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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Success with Caramel

Nothing says ‘fall’ more than the smell and taste of caramel—caramel corn, caramel sauce, caramel apples, caramel candy, caramel rolls . . . .

Sliced apples with a bowl of caramel for dipping
Sliced apples with a bowl of caramel for dipping.

The ingredients for nearly any kind of caramel are a combination of sugar, cream, butter, and often corn syrup. Other ingredients can be added for flavor.  The brown color comes from a reaction between the sugar and the protein in the cream known as the Mailard reaction, named after the French scientist who discovered it.  The only difference in the kind of caramel one is making is the recipe for the desired outcome.  For example, caramel sauce is not suitable for caramel apples and the caramel for apples is not suitable for caramel corn. 

All caramel recipes start by caramelizing the sugar.  Caramelization is what happens to pure sugar when it reaches 338⁰F; at this temperature, it melts and starts to turn brown.  While sugar caramelizes, it can also crystalize.  Sugar is a crystal in its natural state and has an affinity to return to that form whenever given a chance.  Even when melted, sugar molecules like to form into groups or crystals.  All they need is a party starter like an undissolved sugar crystal on the side of pan as a nucleus to draw other molecules of sugar towards it, re-forming crystals.  Because of this, attention to details when making caramel is important but doesn’t need to be intimidating. 

8 Tips for Successfully Making any Form of Caramel

1) First and foremost, follow the recipes exactly using the exact ingredients and proportions.  Sugar is usually white or brown; don’t interchange unless the recipe suggests so.  When a recipes requires heavy cream, this means cream with approximately 36% milk fat.  Other recipes may use whipping cream, light cream, evaporated milk or a milk alternative.  Butter may be either salted or unsalted; by using unsalted, one is better able to control the salt if a “salted caramel” is desired.  Crystallization is an issue with caramel. Sugar is sucrose; sucrose molecules like to pile up on one another resulting in grainy caramel. The most common precaution to prevent crystallization in recipes for caramel is to add an invert sugar to make it hard for the sucrose to congregate. Corn syrup is an invert sugar and acts as an “interfering agent” in candy or candy-like recipes. It contains long chains of glucose molecules that tend to keep the sucrose molecules in the candy syrup from crystallizing. Honey is also an invert sugar and can be substituted for corn syrup. Adding an acid like lemon juice is another way to prevent sucrose from crystallizing. The cream and butter also act as “interfering agents” as the milk proteins in both help to prevent crystal formation.  Ingredients such as vanilla, flavorings, salt, and nuts (or baking soda for caramel corn) are all added at the end.

2) Don’t step away from the stove. Caramel is quick to burn and very easy to ruin in only a matter of seconds. Have all ingredients ready and accessible. Multitasking is not advised.  

3) When required, use an accurate candy thermometer.  A candy thermometer is a foolproof way to make sure the hot sugar reaches the right temperature for the desired outcome without fear of burning it. The candy thermometer should not touch the bottom of the pan.

4) Unless stated otherwise, medium heat is best.  Resist the urge to increase the temperature to quicken the process as this can result in a scorched flavor and grainy texture.  Patience is key.

5) Use a thick, heavy bottom pot to maintain an even heat and consistent temperature throughout the cooking process.

6)  Stir at a consistent speed when the recipe says to stir and stop stirring when the recipe says otherwise.  Initial stirring is necessary to dissolve the crystal structure of the sugar.  When the mixture reaches a point where stirring is no longer required, stop as additional stirring or other agitation is one of the many factors that can encourage the fructose and glucose molecules in the syrup to rejoin and form sucrose crystals.

7) Use a wet pastry brush to remove or wipe down any sugar crystals that may be clinging to the side of the cooking pan to prevent a “seed crystal” of sugar from falling into the sugar mixture and encouraging recrystallization.

8) Have everything ready to go prior to starting the caramel—containers to put the sauce in; apples washed, destemmed, and stick added; greased pan for candy; popcorn popped, etc.  (Caramel for caramel apples can be held in a slow cooker on low after preparing on the stove as instructed to give time for dipping.  Give it a gentle stir every 10 minutes to ensure the butter doesn’t separate.)

