Tips for Success with DIY Caramel Apples

There is no substitute for the thrill and challenge of eating a caramel apple—biting through the sweet, sticky caramel into a tart crisp apple while sweet, sticky juice runs down your chin.  Oh, the memories!

While the memories are sweet, the potential for a foodborne illness from caramel apples is real.  Caramel apples should either be eaten freshly made or refrigerated.  Once punctured with a stick, caramel apples can become a breeding ground for Listeria monocytogenes, a harmful bacteria, if left at room temperature for prolonged time. When the stick is inserted into the apple, a bit of apple juice tends to leak out and that moisture, trapped under the caramel layer, creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria which is naturally present on the apple’s surface.   If caramel apples are purchased at the store, farmer’s market, carnivals, or even presented at a party, make sure that they have been refrigerated.

The best way to safely enjoy caramel apples is to make them fresh.   While DIY caramel apples may be intimidating, it really is quite easy and a fun family or party activity.  Recently I made caramel apples with my grandkids using freshly picked apples.  It was a successful, fun time using tips I gathered beforehand from various resources.

Tips to craft your very own caramel apples

Choose Apples.  Any apple variety will work as long as it is crisp.  Smaller apples give a better ratio of caramel to apple.  Apples should have a flat bottom so that they sit upright.

Do All Prep Work in Advance. Have apples and all needed equipment ready and at hand.  If you are going to decorate the apple with candy, nuts, sprinkles or anything else, make sure all is ready to go before you dip.

Remove Wax.  Wax must be removed from the surface of the apple skin to allow the caramel to adhere to the apple.  This can be done by dipping in boiling water for 3-5 seconds and wiping with a paper towel or scrubbing the apple with vinegar (white or apple cider) or lemon juice and baking soda. In addition to removing wax, vinegar also help remove pesticides and bacteria.  Another option is to wash the apple and lightly sand with fine sandpaper.  Whichever method is used, be sure not to puncture the skin.

Thoroughly Dry and Chill the Apples.  Any moisture on the skin will cause the caramel to bubble and stick poorly to the apple.  Chilling the apples for about 30 minutes will help the caramel set quicker and keep it from running off.

Insert Sticks. Use candy or popsicle sticks and insert them directly through the center (stem end) of the apple straight down about half to two-thirds way into the apple. Be sure to dab away any juice that may seep out when inserting the sticks. The presence of moisture will keep the caramel from adhering to the apple.

Use a Good Recipe.  Recipes can be as simple as two or three ingredients added to a bag of purchased wrapped caramels or a recipe made with all pantry ingredients from a trusted source.  Regardless, follow the recipe carefully.  If making from scratch, be sure to use a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides and a good candy thermometer.  For additional tips on making caramel, visit Success with Caramel.

Carefully Prepare Caramel. The temperature of the caramel is really important.  Whether making caramel from a recipe or melting caramels, you will want to cool the caramel to about 190 degrees before dipping. If you dip the apples as soon as the caramel is made, it will slide off or form a thin layer instead of a nice, thick caramel layer.  The caramel will be the right temperature to set up properly on the apple if you maintain your caramel temperature in the 180°-190° range, stirring sparingly to minimize air bubbles.  Some like to put the melted caramel mixture in a slow cooker on the low setting to maintain this temperature.  Caramel that gets too hot will lose the proper consistency, becoming too firm and crunchy to dip. 

Dip – Scoop, Twist, Drip, Flip. Set your apple in the caramel, scoop the caramel up onto the apple twisting the apple slowly with the stick while continuing to scoop the caramel onto the apple.  Raise the apple and let the excess drip off.  Scrape the bottom, flip the apple over and count to 20.  Set the apple on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let cool.  If you get a caramel foot, fold it under the apple or cut it off.  Sliding the apples into the refrigerator after dipping will help set the caramel and prevent the caramel from sliding off. 

Decorate (if desired).  Roll, sprinkle or drizzle the caramel apples with any desired decorations once the caramel has cooled but is still tacky.  If the decorations will not stick, the caramel may have set up too quickly. By carefully holding the coated apple over a saucepan of boiling water, the steam will soften the caramel enough so the toppings will stick.  After decorating, return the apple to the parchment paper to continue cooling. Dipping the caramel coated apples in chocolate is another option.  Be creative.  Taste of Home has some fun ideas if you want to go beyond chopped peanuts and sprinkles.  Be careful not to overload the apples with too many toppings as the caramel may become too heavy and slide off. For gift giving, wrap the apples in a cellophane or plastic bag.

