Freeze Drying – A New Option for Home Food Preservation

Canning, pickling, freezing, drying, and fermenting are well-known methods of preserving fruits and vegetables for future use.  These processes have been used for generations and made simpler and safer over time with the help of science and innovation.  Freeze drying (lyophilization) is now an option for home food preservation.  HarvestRight, a company in Salt Lake City, Utah, introduced a freeze drying unit for home use in 2018 that has excited the curious of food preservers.  While still an uncommon home appliance, freeze drying is becoming a sought-after means for preserving food at home and the units are showing up at some retailers [1].

Freeze-dried vegetables for soups made from carrots, leek, celeriac, lovage, parsnips and parsley

Freeze drying is not a new process.  The process may date back to the 13th century with the Incas using a simple process to preserve potatoes in the Andes.  The first patent was issued in 1934.  During World War II it was used to safely transport blood serum and penicillin to the battle field.   In the 1950s–1960s, freeze drying began to be viewed as a multi-purpose tool for both pharmaceuticals and food processing and became a major component of space and military rations. Freeze drying has been widely used in the food industry to extend the shelf-life of food while maintain quality. Freeze-dried foods have been available commercially for some time and offer consumers fast meal prep, emergency prepardeness, and portable food. Freeze-dried foods also offer convenience as they can be eaten “as is” (except for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs), added directly to recipes, or rehydrated and used the same as fresh food.

In a nutshell, freeze drying works by freezing the material, then reducing the pressure and adding heat to allow the frozen water in the material to change directly to a vapor (sublimate).  The process removes 98-99 percent of the moisture in food making it a superior method for preserving food. (An example of a freeze dried food are the berries in commercial cereals that feature real berries.) Freeze dried foods retain 97 percent of their nutrients and natural enzymes and original flavor and color [2] .  Additionally, freeze-dried food is really easy to use; food comes back to its original pre-freeze dried state by just adding water.  Since nearly all water has been removed, freeze-dried food is light making it a favorite for camping and backpacking.  A bag of apples that weighed 10 pounds when fresh, weighs about one pound after being freeze dried [3].

Freeze drying produces high quality foods that are safe as long as they were handled properly prior to freeze drying and once the packaging is opened.  It is important to note that freeze drying does not kill bacteria or other microorganisms; they remain viable, but dormant, despite the extreme conditions of freeze drying.  Any bacteria or microorganism on raw foods prior to freeze drying will reactivate upon rehydration. Therefore, food items that are traditionally cooked before eating must also be cooked before eating as a freeze-dried food.

A freeze dryer is not a fancy food dehydrator. While a freeze drying unit and a dehydrator both remove moisture from food so that microorganisms cannot grow and enzyme action is slowed down, a dehydrator uses low heat and a fan to remove 80-90 percent of the moisture content from food1.   As food is dehydrated, it typically shrinks up and develops a leathery feel and appearance; rehydration is slow and foods do not return to their natural state. Dehydration doesn’t change the fiber or iron content of food. However, dehydration can break down vitamins and minerals during the preservation process and retain less of their nutritional value when compared to freeze-dried food. Dehydration tends to result in the loss of Vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. [4]. With a lower moisture content, freeze-dried foods offer a shelf life of 25 years [2] compared to 4 months to 1 year for dehydrated foods [5]. Freeze-dried foods rehydrate faster and also retain their original shape, texture, and color. A far greater variety of foods can be freeze dried than can be dehydrated [6].  Both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods store best in airtight containers with an oxygen absorber for long term storage.  Because dehydrated foods rehydrate slowly, they do not readily absorb moisture if exposed to less than optimal conditions; freeze-dried foods, on the other hand, are like a sponge and can go quickly from crisp to soggy when exposed to moisture.

A home freeze drier puts you in control.  Commercially prepared freeze-dried foods are pricey and often have added ingredients.  HarvestRight suggests that home freeze-dried food is one-third the cost of store bought. Freeze drying versatility also allows for the preservation of dairy, meat, produce, and complete meals. 

Display at a local store featuring the medium-sized unit.

Investment in freeze drying equipment is an important consideration, too.  Be prepared for ‘sticker shock’ as the units are expensive and require considerable space in the home.  Equipment cost ranges from four to eight times more than conventional drying equipment and the energy required is almost double that of conventional drying.  Buying a Home Freeze-Dryer: What to Know Before You Go by Utah State University Extension and Let’s Preserve:  Freeze Drying by Penn State Extension explain this in more detail. Besides the initial investment in a freeze drying unit, packaging after drying is another consideration.  When correctly packaged, freeze-dried items can be stored safely for many years.   To increase shelf life, properly sized single-use food grade oxygen absorbers—small packets that attract and retain the oxygen in a package—must be included in whatever type of packaging is chosen.  While glass jars, cans, zip bags, and vacuum sealed bags can be used, opaque Mylar® bags are preferred; they block out air and light during storage, can be resealed once opened and take up less space than glass jars or cans. Mylar® must be used with an oxygen absorber and heat-sealed with an impulse (heat) sealer.

The options for food preservation are many.  Each method brings something different to the table. The flavors and textures are different and how we use the food preserved is different. If long term food storage or portable food storage is the goal, freeze drying is an option to consider.  Imagine rehydrating lasagna on a camping trip!

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1Andress and Harrison. 2014. “So Easy to Preserve” 6th ed. Bulletin 989, Cooperative Extension Service. The University of Georgia, Athens.

Guide to Freeze Drying – The Miracle of Food Preservation, HarvestRight.

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

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.

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Get Fired UP! Tips for Baking on the Grill

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  In previous blogs, tips for grilling meat and sides—fruits and vegetables—were shared.  Did you know that you can use your grill as an oven for baking, too? 

