Canning Tomatoes

It seems that the tomato plants are finally bearing fruit and we are starting to get tomato canning calls at AnswerLine. Callers are sometimes confused about canning times and recipes.

It can be hard for callers to understand that we recommend using only safe, tested canning recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the Ball Company, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are great resources for these recipes. We do not recommend old family recipes or recipes from random places on the internet. Those recipes were not tested to ensure you would preserve a safe product. Sometimes callers want to extrapolate canning times from one recipe to another. The canning times really differ between methods for tomatoes. If you skin, core, and cook the tomatoes before placing in the jars, the canning time is 45 minutes for quart jars in a boiling water bath canner. If you merely skin and core tomatoes and pack them into jars with no added liquid, the processing time in a boiling water bath canner is 85 minutes. The differences in canning times reflect the rate of heat transfer inside the jar. For a denser product, the canning time increases.

I spoke with a caller for a long time yesterday explaining that if she were using a tested recipe, the exact processing time and method of preparing the tomatoes would be included in the recipe. If she is asking about the correct processing time, and comparing several recipes, then the recipe she was looking at was likely not a tested recipe.

We want you to use a tested recipe, exactly as written. We want to help you keep your family safe while you are preserving food this summer.

Remember that you can take a canning class through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The class, Preserve the Taste of Summer, begins with an online section. Get started today.

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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Avoid Getting into “a Pickle” with Pickling Projects

Cucumbers and other vegetables  are coming on strong at the present time and AnswerLine has been fielding lots of questions from clients who find themselves “in a pickle” with their pickling project.  While we are grateful for the calls, we would like everyone’s adventures with pickles to be a success.  So here’s some of the tips we share as we try to help clients avoid getting into “a pickle.”

Use  high quality vegetables and fruits and varieties intended for pickling.   Immature salad or slicing cucumber do not make good quality pickles nor do Burpless cucumbers because they have a tough skin that my inhibit brine absorption and also contain enzymes that could cause pickles to soften.

Pickle within 24 hrs of picking.  Fresh and firm is always best.

Wash cucumbers well and remove stem end.  Soil can harbor bacteria that can cause spoilage or softening.  Of special consideration is the area around the blossom stem.  Blossoms contain enzymes that can cause softening so always remove a 1/16-in slice from the blossom end.

Use a tested recipe and follow the directions exactly.  A tested recipe from a reliable source is a MUST.  Great sources include:  National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA  Complete Guide to Home Canning, Extension publications, Ball Canning Book (recent editions), Ball website , Mrs. Wages, and So Easy to Preserve by University of Gerogia.

Use commercially prepared 5 percent acetic acid vinegar.  The level of acidity is important to both the flavor and safety of the product.

Use a canning or pickling salt.  Always used the amount and type of salt specified.  Salt draws moisture and natural sugars from the vegetables, creating lactic acid which prevents spoiling.

Use soft water.  Hard water interferes with curing and causes discoloration of pickles.  Soft water is recommended.  Soft water can be made by boiling water for 15 minutes, allowing to set for 24 hours, and carefully pouring off the clear water without disturbing any sediment.

Use white sugar.  Only use brown sugar or a non-nutritive sweetener if the recipe specifies.

Use clean, fresh, insect-free spices and herbs.  Fresh dill is preferred for better flavor; 1 to 3 teaspoons dill seed can be substituted for one head fresh dill.

Avoid firming agents.  Firming agents (alum, food-grade lime, calcium chloride) for
crisp pickles are not needed if high quality ingredients and the most current preservation methods are used. The safest way for making crisper pickles is soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours prior to pickling.

Use stainless steel, glass, or enamel-ware for pickling liquids.  Copper, brass, iron, pewter, aluminum, and galvanized pans and utensils may react with the acids and salts to produce undesirable changes in color, flavor, or even form toxic compounds.

Use sterilized standard canning jars and two-pieces lids.  Sterile jars must be used for all pickled products processed in a boiling water canner for less than 10 minutes.  Oven sterilization is not recommended.