Enjoy and/or Store Safely.  To enjoy immediately, let the caramel set about 45 minutes. If the treats are not consumed right away, they should be refrigerated.  This will prolong freshness, slow oxidation, and slow the growth of bacteria.  If the apples are refrigerated, remove them from the fridge about 45 minutes before eating to allow the caramel to soften. The coated apples will keep 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

After creating our very own caramel apple personalized with assorted decorations or not, we could hardly wait for the caramel to set.  Needless to say, there was no need to refrigerate! 

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References: 

Allen, Lauren. (2020, October 10). How to Make Perfect Caramel Apples.  Taste Better from Scratch. https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/caramel-apples/

Anita. (2014, October 10). 10 Tips for Perfect Caramel Apples.  Eat, Think, & Be Merry. http://eatthinkbemerry.com/2014/10/10-steps-perfect-caramel-apples/

Brazier, Yvette. (2015, October 17). Dangers of Listeria in Caramel Apples. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301091

Geiger, M.R. (2021, October 26). Success with Caramel.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2021/10/26/success-with-caramel/

Glass, Kathleen A., Golden, Max C., Wanless, Brandon J., Bedale, Wendy, and Czuprynski, Charles. (2015, October 13). Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment.  ASM Journals, Vol. 6, No. 5.  https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/mBio.01232-15 

Habermehl, Lauren. (2022, August 20). How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples.  Taste of Home.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-make-caramel-apples/

McKenny, Sally. (2019, October 1). Homemade Caramel Apples.  Sally’s Baking Addiction.  https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-caramel-apples/

Rachel. (2022, September 27). Tips for Perfect Homemade Caramel Apples.  Adventures of a DIY Mom.  https://www.adventuresofadiymom.com/2012/10/caramel-apples.html

Steed, Marcia.  (2016, September 29). Storing Caramel Apples.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2016/09/29/storing-caramel-apples/

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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Baby-Led Weaning

My son, Thomas, recently reached a milestone – he tired his 100th food at 10 months of age. You may wonder how this concept of introducing a baby to 100 foods came about. Early last November I was very pregnant, listening to Katie Ferraro, RD, speak at the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting on Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and the first 100 foods approach. Her presentation solidified that this was the approach I wanted to take when feeding our baby. I will admit I was a bit intimated but was ready for the challenge.

What is BLW?

Weaning is the process of babies transitioning from milk/formula to food. In the traditional method of weaning parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting with baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods to thicker purees, to chunky purees, and eventually solid food. BLW is the process of allowing babies to learn how to feed themselves as they transition from milk/formula to eating solid foods1. From the beginning, we have offered Thomas solid foods (non-pureed, whole) alongside some purees that he has feed to himself. Occasionally we will help load his spoon with food (pre-load), but he will bring the spoon to his mouth. In BLW, baby is offered the same foods as everyone else but with a texture that is modified to be soft enough for his/her developmental age2.

We enjoy having Thomas eat with us at mealtimes and that we can eat alongside him while he feeds himself, rather than one of us having to spoon feed him.

Why BLW?

My husband and I chose to do BLW with Thomas for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it aligns closely with the Ellyn Satter principles on childhood feeding. In the Ellyn Satter approach, the role of the parent is to decide when and what nutritious food to provide, and the role of the child is to decide what and how much of that food they want to eat3. We let Thomas decide if he wanted to eat what we provided him and when he was full. This allowed him to practice honoring his hunger and fullness cues from day one of beginning solids. Introducing Thomas to 100 foods has exposed him to a wide variety of tastes and textures. When he becomes more selective (aka picky) and decides there are 10-15 foods he doesn’t like to eat, we still have 85-90 other foods to offer him. Some studies have shown BLW babies are less fussy and less picky eaters4. Thirdly, it allowed us to expose Thomas to allergenic foods; he successfully tried all the top allergens (egg, peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat). Scientific evidence supporting the early introduction of top allergenic foods during infancy for the prevention of food allergies has grown. In fact, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend offering top allergens early and often starting around 6 months of age (in conversation with the pediatrician if babies are at high risk for food allergies)5. For additional benefits and research on BLW, check out the article, Baby-Led Weaning: An Approach to Introducing Solid Foods to Infants from Utah State University Extension.

