Jam and Jelly Problems – Cause, Prevention, and Remedy Resources

Jar of strawberry jam.

Sometimes jam and jelly recipes just don’t turn out right. When problems occur, it’s time to figure out why it went wrong, how to remedy, and how to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

Fruit gels require the exact right amount of fruit, pectin, acid and sugar for a firm gel to form. Imprecise measuring, too-ripe fruit, failure to use the right type (or amount) of pectin, or adding ingredients incorrectly can all contribute to too-soft or syrupy jam or jelly. Doubling recipes can also be a cause for issues.

The best place to turn for answers is the National Center for Home Food Preservation where one can learn more about problems, causes, and prevention strategies. A list of problems encountered, causes, and possible solutions are presented in easy-to-follow tables for jams, jellies, and fruit spreads.

The Ball® also has a problem solver page to help with questions like why fruit floats in jams, cloudiness, fermentation, liquid float and more.

If the problem is a soft gel, remaking may be a possibility. Washington State University Extension has an excellent publication on remaking soft jams and jellies. Stiff jams and jellies are more difficult to remedy; remaking a stiff jam or jelly for long-term storage is not expected to result in a quality product and is not recommended. If remaking is considered, the National Center for Home Food Preservation provides directions for doing so.

Sometimes the best solution is just to use the product as is. Soft fruit spreads make excellent syrups for pancakes and ice cream. Hard fruit spreads can be used as meat glazes or thinned with water/juice and used also for pancakes or ice cream.

A product experiencing a problem is usually safe to eat. Products showing cloudiness or bubbles are safe unless there are moving bubbles or there are signs of spoilage. Any products showing signs of mold should be discarded. When a jar has a larger than recommended head space or air was not removed prior to processing, the fruit will darken but is safe. Improperly processed or stored products may develop a wine-like flavor or color; this is due to fermentation of the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. If there is no mold on or in the product, it is safe to eat.

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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Resources for Teaching Children the Science of Food Preservation

Summertime is often a good time to introduce children to hands-on experiences that use skills learned in school. Food Preservation is one such activity that uses reading, math, and science principles. It is also a great way to teach new or life skills, pass on family activities, and enjoy produce all year long.

Children learning preservation skills from grandmother and grandfather

Activities should be geared to the child’s age and/or ability. Young children may enjoy slicing bananas and dehydrating them. Older children may enjoy making strawberry jam for the freezer or canning for shelf storage. Every food preservation adventure should begin with clean hands, equipment, workspace, and fresh, quality fruits or vegetables. If the project includes canning, a tested recipe from a reliable source should be chosen. Easy, tested recipes can be found with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Mrs. Wages mixes, or Sure-Jell/Ball® pectin.

Sometimes, having a teaching guide is helpful for ideas or how-tos. Some resources to use with children learning food preservation include:

If you love home food preservation, share your enthusiasm with a child. It is a lifelong skill and a great bonding experience!

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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Canning Season Readiness – Time to Test Pressure Canner Dial Gauges and Check Out the Canner

A pressure canner is the only safe method for canning low acid foods—red meats, seafood, poultry, and low acid vegetables. Ensuring your pressure canner is working properly and in good condition is critical to producing unquestionably safe products every year.

Dial Gauges Must be Tested Annually for Accuracy

Two styles of pressure canners - one with gauge, other with weights
Two pressure canners, one with dial gauge (rear) and one with a weighted gauge (front). Canner in front shows a cutaway to inside the canner. Image source: USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015.

Most of today’s pressure canners have either a dial gauge or weighted gauge for indicating and regulating the pressure. There is one exception; the All American brand has both a dial and weighted gauge. For canners having a dial gauge, safe canning begins with getting the gauge checked for accuracy yearly or before the start of the canning season. A dial gauge has movable parts which can go out of calibration. Gauges that read high cause under-processing and may result in unsafe food. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are the main reason why low-acid foods must be processed with the correct pressure and time to be safe.  Gauges with low readings may cause over-processing which is not a food safety issue, but rather a food quality issue. Pressure adjustments can be made if the gauge reads 2 pounds high or low. Gauges testing more than 2 pounds of difference should be replaced. The dial gauge should also be checked if any of the following conditions exist: cover has been submerged in water or dropped, gauge lens is broken or has fallen out, parts are rusty, pointer is not on “0”, or for any reason you believe the gauge may not be accurate. The dial should be replaced if it is cracked, rusted, or the glass is missing. Gauges on new canners and replacement gauges should be tested before use.

Weighted gauges do not require testing for accuracy because they cannot go out of calibration.

Dial Gauge Testing Services

There are several services that provide dial gauge testing. After testing is complete by a service, you will get a Canner Dial Gauge Testing Report or similar. It is a good idea to keep the reports for reference.

