Tips for Success with DIY Caramel Apples

Four caramel coated apples on a stick
Four caramel coated apples on a stick.

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. 

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 your very own caramel apple personalized with assorted decorations or not, waiting for the caramel to set is the hard part.  Maybe, there will be 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/

Updated 9-14-2023 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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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.

Child in eating chair celebrating 100 days of new foods

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.

Five students walking on a college campus
Five students walking on a college campus – Photo: Canva.com

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.
  • Hire a moving service. When planning a move, whether it’s into a dorm or a new apartment, choosing a reliable moving service like Lifetime Moving can ensure a smooth transition without the stress of handling heavy furniture and delicate items alone. Be sure to pack essentials in clearly labeled boxes for easy access upon arrival.
  • 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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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.

May basket filled with biscotti
May basket filled with biscotti left on door step – Photo: mrgeiger

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.

There are numerous ideas for baskets online—paper cones, styrofoam cups, fabric, tin cans, strawberry baskets—anything goes. And, 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!

Child giving a 4-H presentation
Rachel giving a 4-H baking presentation – Photo: rsweeney

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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DIY Fruit Leather

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!

Rolled raspberry fruit leather
Rolled raspberry fruit leather – Photo: mrgeiger

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 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. 

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.

Additional information check out: Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups.

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

Assorted sewing supplies
Assorted sewing supplies, hand and machine – Photo: mrgeiger

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 both a skill and a creative hobby enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life around the world.

For those looking to embark on their sewing journey or enhance their skills, resources like TopSewingMachineUK offer a wealth of valuable information and guidance. Here, enthusiasts can access helpful articles and reviews to aid them in selecting the right tools and equipment for their sewing endeavors. Whether you’re a novice seeking to learn the basics or an experienced seamstress looking to expand your repertoire, this platform provides the resources you need to delve deeper into the world of sewing and unleash your creativity.

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 thread and needle. 

While we may recognize the skill and 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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Celebrating Quilting and Crafting

During the month of March, quilting and crafting are given recognition nationally as a time to celebrate and appreciate the two artistic forms and the benefits derived by using individual talents to create.  It may be no coincidence that the two commemorate hands-on activities in the same month. Both require skill, creativity, supplies and/or equipment, and the use of hands. Either can be a hobby or an occupation with an opportunity to earn by selling creations or by teaching a skill.

Assorted sewing items with emphasis on HANDMADE

National Quilting Month has been sponsored by the National Quilting Association (NQA) since 1991 when it designated the third Saturday in March as National Quilting Day; over the years it has expanded to the entire month of March giving quilters more time for shop-hops, shows, and classes.  In 1994, the Craft & Hobby Association created National Craft Month to help people rediscover and learn about the benefits of crafting.  While crafting may conjure up images of kids working with popsicle sticks and glue, crafters, in reality, are people of all ages who produce something tangible with their hands. 

Quilts and various crafts can be beautiful as well as useful or not.  It is for this reason that we have shows and museums to expose, share, study and enjoy the skill, art, or craft.  Whether quilt or craft, both adhere to aesthetic principles by the materials chosen, shapes used, or how the various pieces come together.  The completed pieces may be useful or have no purpose at all.  When they provide beauty or please our sense of aesthetics, the outcome is art.

Benefits of Quilting and Crafting

The benefits or quilting or crafting are numerous:

  • Relieves stress by turning on our endorphins, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, reducing fight or flight, heart attack and stroke.
  • Increases mental acuity with problem solving, math or geometry, and critical thinking.
  • Meaningful work or sense of accomplishment provides pleasure rewards for the brain.
  • Increases appreciation, empathy and tolerance of others and other forms of creativity.
  • Builds confidence and inspires one to think ‘outside of the box’ in other aspects of their lives.
  • Brings people together as they enjoy and inspire one another.
  • Helps one learn about themselves and their values, beliefs, and attitudes.
  • Boosts productivity, resilience, concentration and focus by boosting neurons between the right and left brain hemispheres.

Each of us has the ability to create in our own unique way. Enjoy, celebrate and appreciate whatever your accomplishment may be! 

Updated February 2024, mg.

Marlene Geiger

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

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Tell Your Story

Grandmother reading to a child

Recently my granddaughter who lives in North Carolina started first grade virtually.  She was telling me how her online school works.  She seems to like it well enough, but she’d rather go to school.  As we were talking, she asked, “Did you go to school, Grandma?” 

“Yes, Grandma went to school but school for Grandma was very different!” which brought the conversation around to Grandma’s school days.  Since she reads well and is quite computer literate, she recently got an email address.  We agreed that I would write a short story daily telling her all about my school days.  The daily story telling has begun.  Each day I develop a story around a theme such as getting to school, recess, lunchtime, celebrating holidays, a typical school day, my classmates, etc. When I can, I try to add old photos that help tell the story. Since I attended grade school in a rural Nebraska one-room school, I am sure she must think I grew up with the dinosaurs!