Anything you can bake in a kitchen oven – casseroles, pies, cookies, brownies, pizza, coffee cake, bread – can be baked on a gas or charcoal grill all summer long without heating up the kitchen.  While you don’t need to adjust the recipes, you do need to figure out how to turn direct heat into indirect heat. Every grill is different, so you’ll need to figure out what will work best with what you’ve got. It’s also a good idea to start with something simple (I started with brownies and pizza) and work up to more complicated baked goods. It may take some time to get it just right, so be patient and write down what you learn along the way. Here are some tips to get you started.

Start with a clean grill.  You don’t want your baked goods to taste like last night’s onions or brats or whatever was grilled last.

Preheat the grill.  Weber [1] has some great tips for preheating and baking with both gas and charcoal grills.  I have a gas grill and have found that preheating to 25⁰ F higher than the desired temperature is helpful.  Heat is lost when placing the unbaked items inside and is not regained as quickly as in an oven.  Every grill is different, so getting the temperature right may take some experimenting. If your grill doesn’t have a built-in thermometer as mine does, invest in one as knowing the temperature inside the grill is important.

Use indirect heat.  To create indirect heat, turning off some burners on a gas grill will be necessary to create indirect heat.  My grill has three burners so I turn 1 and 3 to medium and turn off 2 allowing me to bake in the middle of the grill.   Sometimes, I find the need to turn off both 1 and 2 and use only 3 for heat giving me more space on the grill for baking.  For charcoal grills, move the charcoal to one side of the grill and bake on the side away from the heat.

Choose baking dishes that withstand intense heat.  A pizza stone or a cast iron skillet are perfect options. I bake cookies, pizza, and bread on my pizza stone and casseroles, cakes, brownies, cobblers, and crisps in my cast iron skillet!  Avoid using glassware even if it is Pyrex® as it is prone to breaking despite using indirect grill heat. Grill mats are another options for some baked goods.

Choose recipes that are forgiving.  Since grill baking is less precise than oven baking, choose recipes that will withstand the fluctuating temperatures on a grill.  Cakes are the most finicky. I’ve had the best luck with pizza, brownies, fruit crisps, and casserole dishes.  Flatter, artesian-type breads usually do well for me, too.

Keep an eye on the temperature while baking.  Grill temperature fluctuates more than the oven so sometimes adjustment of temperature is necessary.  I’ve found this to be particularly true when there is wind. Check the temperature frequently while baking and adjust as necessary.

Avoid the temptation to lift the lid.  Lifting the lids releases a lot of heat.  Use your nose as much as possible and if you must lift the lid, make it quick.  It takes a little practice to know that distinct perfect—DONE—smell.  (We all know the one of food baked too long.) 

Grill baking time may be different than oven baking time.  I find that baking goes faster in the grill than in my oven and that the same recipe can vary in time depending upon grill conditions.  While the traditional toothpick inserted into the middle technique works well to determine doneness, it is helpful to insert a temperature probe into the center of the unbaked product to determine when some baked items are done.  For example, cake is done when the probe reaches 210⁰ F.

Baking in a grill takes experimentation and patience.  Grilled baked goods may not turn out the same as baked in an oven.  There may be signs of hot spots or browned more than usual on the bottom.  As long as they are not over-baked (burned), they will still be tasty.  By using your grill, you’ve kept the kitchen cool.  And as a bonus, in the event of a power outage, you will have learned a means of baking without an oven.  Check out Get Fired UP!  Tips for Grilling Meat and Sides—Fruits and Vegetables for additional grilling tips and get into summer grilling in a big way!

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

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.

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Get Fired Up! Tips for Grilling Sides – Fruits and Vegetables

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  In a previous blog, tips for grilling meat were shared.  While the king of the grill might be meat, the produce aisle is full of goodies that take on amazing flavors when grilled.  Grilling brings out the sweet, toasty, and caramelized flavors that other cooking techniques do not. Besides shining with flavor, there’s very little prep involved.

Here are a few pointers to perfect your vegetable and fruit grilling technique:

  • Wash, trim, and peel as necessary.
  • Make sure to clean the grill grates with a wet cloth or paper towel. If using a metal brush, besure that there are no bristles left behind. Bristles can attach to food and if consumed can cause choking or affect the digestive tract.
  • Prepare pieces that are consistent in size to ensure even cooking.
  • To prevent sticking and add flavor, brush or toss with 1-2 tablespoons oil per pound. Excessive oil will cause flare-ups.  Add any seasonings desired with the oil.
  • Use a perforated grilling basket or grilling mats to prevent items from falling through the grates.  I prefer the grilling mats, copper or non-stick PTEE (PFOA free).  Mats make grilling so easy and still allow foods to take on the grill flavors and coveted grill marks. They are easy to clean and keep the grill grates clean, too. 
  • Stainless steel kabob skewers are best for grilling because they don’t roll and they are easy to flip. Wood or bamboo skewers should be soaked in water for 30 minutes before using to keep them from burning.
  • When grilling a variety of vegetables, be sure to start with the ones that take the longest to cook and add the others incrementally, saving the quickest-cooking ones for last. Produce should be removed before it is soft as it will continue cooking once removed from grill.  On a medium hot grill it typically takes 10 minutes or less for most vegetables to cook.
  • Apply barbecue or other sweet sauce or coatings toward the end of cooking so it has time to glaze but not burn.

Guidelines for Grilling Individual Vegetables

Here are some great tips for grilling individual vegetables from Alexandra Grenci with Rutgers Cooperative Extension [1].