Local County Extension Office – Many County Extension Offices have the equipment and trained personnel for testing the National (National Pressure Cooker Company), Magic Seal (sold by Montgomery Ward), Maid of Honor (sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company), or Presto® brands. Check with your local office for availability or to find out about testing events in your area. AnswerLine (800-262-3804 or 515-296-5883) can help residents of Iowa and Minnesota find a location for testing in your area.

Presto – National Presto Industries will test dial gauges at no charge provided it is one of the following brands: National (National Pressure Cooker Company), Magic Seal (sold by Montgomery Ward), Maid of Honor (sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company), or Presto®. Check out the Care and Maintenance Guide at Go.Presto.com for information on how to send a gauge for testing.

Hardware Stores – Some hardware stores also offer this service. Call before you go.

All-American – For testing of All-American dial pressure gauges, contact Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, 920-682-8627. The weight is more accurate than the gauge and customers should use the weights to attain the correct pressure. If the weight begins to rock at the desired pressure and the gauge is off by more than 2 psi the company recommends replacing the gauge. The gauge is primarily used as a reference to know when the unit is at 0 psi and can safely be removed and the canner opened.

Canner Manufacturers – For pressure canner brands not specified, contact the manufacturer of the unit.

Self-Test – If your pressure canner has a both a dial gauge and a weight, it can be tested at home. UCCE Master Food Preservers shares how.

In addition to getting dial gauges checked, there are a number of other items to check out to make sure that the canner is in good working order for canning season. If any of the following do not check out, they should be replaced or cleaned as needed.

Annual Pressure Canner Checklist

Handles*Secure.
Canning Rack*Jars must be off the bottom of the canner during processing to reduce stress on the glass. Rack
should be free of rust and strong enough to support weight of jars.
GasketThe intense heat of pressure canning may cause the gasket to shrink or crack allowing air and
steam to escape under or around the lid. Under normal conditions, the gasket should be replaced
every three years or sooner if steam or water is coming out around the lid or if a hissing sound is
detected. Wash the gasket to remove any food deposits or grease that may have accumulated on
the gasket. Also wash the gasket trough before replacing the gasket.
Pressure PlugThe pressure plug should be replaced at the same time that the gasket is replaced. Many gasket
replacements come with the pressure plug as well.
Vent TubeCorrosion of any sort, water deposits, food debris, etc., in the vent pipe can cause a build-up of
pressure inside the canner that is not registered on the dial or it can prevent the weight from jiggling.
Use a pipe cleaner to brush along the sides and clean away any deposit that my be there.
WeightsMost weighted gauge canners use a three-piece system–a center piece that fits onto the vent
pipe and two rings that slip over the center. Each piece measurers 5 pounds of pressure. If 15
pounds of pressure are needed, all three pieces are used together. For 10 pounds of pressure,
use the center piece and one ring. For 5 pounds of pressure, only the center piece is needed.
Another type of weighted gauge is a round disc that is turned to the appropriate poundage needed
and placed on the canner.
Manual*The manual that came with the canner is invaluable for learning more about the canner, model
number, etc. If the manual has become lost, the Pick Your Own website has a listing of canner
manuals to download. If the canner is several years old, there is a good chance that the
processing information in the manual is out of date. Should this be the case, replace the manual
with the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015) (purchase or download).
*Also apply to a water bath canner.

Replacement Parts

Replacement parts are available at some hardware stores or stores that also sell food preservation equipment. Parts may also be purchased directly from some of the manufacturers. The Pressure Cooker Outlet has replacement parts for many makes and models of canners. Parts can also be found at Amazon.com. Be sure to know the canner model number and part number of the needed item (may be found in the canner manual). The model number can be found on the bottom of the canner, the handle, or the lid. 

Start the canning season off right. Get the gauge tested and make sure that your canner meets all check marks. 

Sources:

Reviewed and updated 4-2024, mg.

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 serious laundry room time. Add wet fields, sweat, blood, sports drinks, and other hard play stains!

Baseball player sliding into home base

Sport pants stained with hard play–dirt, grass, sweat, blood, and more, mean work in the laundry room. For best results and to minimize the work and time spent cleaning them, sports pants should be sent to the laundry room as soon as possible after the game. The longer sweat and stains sit, the harder they are to clean. While methods and products may differ for those who clean uniforms, there are 5 musts:

  • get to the stains ASAP,
  • avoid using chlorine bleach,
  • wash alone or with like colors,
  • wash inside out to reduce potential peeling of letters or numbers, and
  • air dry.

Textile experts would concur with the “mom” advice. Further, they 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 differs.