We started BLW with Thomas when he was six months old. The World Health Organization recommends babies be exclusively breastfed or formula fed until 6 months of age6. Once baby is 6 months old and is showing signs of readiness, complementary foods (foods offered in complement to breastmilk/formula) can start being offered.

Signs of readiness:

  • Baby can sit up unsupported7.
  • Baby can grasp food in hands and move it to mouth7.
  • Absence of tongue thrust 8.
  • Baby makes attempts at chewing, can move food to back of mouth and swallow.

How to Make BLW Work?

First, I did my homework. I read the book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide, to educate myself on BLW. The book taught me more about appropriate food sizes and textures (as well inappropriate foods) to offer, what to expect at different ages of baby, how to adapt food, easy first foods, introducing a cup, and much more. I then printed off a calendar for each month from May – November 2022. Each day of the week was assigned a different category (Monday – fruit, Tuesday – starch, Wednesday – protein, Thursday – vegetable, Friday – challenge). I then filled in the calendar days with foods from the 100 foods list and placed it on our refrigerator.

I used an app called Solid Starts to help determine appropriate sizes and textures of various foods to offer Thomas. There are many recipe ideas you can find online for BLW; I often referred to ideas from my friend, Kara, who is also a dietitian, at Kara Hoerr Nutrition.

We also found several tools to be very handy, including a crinkle cut knife (made items easier for Thomas to grab), hardboiled egg slicer, full coverage bib, washable mat to put under Thomas’ high chair to make clean-up easier, silicone plates that suction to the highchair, and an adjustable footrest to add to our highchair (ours didn’t come with one and it is important to have baby’s feet supported when eating as it helps them maintain good posture and core strength when eating). Living in rural Iowa, some food items (like peanut puffs) where hard to find. Shopping online helped us find products we weren’t able to locate in local stores. And finally, we explained the approach and solicited help from other who feed Thomas. This included our childcare provider and his grandparents.

Does BLW Increase Choking Risk?

A common misconception related to BLW is that this approach increases choking risk. However, studies show that when parents are educated on food sizing and texture, BLW does not increase the likelihood of choking9. Additional studies indicate that BLW babies are no more likely to choke than babies who are spoon fed10, 11, 12. To make sure I felt prepared for any situation, I took an online CPR/AED course through the American Red Cross. It reviewed a variety of topics, including choking for infants, children, and adults. I also posted CPR and choking information inside one of our kitchen cabinets so it can easily be accessed in the event of an emergency. The Utah State University Extension article offers the safety precautions listed below to help reduce the risk of choking.

How to prevent choking:

  • Ensure your baby is always sitting upright during feedings.
  • Make sure the food presented is in the proper shape, size, and texture for the baby.
  • Cut food into long strips they can grab in their fists.
  • Never leave your baby alone with food8.

Our BLW journey has been full of learning, fun, and messes (lots and lots of messes)! If you are thinking about this feeding approach for your baby, I would recommend you do your homework and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Make sure to contact us at AnswerLine if we can be of help.

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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:

  1. Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2010). Baby-Led Weaning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Experiment.
  2. Rapley, G. A. (2018). Baby-led weaning: Where are we now? Nutrition Bulletin, 43(3), 262–268. doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12338
  3. Satter, E. (2012). How to get your kid to eat: But not too much. Chicago, IL: Bull Publishing Company.
  4. Fu, X., Conlon, C. A., Haszard, J. J., Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R., Taylor, R. W., & Heath, A.-L. M. (2018). Food fussiness and early feeding characteristics of infants following Baby-Led Weaning and traditional spoon-feeding in New Zealand: An internet survey. Appetite, 130, 110–116. doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.07.033
  5. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.  
  6. World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding. (2018, February 16). Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding.
  7. Rapley, G. (2015). Baby-led weaning: The theory and evidence behind the approach. Journal of Health Visiting, 3(3), 144–151. doi.org/10.12968/johv.2015.3.3.144
  8. Schilling, L., & Peterson, W. J. (2017). Born to eat: whole, healthy foods from baby’s first bite. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
  9. Brown, Amy E. “No Difference in Self-Reported Frequency of Choking Between Infants Introduced to Solid Foods Using a Baby-Led Weaning or Traditional Spoon-Feeding Approach.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 31, no. 4 (December 2017): 496-504. Doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528.
  10. Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A.-L. M., Williams, S. M., Williams, L. W. E., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A., … Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0772
  11. Pesch, D. (2019). Introducing complementary foods in infancy. Contemporary Pediatrics, 36(1), 6.
  12. Rapley, G. (2011). Baby-led weaning: transitioning to solid foods at the baby’s own pace. Community Practitioner, 84(6), 5.

