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Can your own pie filling!

Callers have been asking for recipes to make their own canned pie filling a lot lately. It can be frustrating for a home canner to hear that the only recommended starch in pie filling recipes is Clear Jel. This product is not typically available in a local grocery store. The best option for purchasing Clear Jel is the internet. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has the following information on their website.

Clear Jel® is a chemically modified corn starch that produces excellent sauce consistency even after fillings are canned and baked. Other available starches break down when used in these pie fillings, causing a runny sauce consistency. Clear Jel® is available only through a few supply outlets and it is not widely available in grocery stores. Find out about its availability prior to gathering other ingredients to make these pie fillings. If you cannot find it, check Internet stores, or ask your county Extension family and consumer sciences educator about sources for Clear Jel®.

We do have a way for home canners to work around the Clear Jel problem. Sliced apples can be processed in a medium or heavy syrup. When you want to bake a pie with your home canned apples, simply thicken them after taking them out of the jar and then put them into your pie crust. It adds another step but is the best way to make apple pie filling without Clear Jel.

Enjoy a “fresh” apple pie any time.

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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Up with Strawberries!

During the spring, summer, and fall months, I repeatedly hear,  “ What do you have in your front yard—those white columns inside of a black fence?”  What these curiosity seekers are asking about are my strawberry towers—strawberry plants grown UP or vertically instead of in a bed.  And the fence????  “You know how strawberries run!”  Not, it’s to protect the plants from the deer and rabbits that enjoy the plants and fruits as much as I do.

Several years ago, we were traveling through Minnesota and came upon a pick-your-own strawberry farm in August.  Out of curiosity, we stopped.  Inside of a green house, we found pots atop pots of strawberries being grown vertically, not in the typical low-grow patch.  And hanging on those plants, were a plethora of huge, red, succulent strawberries.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this was a much better way to grow strawberries than in the garden bed we had.  I became almost giddy with excitement as I imagined not fighting weeds, rodents, bugs, and rotting strawberries.  And best of all, no “strawberry stance” back-bending or down-on-your-knees work looking under every leaf or reaching to the middle for another berry.

My husband spent considerable time researching where to purchase the strawberry towers we had seen in Minnesota and found them at  Agro-Tower.  We initially ordered one set of six to try them out. To keep the pots together and sturdy, my husband attached a metal pipe to the center of a tractor wheel weight.  The metal pipe slips through the center of each strawberry pot with the first pot resting on the weight; the tractor weight made a very sturdy anchor.  Each pot has six open cups to hold a single strawberry plant.  When stacked on top of each other, the openings are alternated so the plants receive adequate light and water and allow the fruit to hang out of for easy picking.  With success our first year, we ordered three additional sets.

However, it is not necessary to purchase containers as they can be an investment.  All kinds of containers can be used for growing strawberries.  In the process of searching for the towers, we came across numerous DIY web articles and u-tube videos showing different styles of towers and containers. The University of California’s master gardener’s page shows how to make bucket planters.  Strawberry plants easily adapt to small spaces so containers are perfect as long as the plants get sun and plenty of moisture and nutrients. Depending on the tower height and configuration, you can have dozens of plants in less than one square foot making them ideal for the patio or deck or as a piece of “art” in the flower garden.

Growing strawberries in tower containers is different than growing in a garden so you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind. (For additional information, check out Growing Strawberries in Containers.)

  1. Ever-bearing strawberry varieties are best for containers.  They bear some fruit in mid-June and occasionally through the summer; they give a good harvest late summer and into the fall right up to frost if the plants are carefully cared for.
  2. Potting soil is a must to provide good drainage and nutrient distribution.
  3. Purchase new plants and potting soil each season to avoid disease from the previous crop.
  4. Add a good vegetable and flower fertilizer to each container before planting. Fertilize frequently throughout the season to keep the plants healthy and productive.
  5. Trim the runners off when they start to appear. However, if you have a missing plant in your containers, you can lay a close runner on the missing area and let it take root.  Trimming the runners promotes growth and more berries in the fall.
  6. Keep the fruit picked off as the berries mature. This is definitely not hard to do!!

I find that the fruit quality is better when grown in containers.   Strawberries that sit on damp ground start to rot or seem to bring the potential for rot with them even after harvest so their shelf life is really short.  By keeping them up in the air, they dry quickly and are not in contact with diseases and funguses in the soil that cause rot.  Nearly every berry is perfect when plucked from the plant and have a longer shelf life in the refrig.  I store them unwashed in an open container in the refrigerator fruit drawer.  When I get too many to eat fresh, I wash, stem, place them on a cookie sheet, and pop them into the freezer for a couple of hours before I bag and return them to the freezer to use for smoothies, jams and other recipes throughout the winter months.