Fiber

Most sport uniforms are made of polyester or a blend of cotton and polyester, with polyester being widely used for youth sport uniforms. Polyester uniforms are extremely durable and exhibit moisture wicking properties, allowing sweat to wick away from the skin for more efficient evaporation. Polyester’s downside is its affinity for oil-based stains and shrinkage with heat. Check the garment tag to determine the fiber content and note if spandex is part of the mix. (Some caution may be needed with spandex as it may not take the usual harsh treatment required to get the uniforms clean.)

Stain Type

Most sport-induced stains are either protein stains or dye stains. Protein-based stains include blood, sweat, grass, mud and most dirt; protein stains can be time-consuming to remove as they usually involve some soaking time. Grass stains can also be a dye stain as the stain comes from chlorophyll in the grass. Red clay stain is another dye stain. Red clay is the dirt combination used to skim the infield; it’s 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. A combination of chlorophyll and red clay stains makes uniform cleaning challenging.

Grass, Blood, Sweat Stains

Reach for an enzyme-based product and pre-soak in cold to lukewarm (less than 100 degrees F) 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 (pre-soaks and detergents) work best as these cleaners contain enzymes that “eat” protein stains. When shopping for an enzyme laundry product, pay attention to products with “bio” or “enzyme action” somewhere in their name usually indicating that it likely contains enzymes. Launder by working a small amount of an enzyme based detergent into the stains and wash in enzyme detergent. If the stain persists, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) recommends laundering with sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

Dirt Stains

Regular dirt stains respond to products that contain wetting agents. Liquid dish soap (blue Dawn), laundry detergent, or some stain-removing sprays are typically used. Wetting agents enable water and cleaning agents to penetrate the fabric for better release of dirt.

Red Clay Stains

Red clay (rust) stains are allergic to chlorine and oxygen bleaches. Chlorine bleach may set or make the stain permanent. Pretreat the stain with dish soap, detergent, or spot cleaner; soak in warm water, scrub with a brush, and launder. Cleanipedia recommends rubbing an enzyme detergent into the stain, letting it set overnight, and washing it as usual. If the stain persists, Cleanipedia also offers more drastic solutions using vinegar and salt and ammonia solutions.

Nike, the manufacturer of many kinds of sports pants, recommends soaking for at least an hour. After soaking the pants, scrub the stain with a spare, clean toothbrush or scrub brush to help release dirt particles. Then, wash the pants in warm water (approximately 110 degrees F) using the heavy soil cycle and plenty of water. Nike also suggests using detergents explicitly made for athletic uniform care as they are lower in alkaline, preventing yellowing of whites or color loss. Lastly, avoid using fabric softener on garments that contain Dri-FIT materials, as it can reduce the moisture-wicking properties of the fabric.

Clubbies, the nickname for those who launder uniforms for the major league teams, suggest the use of a product called Slide Out.* Slide Out is formulated with additives that increase the effectiveness of detergent to remove tough red clay, blood, ground in dirt, sweat, odors, and hard to remove grass stains from all activity uniforms. It is a two-part product. Slide Out 1 permeates the fabric and opens up the yarns and fibers. Slide Out 2 reacts with Slide Out 1, taking out the dirt and stain. Slide Out is recommended as a post-stain remover. Originally developed for the major leagues, Slide Out is now available to consumers along with other uniform cleaning products directly from the company, Clubhouse Kit LLC, that developed the products.

There are a number of other products on the market that suggest that they will do the job as well. As always, products should be used per label directions and tested in an inconspicuous spot before use.

“HATS OFF” to all the moms, dads, and grandparents who support youth and their activities with their time, encouragement, and laundry duty!

*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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Exploring Portable Burners and Other Options for Canning

Using a portable burner (hot plate) for canning is a “hot” topic. When consumers make a change in their range or cooktop from burners (gas or electric) to a smooth (glass) electric or radiant heat cooktop, the smooth cooktop may not work for canning. Many manufactures advise against it citing such issues as heat or weight cracking the cooktop, fusing the canner to the cooktop, or scratching. 

Consumers have valid concerns about damage to their cooktops when canning. The canner weight, the intense heat for long periods of time, and scratching all pose potential damage to a smooth cooktop. Further, electric ranges now have an automatic ‘on and off’ cycle to protect the cooktop from excessive heat which could result in under processing of the canned product posing a food safety risk. When the manufacturer recommends against using the cooktop for canning and installing a second electric coil or gas burner range is not feasible, it makes sense to consider a portable burner or another type of canner. However, portable burners are not all alike, and not all portable burners are appropriate for canning. The same is true for canners.