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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Think Safety as Students Return to Campus

It’s that time of the year when college campuses are preparing for students moving into dormitories, campus housing, or off-campus apartments or housing.  Stores are stocked with every possible item a young, trendy college student could possibly need or want.  With all of the excitement, anticipation, and stress, it is important for students and parents to revisit “college safety!”  College life brings new challenges.

10 safety tips to remember as students return to campus

  • Keep electric safety in mind.  Don’t overload outlets, extension cords or power strips.  Keep electrical cords and appliances away from bedding, curtains, and other flammable material.  Make sure that all cords and electrical products are UL, CSA, or MET approved.  Check with university/college housing for specific housing rules for use of hot plates, coffee makers, microwaves, air fryers, etc allowed in dorm rooms.  Many colleges are banning the use of cooking appliance in on-campus housing and instead providing a designated area for the use of cooking appliances.
  • Check for smoke detectors.  Know the fire escape route and never assume that if an alarm sounds that it is a drill.
  • Always keep dorm or apartment doors locked, even when occupied. 
  • Keep an inventory of valuable possessions and record serial numbers.
  • Know what coverage is needed for the housing situation.  A student living in a dorm may have coverage for their personal belongs under their parents’ homeowner’s insurance policy. Students living off-campus will want to consider rental insurance to cover their personal possessions.
  • Make sure that health insurance coverage meets the university/college requirements.  Most colleges in the United States require their students to have health insurance.
  • Don’t allow technology to cause unawareness of surroundings.  When one is plugged into music or a smartphone, they may no longer be aware of their surroundings leaving one open to potential dangerous situations or walking into traffic.
  • Never walk alone, especially at night.  Utilize the buddy system whenever possible and know where emergency call buttons or phones are located across campus. Consider carrying pepper spray or a whistle.
  • Have fun, party safe. Come and go with a friend. Avoid becoming inebriated and losing control. It’s easy for others to take advantage of someone who is alone, can’t think or act rationally.
  • Always have emergency contacts on you or in your device. In the event of an emergency, one of the first steps emergency responders and hospitals take when someone is admitted alone is to check a smartphone (in most cases they are able to bypass the pass code in order to access contacts) or look for medical ID tags.

Wishing all students and parents a safe academic year!

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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What is May Day?

May Day is celebrated on May 1.  It is an old day of celebration dating back to the Roman Republic.  Over its many years, there have been different meanings, festivities, and representations of May Day. Beginning as a day marked with ceremonies, dances, and feasting, it celebrated the rite of spring.  It also marks the half way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solace.  In addition, it has been known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, a day commemorating the historic struggles and gains made by workers and labors.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, May Day traditions changed to leaving a gift basket filled with flowers or treats at the front door of a neighbor, friend, or loved one.  The giver would leave a basket or cone of treats, ring the doorbell, shout “‘May Basket!” and run away.  In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone’s door was a chance to express romantic interest.  If the recipient caught the giver, he or she was entitled to a kiss.  It has also been celebrated with dancing and singing around a pole laced with streamers or ribbons.  During my grade school days, we made May Day baskets filled with homemade treats, candy, or dandelions to exchange with school mates.

Today, May Day is almost forgotten. The sentiment of the day certainly has a place in modern society as a time to share a random act of kindness and celebrate spring and friendship—an opportunity to pay it forward. Baskets don’t necessarily have to be left at a front door.  Treats can be left for co-workers, teachers, children—anyone—anywhere they will find it. Earlier this spring, I was asked to make a May Basket for a group service project.  The directions were few—any kind of simple homemade basket will do; fill it with flowers, candy, or a baked and wrapped treat.

There are numerous ideas for baskets online—paper cones, styrofoam cups, fabric, tin cans, strawberry baskets—anything goes.  I decided on construction paper strips to craft a woven paper basket like I remembered making so many years ago. 

