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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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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Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

AnswerLine is pleased to welcome Jennie Savits as our newest team member. Jennie joined AnswerLine on June 1 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Further, she is no stranger to Iowa State University or Extension and Outreach.  

Jennie holds BS/MS degrees in Food Science from Iowa State University and completed 11 years with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. While with the Institute, Jennie held various roles in the lab and in the field. She worked on extension and outreach activities and research projects to support the local grape and wine industry in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. Jennie also has experience with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University as a lecturer, where she taught food science laboratory courses and oversaw laboratory renovations.

Jennie’s interest in food science stemmed from participation in the 4H and FFA organizations. Growing up in rural Boone County, she was a member of the Harrison Happy Hustlers 4-H club and the Boone A&M FFA Chapter. Jennie enjoyed completing 4H projects in the areas of food and nutrition, horticulture, and livestock. Food science became a key area of interest after she competed on a team that won the inaugural Iowa FFA Food Science Career Development Event (CDE). Their team went on to place 2nd nationally and directed Jennie’s career path toward food science.

Jennie says that she really enjoys the opportunity to help people find answers and solve problems, especially on topics related to food safety and food preservation. Jennie has developed strong relationships within the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach organization and looks forward to helping disseminate research based information to those we serve.

Family
Savits family – Photo: jsavits

Jennie lives with her husband, Paul, and their 5 children on a farm near Ogden. She enjoys spending time with family, helping out around the farm, and gardening.

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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Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Parents Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Child with grandparents.
Child with grandparents – Photo: rsweeney

In this blog, I am focusing on things my husband and I plan to do prior to baby arriving to help make the adjustment easier (for strategies on how were preparing Thomas for the adjustment, see my previous blog, Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust).

We are excited that our family is growing, but also recognize our hands will be quite full with two children under two years old. As we close in on the third trimester, I am embracing Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Now, I realize not every detail will be attended to (and there are going to be things I overlook) but having a general game plan and preparing accordingly will help reduce my stress heading into this transition.

Strategies to Help Parents Adjust:

Thomas with Grandma Wall
Child with grandmother – rsweeney
  • Create a plan for who will watch the other child(ren): while we are at hospital Thomas will be staying with my in-laws. We plan for Thomas to do a test run at Grandma and Grandpa’s house overnight before the baby arrives, so he is familiar with sleeping overnight in a new place. Also consider what your child needs with them and make sure to pack those items. For Thomas, this will include his sound machine and sleep sack.
  • Create a plan for meals ahead of time: caring for a newborn and toddler doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy to prepare meals. There are several different approaches you can take when thinking about advance meal planning. Some may want to organize a Meal Train, where friends, family and neighbors select a date and meal they will be delivering to your home, others may order frozen meals to be delivered. I am planning to set aside a day to prepare several main dish recipes and store them in my freezer for easy meals when the baby arrives.
  • Preparing nursery and other baby-specific areas: this will look different for everyone depending on the set-up of their home. For me, this will include getting the nursery set-up, washing baby clothes and blankets, creating several diaper changing areas throughout the house, and preparing supplies for nursing. I also plan to set up a subscription for diaper delivery as this will be one less thing to worry about once the baby is here. Alongside washing baby clothes and blankets, I’ve been carefully selecting organic options, prioritizing quality and sustainability. From soft cotton onesies to cozy sleepers, each piece has been carefully selected for its quality and sustainability. I’m particularly excited about a Dim Sum-inspired onesie I found, adorned with adorable dumpling illustrations. It’s a playful nod to our favorite cuisine and adds a touch of whimsy to our baby’s wardrobe.
  • Pack hospital bag: this is always nice to have done as we don’t always know when babies will make their appearance. Along with the hospital bag, I’ll also be washing the material in our infant car seat, reassembling, and setting it next to my hospital bag so it is not forgotten! 
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed: babies bring so much joy to our lives, but they are also a lot of work. Make sure to accept help from your partner, relatives, and friends. After Thomas was born my mom stayed with us for several days when we returned from the hospital. It was so nice to have an extra set of hands and we’re planning to have her stay again once this baby arrives!
  • Make time to care for yourself: After having Thomas, I decided to swim twice a week as preparation for a half-Ironman relay. I really appreciated this time alone to recharge and found I was more patient with both Thomas and my husband after swimming.
  • Remember to make time for each other: children of couples who have a strong and loving relationship are more likely to adjust well to the new baby. After Thomas was a few months old and we felt comfortable leaving him for a stretch of several hours, we have tried to do a date night (or afternoon) once a month, just the two of us. It isn’t always fancy (sometimes it involves running errands), but it is nice to have that time to reconnect.