Portable Burners

As one ponders a portable unit, it is important to consider the kind of canning you wish to do—water bath, pressure, or both. Pressure canning is the only safe method recommended by the USDA for low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats and fish. Water bath canning is suitable for high-acid foods—pickles, most fruits, jams and jellies. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) offers the following guidelines for selecting a portable burner for canning purposes:

Canner on portable burner
  • The unit should mimic a range burner as much as possible in size and heat intensity. One should be able to easily control the heat source to provide an even, consistent heat.
  • 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 or top heavy 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 burner should be about eight inches in diameter or the size of a large electric coil burner on a range top. (An electric range coil burner element has a diameter of 7.5 inches.)
  • For electric burners, the wattage should be about equal to that of a typical household range large burner, which is 1750W. The best portable electric heaters currently available run 1500W/120V. The BTUs of a gas burner should be 12,000 BTU or less.
  • The unit housing should hold up to the high heat under the canner for long heating periods, and not damage counter tops with reflected heat.

Portable Electric Burners

Most home or consumer units are too lightweight and have insufficient wattage to be used for canning.  Some commercial/restaurant quality units available closely meet the NCFHP recommendations; they are sturdy and provide 1500W/120V of energy. These UL-approved units come with either a cast-iron or a coil element. A cast iron element takes longer to heat but provides more strength than a coil element. 

Clemson University Extension offers two suggestions for portable burners. While no university testing has been done, canning groups have found commercial/restaurant units, such as those made by Cadco, Ltd (or similar), provide successful pressure and water bath canning results; these are single-burner units with cast iron elements. The manufacturer makes no recommendation for using the units for canning. 

Portable Gas Burners

The USDA or NCHFP does not recommend an outdoor gas grill for various reasons. However, a portable propane burner can be used outside as long as it is strong enough to support the weight of the canner, is used in a location away from wind, is well ventilated, can provide consistent even heat, and will not damage the canner. Some canner manufacturers advise against canning on any gas heat source. The high heat can damage pressure canners, especially those made of aluminum or stainless steel; using a portable gas unit may also void the canner warranty due to damage the heat may cause. Damage, warping, delaminating or fusing of the aluminum canner to the LP heat source, renders the canner non-functional. Further, NCHFP cautions that high BTU burners (over 12,000 BTUs) could produce so much heat that the recommended come-up time for canning may be altered to potentially produce an unsafe final product.  There are no recommendations for using a turkey fryer or a wok burner for canning; if used, consideration should be made of all the precautions mentioned.

Portable Induction Burners

An induction burner requires non-ridged, flat-bottomed cookware containing ferrous iron to work with the electromagnetic field below the surface of the unit. Since most brands of pressure canners are made of aluminum, they will not work on an induction burner. Water bath canners can be problematic, too. One manufacturer, Presto®, has introduced a canner with a stainless steel clad base that is suitable for pressure and water bath canning on gas, electric (coil and smooth-top), and induction cooking surfaces.  However, Presto® cautions that the canner may not work on all portable induction ranges; no specifics are given as to what makes a unit suitable. (See Presto® 23 quart induction pressure canner for more information.)

Other Canner Options

Digital canners. Digital canners like the Presto Precise®  is an option for both pressure canning and water bath canning. Per Presto® information, innovative sensors in the unit hold at the exact USDA processing times/temperature required for safe canning of low acid and high acid foods. Since Presto® did their own testing of the product, NCHFP cannot verify the company’s statements and recommends that consumers follow only the digital canner’s manual and not instructions from other sources.

NOTE: Electric programmable pressure cookers (EPPCs) or multi-cookers are NOT SUITABLE FOR CANNING. Pressure cookers and pressure canners are not interchangeable. EPPC units do not meet USDA guidelines for canning for various reasons (see Canning in Pressure Cookers).

Electric water bath canners. For those who only want to do water bath canning, an electric water bath canner may be an option. These are freestanding units specifically designed for ONLY water bath canning of high acid foods—fruit spreads, pickles, and most fruits. Heat sensors inside the canner maintain optimal temperatures for consistent canning results. The Ball® EasyCanner manufactured by Newell Brands is one such unit.

Steam or atmospheric canning. Steam canning is a method of preserving high-acid foods with a pH of 4.6 or below using steam. A steam canner can be used to replace a water bath canner if the processing time is 45 minutes or less. Using less water, steam provides the required temperature for safe processing with less energy. Steam Can It Right! Guidelines for Safely Using a Steam Canner for Home Food Preservation provides additional information about using a steam canner safely. Steam canning has only been tested with the “top hat” style steam canner.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and AnswerLine do not endorse or recommend any products mentioned in this blog. 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.

For additional information on portable burners, please leave comments in the blog or reach out to AnswerLine.