Process in a boiling water canner per recipe times with adjustment for altitude if necessary.  All pickle products must be heat processed in a boiling water (water maintained at 212F) canner to destroy yeast, mold, and bacteria that cause spoilage, inactivate enzymes that might effect the product’s color, flavor, or texture, and insure a good airtight seal.  Exceptions are recipes intended for refrigerated “enjoy now” pickles or recipes acceptable for low-temperature pasteurization.

Spoilage or poor quality pickles can result from improper processing, unsanitary techniques, or when poor quality or incorrect ingredients are used.  For more information about specific pickle problems, recipes, and detailed information, download the ISU Extension and Outreach publication  Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning:  Pickles .

 

 

 

 

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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Pie Storage

Home Made Apple Pie

It’s summer time and a favorite summertime dessert is PIE!  We often get questions on how a pie should be stored—on the counter or in the refrigerator?  Here’s a look at the different kinds of pies and how to store them.

Fruit Pies made with Sugar.  According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), fruit pies are food-safe at room temperature for up to two days.  This recommendation is based upon fruit pies made with sugar as the combination of sugar and acid in the fruit is sufficient to retard bacterial growth.  If additional storage time is needed, the pie may be stored loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for two more days.   Fruit pies freeze quite well.  To freeze a fruit pie, place them uncovered in the freezer until frozen solid, then wrap in plastic wrap or foil and place back in the freezer for up to four months. Thaw at room temperature for one hour and if desired, reheat at 375°F until warm for about 30 minutes.

Custard, Cream, Mousse, Chiffon, and Fresh Fruit Pies.  These soft pies need to be refrigerated until ready to serve and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days.  Soft pies do not freeze successfully so enjoy while fresh.

Pumpkin, Pecan and other Pies containing Eggs.  Pies containing eggs should be eaten as soon as possible after baking and cooling.  Otherwise, these pies should be refrigerated.  They keep well in the refrigerator for up to four days.  Both pumpkin and pecan pies can be frozen with some success for up to two months.  In freezing, they loose some of their integrity; the filling may separate a bit and the crust may get soggy.  To freeze these pies, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and foil or place in an air-tight freezer bag.  Thaw the pies in the refrigerator before using.

Pies made with a Sugar Substitute.  Sugar acts as a preservative, helps retain moisture, and keeps baked-goods fresher longer.  Therefore, it is best to consume pies made with Equal or SPLENDA® in 1-2 days.  These products are best stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  If you want to keep pies made with sugar substitutes longer, they should be frozen by wrapping in plastic and foil or in an air-tight freezer bag.  These pies can be frozen successfully for for up to two months.

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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The Canning Police?

Comments

BWB1Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?  Callers are sometimes a bit frustrated with us when we answer canning questions.  We often have to tell a caller that the old family recipe for a canned product is not safe.  We must advise them that oven canning, canning low acid vegetables in a water bath canner, and using “any old recipe” for pickles are not safe practices.

Times have changed since Great Grandma was canning for her family.  We now have recipes that have been scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  They are available through several resources.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has the Preserve the Taste of Summer series of recipes, The National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia has both a website and a cookbook “So Easy to Preserve”, the USDA has a Home Canning Guide, and the Ball company has the Ball Blue Book as well as their Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The recipes and procedures in these books have been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure the coldest part of a canning jar gets hot enough long enough to kill the botulism bacteria if present.  We don’t want you to cut corners and put your family at risk.  Botulism can be a deadly disease and those at the greatest risk are those who are often most dear to our hearts; the elderly and the very young.  Pregnant women and those people with a compromised immune system are also at great risk.  Why take unnecessary risks with the health of your family and friends?

We sometimes don’t enjoy our role as the “canning police” but our main goal is to help you keep your family safe for years to come. Please contact us if you have any canning questions or need some tested recipes.