Welcoming a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) baby into the family is a big transition for parents but planning and preparing ahead of time can make the transition easier for all involved. With a little preparation beforehand, we are eager to bond as a family.

Sources:

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.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Child wearing his big brother sweater.
Child wearing his big brother sweater – Photo: Rachel Sweeney

Pregnancy and adding a new baby bring about a lot of changes that may cause Thomas to feel scared or rejected. Oklahoma State University Extension has compiled a helpful table of things to do and say as you prepare older siblings for a new baby sibling. I’m planning to print off this chart and post it on the fridge so I can easily reference it. Too often, parents may emphasize things children should not do with babies. It is recommended that parents give more attention to showing children ways they can have a safe and enjoyable time together. An older child needs to know how to play with a baby, how they can communicate, and how to handle conflict and frustration.

It is also important to consider the age of the older sibling and what is age-appropriate for them as they welcome home a new sibling. The Child Mind Institute offers great age-specific tips to prepare older children for a new sibling.3

Strategies to Help Older Children Adjust:

  • Expose and introduce them to other newborns and babies: this gives them the opportunity to interact with babies and demonstrate how they should behave around babies. My sister has an eight-month-old daughter, so I have been more intentional about holding her when Thomas is around.
  • Read books about babies: the list below can get you started, and you can also check with your local librarian for suggestions.  
    • I Am a Big Sister (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • I Am a Big Brother (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • My New Baby (Fuller, 2009, Child’s Play International).
    • Peter’s Chair (Keats, 1967, Harper & Row).
    • A Pocket Full of Kisses (Penn, 2006, Tanglewood).
    • 101 Things to Do with a Baby (Ormerod, 1984, Puffin Books).
    • She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl (Greenfield, 1974, Harper Trophy).
    • A New Baby at Koko Bear’s House (Lansky, 1987, The Book Peddlers).
  • Create a special basket of toys for when I am caring for the baby: only use these toys when doing something with the baby that needs all my focus. Several items I plan to put in this basket include a self-propelled plane, dimple fidget toys, and books with sound.
  • Each parent spending individual time (10-15 minutes) with older child: this is a routine to begin before the baby arrives and to continue after the baby arrives. It is important that this time include no younger siblings, no screens, and no other distractions. Make child-directed play the goal; meaning your child chooses what and how to play, and you follow their lead.
Child practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll.
Child practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll. Photo source: Rachel Sweeney
  • Purchase a doll and practice skills such as holding, diapering, and feeding: this can help teach children how to rock, hug, cuddle, and even feed and diaper a baby by practicing first on a doll. I am planning to snag one of these at a garage sale this spring.
  • Sibling preparation classes: check with your hospital to see if they will be offering these classes. Unfortunately, the hospital I will be delivering at currently does not offer these classes in-person, but I do see there are some classes available online.
  • Limit major changes to routine: it is recommended to not make any major changes in the routine of the older sibling in the several months leading up to the baby’s arrival as well as a few months after the baby’s arrival. This includes things such a transitioning to a toddler bed, potty training, weaning from a pacifier, and starting a new daycare. We will be moving to a new home this summer, but we are trying to get that done in early summer, so Thomas has several months to adjust to our new home before the baby arrives.
  • Find ways to invite your child to help: you want to make sure your child feels included, which helps create a bond between siblings. I have been brainstorming some tasks that Thomas can help with, including bringing diapers, bringing items to the baby (such as a pacifier), and turning on the sound machine for baby.
  • Ask visitors to spend one-on-one time with the older sibling: this will help the older sibling feel special and not left out. We plan to have guests visit when we return home and since the weather will still be nice outside, I am hoping many of our family and friends can take Thomas outside to play.

Welcoming a new sibling is a big transition for an older sibling but planning and being intentional with your actions and words as a parent can help make the transition easier for all involved. We are eager for Thomas to bond with his sibling once he or she arrives!

________________________________________

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. 

Resources:

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Tips for Writing 4-H Exhibit Goals

Iowa County and 4-H Fairs will soon be in full swing. For some families, that means crunch time to get 4-H projects ready for exhibit. Besides the project, members must also complete a 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet for each of their static projects. When the goal sheet is hastily written or not well thought out, the goal sheet can become a detriment rather than a support to the project. The goal sheet is usually written but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording. 4-H members can use a standard form or create their own. Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered.

The three parts of the exhibit goal sheet include the following:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project, as stated in the goal.

