraction, too. One thing is for sure, I have more time now for baking than I had before.

Baking triggers all kinds of positive feelings and plays welcome tricks on the brain whether one is stressed or not.  Such pleasures as creativity, memories of happy times, using energy in a focused, engaged, or mindful way, and enjoying tangible or measurable accomplishments come to mind.

With people staying at home, the urge to bake may strike only to find that ingredients needed are not on the shelf.  Or, even more unimaginable, with more people baking, there is a shortage of baking supplies in some areas. 

When this happens, we look to other ingredients to substitute for what is missing.  Bear in mind, that baking is more of an ‘exact science’  so when substitutes are used, baked products will perhaps be slightly different in taste, texture, appearance, and quality, but will result in an edible baked product that can be enjoyed.  Having tried these various substitutes over time, I have found that some substitutes are better for one baking situation than others; it’s very much trial and error. Most good cookbooks provide a listing of emergency substitutions; substitutions can also be found online.  (A good, printable chart is available from Colorado State University and includes many substitutions beyond baking.)  Despite these good resources, sometimes desperate times call for more desperate measures using less common substitutions.  To that end, here are some substitutes for common baking ingredients that one may not find in the usual lists of emergency lists.

Butter Replacers
Replace 1 cup butter with

NUT BUTTERS – Nut butters need to be combined with an equal part oil to get a 1:1 butter replacement.  (i.e., combine 1/2 cup nut butter with 1/2 cup oil to equal 1 cup butter.)

Oil – ¾ cup.  Choose an oil with a light flavor.

COOKED BEANS – 1 cup mashed beans; use black beans for chocolate baking and light beans such as cannellini for light backing.

AVOCADO – 1 cup mashed avocado.

UNSWEETENED APPLESAUCE OR PUMPKIN/SQUASH PUREE – 1 cup sauce or puree; reduce liquid in recipe slightly if possible.

Egg Replacers
Replace 1 egg with

VINEGAR AND BAKING SODA – 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon vinegar combined.

UNSWEETENED APPLESAUCE, YOGURT, SILKEN TOFU, or MASHED BANANAS – ¼ cup of any.

GROUND FLAXSEED – 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 3 tablespoons water, combine and allow to sit until thick and gelatinous.

Baking Soda
Replace 1 teaspoon baking soda with

BAKING POWDER – 3 teaspoons baking powder; reduce salt, and replace acidic ingredients (buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, etc) with non-acidic ingredients, if possible.

EGG WHITES – 2 egg whites whipped to stiff peaks, fold in.  Measure egg whites and reduce any liquid used in the recipe by the same amount. 

CLUB SODA (sodium bicarbonate) – replace any liquid in the recipe with club soda.

Baking Powder
Replace 1 teaspoon baking powder with

BAKING SODA – 1/3 teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon cream of tartar.

BUTTERMILK, SOUR MILK, PLAIN YOGURT – ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ½ cup buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt.  Decrease liquid in recipe by ½ cup.  (Sour milk can be made by adding ½ tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice to ½ cup sweet milk.)

MOLASSES – ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ¼ cup molasses; reduce liquids and sugars used in recipe.

White Granulated Sugar
Replace 1 cup sugar with

HONEY AND MAPLE SYRUP – ¾ cup honey or maple syrup.  Reduce liquid in recipe by 3 tablespoons. Add a pinch of baking soda to honey to reduce acidity.

AGAVE NECTAR – 2/3 cup agave.  Reduce liquid in recipe by 2-4 tablespoons and oven temperature by 25 percent.

POWDERED SUGAR, BROWN SUGAR, RAW SUGAR, MAPLE SUGAR, COCONUT SUGAR – 1 cup of any.

Brown Sugar
Replace 1 cup packed brown sugar with

SUGAR AND MOLASSES – 1 cup white sugar and ¼ cup unsulphured molasses.

COCONUT SUGAR – 1 cup.

All-Purpose Flour
Replace 1 cup flour with

SEE SUGGESTIONS FROM COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY

Go ahead and make your brownies, cakes, cookies, muffins, or biscuits if it calms your nerves or helps put your mind at ease. I’ll probably be doing the same.  And know that the same pleasures derived from baking can be experienced even if we have to substitute an ingredient and settle for a product that isn’t quite the same.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

AnswerLine

Subscribe to AnswerLine Blog

Enter your email address:

Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Twitter account AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Email: answer@iastate.edu
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
 1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
 1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)

Archives

Categories