Last, but not the least, any caramel product made with dairy (cream, etc) must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage or food related illnesses.  Additionally, caramel apples should be refrigerated to prevent Listeria contamination.  “caramel has a low amount of water and apples are acidic so neither are normally breeding grounds for Listeria, but piercing an apple with a dipping stick causes a bit of apple juice to leak out and become trapped under a layer of caramel. This creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria already present on the apple’s surface.  Listeria growth occurs more quickly when a caramel apple is stored at room temperature compared to refrigeration. Caramel apples should stay fresh up to one week if refrigerated.” [1]

Air and humidity are caramel foes; air dries it out and humidity causes it to become sticky so storing in air-tight containers is advised. Caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks but will harden slightly.  Simply warm the caramel sauce in the microwave to make it smooth again.  It can also be frozen for up to three months in an airtight plastic storage container.  When ready to drizzle it again, remove it from the freezer, allow it to thaw at room temperature and warm if necessary.  Caramel candy can also be stored in the freezer for up to one year as long as the individual candies are properly wrapped to prevent drying out.  Allow at least one hour for thawing before enjoying.  

Are you ready to try making something caramel?  Just writing this blog has made me drool!

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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Preserve Pumpkin and Squash Safely

Assorted winter squash
Assorted winter squash.

Pumpkins offer far more than a fall porch decoration or carving medium for Halloween. Fall is the prime time to find and use sugar or pie pumpkins along with some winter squash varieties for cooking, baking, and preserving. The pumpkin puree purchased in a can at the store is actually made from a squash that’s less a “pumpkin” and more of a butternut squash in both flavor and texture.  It turns out, if you truly want the best pumpkin puree, don’t use an actual pumpkin.  The best “pumpkin” flavor comes from firm-fleshed winter squash varieties like Kabocha, Red Kuri, Butternut, New England Cheese Pumpkin, and pie/sugar pumpkin.  Avoid large jack-o-lantern varieties which are bred for size rather than flavor.

However, think safety when preparing or preserving pumpkins or squash. Pumpkins/winter squash are low acid vegetables and require special attention to preparation and processing. Use excellent sanitation in handling the fresh pumpkin/squash flesh.  Do not let cut or cooked pumpkin/squash sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours during preparation or prior to preserving. 

Freezing Pumpkins and Winter Squash

Freezing is the easiest way to preserve pumpkin and winter squash and yields the best quality product. Select full-colored mature pumpkin/squash with fine texture (not stringy or dry). Simply wash the pumpkin/squash, remove the seeds and cut it into cooking-sized pieces.  Pumpkin/squash can be cooked in boiling water or pressure cooker, steamed, or baked in the oven with or without the rind removed.  Cook, steam or bake the pumpkin/squash until it is soft, remove the pulp from the rind and mash for baking; cubes can also be frozen if desired. Cool the pumpkin/squash as quickly as possible.  Package the puree in freezer containers sized for future use (2 cups of puree equals one can of pumpkin) leaving headspace and freeze. Remember to thaw the pumpkin in the refrigerator when ready to use. 

What if the pumpkin/squash is too hard to get a knife through? Smaller whole pumpkins/squash can be prepared in the oven or pressure cooker with no cutting required. Poke the vegetable with a knife to create steam vents. Bake or cook until tender; remove seeds and flesh, mash or puree. Another option is to use the microwave to soften the vegetable.  Begin by poking some steam holes in the vegetable.  Microwave for a few minutes until there is some give when pushed on.  Cool briefly, cut in half, remove seeds, and microwave, cut side down, until tender.  Lastly, the oven is an option.  Place the vegetable on a baking sheet and roast until there is some give when poked. Remove from the oven, cool briefly, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and continue baking cut side down until tender.  Once the vegetable is tender, cool briefly to handle safely.  Scrap out the flesh, mash or puree.

Canning Pumpkins and Winter Squash

If you prefer to preserve pumpkin/squash for shelf storage, it must be canned with pressure and only safely canned in cubes. Canning pumpkin butter* or mashed or pureed pumpkin/squash is NOT recommended (see below). To pressure can cubed pumpkin/squash, first wash the pumpkin/squash and remove its seeds. Next, cut the pumpkin/squash into 1-inch wide slices, then peel and cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes. Blanch the cubes in boiling water for 2 minutes. Fill the canning jars with the cubes, and cover them with the hot cooking liquid leaving 1 inch of headspace.   Process at 11 pounds of pressure with a dial-gauge canner.  For altitudes below 2000 feet, process pints for 55 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes.  For a weighted gauge canner, process at 10 pounds of pressure at altitudes below 1000 feet and at 15 pounds of pressure above 1000 feet.  Process pints for 55 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes.

Canned pumpkin/squash can be used for side dishes, casseroles and soups.  It can also be used for pies and baking by pureeing at the time of use; however, it does not work as well for pie as frozen.

Skip the grocery-store can of pumpkin puree and instead make your own. It will be perfect for all your fall baking and cooking needs.