Goal to project mapThe goal is the road map helping one plan how to get where they want to go or directions for arriving at a destination. In the same way one may reach a destination using Google, maps or a navigator tool before starting to drive, the goal should lead to the finished project. Therefore, the goal must be known at the start of the project so that the steps and learning experiences result in the project being evaluated.

So what makes a strong goal?

  • Goals have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals should pass the “control test.”  Does the 4-H member have control over the outcome of the goal, or does someone else have that control?
  • Goals should be appropriate for the age and experience level of the 4-H member.
  • Goals should be S.M.A.R.T. or SENSIBLE – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC – TIMELY. Of the five S.M.A.R.T. parts, MEASURABLE jumps out as the part allowing a 4-H member to evaluate their project and see growth. Measurable is also important to the 4-H judge in evaluating the project.

Here are some examples of goals and their strength.

Action Result Timetable Pass Control Test S.M.A. R. T. Strong Goal
I want to make a poster. None Yes Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to tie 5 knots and display them at the county fair. Yes Yes Yes
I want to earn a blue ribbon on my photo at the fair. No Not Measurable No
I want to sew a pillow for my room before my birthday. Yes Yes Yes
I want to make a favorite family treat None Maybe Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to make strawberry jam when the strawberries are in season. Yes Yes Yes

Learning to set goals is an essential life skill to develop. Goals should change and become more challenging each year to show growth in a project. For more information on strong goals for the 4-H Exhibit Sheet, check out a great video on setting goals. And after a great goal is in place, check out Tips for Completing the 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet.

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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Test Well Water Annually for Safe Drinking Water

One in seven Americans get their drinking water from private wells. While Federal and state governments set legal limits for contaminants in public water systems, those laws don’t cover private wells. Rather, private well owners are responsible for the safety of their water. No federal or state requirements exist for well owners to test their water. However, private wells must be tested for possible harmful contaminants.

water from faucet filling glass
Water filling a glass from a faucet head.

At a minimum, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends bacteria and nitrate testing be performed at least once per year. Nitrates pose a threat to infants and pregnant or nursing mothers, while the presence of bacteria indicates a pathway for disease-causing bacteria to enter the well. You may also want to have your well water tested if you notice any changes in color, taste, odor, hardness, corrosion, sediment, etc. Water can also be tested for naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic, fluoride, and radium. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends testing for coliform bacteria, nitrate, arsenic, lead, and manganese on a scheduled basis.

Nearly all Iowa counties participate in the Grants-to-Counties Well Program to assist families with well water testing. The Grants-to-Counties program can provide free or cost-sharing for water sampling and analysis to qualifying private drinking water systems. To find out if your county participates in the Grants-to-County Well Program or to arrange sampling of your water system, please refer to the list of County Environmental Health Sanitarians supplied by the Iowa DNR and contact the Sanitarian’s office in the county where the well is located. Minnesota also has help for private well owners through grants or loans. The grant programs may also assist with the cost of filling abandoned wells. Old wells pose a safety hazard and a hazard to groundwater contamination. Most state laws require old abandoned wells to be properly filled to eliminate any hazards.

Iowa residents can get more information from the Iowa DNR to learn how to sample and test well water. Minnesota residents can get more information from the Minnesota Department of Health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an all-states listing of contacts for certified laboratories for water testing.

You don’t know what’s in your water until you test. Get it on your calendar for testing annually or more often, if needed. In the meantime, be aware of potential sources of contamination near your well–livestock, septic tanks, fuel or chemical spills, or anything unusual about your well or the water from it.

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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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.
Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA
Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA
Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA
Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

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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Safe Frosting for Iowa 4-H Fairs

The most recent edition of Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs – Quick Reference Guide (Current Year) now includes a tested, homemade buttercream frosting that is safe and acceptable for baked goods exhibited or displayed at Iowa 4-H fairs. Identifying a safe “buttercream frosting” recipe for exhibit has been a source of confusion for 4-H members and their families as well as County Extension Educators and fair judges. Store-bought, commercially prepared frostings that are shelf stable are also acceptable for food product exhibits. 

Food products exhibited at 4-H Fairs must be shelf stable or stable (non-perishable) at room temperature and not require refrigeration to be safe. Due to the various ingredients and quantities that may be incorporated into a homemade frosting, many frostings require refrigeration to be unquestionably safe. Three factors play a role in determining the safety of a frosting: acidity (pH), water activity (Aw), and percent of soluble solids (%Brix).