  • Asparagus: The ends of asparagus spears can be tough, so trim them off, then toss the spears in olive oil and salt/pepper and grill for 4-5 minutes over a medium-high grill, then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
  • Bell peppers: Remove the core and seeds, then slice each pepper into about four separate sections. Toss with olive oil and salt/pepper and grill over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill 4-5 minutes longer.
  • Cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half and then slice each half into thick 1-inch slices. Toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings. You can skewer each big slice to keep it from falling apart. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 10 minutes, then turn and grill for another ten minutes.
  • Cauliflower: Cut the cauliflower into big florets, toss in olive oil and your favorite seasonings and then skewer. Grill over medium-high heat, turning often, for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and lightly charred.
  • Corn: Some people like to grill corn with the husks still on, but that’s just steaming the corn, really. By removing the husks and the silk and cooking the corn directly on the grill, the kernels get lightly blackened and caramelized, bringing out tons of sweet corn flavor. You should grill corn over a medium grill for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently.
  • Eggplant: Cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Brush them with oil or a simple balsamic vinaigrette, toss with your favorite spices. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 5 minutes longer.
  • Mushrooms: Toss white or brown button mushrooms with olive oil and Kosher salt. Then skewer and cook over a medium-high grill for 7-8 minutes, turning frequently. You can also grill a whole Portobello mushroom cap directly on the grill. Grill them smooth-side-down for 8-9 minutes.
  • Onions: Large, sweet onions like Vidalias are great for grilling, as are red onions. Just peel them, cut them into ½-inch slices, toss them in olive oil and your favorite seasonings and cook over a medium-high grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn and grill 2-3 minutes longer. A skewer can be handy to hold the onions together on the grill.
  • Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes can be skewered and grilled whole, for 3-4 minutes over a medium-high grill. Be sure to turn them frequently so that they cook evenly. You can also grill plum tomatoes. Cut them in half the long way, remove the seeds and grill for four minutes, then turn and grill for four minutes longer.
  • Zucchini and yellow squash: Cut into ½-inch pieces lengthwise, toss in olive oil and salt /pepper and cook over medium-high grill for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes longer.

Guidelines for Grilling Fruit

  • Just about any fruit can go on the grill as long as it is fairly firm and not overripe. Peaches, melons, pineapple, pears, tomatoes, bananas, and figs are just some of the fresh fruits that will hold their shape over the coals.
  • Most fruit is fairly fragile, so cut fruit into large chunks, slices, and wheels to help it maintain its structure as it heats up and breaks down. Smaller fruits like grapes and blueberries can be prepared on a skewers.
  • Grilled fruit kabobs are a win at any picnic or barbecue.  Any combination of fruits can be used and they make a perfect appetizer or dessert.
  • In addition to a small amount of oil (neutral) or butter, fruits are best mixed or brushed with a bit of citrus juice (lemon juice prevents browning), maple syrup, or honey prior to grilling.  For additional flavor, try adding cinnamon, chili powder, smoked paprika or a curry blend.
  • Grill fruit over high heat for three minutes without moving or turning it to get the perfect sear (and coveted grill marks). Flip and cook for one to three minutes more.
  • Grill fruit flesh-side down.  If you place it skin side down, you’ll miss the caramelized texture and the heat won’t get through the rest of the fruit evenly.
  • Fruits contain a lot of water, which makes them very hot once they are cooked. Be sure to allow time for grilled fruits to cool down a little before serving.
  • Even though grilled fruit makes a great dessert, it is not just for dessert.  Grilled fruit can be used as a side dish, in fresh salsas, and as part of delicious appetizers.  Taste of Home [2] offers 39 amazing ways to grill fruit.

If you haven’t grilled fruits and vegetables, do give it a try. You will find them tasty, nutritious and a great way to enjoy those foods that are so good for you. Enjoy your grill even more by getting additional Get Fired Up! tips for grilling meat and baking.

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

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.

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Get Fired UP! Tips for Grilling Meat

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  Of all the foods that can be prepared on the grill, meat is king with everyone’s goal to cook it to perfection.  Whether it is steak, pork chops, chicken, or fish, knowing how to grill each type of meat is crucial for success. There’s nothing worse than overcooking or undercooking the priciest part of the meal! Meat, chicken, hamburgers, or seafood must be fully cooked to a safe internal temperature before serving to prevent falling ill after eating from food poisoning. 

Grill Safely to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

Before starting any grilling, care needs to be taken to prevent foodborne illness.  The risk of foodborne illness increases during the summer months because disease-causing bacteria grow faster on raw meat and poultry products in warmer weather. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish and summer weather, often hot and humid, provides the perfect conditions. Follow these four USDA recommendations to keep friends and family safe from foodborne illness:

  • Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.  Prior to placing food on the grill, wipe the grill surface or clean the grill grates with a stiff brush. If a stiff brush is used, inspect the grill surface to ensure there are no bristles left behind; bristles can cause physical contamination if it sticks to the food.
  • Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.  Place grilled food on a clean plate, not the plate you used to carry the raw meat to the grill.
  • Cook – Use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry are cooked to a safe temperature to kill harmful germs. When smoking, keep temperatures inside the smoker at 225oF to 300oF to keep meat at a safe temperature while it cooks [1].
    145oF – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature)
    145oF – fish
    160oF – hamburgers and other ground beef
    165oF – all poultry
    135oF – all pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs
  • Chill – Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly – within two hours of cooking (one hour if above 90oF outside.).
    For more food grilling safety tips, see Food Safety Tips to Grilling Pros and Beginners provided by the USDA .

Tips to Ensure Your MEAT Masterpieces Come Off the Grill Flawlessly

  • Prepare the grill by cleaning the grill grates as previously stated. Oil the grates. A great tip I learned from a program on IPTV is to slice an onion in half, stab one half on the onion with a long fork, dip the onion in oil and rub the grates with the onion. It not only does a great job on getting oil on the grates without flare up, but also seasons the grates a little.
  • Pat meat dry using paper towels to remove any excess moisture that would otherwise steam-cook the meat or inhibit caramelization.
  • Liberally rub the meat with a dry brine or salt and pepper to help keep the meat from drying out.  For steaks and chops, season just before grilling.  Salt pulls moisture to the surface so seasoning when the grill is ready keeps that process from drawing moisture out of the meat and making it wet. It helps to rub the meat with a little bit of olive oil prior to seasoning as it helps to hold the seasoning in place.
  • If possible, establish a two-zone cooking area in the grill.  One area should be hot for searing (cooking briefly over high heat) the meat and the other at a cooler temperature for cooking the meat to the desired doneness after searing.  If this is not possible, turn the heat down on the grill after searing. 
  • Once the meat is on the grill, resist all urges to touch or lift it until it releases from the grill naturally. This will aid in solid grill marks which lend flavor and keep the meat from tearing. Once the meat releases, turn it often to allow even cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to gauge when the meat is done using the USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart, updated in 2020.  After grilling, hot foods should be kept at a minimum of 140⁰F.
  • After the meat has reached temperature, allow it to rest before slicing or eating so the meat has time to reabsorb its favorable juices and make the meat soft and moist.  Cover with foil and let rest a minimum of 3 minutes before serving. The meat temperature will also rise a small amount while resting.
  • Slice the meat against the grain. Cuts made perpendicular to the grain results in short meat fibers which gives a tender bite of meat.