So if you enjoy red, ripe, juicy, sweet strawberries (high in vitamins and antioxidants, too) from the garden but detest the effort it takes to grow or pick them in a bed, consider going “up with strawberries!” I think you’ll be glad you did!

PS – Vertical gardens are good for some vegetables and herbs, too.

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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Canner Load Guidelines

Canning season is peaking right now and we recently had a question concerning canner loads for pressure canners. You don’t always have a full canner load when you are ready to can.
You must use a pressure canner that can hold at least 4 quart size jars even if you are never going to can quarts. That size is needed for the come-up and cool-down times to be accurate.
In 2016, Ball Canning issued new pressure canning guidance about the number of jars in a pressure canner load. Their new rule is a pressure canner load must consist of at least 2 quart jars or 4 pint jars at a time. This is to ensure proper pressure and temperature is achieved for safe processing.

If you have canning questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail. We are happy to help!

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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Oh No, my freezer is out!

We tend to get calls about freezers going out any time during the year; but most often during winter storms. I was surprised recently when I discovered that my nearly 40-year-old freezer quit while my husband and I were away on vacation. We had nearly a quarter of a beef, several frozen pizzas, a whole chicken, and a pork tenderloin in the freezer. It was a shock as I’d never had this happen before. It is possible to claim food losses on home owner’s insurance but we chose not to make a claim. At the time I discovered the freezer had quit, enough time had lapsed that all the meat was totally thawed and was cool but not cold.

When you discover that the freezer is not working, it is important to determine why it is no longer working. Some of our callers find that the freezer was accidently unplugged, or a fuse has blown, or someone has left the freezer door open. It is not uncommon during an ice storm to have the power off for several days. It the problem can be fixed—plugging the freezer cord back into the outlet, or tripping the circuit breaker, check to see if the freezer contents are still completely frozen or partially frozen. If the contents have at least some ice crystals remaining it will be safe to refreeze the item. Ice cream would be an exception to that rule as the thawed ice cream will refreeze with much larger crystals resulting in a food that would not be enjoyable.

If the freezer outage is due to a power outage you will want to do what you can to keep all the food from thawing. When callers have this problem, we have a few questions that we typically ask. If the outage is not expected to be more than 12-24 hours, the freezer can be covered with a blanket or bags of ice can be added to help keep the temperature down inside the freezer. Avoid opening the freezer to keep it cold inside longer. If a longer outage is expected, the caller can take the food to a meet locker if available, or purchase some dry ice to keep the contents cold for a longer period.

Here is some advice from the National Center for Home Food Preservation on what to do with thawed foods. Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded.

  • Meat and Poultry: Re-freeze if the freezer temperature stays 40°F or below and if color and odor are good. Check each package, and discard any if signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor are present. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature).
  • Vegetables: Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Discard any packages that show signs of spoilage or that have reached room temperature.
  • Fruits: Re-freeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams, or preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality.
  • Shellfish and Cooked Foods: Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or the freezer is 40°F or below. If the temperature is above 40°F, throw these foods out.
  • Ice Cream: If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture of ice cream is not acceptable after thawing. If its temperature rises above 40°F, it could be unsafe.
  • Creamed Foods, Puddings and Cream Pies: Re-freeze only if freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Discard if the temperature is above 40°F.
  • Breads, Nuts, Doughnuts, Cookies and Cakes: These foods re-freeze better than most. They can be safely re-frozen if they show no signs of mold growth.

All of the food in my freezer was totally thawed and beginning to not have a very pleasant aroma. I’m now spending some of my free time shopping for a new freezer. If the new one lasts as long as my old one, I should not have to replace it.

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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Canning Salsa

August is a great month. By now the gardens are producing tomatoes, onions, and peppers. All the ingredients you want for a great salsa. We talk to a lot of people about salsa in August.

Tested canning recipes are designed to be followed exactly as written. It is important not to change the volume of low acid vegetables like onions or peppers. It is important not to add other ingredients not listed in the recipe such as beans or corn. The recipes were tested to ensure that here is enough acidity in the product to protect against the botulism bacteria.

These restrictions often frustrate callers and until a couple of years ago, the only recourse callers had was to freeze the salsa instead of canning it. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has come out with their Choice Salsa recipe. This recipe allows for a bit of creativity in your canned salsa. You must still follow the requirements for pounds of tomatoes or onions or peppers but you can customize the recipe a bit. We still do NOT recommend adding corn or black beans to your salsa. If you feel that salsa without those ingredients is just not salsa, consider separately canning those ingredients and adding them when serving. Remember you should heat the corn and beans and then let them cool before adding to the salsa.

Remember to follow those recipe directions carefully and enjoy that salsa.