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 projects for 4-H fairs

It is just about time to think about exhibits for 4-H fair. Canning jams or jellies are popular subjects for 4-H projects and make fun exhibits at the County Fair. Members often enjoy picking berries for jams or jelly and spending time with family as they harvest. Sometimes grandma comes over to help with the exhibit.

Preserved foods make a great fair exhibit but it is important to follow the fair rules. Remember the following tips for best results at the fair:

  1. ALWAYS use a safe, tested recipe from a reliable source. Extension Publications, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, current Ball Blue Books, the USDA Canning Guide, and in the case of Jams and Jellies, the pectin package inserts.
  2. Follow the directions precisely and do not make any changes in any preserved food recipe.
  3. Check on the Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs-Quick Reference Guide to be sure the product you want to bring is appropriate.
  4. Remember to adjust the time or pressure for the altitude of your home or county. Most of Iowa is above 1000’ and will require adjustment of time in boiling water bath canners or pressure if you are using a weighted gauge pressure canner.
  5. Dial gauge canner gauges must tested yearly. AnswerLine can direct you to a county office that is testing gauges.
  6. Always use the preserved food label for a 4-H preserved food exhibit.  Get this at your local county Extension and Outreach office.
  7. Bring two jars of your product to the County and State Fair. If you are down to the last jar, it is ok to bring only one to the State Fair.
  8. Clean the outside of your jar and be sure that the ring on the jar is also clean.

The AnswerLine staff is always happy to advise you if you have questions or problems with your home canning projects. Happy canning.

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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‘Shrooming in the Woods or Supermarket – It’s a Good Thing!

Common morel fungus growing in the forest

As spring creeps in this year, mushroom enthusiasts are just itching to get out into the woods and search for the highly prized, morel mushroom.  This elusive mushroom is prized for its tastiness and can only be wild-crafted as no one has figured out how to grow and farm them as of yet.

Besides being prized for their taste, morels are loaded with all kinds of nutrients.  Because they tend to grow in rich soils they come packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, folate, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, calcium selenium, thiamin, vitamin E and vitamin B6.  However, their nutrient value varies with the soil where the moral grows.  Morals are also loaded with antioxidants, help to balance blood sugar, and provide protein and fiber.  Morals can be used in any way that farmed mushrooms would be used.

While the wild moral mushroom is high prized, its’ farmed mushroom cousins—white, shitake, cremini, oyster, maitake–are equally as nutritious and offer delicious and unique flavors, too.  They are also readily available at the supermarket.   Even though there are more than 2000 varieties of edible mushrooms in the world, most people cook with only one or two.  Here is a quick summary of those most commonly found on produce shelves:

White Button Shitake Cremini/Portobello Oyster Maitake
 
Most common mushroom.
Mild flavor, very versatile.
Protein-rich.
Deep woodsy flavor especially if dried and
re-hydrated.
Calcium rich.
Baby bella = Cremini; larger, mature form = Portobello.
Makes dark sauces and great for grilling.
Delicate, mild flavor.
Stays firm when cooked; excellent for stir-fry.
Iron and antioxidant rich.
Also known as hen-of-the-woods.
Earthy flavor.
Excellent for stir-frys.
Antioxidant rich.

The enemy of any mushroom is moisture in its packaging.  Fresh morels will keep about a week in the refrigerator provided they were harvested in good condition.  Place them in paper bags and store them in the refrigerator with plenty of air circulating around them.  Drying is an excellent storage option, too.  A paper bag is also a good way to store purchased mushrooms; this allows them to breathe.  Moisture build up inside the packaging is the fastest way for mushrooms to break down.

Mushrooms need to be cleaned before use. The best way to clean most fresh mushrooms is to wipe them with a clean, barely damp cloth or paper towel. Washing mushrooms is usually not necessary. If you must rinse them, do it lightly and dry them immediately, gently with paper towels. Never soak fresh mushrooms in water, which will cause them to become soggy. Morels need to be cleaned differently.  Begin by cutting a thin slice off the bottom of each stem.  You may also cut the mushrooms in half from stem to tip. Rinse them in cool water to remove dirt and insects. If heavy dirt, bugs and worms are present, it may be necessary to soak them in lightly salted water for a short time to bring out debris. Rinse the morels well and pat dry.