Meat Grilling Specifics from the Pros

For specifics on grilling the various meat types see the following:
Grilling Pork by the National Pork Board.
Grilling Basics for Beef or Expert Grilling Advice from Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Also, How to Grill Steaks Perfectly… For Beginners by Omaha Steaks.  
Poultry Grilling Guide by Weber, B&G Foods, Inc.
How to Grill Fish by the Institute of Culinary Education.

Grilling is more than throwing some meat on a hot grill.  Whether using a gas or charcoal grill, following a few steps when grilling and knowing how to cook and how long to cook the particular food will help assure a successful outcome. The Get Fired Up! grilling tips continues with Grilling Sides–Fruits and Vegetables and Baking on the Grill.

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

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.

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Sweet Corn – A Summertime Treasure

The long-awaited summer treasure, sweet corn, will be available from local growers very soon.  I am fortunate to have sweet corn growing in our garden but if I didn’t, sweet corn would be at the top of my list to buy only in season from local growers.  Getting a variety I like and biting into an ear of plump kernels bursting with that sweet, corn flavor is well worth the wait. 

Sweet corn is an old food. The specific time when sweet corn originated cannot be pin-pointed.  However, Spanish explorers in the early 1500s found Indians growing corn in East Texas, and the Spanish carried on corn culture in the Rio Grande valley settlements and Texas missions. They ate the grain as a basic ingredient in tortillas, tamales, posole, and atole.  The first known variety, Papoon, was acquired from the Iroquois Indians in 1779 by European settlers. Sweet corn has been ever evolving. Over time, plant breeders have developed sweeter cultivars as well as cultivars with better keeping qualities, flavor, tenderness, vigor, and other characteristics. Sweet corn now comes in several hundred varieties of five genetic types and is available in three different colors: yellow, white and bi-colored (yellow and white).

Genetic Types and Characteristics

The long-grown or older varieties of sweet corn are known as Standards (su).  These cultivars have the traditional sweet corn flavor and texture with sugar levels generally between 10 and 15 percent at harvest. Unfortunately, standard cultivars retain their high quality for only one or two days and don’t generally store well as sugars quickly convert to starch after harvest [1]. Honey and Cream, Silver Queen, Sterling Silver, Jubilee, and Merit are some well-known names.

The first breeding improvement was the introduction of Sugar Enhanced (se) cultivars. Sugar enhanced cultivars contain the sugar enhancer (se) gene that produces ears with sweet, tender kernels. Sugar levels are slightly higher than standard sugary cultivars. The harvest and storage life of se types are slightly longer than standard sweet corn [1].  Well-known SE varieties include Bodacious, Ambrosia, Sweet Temptation, Delectable, and Miracle.  SE varieties are typically used for freezing.

Then along came the Supersweet (sh2) corn varieties.  These cultivars contain the shrunken-2 (sh2) gene. Supersweet varieties have smaller, crisper kernels with high sugar levels and convert sugar to starch slowly, allowing for a longer harvest period and storage life [1] of about three days1. Candy Store, Florida Staysweet, Sugar Loaf, Sweet Time, and Sweetie are some of the Supersweet varieties.

With further development, the Synergistic (syn) cultivars possessing the su, se, and sh2 genes entered the sweet corn scene. These cultivars are sweet, creamy, and tender and have an excellent storage life [1] remaining at their peak for five days before converting to starch1. Allure, Inferno, Providence, and Sweetness are examples of Synergistic varieties.

Lastly, an improvement on the Supersweets are the Augmented Supersweets (shA). They are sweet, tender, and have an even longer storage life [1] offering a ten day window where sugars are at their peak before converting to starch1. Anthem, Obsession, and Patriarch are examples in this group.

Of course, when you’re buying corn, you often only have one choice and it’s frequently not labeled as anything but fresh corn. If you really want a particular variety or want to know the characteristics of what you are buying, talk with the producer at a farmer’s market; they will likely be able to fill you in on the variety or other details.  A seller at a local stand may or may not know the variety and simply sell the corn by a popular or recognized name.  One that I often see used for bi-color corn is ‘peaches and cream,’ a sugar enhanced (se) bicolor that has been around for some time. For a short listing of suggested cultivars of each each gene type, see Sweet Corn by Iowa State University Extension horticulturalists.

Get It Fresh – Keep It FreshEnjoy It Fresh

Despite all the genetic improvements, the trick to getting good corn for eating is to get it as fresh as you can and cook and eat it promptly. When choosing corn, look for ears with moist, fresh-looking husks free of insect damage. Feel the ears to assess the plumpness of the kernels and whether the rows of kernels are fully formed. (Quick fact:  the average ear of corn has 800 kernels, arranged in 16 rows. There is one piece of silk for each kernel.)  Refrain from pulling the husks back to check out the kernels as it is not only bad manners, but spoils the corn for others; opened corn dries out quickly. Once home, store sweet corn in the refrigerator with the husks on or off in a plastic bag; husk on is best but shucked corn may fit in the fridge better. Remember, depending on cultivar, the sugars in corn begin to convert to starch so purchase only what you can use in a few days.

