Maple Syrup

December 17th is National Maple Syrup Day. I will try to recognize that day by using some delicious maple syrup I was recently given as a gift!

Even though you will find pancake syrup and maple syrup next to each other on your grocery store shelves, they are not the same thing. Maple syrup is a pure product and contains no additives or preservatives. The maple syrup we find in containers begins it’s life as sugar in the leaves of maples, produced by the process of photosynthesis. The sugars are transported into the wood for winter storage in the form of carbohydrates. In the spring they are converted to sucrose and dissolved in the sap to flow through the tree. After that sap is collected it is boiled down to reduce the water content and concentrate the sugars. Those sugars caramelize giving us the characteristic color and flavor of maple syrup. It takes about 43 gallons of sap boiled down to make a gallon of maple syrup.

Pancake syrup is a highly processed product. It is made from corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup. Pancake syrup also has coloring, flavoring, and preservatives added to it.

Sometimes you will hear maple syrup praised as being a “natural” sweetener and better for you than regular sugar. Maple syrup does contain more of some nutrients than table sugar but is definitely not considered a health food. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines have now recommended a limit of no more than 10% of your daily calories come from added sugars.

In March 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture implemented changes in the labeling system for syrup so it matches up with international standards. All maple syrup is now Grade A, followed by a color/flavor description. The changes are as follows:

Grade A Light Amber is now Grade A Golden Color/Delicate Taste

Grade A Medium Amber is now Grade A Amber Color/Rich Taste

Grade A Dark Amber is now Grade A Dark Color/Robust Taste

Grade B is now Grade A Very Dark Color/Strong Taste

Once you have opened a container of maple syrup you should store it in the refrigerator where it will last six months to a year. You can also freeze maple syrup which will keep it safe indefinitely. If you are going to freeze it, put it in an airtight container and leave a half inch of headspace to allow for the maple syrup to expand.

If your maple syrup develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance or mold appears you will need to discard it. You should also discard the maple syrup if the bottle it is in is leaking, rusting, bulging or is severely dented.

If you are a fan of maple syrup I hope you will enjoy some on National Maple Syrup Day!

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Fall Garden Relish

Now that fall has arrived calls the number of calls to AnswerLine on canning are slowing down. Some caller’s gardens are no longer producing, some callers have filled both freezer and shelves with canned produce, and some callers are just getting tired of canning. We are still getting calls on pickling, making sauerkraut and pickling other vegetables. Several years ago, the National Center for Home Food Preservation came out with this Fall Garden Relish. The recipe uses a few of several different vegetables, which helps you, use up those last few vegetables from the garden. Even if you are not a typical canner, you can make some to store in the refrigerator and use up within a few weeks. Enjoy.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Safe Tailgating

Tailgating is in full swing in our area and what fun everyone has! Whether you are the person that plans the menu, prepares the food, sets everything up, or just enjoys, it is important to take precautions to keep everyone safe. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne illnesses every year. It is estimated that over half of those cases are related to improper hand washing. If your venue does not have hand washing stations readily available consider taking water and soap along specifically for hand washing. Proper hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is always your best line of defense. If that is not feasible, take plenty of antibacterial wipes along and after using them follow up with an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol which is very effective in killing harmful microorganisms. Most commercial hand sanitizers contain that percentage of alcohol or close to it.

Bacteria cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted and multiply rapidly in the Danger Zone – 40 degrees to 140 degrees F. It is very important to not let foods remain in this Danger Zone for more than two hours. If the temperature outside is 90 degrees or higher that time frame drops to 1 hour. Pack your cooler the last thing before leaving home for the tailgate and put foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the temperature inside the cooler at 40 degrees or colder. Raw meat and poultry should be wrapped tightly to prevent contamination of other foods. A separate cooler is recommended for beverages as it is opened frequently which allows the internal temperature of the cooler to increase. If you won’t be serving the food soon after your arrival at the tailgate, keep the food in the cooler.

To keep hot food hot, insulated thermoses work well. Fill the thermos with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, then empty and fill with your hot food before you leave. If you have access to electricity a crock pot works well to keep hot foods above the Danger Zone during the tailgate. If you do not eat all the hot foods you have taken, be sure to put any leftovers in your cooler with enough ice before you head to the game.

If you are planning to grill as part of your tailgate, the only safe way to make sure your meat has cooked to the correct internal temperature is to take and use a calibrated food thermometer.

So what foods should you be cautious of when tailgating and which foods would be considered always safe? Be cautious of foods that are high in protein like meat, milk and dishes/casseroles containing eggs as well as marinades, potatoes, and pie (especially cream pies). Often part of the fun at a tailgate is preparing the food while you are there. However from a safety standpoint, single-serving, pre-packaged foods are the best. There would be far less people touching the food limiting the chances of contamination. Dry foods and those high in sugar are safe bets as well. Things like breads, cakes, and cookies. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also good choices.