Cleaned mushrooms can be wrapped loosely in damp paper towels or a damp clean cotton cloth, placed in a container, and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days; the mushrooms may darken if stored this way.

Mushroom nutrition can be enhanced by placing them in the sun for 30 minutes prior to use.  Since most mushrooms are grown in the dark, they need sunlight to bring up their vitamin D content.  Exposure to sunlight significantly improves vitamin D.  If the mushrooms are chopped prior to exposure, vitamin D is maximized.  Some packaged mushrooms are marketed as vitamin D enhanced.

For those that do not care for fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms may be an option.  Dried or powdered mushrooms pack the same nutritional punch as fresh mushrooms.  Mushroom powder can be included in sauces, homemade bread, casseroles, soups, etc., to add nutrition.  There are now a number of mushroom powder “enhanced” products and foods on supermarket shelves.

So whether it is the wild moral mushroom or farmed, store bought mushrooms, mushrooms are an excellent food for both flavor and nutrition.  Take good care of them to maximize both the flavor and nutrition.

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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Time to test canner gauges

Weighted gauge canners do not require testing.

This is the time of year that we send out inquiries to all of our county Extension and Outreach offices to see which counties are offering canner gauge testing for dial gauge pressure canners. We have a fairly complete list of which counties in Iowa are planning to test canner lids this summer. We also have a short list of places in Minnesota and South Dakota that will test canner lids for home canners in those states.

Sometimes we get questions from callers wondering about the accuracy of their dial gauge pressure canners. We explain that canner lids/gauges tested yearly ensure accuracy and safety in home processed foods. If the gauge on the canner registers higher than the pressure actually is inside the canner, the food will be under processed. Resulting in an increasing risk of botulism poisoning.

Even if you do not think the gauge was dropped or damaged, moisture can cause a malfunction in the gauge. Call your local county office to set up a time to drop off your canner lid. You can also mail your gauge to the pressure canner manufacturer and they will test the gauge for you. They may or may not guarantee the results.

You may be wondering if you have a weighted gauge canner, what testing is necessary for it. Good news, those canners never need testing for accuracy. The weight never changes. You will need to make adjustments for altitude if you live at an altitude above 1000’. If the altitude at your home is above 1000’ you will need to change a 5 pound weight to the 10 pound weight or the 10 pound weight to the 15 pound position.

If you find any of this confusing or need further explanation, do not hesitate to contact us directly.

Iowa 1-800-262-3804

Minnesota 1-800-854-1678

South Dakota 1-888-393-6336

Or use our local phone number, 515-296-5883, if the area code on your phone is not from one of these states.

Happy Canning

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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Key Limes

My sister and I recently spent some time together in Florida and of course enjoyed some Key Lime Pie. We were curious to learn more about key limes and what other uses there might be for them besides the delicious pie.

Key Limes are also known as Mexican or West Indies limes. They are smaller and sweeter than Persian limes (the kind you typically find in the grocery store) and have more seeds. They have a high juice content and thin, leathery skin. When purchasing key limes, choose those that are heavy for their size, firm, shiny, and have no blemishes or bruises.

Today most key limes come from Mexico and are available year round. The green color indicates they are immature but the juice from green key limes is known for it’s tart flavor. As key limes ripen they become more of a yellow color and their flesh is less acidic leading to a sweeter flavor.

Key limes can be stored in the pantry for up to one week. For longer storage you can keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks. You can also freeze key limes whole. For best quality use frozen key limes within 3 to 4 months. You can defrost them in the microwave for a few seconds or in water for @15 minutes. They will be mushy when thawed but will be great for the juice.

Besides the pie, key limes can be used in cookies, cupcakes, cocktails, marinades and dressings. We have been inspired to experiment using key limes and reminicising about our fun times in Florida!