Fresh sweet corn can be prepared in a variety of ways—boiled, steamed, microwaved, grilled—and even raw. The key thing to remember is that today’s sweeter and fresher varieties do not require the cooking time of yesteryear.  Sweet corn can be cooked anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on how “done” you like it.  Once cooked, it can be eaten directly off the cob or sliced off and used in recipes.

Fresh corn kernels are also great to keep on hand for tossing into salads or other side dishes. Raw corn cut off the ear will last only a day or two in the refrigerator before turning sour. To preserve the freshness, cut the kernels off the cobs and blanch them in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain, let cool, and store in a covered container in the fridge for up to five days. Another option is to blanch, cool, and freeze the kernels in a single layer on a baking sheet until hard, and then store in an airtight container in the freezer where they will retain best quality for up to three months.

Lastly, when sweet corn is in season, it is a great time to freeze or can it for eating throughout the year. Corn is one of the best vegetables to freeze because the quality of home-frozen corn is superior to commercial products. Purdue Extension [2] says most sweet corn varieties are acceptable for canning and freezing but recommends the following varieties:
Yellow -Bodacious and Incredible
Bicolor – Temptation, Delectable, and Providence
White – Silver King, Silver Princess, and Whiteout.

For specifics on canning and freezing corn, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation website for details:
Freezing Corn,
Canning – Whole Kernel Corn,
Canning – Cream Style Corn.  
Or
Let’s Preserve Sweet Corn by Perdue Extension
Freezing Sweet Corn:  Whole Kernels by University of Minnesota Extension.

Enjoy and make the most of one of summer’s treasurers.  It’s only a matter of days!
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1
Rupp Seed Inc, 2021 Vegetable Resource Guide:  Sweet Corn Genetic Types

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.

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Deciphering Produce Labels and Codes

The produce department at the grocery store is the most shopped department.  Usually located at the front of the store, the brightly colored fruits and vegetables and eye-catching displays welcome shoppers to the store and the opportunity to explore nutritious options.  As shoppers peruse the aisles and refrigerated cases to make selections, one is sure to also find produce labels and stickers on the many selections. What do these stickers and labels tell us?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. This applies to foods produced domestically, as well as foods from foreign countries.  The laws require that labels on food be truthful and not misleading, but the laws don’t regulated definitions for all of the labels that one may see.  Here’s some help with deciphering what each label or sticker means.

FDA Regulated Labels

Country of Origin: Perishable produce must be labeled with the country where it was grown.

USDA Organic: This label indicates that the produce was produced on a certified farm that follows defined organic procedures, such as non-use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Nutrition Facts Label: If packaging makes a claim about nutrients, the Food and Drug Administration requires a nutrition label. So if the spinach is stamped with “good source of potassium,” it must carry a Nutrition Facts Label [1].

Excellent Source Of/High In: A label bearing this claim must contain at least 20 percent of the daily requirement of that nutrient in a serving.  A Good Source Of label indicates that one serving has 10-19 percent of the daily dose of the named nutrient.

Fresh: Fresh means that the food is in its raw state and has not been frozen or subjected to any form of thermal processing or any other form of preservation.  Fresh does not address when the produce was harvested or if the produce was washed in a mild chlorine solution prior to packaging or shipping.

Unregulated Claims

Washed/Triple-Washed/Ready to Eat: Most produce gets a rinse prior to marketing.  However, a washing claim may only mean that the produce has had dirt or grit removed; it is not a guarantee that it is bacteria-free.

Pesticide-Free: This label could mean one of two things:  1) no pesticides were used during growing; or 2) pesticide residue has been washed away. There’s no real way to know unless it bears an organic label.

Hydroponically Grown/Hydroponic: This label generally means that the produce was grown in a greenhouse using a nutrient solution instead of soil.

Non-GMO:  The only possible GMOs to be found in the produce aisles include potatoes, squash/pumpkins, papayas, sweet corn, and soy beans (edamame). If this label were to appear on a package of greens, for example, it would be a misnomer.

Gluten Free:  Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free.  This is a true claim but misleading in meaning.

No Preservatives/Free from Artificial Ingredients: Preservatives or artificial ingredients are not usually added to fresh produce making this label misleading on nearly all produce. 

Produce Code Stickers

Besides the labels, there are also stickers found on many fruits and vegetables.  Sometimes labels and stickers are one in the same.  The stickers on produce are for more than scanning the PLU (price look-up) number at the checkout. They may share information about the produce; no matter where you shop, the produce code for any particular fruit and veggie will be the same.  However, it is an imperfect system (no governing or regulating laws) that is voluntary on the part of the producer who could opt out of using the codes or telling the whole truth.  Here’s what those stickers are supposed mean.

Four Digit Code:  Produce with a four digit code beginning with a 3 or 4 means the produce was probably conventionally grown with the possible use of pesticides.  For example, the code for conventionally grown bananas is 4011.

Five Digit Code beginning with “9”:  Fruits and vegetables grown organically have a five digit code starting with a “9”.  An organically grown banana’s PLU would be 94011, for example.

Five Digit Code beginning with “8”:  Genetically modified produce (it has genes from other organisms) stickers also have five digits, but these codes begin with the number “8.” Remember there only five items likely to be found in the produce aisles that have been genetically modified so this is a rarely seen code.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at the labels on your produce!  Understanding what the labels and codes mean will help you choose what is right for you.

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.

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Make Lemonade! Drink Lemonade!

Sipping ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day is one of life’s memorable pleasures.  However, for me, that means lemonade made with real lemons, sugar, and water.  I am not a fan of frozen concentrate, powdered instant mixes, or bottled or canned (refrigerated or shelf-stable) lemonades.  While the latter are very convenient, they just don’t make the mark for me; they are nowhere near as delicious as a homemade version and often are full of artificial ingredients.  There’s seriously nothing more refreshing than a big glass of cold, fresh squeezed lemonade.