Sources:

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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Staying on Top of Product Recalls


RECALL Image

A RECALL occurs when a manufacturer takes a product off the market because there is reason to believe that it may cause harm to consumers. There are recalls for all kinds of consumer products—children’s toys, automobiles, appliances, clothing, furniture, electronics, food and more. Keeping up with all the recalls can be daunting.

Several governmental agencies are responsible for protecting consumers and issuing recalls.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for protecting the public against unreasonable injuries and deaths associated with consumer products—everything from children’s toys to electronics and more. Recalls are posted on the CPSC website.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the Department of Transportation (DOT), handles all moving vehicle issues. A recall is issued when either the manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a vehicle or equipment creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet appropriate standards. Check for recalls on the NHTSA website. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), also a division of the DOT, assesses the risks associated with aviation.

Two agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), are responsible for food safety. The FDA is responsible for the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics while the USDA regulates beef, poultry, and processed egg products. Both issue food recalls when it is believed that a food item may cause consumers to become ill. Warnings are posted on their individual websites, but FoodSafety.gov is the go-to consumer website to learn about all food related recalls from both agencies. Bacterial contamination (listeria or salmonella), undeclared allergens, or foreign matter in the product are the most common reasons for food recall, removal from store shelves, and advising consumers to return or toss problematic food. Food Recalls & Alerts is an app that collects all FDA, USDA and pet food recalls and sends real-time alerts to your phone. The app is available at the Apple or Google Play stores.

Recalls from all of the different agencies can be found at Recalls.gov.

Recalls happen frequently, but it can be difficult to know when a recall affects your health or safety. For that reason, it is critical to know where to find recall information, take recalls seriously, and discontinue use of recalled products immediately, be it ice cream or tires.

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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Asparagus Now and Later

There is no denying it! Spring and asparagus go hand in hand. Whether it comes from the garden, supermarket, or farmer’s market, asparagus is perfect for any meal. While asparagus may be a symbol of spring, it can and should be enjoyed year round.

Bundle of fresh asparagus spears

Asparagus is a great source of fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins K, E, A, and C. (Because it is a good source of vitamin K, those who are on blood thinning medications should monitor the amount consumed.)  Asparagus does not contain fat or cholesterol and is very low in calories—just 4 calories per spear and approximately 27 calories in a one cup serving.

Peak season is usually mid-April to early/mid-June in the Midwest depending upon the season. When the temperatures warm in June, the spears begin to get spindly indicating it is time to stop harvesting and let the plants mature into their fern-like foliage and replenish for the next growing season.

Selecting and Preparing Asparagus

Green is the most common color of asparagus. However, it can also be white or purple. White asparagus is green asparagus that has been covered to block out light to the green shoots so that photosynthesis cannot take place. White asparagus has a very mild flavor and because of the extra effort to cover and blanch it, it is usually more expensive. Like white asparagus, purple asparagus also has a mild flavor; it also exhibits a nuttiness and sweetness due to a higher natural sugar content. It is best used raw or cooked minimally as it will turn green with cooking. Purple asparagus is a result of a genetic mutation of a variety of green asparagus; purple has 40 chromosomes instead of the natural 20 found in green and contains anthocyanins contributing the purple color.

Regardless of color, select stalks that are smooth, uniform in color, and have compact tips. Avoid stalks that are shriveled, limp, or have open, seedy tips—all signs of aging or improperly cared for spears. Do a sniff test; old asparagus gets smelly fast.

Asparagus can be prepared in any number of ways—broiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, sautéed, air fried—or used fresh or par-cooked/cooled in salads. Whatever cooking method is used, the cooking time is short as asparagus is easily overcooked. Strive for stalks that are tender crisp. 

Wash and remove the woody stems prior to cooking or using fresh. Gently bend the stalk until the woody part snaps away naturally. Peeling is a personal option; some people like to peel the lower stalk or remove the scales when the stalks are ½-inch or larger as the lower stems may be a little tougher.

Storing or Preserving Asparagus to Retain Freshness

Asparagus is best used fresh. Store asparagus spears in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel or with the stalk ends in shallow water. Loosely cover with plastic to prevent dehydration. If asparagus has been purchased at the market, cut the stalk ends about an inch before wrapping or placing in shallow water. Asparagus will keep well in the refrigerator for a week or longer using one of these methods. Watch asparagus for signs of spoiling—cloudy water, soft/mushy heads, limp stalks, off odor. If heads are drooping but not soft, remove the head and use the rest of the stalk for soup.