The acidity (pH) of a frosting is affected by the ingredients used. Traditional frostings made with dairy or eggs tend to increase pH making them more basic than acidic and susceptible to spoilage. Therefore, frosting made with cream cheese, whipped cream, or eggs requires refrigeration to inhibit spoilage and molding despite the fact that frostings are laden with sugar, known for its ability to inhibit microbial growth.  

Water activity (Aw) is the measure of available water in a food product that can support microbial growth and affect the quality and safety of food. This differs from moisture content which refers to water bound to ingredients within the food. The FDA has established that a water activity (Aw) value greater than 0.85 on a scale of 0 (bone dry) – 1.0 (pure water) indicates a high-risk food product capable of facilitating the growth of microorganisms in the product. Sugar may lower the Aw while water or dairy can increase the Aw; fat has no effect on Aw

Percent soluble solids (%Brix) in a frosting is determined by the amount of sugar available to bind up the available water to reduce bacterial growth. As %Brix increases, Aw decreases.

Due to these factors, frostings are considered TCS, foods that require either temperature or time control for food safety. TCS foods may allow pathogens to grow and possibly produce toxins when held at temperatures between 41-135 degrees F. (For additional information see: Food Safety of Frostings and Fillings by K-State Research and Extension.) To be considered a non-TCS food, the percent soluble solids (%Brix) must be above 65% and the Aw value less than 0.85.1

There are numerous recipes for buttercream frosting. It is not a given that all buttercream frostings meet the %Brix and Aw requirements to be a non-TCS food or safe without refrigeration. To determine the safety of a vanilla buttercream frosting for Iowa 4-H exhibits, three members of the AnswerLine team prepared an adapted version of the Simple Buttercream Frosting tested and considered stable at room temperature by K-State Research and Extension. Milk (dairy) was substituted for heavy cream in the K-State recipe. The frostings were prepared at the individual homes of the team members using the same butter and powdered sugar; the percent of milk fat and vanilla extract were the two variables. The three samples were submitted to the Iowa State University Food Quality and Safety Laboratory for analysis of water activity and %Brix with results shown in the table below.

Table 1.  Average water activity and % soluble solids of frostings tested.

SampleWater Activity% Soluble Solids
Sample 1 – Skim milk0.788± 0.00368.60 ± 0.30
Sample 2 – 2% Milk0.812 ± 0.00467.83 ± 0.23
Sample 3 – Whole Milk0.808 ± 0.00667.17 ± 0.35

All three samples met the requirements of a non-TCS food as recommended by K-State Research and Extension exhibiting an average Brix of 67.87% and an Aw value of 0.803.

Frosting ingredients and equipment
Tested Vanilla Buttercream recipe ingredients. Photo credit: Rachel Sweeney

Tested Vanilla Buttercream Recipe
 Required for use with Iowa 4-H Fair Food Product Exhibits.
(All Iowa 4-Hers must reference this blog in their
write-up for full credit if a homemade frosting is used in the exhibit. Any change or addition of ingredients will be unacceptable and will result in disqualification.)

1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons dairy milk (skim, 2%, or whole)

Beat the butter, salt, and vanilla together until fully combined on medium speed. Reduce speed and add the powdered sugar and milk. Add the milk a teaspoon at a time to achieve the right consistency for the way you want to use the frosting. DO NOT use more than 2 tablespoons of milk.  Slowly increase the speed of the mixer and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. 

What Does This Mean for Iowa 4-H Food Products?

  • It is highly suggested that exhibits be presented without frosting unless the frosting is part of the exhibit goal.

Example 1:  My goal is to bake an angel food cake for exhibit at the fair.
No frosting is needed for this exhibit. Cake recipe should be included with the exhibit.

Example 2*: My goal is to bake and frost a chocolate cake for my Dad’s birthday. I will also exhibit a similar cake and frosting at the fair.
Cake should be frosted with the tested vanilla buttercream frosting or with a commercially prepared frosting to assure that it is not a TCS food. No chocolate, cocoa, or other ingredient should be added to the tested recipe or commercial frosting. Recipe for cake and frosting (if homemade) should be included with the exhibit, along with this blog. 

Example 3*: My goal is to learn to make a cake and a frosting for exhibit at the fair.
Cake should be frosted with the tested vanilla buttercream frosting; no chocolate, cocoa, or other ingredient should be added to the tested recipe. Cake and frosting recipes, along with this blog, should be included with exhibit. 