Enjoy the rest of tailgate season!

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Beware of Halloween Decoration Dangers

‘Tis the season to be scary . . . fa, la, la, la, la, la, la . . .

Halloween has become as festive as Christmas with string of lights, blow up decorations, animated displays, fog machines, and other electric-powered decorations.  Any and all create a scare-worthy porch or yard for any trick-or-treaters that dare to ring the doorbell.  But like Christmas decorations, Halloween decorations can be a source of dangers that could spoil the holiday that is suppose to be fun.  Remember a safe celebration is the best celebration.

So as Halloween decorating approaches, here’s some safety tips from Safe Electricity to make sure Halloween is safe and fun for all:

  • Carefully inspect decorations that have been stored for cracking, fraying or bare wires.  Do not use if any of these problems are found as they may cause a shock or start a fire.
  • When replacing or purchasing decorations or cords, make sure they are Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved and marked for outdoor use.
  • Unless specifically indicated, keep electrical decorations out of water or wet areas.
  • Be mindful of extension cords.  They should not run through water on the ground.  Use only cords rated for outdoor use.
  • Don’t overload plugs or extension cords.  Be sure to use a big enough gauge extension cord to handle the decoration wattage without getting hot.
  • Use insulated staples to hold strings of lights or cords in place.  Fasten securely.
  • Plug outdoor lights and decorations into GFCI outlets (ground fault circuit interrupters).
  • Keep cords away from walkways or anyplace where they may be a potential tripping hazard or entanglement hazard for pets.
  • Consider using a timer to have decorations or lights on for a specified amount of time.  Turn them off while away from the home and before going to bed.

By following basic electrical safety guidelines, you will  avoid real scares or dangerous tricks and keep Halloween a fun and safe event.  Get more safety tips at SafeElectricity.org.

Marlene Geiger

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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Fall Fun Ideas

Fall is here!  Here’s some ideas from my family to yours to make fall a special time for the family.

Rake and play in the leaves—assuming it doesn’t stir up allergies.  After the leaves fall, pile the raked leaves and let the kids and dogs jump and scatter.  Of course, you may have to re-rake a bit before bagging or composting.

Watch for slow-moving vehicles.  Harvest has begun so motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving vehicles and farm equipment.  Make it a safe season for everyone by sharing the road and slowing down.

Make a pot of soup.  Chili is especially good on a cool day.  Stews are a good way to use up the last of the vegetables harvested from the garden.

Pick apples.  October is national apple month and what a fun outing it can be to harvest apples either from your own trees or at a nearby orchard.  Some orchards provide entertainment as well as picking opportunities.  Use the apples to eat fresh or make apple crisp, apple pie, or apple butter.  Be sure to get a candied apple, too!

Search for a pumpkin or two for decorating or carving.  There are lots of pick-your-own pumpkin patches and some come with entertainment options, too.   Pumpkin carving or decorating parties are a lot of fun for all ages.  Carving pumpkins don’t make good pumpkin pie; instead choose a small pie pumpkin for cooking and baking.

Plant mums, bulbs, grass, shrubs, and trees.  Fall is the perfect time to plant as the cool days and nights allow plants to settle in without stress.  Water thoroughly until the ground freezes.  Consider mulching to keep new plantings from heaving during the winter months.

Build a bonfire.  The warmth from the fire is so special on a cool night and even more fun when s’mores are on the menu. Be mindful of fire safety.

Catch the football spirit.  Take in a local high school Friday night game or play touch football with the kids. Catch your favorite team on TV!  Tailgate with friends either at a game or before watching a TV game.

Try out an amazing corn maze.  Traversing a corn maze in search of the end or prizes is guaranteed to become a fun and exciting tradition for years to come.

Decorate for Halloween.  String up some lights or plug in the fog machine for a festive spirit.  Be sure all lights or electrical decorations are UL approved and plugged into GFCI outlets.  Add some carved pumpkins and maybe a big spider web.

Watch a scary movie.  Nothing sets the scene for Halloween more than a little “fright!”

Take a road trip.  Check out the changing scenery in your area as the farm fields go from green to golden brown to harvest empty and the leaves on the trees turn.  Or travel to the various parts of the state to see the “colors” at their peak time.

Take a hike.  Follow a path through the woods at a state or local park.  Hear the leaves crunch and smell the damp fall ground.  Pack a picnic to enjoy along the way.

Drink hot spiced apple cider or hot chocolate.  It just wouldn’t be fall without cider and hot chocolate to warm up after an outing on a cool fall day or evening.  And either beverage really goes nice with a fire in the fireplace!