Asparagus can be preserved by freezing, drying, canning or pickling for year-round use. In all cases, young, tender spears should be selected and thoroughly washed. Scales should be removed if the directions/recipe directs such. Blanching is needed prior to freezing or drying. Blanching—scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time—is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. It stops enzyme action which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture; cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms; brightens the color; helps retard loss of vitamins; and makes packing easier. Timing is also critical. Underblanching stimulates the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching. Overblanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals.

Freezing. Sort the spears into sizes and cut into even lengths. Water blanch small spears for 2 minutes, medium spears 3 minutes and large spears for 4 minutes. Steam blanching is also an option and takes about 1 1⁄2 times longer than water blanching. After blanching is complete, remove the asparagus from the water and put in ice water. This stops the cooking action and retains color, texture and flavor. After it has cooled, drain and package, leaving no headspace OR tray pack prior to packaging.

Pickling. The addition of vinegar to asparagus increases the acidity allowing for processing in a boiling water bath. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a tested recipe for Pickled Asparagus.  Note that the use of hot peppers in the recipe is optional. Delicate spears enhanced with garlic and dill remain flavorful and crisp.

Drying (Dehydrating). A dehydrator or an oven may be used. To successfully dry asparagus, follow directions by Colorado State Preserve Smart. Watch the spears closely at the end of the drying period to prevent scorching and be sure to condition prior to long-term storage.

Canning. Asparagus is a low-acid vegetable so a pressure canner must be used to guarantee the spears or pieces are shelf safe and free from clostridium botulinum, the toxin that causes botulism. The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides directions for spears or pieces by hot or raw pack.

Make the asparagus season last as long as possible! Store fresh asparagus properly to retain freshness or preserve it to make the season last through the year.

Sources:
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Drying Asparagus, Colorado State Preserve Smart
Preparing and Preserving Asparagus, PennState Extension
Using, Storing, and Preserving Asparagus, Michigan State University Extension

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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Spring: Time for Rhubarb!

rhubarb

A sure sign that spring is arriving is rhubarb starting to grow! Although it is technically a vegetable, it is used as a fruit since it is highly acidic which gives it the distinctive tart flavor. It is delicious combined with strawberries for a pie, made into bars or crisps, or a sauce poured over ice cream or cake. It also works well as a savory accompaniment for meats such as poultry, venison, salmon, and halibut. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg complement the tartness of rhubarb.

“Rhubarb is a rich source of nutrients providing 45% of Daily Value of Vitamin K in a serving size of 1 cup. In addition, rhubarb contains Vitamin C and A, along with Folate, Riboflavin, and Niacin. Rhubarb provides 32% of the Daily Value of manganese in a serving. Other nutrient/minerals include Iron, Potassium and Phosphorus. Rhubarb is also comprised of phytochemicals and phenols that provide the body with additional health benefits. The antioxidants present in the deep red stalks contain anthocyanin and lycopene, which have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease and have anti-carcinogenic effects towards the prevention of cancer. Over forty-two types of phytonutrients and chemicals are present in rhubarb,” (Purdue Extension). Rhubarb also provides fiber which is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Although it can be eaten raw, rhubarb tends to be too tart so it is usually cooked with sugar or other sweeteners. There are any number of ways to prepare rhubarb. Purdue Extension cautions to always use a nonreactive pan (such as stainless steel or enamel-lined cast iron) when cooking with rhubarb. Using other types of pans can cause chemical reactions with the acidic content in rhubarb. “Recipes generally call for pounds, cups, or number of stalks. Three to five stalks make about 1 pound. One pound of rhubarb makes about 4 cups of raw chopped rhubarb. Four stalks of rhubarb equals approximately 2 cups of diced rhubarb. A 12 oz. package of frozen rhubarb equals approximately 1 1/2 cups,” (University of Wyoming Extension).

Rhubarb can produce more than can be used fresh. Fortunately, it is an excellent candidate for preservation by canning, freezing or making into jam or jelly to enjoy later in the summer or next winter. Use these links to successfully can or freeze rhubarb or turn it into delicious jelly or jam. It also makes excellent juice.
Canning rhubarb.
Freezing rhubarb.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Jelly.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (also available in Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, 2006, p. 32 or 2020, p. 30.)
Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate. (also available in Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, 2006, p. 193 or 2020, p. 191)

Spring weather can change quickly in the Midwest; fortunately, rhubarb is a sturdy plant that can withstand cold temperatures after it has started to grow. If a frost occurs, check your plant in a few days. If the leaves and the stalks are blackened and soft, remove them. Any new growth will be safe to eat. If the stalks do not show any sign of damage from the frost those stalks are safe to eat.