Since the basket had to be finished ahead of May 1 for distribution, I filled the basket with White Chocolate Strawberry Biscotti.  Compared to most baked goods, biscotti is very shelf-stable and will remain good for several days. Each biscotti slice was individually wrapped in clear plastic wrap and placed in the basket along with the recipe so the recipient would know the ingredients. The collection of baskets for this project will be delivered to service personnel in our community. 

Who says baskets have to be filled with flowers, candy or treats?  Don’t limit yourself.  Use imagination and creativity.  Baskets can be filled with anything appropriate for the recipient.  For example, the homeless may appreciate baskets filled with bath products, socks, non-perishable snacks or gift cards. Baskets for others could be filled with small office supplies, seed packets, cooking utensils, hair accessories, or craft supplies. The ideas are endless.  Add a little treat to brighten someone’s day with a piece of candy, a flower, or a pop of color with a piece of tissue paper.  And if making a basket isn’t for you, maybe buy a cup of coffee for a random stranger and wish them a Happy May Day. Get the kids involved; make it family activity or a youth group project (4-H, Scouts, Church).

So make a basket, ring the doorbell, and run! Spread some kindness! You’ll be glad you did! Happy May Day!

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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Meet Rachel Sweeney

Rachel Sweeney is the newest member of the AnswerLine team!

Rachel giving a 4-H baking presentation.

AnswerLine is a new role for Rachel Sweeney, but Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is not. Rachel grew up on a diversified farm outside of Iowa City and was actively involved with Johnson County 4-H as a member of the Graham Champions 4-H Club. At an early age, she realized she could turn her interest in food and nutrition projects into a career, she decided to attend Iowa State University and major in that area graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dietetics and exercise science. After graduation, she spent a year in Nashville completing a dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Rachel’s began her professional career as an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist in Nutrition and Wellness, serving southeast Iowa for nearly seven years. In this role she led food preservation workshops, food safety trainings, and nutrition trainings for child care providers. After a brief stint as a retail dietitian, she returned to ISU Extension and Outreach as a program coordinator for Iowa 4-H Youth Development’s SWITCH (School Wellness Ingetration Targeting Child Health) program, an innovative school wellness initiative designed to support and enhance school wellness programming. After two years in this role, she got a new job title, MOM, in November of 2021, and a need to balance work and family life. AnswerLine provided the perfect opportunity for her to continue to work and enjoy her young family. One month into the job, Rachel says, “I have really enjoyed my first month on the job answering client’s questions and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in this role to best serve the citizens of Iowa and Minnesota.”

When Rachel is not answering client questions via phone or email, she is likely with her family, 5-month old son, Thomas, and husband, Jim. She enjoys gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, and being outside. As if she isn’t busy enough with work, family, and her many interests, she is also training for the swim portion of a half-Ironman relay-team competition in June! GO Rachel!!!!!

Rachel is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and stays involved with the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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. 

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.[1] 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 [2]

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.  [3]

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, March 5, 2022

Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, March 11-13, 2022

Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, March 8, 2022

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 26-27, 2022

Sharon Bluffs State Park, Centerville, February 24, 2022

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

Resources:

1 United States Department of Agriculature, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Iowa, Table 40. Woodland Crops Sales: 2017 and 2012.

2 Neff, Michelle, Maple Syrup Nutritional Facts, Michigan State University, MSU Extension

3 Ameden, Kye, Baking with Liquid Sweeteners, King Arthur Baking, 2017

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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DIY Fruit Leather, You’ll Like It

Fruit leather, better known as ‘fruit roll-ups’ can be made with nearly any fresh fruit for a healthy snack or dessert that any ‘kid’ will love!

Growing your own vegetables and fruits is rewarding until the plants produce too much.  Such is the case for me this year with strawberries and raspberries.  While I love eating them fresh, preparing them in as many ways as I can think of, juicing, freezing, and making jams, there comes a time when too much is too much and something new has to be tried.  When I reached my limit this year, I turned to making fruit leathers (dehydrating fruit pulp and juice to preserve them) rather than let my harvest spoil and end up in the compost pile.  In addition, the finished fruit roll-ups are a convenient, portable, light-weight treat I could share with my kids and grandkids near and far.