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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Safely canning green beans

Green beans are a popular home-grown garden vegetable and are really producing right now. They produce so well we often end up with more than we can eat or share. Many people turn to canning the green beans to enjoy at a later date. Just like with any other home-canned food, it is important to ALWAYS use tested recipes/recommendations and proper procedures.

We have recently received calls from people still wanting to can their green beans in a boiling water bath. Green beans MUST be pressure canned. They are a low-acid food and require the higher temperature to destroy any botulism that may be present.

Botulism is a potentially deadly food poisoning. The Clostridium Botulinum spores that are common in soil can be heat activated and then turn into cells. Those growing cells can create a toxin leading to botulism in oxygen-free canned foods.

Just this week I had a caller say they understood all that but wondered if anyone had actually gotten sick or died from botulism. The answer is yes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation references a case of a nurse in her 30s and her two young children that were sickened by botulism in home-canned green beans. The mother had to be placed on a ventilator. Early signs of foodborne botulism, according to Mayo Clinic, include dry mouth, facial weakness on both sides of face, blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, progressive difficulty in speaking and swallowing, and paralysis. Signs and symptoms typically begin between 12 and 36 hours after the toxin gets into the body. But the start of symptoms can range from a few hours to several days depending on the amount of toxin ingested. It is indeed serious. Please do not put your health at risk by under-processing your green beans.

Tested recipe sites include the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Preserve the Taste of SummerSo Easy to Preserve from the University of Georgia, the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, and the Ball books with a copyright of 2009 or later. I have included a link to the National Center for home Food Preservation’s site for safely canning green beans: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/beans_snap_italian.html

We so enjoy and appreciate all our callers and want you to all be safe this canning 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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Freezer food for after baby arrives

Last week, we had another grandson. That brings my total number of grandchildren to 13.   It also means that it is time to make my traditional baby gift for the family. I like to prepare and freeze meals for the family. I plan enough meals to feed the family for an entire month. I know what you are thinking, but it isn’t as much work as it seems. When I make a recipe, I divide it up into amounts that the family will eat in a single meal. I may get 4 meals out of a pan of lasagna. I use disposable pans to eliminate dishwashing. Lasagna or other casseroles can be put into disposable loaf pans. I tightly wrap the pans and put all cooking instructions on the foil. This allows either mom or dad to bake dinner. The meals can be taken out of the freezer the day before and allowed to thaw in the refrigerator overnight for quicker cooking. Sometimes, the day doesn’t quite go as planned and the family decides mid-afternoon that they want a frozen meal that same day. No problem, simply cook the meal one and a half times as long as a thawed meal.

I also make some rolls or garlic bread to accompany a meal. These too can be easily thawed or cooked at meal time. I like to make rolls from scratch and then freeze them before baking. The rolls can be thawed and baked while the rest of the meal is baking. Fresh rolls and a home cooked meal can make life with a new baby so much easier.

About a month before the baby arrived, I asked my daughter just what food they might enjoy after baby number three arrived. This way, I can prepare and purchase ingredients as I see them on sale. They can purchase vegetables or other fruits and salads to accompany the meals and have them on hand. This is a project that I do while staying with the new family and helping out with meals and cleaning after the baby arrives.

I thought you might like to see some suggestions for foods that work well for new families.

  • Chicken noodle casserole
  • Pepper Steak
  • Beef and noodles
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Breakfast casserole
  • Lasagna
  • Goulash
  • Tater tot casserole
  • Cheesy potatoes
  • Beef pot pie and chicken pot pie
  • Enchiladas

This is not a complete list of appropriate foods, just foods that are popular in our family. I can’t wait to get started.

 

 

 

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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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When should I harvest garden crops?

You may have noticed when reading canning recipes list only unblemished fruits and vegetables at their peak size and degree of ripeness. You may wonder what the best size and degree of ripeness is for some of the vegetables you planted.  Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the weeding and regular care of the garden and it is easy to let some vegetables grow past their prime.  Here is a short list of common vegetables and descriptions of when they are at their best for food preservation.  I’ve used some information from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension; you can check with them for more information.