Rhubarb is easy to grow. Stalks should be selected from plants that are at least two years old to maintain the vigor of the plant. For more information on planting and growing rhubarb, check out Growing Rhubarb in Iowa and Growing Rhubarb in Home Gardens. An old wives tale we hear often is that rhubarb is poisonous if eaten later in the summer. Rhubarb does not become poisonous, but harvesting later in the summer may weaken the plant and make it less productive the following year.

Rhubarb, one of the first of spring’s jewels, offers endless opportunities to enjoy year round. Enjoy all that rhubarb has to offer and boost your health, too!

Sources:
Rhubarb, Love It for Its Taste; Eat It for Your Health, Purdue Extension
Enjoy This Nutritional Powerhouse’s Tartness Softened by Sweet, University of Wyoming Extension
Rhubarb, Purdue Extension Food Link
Michigan Fresh: Using, Storing and Preserving Rhubarb (HN148), Michigan State University Extension
Rhubarb Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits, VeryWellFit.com

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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Spouting or Greening Potatoes . . . Keep or Toss?

“Should a potato with sprouts be used or tossed?” There is a great deal of conflicting advice on the question of use or toss. It comes down to the condition of the potato.

Sprouted potatoes in bag
Photo: MGeiger

As the warmer months approach, potatoes in storage may be showing signs of sprouting or even vigorously sprouting; shriveling may also accompany sprouting as the starch in the potato is converted to sugar to feed the new plants. Potatoes have an inherent natural dormancy maintained by endemic plant hormones. The concentration of the hormones in the tubers decreases over time resulting in sprouts forming at the eyes. When sprouting starts to occurs, this is a sign that the dormant period is over and nature is telling them it is time to reproduce. Even under ideal well ventilated, cool, dry, and dark storage conditions, this natural phenomenon occurs. Potatoes that are improperly stored in the home may exhibit the same sprouting and shriveling regardless of time of year as conditions may trick them into “thinking spring.”

Why the Concern?

Potatoes contain two kinds of glycoalkaloids called solanine and chaconine. Both are naturally occurring chemical compounds. Glycoalkaloids are found throughout potato tubers, but are in highest concentration in the leaves, flowers, sprouts, green skin and the area around the potato ‘eyes’. The lowest concentration is found in the flesh of the tuber.

In normal tubers, glycoalkaloids concentrations are small with a slightly higher concentration in a thin layer immediately under the skin and around the eyes. Peeling potatoes and removing the eyes reduces the presence of the compound. The concentration of glycoalkaloids in sprouts is much higher and can be high enough to be toxic to humans. The more potatoes sprout, the greater the presence of glycoalkaloids in both the sprout and potato itself. High concentrations of glycoalkaloid compounds give potatoes an unpleasant, bitter taste and can lead to headaches, vomiting and other digestive issues.

According to articles by Michigan State and North Carolina Extensions, removing the sprouts will allow safe consumption of the rest of the potato as long as the potatoes are firm, not soft or shriveled, and the sprouts are small. Further, most of the nutrients are still intact. But if the sprouts are long (1 inch or more) and the potato has shriveled, it should be tossed.

The same is nearly true for potatoes exhibiting greening. Green skinned potatoes have been exposed to too much light. Light causes the potato to produce chlorophyll and activate the skin cells to produce solanine which has a bitter taste and is an irritant to the digestive system. Because of the bitter taste, most people do not eat enough to get sick. Despite that, always use caution when greening is found on the tubers as this indicates elevated levels of solanine. Peeling the potato and removing the green portions by simply cutting them out will eliminate most of the toxin. However, if more extensive greening occurs into the tuber, throw the tuber away. Never eat tubers that are green beneath the skin. 

Cooking does not destroy glycoalkaloid compounds; therefore, potatoes exhibiting sprouts and shriveling or deep green parts should not used. Potatoes that are firm and exhibiting only small sprouts at the eye and/or skin-deep greening can be eaten if the entire sprout and any green-tinged parts of the potato are cut away.

Storing Potatoes to Prevent Sprouting and Greening

Storing potatoes the right way will prevent sprouting and greening. As mentioned earlier, potatoes should be stored in a cool (45-50 degrees), dark, dry, and well ventilated location for maximum freshness.  Kept in these conditions, potatoes will likely last up to three months or longer. At room temperature, potatoes will usually last about 2 weeks. Storing potatoes in a cellar or cool basement is ideal. Storage areas should always be away from appliances that give off heat or any area that allows light. If potato tubers will be consumed soon, they can be stored in a cupboard/pantry in a paper bag.

Don’t store potatoes in the fridge. Cold temperatures turn the starches in potatoes into sugars. This makes potatoes sweeter and cook dark. Also, potatoes should not be stored with onions. Storing them together shortens their shelf life. Onions produce ethylene gas which causes potatoes to spoil prematurely. The high moisture content of potatoes can cause onions to turn brown and rot.