*For examples 2 and 3, another option is to prepare the product using any frosting desired; before serving, take pictures of the frosted product. Exhibit the product without frosting at the fair and note in the write up that the product is being exhibited without frosting due to food safety concerns. Add pictures of the frosted product to the write up and include the product recipe with the exhibit.

  • Homemade Cream Cheese, German Chocolate or Coconut-Pecan, Ganache, or 7-Minute frostings or fillings are not to be exhibited at the fair. They are potential TCS foods due to the range of water activity (Aw) in various recipes and should be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Decorator frostings of any type may be used when the goal is to decorate a cake. The cake may be food, cardboard, or Styrofoam and will be judged on design, neatness, originality, skill, and technique; the cake will not be tasted or judged on product characteristics. 
  • Fresh or canned fruit, vegetable, or zest should not be used as decoration or garnish on a baked product or decorated cake.
  • When a glaze is desired, it should be made with powdered sugar and water only. No fruit juice or zest should be added.

Plan ahead for a successful fair experience. 4-H members are encouraged to call or email AnswerLine with questions about their food project prior to exhibit. 

Call:  1-800-262-3804 or 515-296-5883, M-F 9-12, 1-4
Relay Iowa (hearing impaired) 1-800-735-2942
Email:  answer@iastate.edu

_________________________________
Food Safety of Frostings and Fillings – MF3544, K-State Research and Extension

By Shannon Coleman, Associate Professor and State Extension Specialist, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University; Terri Boylston, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University; Marlene Geiger, Beth Marrs, and Rachel Sweeney, Consumer Specialists AnswerLine, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach;  Karen Blakeslee, Extension Associate, Kansas State University Research and Extension.  February 2023.

Updated December 2023, 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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Royal Icing Made Safe

Decorated gingerbread cookies
Decorated gingerbread cookies.

Cookie decorating is one of the most beloved holiday traditions.  Royal Icing is the traditional icing used for glazing cookies, piping decorations, or assembling the walls of gingerbread houses. It dries and hardens quickly and is easy for nearly anyone to achieve decorating success! Made traditionally from egg whites and powdered (confectioners’) sugar, it is an easy icing to prepare. However, if raw egg whites are used, the icing may be a health risk.

It is a well-known fact that eggs may contain the bacteria, Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), that can cause foodborne illness. Researchers say that if present, the SE is usually found in the yolk, but the possibility of SE in egg whites cannot be ruled out. To eliminate risk and be certain of a safe frosting, raw egg whites should be replaced with lightly cooked egg whites, meringue powder or dried egg whites, or pasteurized egg whites when making Royal Icing.

Lightly Cooked Egg Whites. Use the following method provided by South Dakota State University which can be used for Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites. In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites). Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160° F. Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe. Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.

Meringue Powder. Meringue powder is available in specialty stores wherever cake decorating supplies are sold. Meringue powder is composed of cornstarch, dried egg whites, sugar, citric acid and some stabilizers. It’s perfect for making royal icing. There is usually a recipe on the package. If not the following recipe for Royal Icing works well:

4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder
1/3 cup, plus 2-3 tablespoons, warm water, divided
desired food coloring
In large mixing bowl, combine powdered sugar, merinque powder and 13 cup water. Beat on low speed until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat 8-10 minutes, addined 2-3 tablespoons warm water, as necessary. Icing should be stiff enough to hold peak when tested. Color as desired.

Dried Egg Whites. Dried egg whites are just that, 100 percent powdered egg white; they require no refrigeration. Dried whites are pasteurized by heating to the required safe temperature. Like meringue poweder, the egg white powder can be reconstituted by mixing with water. The reconstituted powder whips like fresh egg white and, because it is pasteurized, can be used safely without cooking or baking.

Pasteurized Egg Whites. Pasteurized egg whites are of two types—pasteurized in-shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg whites. Pasteurized in-shell eggs are available at some grocery stores. Shells of such eggs are stamped with a red or blue “P” in a circle. Whites of pasteurized shell eggs may appear slightly cloudy compared to fresh eggs. Liquid pasteurized egg whites are found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store in a milk-like carton usually near the regular eggs. According to the FDA, both of these products are safe to consume raw. Use these two products like raw whites in the recipe.

Keep unused icing covered at all times with a damp cloth or tightly wrapped to prevent drying and caking. For longer keeping time, store in the refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three months. In addition to preventing food borne illnesses, refrigeration seems to help with separating. (If separation occurs–yellowish liquid on the bottom—just remix.).

Make sure that your holiday cookies or gingerbread houses bring nothing but joy! Avoid raw egg whites when making your decorating frosting.

Updated December 2023, 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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