Fruit leather gets the name “leather” from the fact that when pureed fruit is dried, it is shiny and has the texture of leather. Fruit leather is one of the easiest ways you can use leftover fruits or take advantage of abundant fruit crops to create tasty and healthy snacks for your family without preservatives, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and salt found in many store-bought varieties; if using your own fruit, it is also a cost saver.  Only fresh fruit is needed; sugar or sweetener is not generally needed as most fruit is sweet enough on its own.  A touch of honey can be added if the fruit is too tart.  Diabetics can eat fruit leathers as part of their diets when no sugar has been added using a regular fruit exchange for keeping track of dietary sugars.  Aspartame should not be used as it loses its sweetness in the drying process.

Besides fresh fruit, a blender or food processor is needed to puree the fruit completely.  Drying can be done in a food dehydrator or oven.  A dehydrator is preferred as it is a quicker and more energy efficient process.  Dehydrating is an easy and relatively unintimidating way to preserve any harvest for storage or to create tasty snacks year round. DIY fruit leathers are also an easy project for ‘kids in the kitchen.’

When properly dried, the fruit puree, now leather, should have a pliable texture.  It is then cut into strips and rolled but can also be cut into fun shapes.  Fruit leathers, usually aimed at children to make eating fruit fun, are nutritious, high-energy snacks for anyone.  They are portable, making them convenient additions to school lunchboxes or back packs and travel easily for camping and hiking; they are also easy to mail.  For more detailed information on making fruit leathers, check out Fruit Preservation:  Making Fruit Leathers, by North Dakota Extension Service.  Also from that site, there is a download version (upper left green button), Making Fruit Leathers, for additional information, recipes, and printing.

Here’s some additional tips that I learned while making several batches of fruit leathers:

  • Spread out the mixture to about 1/8 inch with no thin spots or holes; if possible, make it thicker on the edges as it dries from the outside first.
  • A sharp sissors or pizza cutter can be used to cut the leather into strips.
  • While plastic wrap or parchment paper can be used to line trays or baking sheets, an investment in the flexible, reusable dehydrator sheets is well worth the cost for anyone making fruit leathers repeatedly. The dried fruit leather peels off easily and cleaning up consists of rinsing the dehydrator sheets with warm soapy water and then placing them back into the dehydrator to dry. They can also be used on for baking.
  • Use wax paper, plastic wrap, or parchment paper to ‘roll them up’ and keep them separated.  Parchment paper seems to work the best.  Tie or tape to close.
  • If the puree mixture is too thin add some banana or a tablespoon of ground chia or flax seed to help thicken.
  • Spices or flavorings can be added to the puree.  Use them sparingly because flavors intensify with drying.  Start with 1/16 to 1/8 tsp.
  • Use applesauce as an extender if the blend is too thick. It also helps reduce tartness.
  • Dry fruits at 130-140F in the dehydrator for 6-8 hours, and in the oven on the lowest temp with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. Check both after about 4 hours and continue to check frequently thereafter to make sure the leather does not over dry.
  • Allow the leather to sit for a short time before cutting and rolling.

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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September is National Sewing Month

September is National Sewing Month!  “Sew” it “seams” we should take time to honor the history of sewing and celebrate those who enjoy this art form or craft.  National Sewing Month was first celebrated in 1982 after President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation “in recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.” 

While sewing might imply the use of a sewing machine, it encompasses the many ways of stitching with thread and needle—garments, home décor, embroidery, needlepoint, cross-stitch, quilting, and all other forms of drawing a thread and needle through a medium. Sewing is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life throughout the world.

The art of sewing dates back to 25,000 B.C.E. when sewing was used to make clothing and shelter. Early materials consisted mostly of hides from animals and plant leaves. Thin strips of animal hide or long fibers drawn from plants made the first threads with bone and ivory being the first forms of needles.  Thomas Saint is credited with the invention of the sewing machine in 1750 followed by Isaac Singer’s prototype in 1851 that was to become the basis for the mechanization of sewing and the standard for the modern sewing machines we have today.  Prior to the 19th century, sewing was done by hand which allowed for perfecting skills as well as developing techniques for creative and decorative stitching.

Sewing has long been a favorite hobby of mine beginning with creations made with fabric scraps, thread, and needle for my dolls.  After my great-grandmother taught me to use her treadle machine, I turned out creations in mass.  As a 4-H member I enjoyed learning to use my mother’s electric machine and a pattern to fashion clothing for myself.  Each year was a new project with new skills.  That love of creating with fabric and a desire to understand fibers and fabrics led to my eventual college major.  While I never worked in the textile industry as I once envisioned, the skills and knowledge have given me a hobby and creative outlet that I still enjoy today.  And by joining with friends in guilds, I have learned and enjoyed many other forms of stitchery that have furthered by love of sewing. 