In conclusion, sprouted or green potatoes are not necessarily destined for the landfill or compost pile.  With certain precautions, the potato may be safe to eat as long as sprouts and green spots can be cut away. If there is extensive sprout growth, shriveling, and deep green within the tuber, potatoes should be tossed to prevent risk of potential toxicity from solanine and chaconine, the two natural glycoalkaloid compounds found in potatoes.

For other questions about food safety and storage advice that will help keep food safe after purchase or harvest, The Food Keeper is an excellent resource. This handy reference tool was produced by the Food Marketing Institute at Cornell University in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It contains useful guidelines for storing food safely. The app is just a finger touch away for IOS and Android smartphones users by visiting the App Store or Google Play and searching for “FoodKeeper Mobile App.” The same app is also available for computer or pads at FoodSafety.gov.

Sources:
Toxic Glycoalkaloids in Potatoes, Centre for Food Safety
Glycoalkaloids in Potato Tubers, Oregon State University Extension
Food Safety of Potatoes, Michigan State University Extension 
Is It Safe to Eat a Potato That Has Sprouted?, North Carolina Extension
Is It Safe to Eat Sprouted Potatoes? Here’s What the Experts Say, EatingWell
Are Sprouted Potatoes Safe to Eat?, Poison Control

Reviewed and updated 3-2024, mg.

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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Oh no, my freezer is out!

Food in freezer
Food in freezer

Freezer failure can happen at any time due to mechanical problems, power failures, or human error. Regardless of cause, freezer failure means the loss of all or part of a large investment in food, time and money.

When you discover that the freezer is not working, it is important to determine why it is no longer working. Has the door been left open? A blown fuse, a broken electrical circuit or an accidental disconnection? Is the freezer over packed or full of frost build up? Has there been a power failure or did the unit simply die? In any of these cases, normal operation should be restored as quickly as possible and the food checked for thawing.

If the freezer outage is due to a power outage you will want to do what you can to keep all the food from thawing. If the outage is not expected to be more than 12-24 hours, avoid opening the freezer and cover with blankets or quilts. If a longer outage is expected, the food should be moved to a locker or taken to a working freezer (friends and neighbors), if available. Move food as quickly as possible using insulated boxes or cooler chests. Purchased dry ice or packaged ice can be added to help keep the contents cold for a longer period. If dry ice is used, handle it carefully and get usable sizes. Don’t open the freezer again until you need to replace the dry ice or until the freezer is working again. (For more tips on using dry ice, see If Your Home Freezer Stops.) If the freezer is in need of a repair or has died, the same guidelines for moving food or adding dry ice may save the food until a repair person arrives or a new unit is purchased.

Once the freezer is working or is replaced, check to see if the contents are still completely frozen or partially frozen. It is possible to refreeze many foods that have completely thawed if you are absolutely certain that they have been kept at a temperature lower than 40°F for no longer than two days (about normal refrigerator temperature). Refreezing food must be done quickly. It is best to set the temperature control to the coldest setting and once the food is solid again, return the setting to maintain 0°F or lower. Since refreezing may affect the quality of the food, it is a good idea to mark the refrozen food and use it as quickly as possible.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Oregon State University have guidance on what to do with thawed foods. Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded.

  • Meat and Poultry: Re-freeze if the freezer temperature stays 40°F or below and if color and odor are good. Check each package, and discard any if signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor are present. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature). Refrozen meat should be used within three to four weeks and cooked to 165°F before eating. The same is true for refrozen sausage, bacon and other processed meats. Refrozen meats will probably be drier than other frozen meat.
  • Vegetables: Be careful with blanched or cooked vegetables. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in them. It may be impossible to tell by their odor whether they have started to spoil. Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Vegetables should be immediately refrozen if they still have ice crystals. Discard any packages that show signs of spoilage or that have reached room temperature.
  • Fruits: Re-freeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams, or preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality. However, fruits and fruit products are likely to ferment after they have thawed and been held at temperatures above 45°F. This doesn’t make them harmful, but it will change their flavor. They may be used in cooking or baking or for making jams, jellies and preserves.
  • Shellfish and Cooked Foods: Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or the freezer is 40°F or below. If the temperature is above 40°F, discard as bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods.
  • Ice Cream: If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture of ice cream is not acceptable after thawing. If its temperature rises above 40°F, it could be unsafe. The same is true for creamed foods and puddings.
  • Breads, Nuts, Doughnuts, Cookies and Cakes: These foods re-freeze better than most. They can be safely re-frozen if they show no signs of mold growth. Refreezing will likely result in some loss of moisture.

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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