  • Cherries: Sweet cherries should be fully colored with the stems firmly attached. Sour cherries should be sampled to determine proper harvest time. Be sure they are fully colored and flavorful as they will not ripen further after harvesting.
  • Peaches: The background color of the peach skin is your best guide. Pick when the background color changes from green to yellow. The reddish color on the skin is not a good guide. Taste to be sure.
  • Plums:   Pick when the flesh begins to feel soft. The skin changes color before the fruit is ripe.
  • Strawberries: Pick when the fruits are uniformly red and beginning to soften.
  • Beans:  Pick when they are small in diameter and crisp enough to snap when picked.
  • Beets: Pull when the roots are between 1 ¼ and 2 inches in diameter. Some, but not all, beets will still have good quality when a bit larger.
  • Broccoli: Harvest when the head is fully developed but before the yellow blossoms open.
  • Carrots: Pull carrots when they are ¾ to 1 inch in diameter. Larger carrots can become woody.
  • Cucumber: The end use of the cucumber will determine when to pick. Pickling cucumbers are ready for sweet pickles when they are 1 ½ to 2 inches long. Dill pickles require 3 to 4 inch long cucumbers. For slicing choose cucumbers that are 7 to 9 inches long. Do not allow the cucumbers to yellow or become too mature.
  • Kohlrabi: Harvest these when the stem is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
  • Okra: The pods are best when they are 3 to 5 inches long. Be sure to wear gloves when harvesting as the plants are spiny.
  • Onions: Green onions can be pulled any time. Onions for storage should be pulled with half of the tops are dried and the bulbs are at least 2 inches in diameter.
  • Summer Squash/Zucchini: Pick these when the fruit is young and tender. Your fingernail should easily pierce the skin of the squash. Use zucchini when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and between 4 to 8 inches long. Check your garden every day as zucchini grow so very fast.
  • Sweet corn: Pick when the cob is filled with kernels and still in the milky stage. Use a fingernail to pierce a kernel. A milky liquid should be released. The silks should be dry and brown. Preserve within 4 hours of picking for the best possible result.
  • Tomatoes: Pick when the fruits are fully colored and firm. During hot weather you may want to pick tomatoes that are only pink and allow them to finish ripening inside the house.

Remember that if you need any advice or recipes to preserve these or any other fruits and vegetables you can call us and we will be happy to help. Happy gardening.

 

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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It’s Morel Time!

It is time to start hunting for morel mushrooms. I have been looking at some advice from experienced mushroom hunters to see what tips might help me find some morels this spring.

The first tip is to post pictures of morels all around the home or office. The theory is that if you are very familiar with the shape, they will be easier to spot.

Remember to check for signs that it is time to start hunting. You should see oak leaves that are the size of a squirrel’s ear, budding lilacs, dandelions, and other early spring flowers in bloom. At this time of the year, expect daytime temperatures in the sixties and night temperatures in the fifties.

More important is the actual soil temperature. Temperatures in the low fifties are best; temperature seems to be more important than the direction that the hillside faces. Earlier in the spring seems to be the best time to begin searching. If a cold snap occurs, there may not be as many morels growing after the weather warms up again.

Dead trees seem to be a great spot to search. Elms, Ash trees, Apple trees, and many other trees provide just the right nutrients for morels.

If the spring has been dry, look at the base of a hill. The soil will still be a bit moist there. Creek bottoms that get some sunlight are also great spots to hunt.

Once you have found some morels, remember:

  • Don’t collect morels that have been exposed to pesticides.
  • Don’t mix morels and other types of mushrooms
  • If the morel doesn’t look good (old, discolored, decaying) don’t harvest it
  • Use paper sacks, not plastic for harvest and storage of morels. They will rot in plastic bags.
  • Always cook morels, don’t eat them raw.
  • Follow directions for cooking and freezing from our previous blog post.

 

Happy hunting and eating.

 

 

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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Add Some Avocado to Your Meals

Avocados have been a great price at the grocery store lately. I love to make guacamole and cut them up to put on salads but there are many other ways that you can eat them.  Here are a few suggestions to add more avocadoes to your diet.

  • Slice and put on sandwiches.
  • Add avocado to a homemade salad dressing.
  • Mash it and spread it on toast.
  • Use avocado instead of mayonnaise to make chicken salad.
  • Spread on bagels.
  • Use as a topper for baked potatoes.
  • Add them to a smoothie.

Avocados are harvested before they are ripe so expect that they will be firm to touch at the grocery store. To tell when your avocado is ready to eat place them in your palm and they should yield to gentle pressure. Avoid using your fingertips to tell if it is ripe since that could cause bruising and dark spots on the inside.  If your avocado is still firm and you want to use it more quickly stick it in a brown paper bag with an apple in it at room temperature. That will speed up the ripening process.  Remember don’t put your avocado in the refrigerator until it is ripe. Once ripe they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Once your avocado is cut and exposed to air it can start to turn dark. To help keep it from turning dark after you cut it sprinkle or brush lemon or lime juice or white vinegar over the exposed area.  Then wrap with clear plastic wrap and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  If it gets dark cut off the top layer and the green fruit underneath is perfectly fine to eat.

Hopefully these suggestions have given you some ideas on ways to add avocados to your meals. They are a healthy and tasty addition!  For a few tips on cutting and peeling watch this video from the California Avocado Commission.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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