My deep love of thread and needle did not take root in my children; however, they were each fascinated enough to learn the skill of sewing with a machine to sufficiently take care of themselves.  Now I am sewing with my grandchildren who are intrigued with the creative process as they learn new skills.

While we may recognize the creative form of self-expression that sewing provides in the month of September, it is enjoyed all year.  During this month, there is a long list of retailers, bloggers, organizations, and others that promote “sewing” in an attempt to renew interest, share ideas, inspire, and teach.  If one was ever inclined to pick up thread and needle and try some form of sewing, the time to start is now. Creating quilts, clothing and other masterpieces not only develop new skills, but personal satisfaction, too. Sewing is a pleasurable activity to enjoy solo or with friends.  Happy sewing!

Marlene Geiger

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

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Dealing with Sport Stains

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

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

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

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

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

Stain Types

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

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

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

Protein Stains

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

Red Clay Stains

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

Parent and Grandparent Product Suggestions

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

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

BIZ Stain and Odor Eliminator

Fels-Naptha bar [1][2]

Iron Out Rust Stain Remover

Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover

Lestoil (suggested by a great grandmother)

OUT White Brite Laundry Whitener

OxiClean™ Versatile Stain Remover or White Revive™

Zout

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

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

Marlene Geiger

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

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Celebrating Animal Crackers with DIY Animal Crackers

My granddaughter loves to celebrate every significant day possible.  As I was peeking ahead in the April celebration calendar, I saw that National Animal Cracker Day is April 18.  While I was immediately hit with nostalgia remembering the times my grandmother allowed me to pick out a box of Barnum’s Animal Crackers in that well-known circus train box with the string handle, I knew it was a great opportunity to share a fun activity with my grandchildren–DIY animal crackers. 

Animal crackers were originally made at home in England and known as animal biscuits (biscuit being the British word for cookie).  Keeping with tradition, we, too, made our animal crackers at home.  We used a recipe from the King Arthur Flour (KAF) website [1]. (While the KAF recipe worked perfectly, it is essentially a shortbread recipe.)  The KAF site suggested using small, spring-loaded, plunger cookie cutters to make the animal cutouts more realistic.  (The cutters are available on the KSF site as well as from other online vendors.) Any small cookie cutter could be used but we liked the imprints on the animals so we purchased a set of the cutters and found them to be amazing!  With two plunges of the spring, the cutters cut the shape, imprinted the animal details, and popped out the cut shape.  It really was that easy—even for young children! The crackers came out perfect nearly every time!  After we cut the shapes, we froze them for 15 minutes before baking.  They came out of the oven picture perfect!

It was also fun to share a little of my animal cracker nostalgia with the kids and a little history of the famed crackers.  As already noted, the English made animal biscuits at home. Animal crackers, as we know them today, are thought to have originated in England in 1889 when PT Barnum toured England with his famous circus. Inspired by the ‘circus in town’, several companies began manufacturing circus packaging for the animal biscuits and called them Barnum’s.

Across the pond, Stauffer’s in York, Pennsylvania, was also making animals cookies. Stauffer’s began making their version of animal cookies in 1871 and is still using their original recipe today but making them much smaller.  However, the English Barnum’s migrated across the Atlantic and were an instant hit with Americans. The demand for these crackers grew to the point that other bakers began to produce them domestically making their own version along with changing ‘biscuit’ to cracker.  Most of these early animal crackers were sold in bulk from cracker barrels or in tins.   

It was the ingenious marketing of the National Biscuit Company (Nabsico) in 1902 that put the animal treats on store shelves as “Barnum’s Animals,” named after the famed showmen, P.T. Barnum, in small, snack-size boxes.  A circus-theme box was designed for the 1902 Christmas season with the innovative idea of attaching a string to turn gift into ornament using the string to hang the box on the Christmas tree. These small cartons, which retailed for 5 cents at the time of their release, were a big hit and have remained so to this day.  In 1948, the product became Barnum’s Animal Crackers.  The circus train theme with caged animals in box cars was continued in various versions until 2018 when a new box design was created freeing the animals from the cages [2].

While we weren’t able to make our crackers on April 18 or have circus boxes for our crackers, we enjoyed making and eating them.  And, yes, we ate the heads first!

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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