* Pumpkin Preserves.  Gelled preserves rely on the natural acidity present in most fruits for safe food preservation. Most fruits have natural acids so resulting jams or jellies can be safely canned in a boiling water bath process. Pumpkin, however, is a low acid vegetable and cannot be safely canned in the boiling water bath process. A jam or sweetened preserve would have to have enough sugar and/or added acid to be treated safely without concerns about botulism. A certain acidity level is also required to cause the pectin molecule to form a gel structure. At the present time, the USDA nor National Center for Home Food Preservation have any tested recipes to recommend for safely canning pumpkin preserves (jams, jellies, conserves, or pumpkin butter) and storing them at room temperature.  These pumpkin products must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer and treated the same as fresh pumpkin.


Source:
Canning Pumpkins and Winter Squash. Freezing Pumpkin. Freezing Winter Squash. National Center for Home Food Preservation.

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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Moving Plants Indoors in the Fall

Person transplating flowers in a pot
Person transplanting flowers into a pot.

With nighttime and daytime temperatures dropping and hard frosts in the near future, it is time to turn our attention to bringing in and acclimating houseplants that have been outdoors during the summer. Most experts recommend transitioning plants from their present light conditions to lower light conditions over a period of several days when temperatures drop below 50-60 degrees which is typically in latter September in the midwest.  When time does not permit this transitioning time, plants will likely show signs stress with yellowing and leaf dropping as they adapt to indoor light conditions.

Plants should be inspected and treated for pests before bringing inside.  Aphids, mealybugs, white flies and other pests usually aren’t a problem when potted indoor plants are outside, but can quickly turn into a major infestation during the winter if they highjack their way inside. Some experts recommend bathing or soaking plants before bringing them inside in a tub of water with a mild dishwashing soap.  If plants are too big for a tub, spray them with water and wash the top and undersides of the leaves as much as possible with water and dishwashing detergent rinsing with water; in addition to removing potential insects, it also removes outdoor dust from the leaves.  It is important that the soapy water also get into the soil as it will help to kill any pests residing there, too. Wash the outside of the pots to remove dirt and any unwanted pests. It may also be a good practice to report the plants with fresh potting soil providing them with new nutrients and minimize the risk of insects residing in the soil. Once inside, plants should be checked with each watering for any sign of infestation and if spotted, treat religiously with an insecticidal soap until the problem is resolved. 

Houseplants may put on a lot of new growth over the summer and may get very large. After cleaning, the second step is to determine if they need pruning, separating, or repotting.  Some plants may have outgrown their pot and need something larger.  Others may be too large for the indoor space and need to be pruned, separated, or propagated to start a new plant. 

While geraniums are typically an annual plant, they can be successfully wintered indoors in different ways–left in their pot, pruned and repotted, propogated from cuttings, or stored as dry-root plants in a cool, dry location. University of Minnesota provides information on these methods.

Plants should be placed in the brightest locations possible in the home with a southern exposure if possible. Once the plants are inside a new kind of care begins–watching for pests, watering appropriately, cleaning up dropped leaves and petals, and fertilizing as needed. To prevent overwatering, that means letting the soil dry to the touch before watering. When houseplants need to be watered depends on many environmental conditions including light, humidity, and temperature. Depending upon the conditions of the home, some plants may need nearly as much water in the winter as they do in the summer.  Iowa State University Extension horticulturalists recommend reducing or stopping fertilizing plants in the fall and winter months, as abundant fertilizer will only promote growth that cannot be supported by the slower-growing houseplant leading to pale or spindly growth. 

Bringing houseplants, tropicals, and geraniums indoors for fall and winter is a great way to preserve special plants and save money by not repeatedly buying new plants each spring.  It does take considerable time in the fall, but in doing so, one may be able to enjoy the same plants and collections for many years and use the money saved to purchase new or interesting plants.

Updated 10-12-2023 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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Butternut Squash – Versatile, Nutritious, Long Keeping, and Convenient Size Make It A Favorite

Fall has arrived and winter squash is available.  Butternut squash is favorite winter squash variety. It is favored for its versatility, nutrition, long keeping quality, and convenient size.

Butternut squash
Butternut squash, whole and sliced open.

Versatility. It is delicious cooked, steamed, baked, roasted, sautéed and pureed and as such can be used in countless ways. The smooth texture of the butternut squash is a great addition to many sweet and savory dishes and can be used as a substitute for pumpkin in nearly any recipe.  During the fall and winter months, I keep butternut squash on hand continuously for pancakes, soups and stews, breads (yeast and quick), desserts, dips and spreads, shakes, and even pizza.  It can be eaten raw, but cooking the squash softens the flesh, making it easier to consume and digest.  Because squash takes on many different flavors, it is tastier when cooked but it is also a nice addition when grated raw and added to salads.