While writing these little stories have been a trip down memory lane for me, psychologist suggest that sharing our stories with our grandchildren is an irreplaceable gift.  Researcher, Marshall P. Duke from Emory University has discovered that this shared information nurtures children emotionally and psychologically. Duke writes, “research shows that children who know a lot about their family tend to be more resilient with higher levels of self-esteem, more self-control, better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better chances for good outcomes when faced with challenges.” As we know these qualities are important for success in life.

Reflecting on the profound impact of storytelling on family dynamics and child development, I couldn’t help but consider how modern solutions like CBD products are also shaping the landscape of emotional well-being. Amidst discussions on resilience and self-esteem, CBD has emerged as a notable contender in the realm of anxiety management. Its natural properties, including soothing effects on the nervous system, have garnered attention for promoting a calmer state of mind without the side effects often associated with traditional medications. This potential extends beyond adults; increasingly, parents are exploring CBD options for their children, under careful guidance and in appropriate forms.

So grandparents, tell your story.  Tell them about what life was like when you were growing up.  Tell them about the silly things you did.  Tell them about their parents growing up.  The stories can be written or shared verbally or told in drawings or pictures–anyway that you can express yourself.  All you need is love for your grandchildren and family and desire to open yourself up and invite them to enter your world.  If you don’t live nearby, get creative with Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, email, journals, or even old-fashioned letters.  Sharing stories will melt the distance into nothingness.

For more information on the value of sharing stories see HOW FAMILY STORIES CAN STRENGTHEN AND UNITE.

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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Making Apple Cider

Wooden cider press

When apples rippen in Iowa orchards, it’s time to make apple butter, applesauce, apple pie, and all things apple. Another option is apple cider! Besides being a great way to use an abundance of apples, it is also a great fall activity for family, friends, or neighborhood fun. Kids of all ages will enjoy the making and sipping!

Flawless apples are not needed for cider so small sized apples or those with blemishes are good candidates. Avoid using over ripe apples or apples with spoilage as both will cause the juice to ferment rapidly and ruin it. However, apples with a small amount of spoilage that can be be cut away are acceptable. Use mature apples as green, immature apples give cider a flat flavor.

There are no particular varieties to use for cider as it depends upon taste preferences. Gala, Fuji or similar varieties yield a sweeter cider whereas McIntosh, Pink Lady or other tart varieties offer more tartness. Blending sweet and tart varieites brings out the best of both.

Apple cider can be made in various ways. The most fun is derived from using a cider press. If you are lucky enough to own one, you know all about the set up and fun. A press may be availabe from a rental agency. In addition to a press, a crusher is very useful for grinding the apples to make pressing easier to extract the juice; in the absence of a crusher, a food processor will do the job. Begin by setting up the equipment (crusher and press) and making sure it is clean.  Also gather and wash buckets and jars or containers for the juice. Utensils and equipment can be sanitized after washing and rinsing by filling with or soaking in a mixture of 1 tablespoon household bleach per gallon of warm water for at least 1 minute.

Head to the orchard to pick apples from trees; do not use apples that have fallen to the ground. (Windfall apples are more likely to have come into contact with E. coli bacteria from animal or rodent feces.) A bushel of apples will yield about 3 gallons of juice.  Wash the apples carefully. After washing, cut the apples into quarters. It is not necessary to dry the apples or remove the cores and skins.  The cut apples go into the crusher where they are mashed by turning the handle on the crusher; the crushed apples fall into a mesh lined bag which is then loaded into the press. As the ratchet handle on the press pushes the press plate down, the juice begins to pour out of the press into a bucket within seconds. This process is repeated until all the apples have been pressed and apple remains composted. Some pulp or seeds may also come out of the press with the juice; to remove these particles, the juice can be put through a jelly bag which will remove most of it.

There are two options for the juice–apple juice or fermented juice (cider). If the juice will not be fermented, it should be pasteurized by heating the juice to 160°F; this will eliminate the possibility of foodborne illness from E coli or Salmonella.  After the juice cools, pour it into clean jars or containers. Juice can be refrigerated for up to five days. The juice can also be frozen or canned. If cider is desired, the juice can be fermented to make sweet cider, hard cider, or turned into vinegar. Directions for making these processes safely can be found in the University of Georgia publication, Making Apple Cider.

Homemade apple cider–fresh or fermented–is a delicious and satisfying way to celebrate fall!.

Sources:
Pressing Apple Cider at Home. Michigan State University Extension.
Making Apple Cider. University of Georgia.

Reviewed and updated, 4-24, 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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