Take a hayride.  Watch local listings for community hayrides.

For more ideas and where to find fall entertainment options, check out Travel Iowa.

Happy Fall!

 

 

Marlene Geiger

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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Pick the Best Pumpkin

Pumpkins of all sizes and varieties are appearing at the market and other venues.  There’s a lot of variety in pumpkins and it pays to consider what you’ll be using your pumpkin for–cooking, carving, or decorating–when you go shopping for one.  When choosing a carving or decorating pumpkin, you’re looking for a nice shape and a pumpkin that will last several days. The choice for a cooking or baking pumpkin is all about taste and texture.

For cooking and baking, you’ll want to use a pumpkin that has a smooth, dense grain or texture and a very mild, delicate and sweet flavor.  Often time they are generically labeled “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins.”  Other pumpkins or squash that work equally as well are the Long Island Cheese Pumpkins which look like a wheel of cheese, the white ‘Luminia’, or butternut squash. “Pie pumpkins” are smaller in size, about 5-8 inches in diameter and weigh between three and eight pounds.  “One pound of fresh pumpkin yields about 4 cups raw peeled and cubed, or 1 cup cooked when mashed or pureed pumpkin.  A 5 pound fresh pumpkin will make 4-4.5 cups of cooked puree or mashed pulp. If you want a thicker puree, place it in a colander or cheesecloth for a while to drain out excess water. If a recipe calls for a 15-ounce can of pumpkin, you can replace it with 1.75 cups mashed fresh pumpkin. In general, plan on purchasing 1/3 to 1/2 pound of fresh pumpkin per serving as a side dish. Much of the weight will be discarded in the peel and seeds.” (source:  https://www.howmuchisin.com/produce_converters/pumpkin)  Check for nicks, bruises or soft spots before purchasing.  If kept in a cool, dry location, they will keep well for a couple of months.  As the pumpkin ages, the skin will dull, but as long as the skin is unblemished and free of mold, the flesh inside will still be sweet and edible; in fact, over time, the flesh becomes even sweeter.  Once cut, fresh pumpkin/squash should be wrapped tightly, refrigerated, and used within five days.  Cooked pumpkin/squash freezes very well for later use.

You can carve or decorate with any type of pumpkin, squash, or gourd.  However, larger pumpkins used for carving or decorating are generally known as field pumpkins and besides being larger in size, also have a watery, stringy flesh.  A good carving pumpkin should be firm, healthy, feel heavy when picked up, and sound slightly hollow when tapped gently. Ideally, the shell should be hard enough to protect it, but still allow a knife through. Pumpkins with outer shells that feel as hard as a piece of wood are very difficult and dangerous to slice or carve.  The heavier the pumpkin, the thicker the walls. Thick walls may block the light source and carving details may be lost. If the pumpkin you choose has thicker walls than desired, one can shave the walls from the inside.  Test to see if the pumpkin has a good base to sit on so that it won’t roll over.  Avoid carrying the pumpkin by its stem.  The stem is not a handle and if it breaks, you may loose part of your design or create a wound that invites rot.

Once a pumpkin has been opened or carved, it will start to dry and shrivel as soon as exposed to air.  Carved pumpkins will keep nicely for a few days in the refrigerator; this is especially helpful if carving needs to take place a few days ahead of the display time.  If you want to carve and display but want the display to last longer than one day, place the carved pumpkin in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.  Another tip is to spray it with “Wilt-Pruf” plant protector.  For display pumpkins whether carved or solely for decoration, it is important that they not be left outdoors if there is a threat of frost.

Enjoy pumpkin season!

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

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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Fire Prevention

I have been thinking more about fire prevention week this year than I have for many years. When our children were young, we made a point of checking smoke detectors, looking at escape routes from the bedrooms, and choosing a meeting place for the family outside of the house. Since we became empty nesters, we have focused a bit less on these safety steps. Now that we have five grandchildren that live nearby and often spend the night, I am thinking more about fire safety at home.

I have spent some time reading the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) website and looking at their fire safety education ideas. I learned that the slogan for Fire Safety Week in 2018 is “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware – fire can happen anywhere.” This slogan fits nicely with suggestions from many other parts of society. We do need to be aware of our surroundings. Last night we attended at concert at CY Stephens auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University. Our seats were in the third balcony so we had to climb a significant number of stairs to get to our seats. While we were waiting for the event to begin, I looked at both exits from our seats. I planned a first and then second exit, should that have been necessary. Here in our office, we also have two planned exits should it be necessary for us to evacuate. I know the best exit from all the rooms in our home, and the second choice exit but I do not think that my grandchildren are aware of these exits. Two of our upstairs bedrooms contain a fire ladder and I know that the grandchildren do not know how to operate it.