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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4-H Exhibit Ideas

If you have a 4-H member at your house, you may want to take advantage of the long Iowa winter and begin working on exhibits for the County Fair. When I judge at fairs, I talk to so many 4-H members that have really only baked their exhibit once or maybe twice. It is hard to see how much learning could occur when finding a recipe and baking a product for the first time the night before the fair. During this time of year, we often have snow days at school, or weather that makes it difficult to do much outdoors. What a great time to begin thinking of an exhibit the member wants to take to the fair.

The 4-H member can look for recipes and make the product a few times to ensure that the product is suitable for display at the fair. If the member makes a mistake, needs to alter the recipe, or even change to a different recipe there is still plenty of time. Remember that all this learning will make a great addition to the write-up. Regular practice of the recipe or technique will ensure the member can make the final product for the fair with confidence. Taking notes or making a rough draft of the write-up will also be helpful.

If the 4-H member wants to exhibit some sort of home preserved food, they have time to can some jars of the food and compose a write up or notes for the judge. Having this completed early takes some stress off the member at County Fair time. In addition, working on the fair exhibit this far ahead of the fair allows the member to look at the Inappropriate Foods for Exhibit at 4-H fairs publication or the time to call or email us at AnswerLine to determine the safety of the exhibit. If it is determined that the product is not safe, the member still has time to find a safe, tested recipe and preserve more of the food or correct any other errors that make the exhibit unsafe.

Members considering preserving food can go on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and take an on-line course in home food preservation. They also have time to look at various recipes on the site and read up on techniques and different canners. There is also a section on the website with FAQs about canning problems. Even research about canning techniques and recipes could make an interesting exhibit for the fair.

We are always happy at AnswerLine to discuss County Fair exhibits especially when a member is working this far in advance of the fair. Call or email us, we would love to help.

 

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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Potatoes . . . when to toss?

An AnswerLine caller asked:  “Should a potato with sprouts be used or tossed?”

Potatoes with sprouts (little green, white or pink nubs), are safe to eat per Dr. Benjamin Chapman, associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.  He recommends that you simply cut out the shoot with a paring knife before cooking, making sure to take off a bit of the surrounding area, too.  If the potato is still firm, most of the nutrients are still intact.  Sprouting occurs when potatoes are exposed to conditions that are either too warm or too bright.  Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place where the temperature hovers around 50 degrees and there is good air circulation.  Do not refrigerate potatoes.  Cold temperatures convert starch to sugar, giving potatoes an uncharacteristic sweet taste.  The sugar caramelizes during cooking producing brown potatoes and an off flavor.  Potatoes can be stored for a week or two at room temperature enclosed in a paper bag or a dark pantry with good results.

So when is it time to toss a tater?  University of Illinois Extension recommends that soft, shriveled, or wrinkled potatoes with or without sprouts should not be eaten.  What about green potatoes?  Green skin potatoes have been exposed to too much light.  Light causes the potato to produce chlorophyll and also solanine.  Solanine has a bitter taste and is an irritant to the digestive system that can cause paralysis in large quantities. Beth Waitrovich, Michigan State University Extension Specialist, says “small green spots can be trimmed off; however, if it’s more than a small spot, throw the potato out.  Do not use any green potatoes, trimmed or not, if you are serving children as they have a lower body mass and would be more susceptible to the solanine.”  If potatoes have a bitter taste, do not eat them.  For more information on green potatoes, see Green Potatoes:  Causes and Concerns by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

For other questions about food safety and storage advice that will help keep food safe after purchase or harvest, there is an excellent resource:  The Food Keeper.  This handy reference tool was prpduced by the Food Marketing Institute at Cornell University in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  It contains useful guidelines about how long you can safely store food;  to keep this valuable information at your fingertips there is also an app available for IOS or Android smartphones.  Visit the App Store or Google Play and search for “FoodKeeper Mobile App.”

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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