There are two easy ways to make fresh lemonade—fresh squeezed or DIY concentrate.  Either option is made with just three simple ingredients—fresh lemons, sugar, and water.  Making your own lemonade gives the option to adjust the sweetness to one’s liking and also add other fruits or herbs to the mix—like strawberries or mint.   WARNING!  There are downsides to making your own lemonade: it may ruin your taste for any store-bought lemonade, be more costly, and require preparation time.

Get Squeezing and Make Lemonade.

Fresh Squeezed.  Fresh squeezed lemonade can be made by combining fresh lemon juice, sugar, water, and ice followed by stirring or shaking to dissolve the sugar OR by combining the lemon juice with a simple syrup and pouring over ice.  Recipes for both styles of fresh lemonade can be found at food.com and tastesbetterfromscratch.com.

DIY Lemonade Concentrate.  Concentrate is made by adding fresh lemon juice to a simple sugar.  It can be store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months (for best quality). When the mood strikes, the concentrate is simply diluted with water and ice.   A good recipe can be found at realsimple.com.

Health Benefits Derived from Drinking Lemonade

As it turns out, the adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is good advice.  Beyond quenching your thirst, fresh lemonade has many health benefits because it contains lemon juice—lemons are one of the superfoods. Lemonade made with real lemons is an easy way to get a healthy dose of lemon juice.  Lemon juice is an especially good source of vitamins (C, B6, A), folate, potassium, phytonutrients and antioxidants (flavonoids) that can assist the body in numerous ways.   Some benefits include:

Assist with Digestion:  Citric acid stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which improves digestion. Citric acid also slows the break down food and absorption of nutrients in the gut.

Prevent Kidney Stones:  According to researchers at UC San Diego [1], lemons have the highest concentration of citrate of all citrus fruits.  Citrate is a natural inhibitor of kidney stone formation and also breaks up small stones that are forming. The more citric acid in your urine, the more protected you are from forming new kidney stones [2]

Improve LDL Cholesterol Levels.   Citrus fruits contain a compound known as citrus limonoids. One type of limonoid, called limonin found in the juice of lemons, may help reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and improve heart health.

Prevent Cancer:  The antioxidants found in lemons have been shown to prevent cells in your body from deforming which can lead to cancer developing and/or spreading.

Lower Blood Pressure:  Lemons contain a high amount of potassium which can help to calm numerous cardiac issues.

Risks of Consuming Lemonade

If consumed in excess, lemonade could cause gastric reflux problems or heartburn for those who suffer from the conditions. Citric acid can also wear down tooth enamel.  For that reason, drinking lemonade through a straw is encouraged.  Additionally, there are approximately 28 grams of carbohydrate (sugar) or 150 calories in a 12 oz glass of lemonade.  

Fresh lemonade—it really does a body good!

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.

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Containing Strawberry Freshness

It’s strawberry season!  Those lush, first fruits of summer are starting to appear in home gardens, farmer’s markets, and u-pick patches.  How do you keep them fresh and enjoy them at their prime?

There is nothing worse than having fresh strawberries go bad within a day or two.  Because it happens all too frequently, consumers have shared their ‘secrets’ or methods to thwart this disappointing situation.  Any number of recommendations on keeping strawberries fresh can be found by perusing the web.  One site, thekitchen.com [1], put seven popular methods of storing strawberries to the test with the hopes of find the best method of storing strawberries longer.  The test findings revealed that rinsing the strawberries in vinegar water prior to storage proved to be the best.  Having heard that method several years ago, I tried it and did not find it to be as successful as touted.   According to food scientists, moisture is the enemy of strawberries.  So what do the experts recommend?

Rinse the berries and remove caps when you are ready to eat or use them.    

University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension [2] says that “strawberries are like small sponges and soak up all the water they come into contact with.  Once they have soaked it up, they are quick to turn to mush and mold even if they have been thoroughly patted dry.” This is also the reason that strawberries should not be picked when they are damp.  The same holds true for berries that have experienced heavy rain or several days of wet weather even though they are dry at the time of picking; they are on moisture overload and will not keep long regardless of how they are cared for or stored.

Therefore, strawberries should only be washed before eating or using to remove dirt and any potential bacterial contamination.  To wash, rinse the berries thoroughly under cool running water, drain in a clean strainer, and pat dry with paper towels.  For any berries showing signs of dirt, gently rub the berry under running water.  Linda J Harris, Food Safety Expert at UC Davis [3], says “Washing strawberries in a sink filled with water is not recommended since the standing water can spread contamination from one berry to another.  The use of soap or detergent is also not recommended or approved for washing fruits and vegetables because the produce can absorb detergent residues.”

Refrigerate if not used right away.

Strawberries do not ripen after picking so putting them in the refrigerator does not slow the ripening.  It does, however, slow the progression of mold growth on or between the berries if they will not be used for eating or cooking shortly after picking.  If they will be used or eaten after picking, they will not deteriorate sitting on a counter for a couple of hours at room temperature.  Cold temperatures suppress the flavor of the berries so they will taste sweeter if you let them come to room temperature before eating.

The optimum storage temperature for strawberries is 32⁰ to 36⁰F with humidity at 90 to 95 percent.  Therefore, the refrigerator fruit crisper drawer is the best place to keep them.  Purchased berries can be stored in the plastic clamshell containers they are usually sold in. However, the containers should be opened and the berries checked for any that are crushed or spoiling and removed before refrigerating.  For fresh picked berries, consider placing them in layers between paper towels in a covered container.  The purpose of the paper towels is to soak up excess moisture from the strawberries and to allow air circulation between the berries.  I’ve had very good luck storing my freshly picked strawberries in clamshell containers that I’ve saved from purchased berries.  Stored properly under optimum conditions, fresh strawberries should last 7 days but their shelf life also depends on how ripe the berries were when purchased or picked.

Berries that have been cut or sliced should be covered and refrigerated if they are not eaten or used within 2 hours of preparation. [3]

For longer term storage, freeze, dry, or preserve (jams and jellies). 