Nutrition. Butternut squash is very nutritious. The flesh is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C as well as a good source of thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. The seeds are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats making them a nutrient dense, filling snack. Even though it is a high-carbohydrate food, it has a low glycemic index, making it a smart addition to most healthy meal plans. It is also a great choice for people on low-fat diets as it contains almost no fat. Lastly, it’s a good source of dietary fiber; a 1-cup serving provides a fourth of our daily needs.

Keeping qualities.  If stored properly, butternut squash is a long-keeping squash lasting up to 6 months. For best results, squash should be stored in a cool, dry spot (50-55 degrees F) with relative humidity of 60-70 percent. Uncooked butternut squash should not be refrigerated.  If picked from the garden, it needs to be cured with warm temperatures and good air circulation for 10-14 days before storing. 

Peeled or cooked butternut squash should be refrigerated; it is good for 5-7 days.  Cooked or raw butternut can be frozen.  To freeze raw squash, simply cube or slice the squash and place in air-tight freezer bags for up to a year.  Cooked squash can be frozen in any appropriate freezer container. 

Convenient size. Mature butternut squash range from 1 to 5 lbs. The average butternut squash will be around 2 to 3 lbs. Since the skin is thin and the seed cavity small, there isn’t much loss. A 3-pound squash yields about 4½ cups uncooked 1-inch cubes. 1 cup cubed raw butternut squash weighs about ⅔ pound. A cup of raw butternut squash cubes yielded ½ cup of soft cooked cubes (Produce Converter). Therefore, if a recipe calls for a can of pumpkin which is just shy of 2 cups, it takes about 4 cups raw cubed squash.

As a member of the Cucurbita moschata family, butternut has two cousins–cushaw and cheese pumpkin–that work equally as well, but their bigger size becomes a consideration.

For more about butternut squash, check out How to Select, Peel, and Use Butternut Squash.

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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Apple Desserts Defined

A trip to a local apple orchard is a fun fall activity.  Part of the fun is deciding on which varieties to pick for the intended use.  Apples fall into two categories–eating or dessert apples OR cooking or culinary apples.  A cooking or culinary apple is an apple that is used primarily for cooking, as opposed to a dessert apple, which is eaten raw.  Cooking apples differ from dessert varieties; they are more tart in flavor and have a firmer flesh that holds its shape better when cooked. Apples and Their Uses offers a guide to a broad selection of apple varieties and their best uses.   Individual tastes and preferences vary, so the list should not be construed as definitive.

Apple crisp

Besides fresh eating, apples are used for a wide variety of desserts with apple pie being king.  As one looks for a recipe, words like betty, buckle, cobbler, crumble, crisp or pan dowdy may be encountered.  All use apples.  How are these desserts different?

Brown Betty:  apples are placed atop sweetened bread crumbs.  Video recipe.

Buckle: a single-layer moist cake with fruit folded into the batter with a sweet crumb topping; a bukle exhibits an indented or buckled top when baked.  Buckles are similar to fruit-filled coffee cakes and have a higher batter-to-fruit ratio than other fruit desserts.  Recipe.

Cobbler: fruit filling on the bottom covered with batter OR pastry or biscuit dough spooned or dolloped atop the fruit.  Recipe.

Crumble: baked fruit with a crisp streusel topping that does not contain oats; baking powder is sometimes added to the streusel to make the crumble more tender.  Recipe.

Crisp: fruit mixture with a cumbly topping that includes oats and brown sugar.  Recipe.

Pan Dowdy: fruit dessert topped with a crust that is “dowdied” or broken and pushed down into the fruit and bubbling juices after baking.  Recipe.

Regardless of how an apple dessert is made, the outcome will be DELICIOUS!

Reviewed and updated, 4-24, mg.

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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Celebrate Maple Syrup Day!

Two containers of maple syrupGet the the pancakes, French toast or waffles ready for National Maple Syrup Day,  December 17th! Top them off with delicious and nutritious maple syrup!

Even though pancake syrup and maple syrup reside side-by-side next to each other on grocery 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 maple trees, 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.

Maple syrup is rich in manganese, a mineral and also has antioxidants that may offer health benefits.  But like pancake syrup, it has a high high sugar content which can lead to tooth decay and raise blood sugar. further health problems for people with diabetes.

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 maple syrup has been opened, it should be stored 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.  Maple syrup that develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance or molds should be discarded.

Reviewed and updated, 5/2024, mg.

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

Assorted fall and Halloween decorations at a store. ‘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.

A Halloween blowup - large eyes with large orange glasses.

Reviewed 6/2024, 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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Pick the Best Pumpkin

Beautiful large pumpkin in the pumpkin patch 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.

Two carved pumpkins.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!

Reviewed 6/2024, 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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