The NFPA suggest these calls to action:

  • Look for places fire can start
  • Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm
  • Learn two ways out of each room

Before my grandchildren’s next visit, I can look around my home for places a fire could start. I will clean out my dryer vent, make sure I do not have anything flammable near a heat source, and eliminate stacks of old magazines. I will check the batteries in my fire alarms to be sure they are all in working order. I plan to take the grandchildren on a house tour to demonstrate two ways out of every room, especially the upstairs bedrooms. We will also practice meeting up at our designated meeting spot, the big blue machine shed out in our yard. I know I will sleep better after putting my plan into action.

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Collecting and Fall Planting Milkweed for Monarchs

In recent years, we have heard and read much about the declining monarch butterfly population due to eradication of milkweed in agricultural and urban areas.  Milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs.  It is the only host plant for the monarch caterpillars which feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed.  And besides providing food for caterpillars, the leaves of the milkweed plant are the only place that the female monarchs lay their eggs.  As milkweed plants gradually disappeared from the landscape, the monarch populations gradually declined.  With the decline, there is urging to plant milkweed to support and increase the monarch population.

Back in the 1990s, I began an initial planting of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) along our creek banks with seeds from a single pod that I found along the road side. In the 20 some years since, those few seeds have fostered a nice habitat for monarchs as they not only spread along the creek bank, but also into the surrounding pasture.  This year I am once again on a mission to collect some pods, harvest the seeds, and eventually plant them.  However, this time I have a partner; my 9-year old granddaughter loves monarchs and wants to do her part in helping their survival.

Fall is the perfect time to collect and plant milkweed.  The first step is to acquire seed.  Most milkweed species grow particularly well in undisturbed areas, so start by checking out roadsides, pastures, creek and river banks, railroad track beds, bike paths, highway medians, agricultural field margins, vacant land, cultivated gardens, and parks.  In September the seed pods begin to turn brown, split, and open.  The seed pod looks like a spiny, bumpy fruit. They begin light green in color and gradually over the summer turn yellow-green and eventually sage green to sage grey-brown.  As they get to this later stage, they will start to split.  This is the stage that you want for harvesting seeds. When the pod is opened, the seeds inside should be dark brown. If they’re green or light brown, they’re not mature yet and won’t sprout when planted.  If you don’t see the split or aren’t sure about the color, you can gently push on the pod; if it splits easily and the seeds are brown, it is ready; if it won’t pop open easily, leave it for another time.

Remove the entire seed pod from the plant and place it in a paper or organza bag.  Attached to the seeds is the coma, (white, hairy fluff also known as floss, silk, or plume) that is essential to the natural propagation of milkweed in the wild.  The fluff enables the wind to scatter and disperse the seed over a wide area.  Whether the seed is saved to share or use later or planted this fall, the fluff should be removed and it is best to do this before the pod fully opens and explodes.  When the seeds are all compact inside the pod, it is easy to do by carefully removing the spine holding the fluff and running your fingers down it; as you do, the seeds fall out easily.  Check out the Monarch Butterfly Garden website for a great video on how to do this.  If the pod is more mature and already opening with the fluff beginning to take flight, place the pod in a paper bag and shake it vigorously; sometimes it helps to add some coins or washers to the bag to aid this process.

Milkweed needs a period of cold stratification to germinate so that is what makes fall an ideal time to plant milkweed as Mother Nature will do the work during the winter months. November is the best time in the Midwest to plant.  The soil needs to be cold enough that the seeds won’t germinate, but not yet frozen.  The location chosen should be sunny and an area where you can allow the milkweeds to spread naturally over time as they can become invasive in a perfectly manicured yard or flower garden.  A bare patch of moist soil is best.  Poke a shallow hole and drop in a seed or two.  Cover, water, and lightly mulch for winter protection, and wait for spring.  For more tips on planting, see Fall Planting Milkweed Seeds – 10 Simple Steps from the Monarch Butterfly Garden website.  Another method of planting  is by making and throwing out seed balls.  To learn more about this method, see the article by the Iowa DNR.

If you miss the window for fall planting, the seeds can be planted in the spring, too.  For additional information on keeping seeds over the winter and planting in the spring or other times, check out the Michigan State University publication, How to Collect and Grow Milkweeds to Help Monarchs and Other Pollinators.

Lastly, I would be amiss to not suggest that this would make a great 4-H project for any young person interested in monarch habitat.  And for crafters, there are any number of ways to use the dried pods.  In all cases, please be advised to wear gloves or wash hands frequently when working with milkweed or pods.  Milkweed sap (looks like milk) can be an eye irritant, so take appropriate precautions to avoid this kind of discomfort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

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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