For best quality, strawberries should be preserved on the day they are harvested.  Select berries that are firm, brightly colored, sweet-scented, and have hulls (green caps) attached.  On average, 1 pound of fresh berries yields 1 pint of frozen berries. One pound of fresh berries is approximately 2/3 – 1 quart of fresh berries. A quart container of fresh strawberries is approximately 1½ pounds or 4 cups sliced berries.  Wash the berries as indicated and remove the caps.

Freezing strawberries is quick and easy and perfect for making smoothies, sauces, and jams at a later date.  Frozen berries are also great for baking.  Further, a lot of berries are not needed at any one time to freeze.  There are different methods for freezing—sliced or whole, sugar or no sugar, container or bag—all are acceptable personal choices.  What is important is that the berries are protected from freezer burn.  My favorite method is to spread whole prepared berries on a tray and freeze.  When frozen, remove them from the freezer, package (I like the zipper bags), and quickly return to the freezer.  The fruit pieces remain loose and can be used in whatever quantity is need. 

Drying strawberries reduces the amount of space needed for storage.  Berries can be left whole but dry better if sliced ¼ to ½-inch thick; they can also be pureed for a fruit leather.  A food dehydrator produces the best quality dried strawberries.  Strawberries should not be dried in a microwave oven as they are prone to scorching and burning.  Proper drying temperature is 135⁰ to 140⁰F. The amount of time it takes to dry strawberries depends on their initial moisture content, the volume being dried, the size and thickness, humidity of the ambient air, and the dehydrator. Berries are dry when they are pliable but not sticky or tacky.  Cool the dried berries thoroughly and package quickly.  Dried strawberries can be rehydrated.  I like themas a snack food; they can also be added to yogurt and cereal.  For additional information on drying strawberries, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a publication, Drying Fruits and Vegetables.

Preserving strawberries in the form of jams, jellies or fruit spreads are rewarding ways to use ripe strawberries.  Preserves made with commercial pectin products are quick and easy to do; package directions should be carefully followed for success.  Jam can also be made without added pectin.  A good recipe can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Freezer jam is another option.  It is made with a modified pectin as freezer jams do not require cooking.  Freezer jam tastes more like fresh strawberries.

Enjoy those succulent strawberries while at their prime!

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.

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Dealing with Sport Stains

Spring youth baseball, softball, football, and soccer games are in full swing—rain or shine!  While it’s fun to watch the kids play and give it their all, it’s not so fun for the moms and dads who clean the uniforms after the game.  Parents know that just one base slide or a slip and sprawl on the grass will result in some serious laundry room time. Add to that, wet fields!

While attending one of my grandson’s baseball games, I noted a mix of emotions among the side line of parents and grandparents as they watched their player make a successful base slide or an outfield fly caught as the fielder slid on his bottom across the damp grass to make the catch.  An eruption of clapping and cheering was followed by a low murmur of comments and ‘teasing’ about the dirt-caked or grass-stained pants.  That was followed with a sharing of advice on “best methods or products” to restore the pants to white and bright.

It’s been many years since I had to tackle the job or getting my son’s football pants clean after a game.  There were fewer laundry products then compared to those available today. The usual cleaning method was soaking and scrubbing with the famed Fels-Naptha bar [1][2].  

Today there are many options and it was interesting to hear the chatter on how to get the stained clothing cleaned quickly and ready for the next game.  Since most of the kids on the team have been playing since they were 3-years old, it comes as no surprise to these veteran parents that basic laundering techniques are useless for cleaning soiled uniforms, especially for anything white. While their methods or go-to products may be different, they all agreed on four things:

  • get to the stains ASAP,
  • avoid using chlorine bleach,
  • wash alone or with like colors, and
  • air dry.

Stain Types

Textile experts would concur with the “mom” advice.  Further, they would recommend that any stain removal should begin by 1) identifying the fiber type, and 2) determining the stain type. Depending on the fiber or stain type, the stain removal process is different

Most sport uniforms are made of polyester, nylon, or a blend of cotton and polyester, with polyester being widely used for youth sport uniforms.  Polyester uniforms are extremely durable and also exhibit moisture wicking properties which allows sweat to wick away from the skin for more efficient evaporation. Polyester’s downside is it’s affinity for oil-based stains and shrinkage with heat.

Most sport-induced stains are either protein stains or dye stains.  Protein-based stains include things like blood, sweat, grass, mud and most dirts; protein stains can be time-consuming to remove as they usually involve some soaking time. A common dye stain in baseball uniforms is discoloration from red clay; red clay is the dirt combination used to skin the infield made of clay mixed with sand or silt and topped with brick dust. The reddish color of the dirt comes from iron oxide or rust.

Protein Stains

Pre-soak protein-stained clothing in cold to lukewarm water. Protein stains will set if exposed to hot water, an iron, or a dryer. Heat cooks the protein, causing coagulation between the fibers in the yarns of the fabric, making the stains more difficult to remove.  Enzyme based products (presoaks and detergents) work best as these cleaners contain enzymes that “eat” protein stains.  When shopping for an enzyme laundry product, pay attention to products that have “bio” or “enzyme action” somewhere in their name usually indicating that it likely contains enzymes.

Red Clay Stains

Red clay (rust) stains are allergic to both chlorine and oxygen bleaches. Chlorine bleach may make them permanent.  The University of Illinois Extension [3] offers several methods for removal with products found at home. Rust stains can also be treated with commercial rust removal products; label directions should be carefully followed and care should be taken to not inhale the products.

Parent and Grandparent Product Suggestions

However, in the fast paced world of youth sports and weekend tournaments, parents have found ‘once and done’ methods and products to cut the laundry time and have their player(s) start their games looking their best.  For those who deal with deep, ground in dirt, it starts with power washing at home or the car wash followed by some soaking and washing. Below are some of the products* suggested by parents, and even a great-grandmother, at my grandson’s game.  As always, products should be used per label directions and tested in an inconspicuous spot prior to use. 

DIY 1:1:1 mix of hydrogen peroxide, blue Dawn dish detergent, and baking soda spread or sprayed on the stains and allowed to soak for 4+ hours before laundering as usual.

BIZ Stain and Odor Eliminator

Fels-Naptha bar [1][2]

Iron Out Rust Stain Remover

Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover

Lestoil (suggested by a great grandmother)

OUT White Brite Laundry Whitener

OxiClean™ Versatile Stain Remover or White Revive™

Zout

And a final “mom” recommendation – Wash uniforms inside out to reduce potential peeling of letters or numbers and dye transfer.  “HATS OFF” to all the moms, dads, and grandparents that support youth and their activities with their time, encouragement, and laundry duty! And thank you to the moms and dads who helped this grandma learn more about laundering today’s sport uniforms.

*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

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.

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Keep Memorial Day – Honor Our Fallen Heroes

Memorial Day is just around the corner and for many Americans it is about a three-day weekend and the “unofficial” start of summer—barbecues, swimming, camping and lake trips.  However, Memorial Day is more than all of that. Since 1868, it has been a national holiday dedicated to the men and women who have died while serving in a branch of the United States military. Learn more about this national holiday that memorializes our fallen heroes and how to respectfully honor them with flags and tribute flowers.

History

Prior to 1971, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th regardless of what day of the week it fell on; it was also known as Decoration Day. The very first Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, when General James A. Garfield gave a remembrance speech to thousands of onlookers at Arlington National Cemetery in memory of those lost during the Civil War. [1]  However, before the Civil War, women’s groups had been decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.  The name Memorial Day would be used with or in place of Decoration Day over the next decades, and after World War I, the day came to honor veterans from all wars, not only the Civil War. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day the official name for the national holiday and set the last Monday in May for observing a day of “National Mourning.”

Poppies have long been a national symbol of remembrance and hope beginning with the end of World War I when the bright red flowers bloomed on war-torn battlefields. The flower became associated with Memorial Day in 1915 when Moina Michael, inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields,” [2] penned the poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith” [3] and vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.

The true meaning of Decoration or Memorial Day has gradually been lost or mixed with other holiday traditions. Since the early 20th century, Memorial Day gradually became an occasion for more general expressions of remembering loved ones, as people visit and decorate the graves of their deceased relatives in church and city cemeteries, whether they served in the military or not.  Even though this is not the intention of Memorial Day, it does make for beautiful cemeteries as fresh or artificial flowers and wreaths adorn the graves. When the 1971 Congressional act established a three-day Memorial Day weekend, it also became vacation time for many and opportunity for businesses to cash in on Memorial Day savings.

Ways to Correctly Observe Memorial Day [4]

While there are dozens of ways one can honor America’s fallen on Memorial Day, here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Wear a Memorial Day button or poppy.
  • Visit cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
  • Fly the American flag at half mask until noon.  Per the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the flag is to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of our fallen heroes. This goes for all flags on government buildings, grounds, and naval vessels, as well as flags flown by private citizens.
  • Observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm.  The National Moment of Remembrance Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, asks all Americans to observe a national moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on the afternoon of Memorial Day.
  • Attend local Memorial Day services, parades, concerts sponsored by VFWs, American, Elks, Boy/Girl Scouts, government, business or educational groups, or religious services of choice.

Honor with Cemetery or Grave Marker Flags

Check in advance if a local group is planning a flag-placing event.  If a flag-placing event has been planned, extra hands may be welcomed.

  • Correctly place flags.  Flags placed at graves should be erected in a uniform matter, usually one foot, centered and in front of the headstone or grave marker according to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.
  • Use correct flag types. Cemetery or grave marker flags of appropriate size (8×12” or 12X18”) should be mounted on a wooden dowel of appropriate diameter and length.  Flags should be made of a durable material and exhibit no fraying or wear.  Flags made from fabrics which fray must have a rolled hem for more durability.
  • Be respectful and observe US Flag Codes. [5]
  • Place and remove flags at the appropriate times.  Cemetery or grave marker flags can usually be placed three days prior to the holiday and remain up to one week afterward. Make sure to check with the cemetery director to determine when to place and remove the flag.

Honor with Flowers or Floral Tributes

Cemeteries usually have rules and regulations for flowers and floral arrangements.  If you are not familiar with the rules, check before making a purchase to avoid disappointment. 

  • Choose hardy, long-lasting flowers. Flowers that are currently in-season and sourced locally will last longer than those that have been imported from another country. Chrysanthemums and carnations are both known for being hardy and long-lasting, even in outdoor conditions.
  • Place cut flowers in floral foam or a vase. A bouquet laid on the grave will not last long without water. Cut flowers in a well-soaked floral foam or a cemetery-approved vase with water will ensure that the flowers look beautiful for as long as possible.
  • Choose a potted plant. A correctly chosen potted plant may create less of an impact than cut flowers, but will last for a very long time.
  • Plant flowers on the grave. Some cemeteries allow planting of flowers on or around a grave. Peonies are a common choice when allowed as they are often in bloom for Memorial Day. 
  • Artificial flowers.  High quality silk flowers can look stunning, add color and beauty for a very long time, and require very little maintenance.
  • Be sure that any and all tributes are anchored properly.  Wind can be a real menace to grave-site tributes.  Some artificial arrangements come with wires or cones that can be poked into the soil.  Headstone saddles are designed to clamp on the top of the stone and hold arrangements in place, but may not be ample for our Midwest wind; the metal arms of the saddle have been criticized for not being strong enough to clamp tightly. A third option is a headstone flower anchor. The flower anchor is designed to be used on saddle arrangements to secure them to the stone, but it could easily be used to secure a wreath, a cross, or other style of arrangements.  Cemetery rules should always be observed.

Yes, Memorial Day has come to signify the “unofficial” start of summer as well as to memorize veterans and loved ones. In whatever way one chooses to observe it, do take time to keep Memorial Day and remember and honor the fallen heroes who made it all possible. 

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.

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