Fall Garden Relish

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

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

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Pick the Best Pumpkin

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

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

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

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

Enjoy pumpkin season!

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

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

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Drying herbs

Now that harvest has started on our farm, I am thinking of all the work that I need to get finished before the first frost. I always grow some parsley and sage in my garden and I always dry some for the winter. I think that my fresh dried herbs really taste better than anything I can get at the store. I do have a dehydrator that I use for drying herbs. It does not take long to harvest the herbs and I have sometimes done it on the same day the first frost is expected. I cut nice, unblemished sage leaves from the sage plant and stems of parsley. I wash them well and place them on the racks of my dehydrator. Usually it takes an entire day or overnight for the herbs to be dry enough to package. I store them in zipper style freezer bags in my pantry. I always discard any leftover herbs from the previous year.

I know that this sounds easy, since I have a dehydrator, but I have not always had one. You can also dry herbs like these by laying them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and allowing them to dry naturally. If you would prefer to dry them more quickly, you can use your microwave or your oven. The microwave is really only suitable for drying herbs, but you can dry other produce with your oven. Thanks to the folks at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for all the great directions for preserving food.

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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Thickeners for Home Canning

It is the time of the year for callers to be canning pie fillings. Callers want to can a filling that can go straight from the canning jar into the pie. That is not always possible since the only recommended thickener for pie fillings is a product called Clear Jel. This product is not readily available in stores like so many other canning products. At the time researchers were developing pie filling recipes, they anticipated that Clear Jel would be sold alongside other canning supplies. At this time, the easiest way to purchase Clear Jel is on the internet. It is very difficult to find Clear Jel at a local store.

Callers often wonder why Clear Jel is the only recommended thickener. Not all starches perform the same way; Clear Jel can be heated and cooled several times and still maintain the same thickening power. Cornstarch used to thicken pie filling can form clumps and cause the cloudiness inside the jar. Pie filling made with cornstarch may not thicken while the pie is baking.

It can be tempting to just experiment with adding a bit of flour or cornstarch to your recipe but the National Center for Home Food Preservation tells us that it is a bad idea. Here is their explanation.

“In general, you are correct — it is NOT safe to add flour/corn flour or any other thickening agents to just any canning recipe. Thickening agents slow the ability of heat to penetrate throughout the product. Heat must be distributed evenly and at a high enough temperature in order to destroy mold, yeast, and bacteria. In low-acid foods (vegetables and meats for example), there is a risk of causing botulism if the product is not heated properly in the canner. Adding a thickener to a tested recipe and then processing it for the same amount of time as tested without a thickener would risk under-processing of that product, and in turn, would risk causing food poisoning/spoilage.”

There are a couple of recipes that do include flour on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. “In the particular case of the Pickled Corn Relish, the recipe was tested with the flour paste thickener as part of the ingredients and approved by the thermal process authority providing that recipe. That is why we can recommend adding this particular flour paste to this particular recipe. As you can see from looking over the ingredients list, there is a large portion of vinegar in this recipe, which does play an important role in the safety of pickled foods and does also influence the margin of safety for adding the thickening agent. There also is not that much thickening that occurs; the resulting brine in this product is still quite watery, so it’s not excessive thickening. The amount recommended should not be increased, however, and it should be incorporated just as described. We do not know the effects of adding the same flour paste to other recipes, however, so we would not recommend using it in other canning recipes.’

Please resist the temptation to add a thickener not listed in a recipe. Keep your family safe. You can always easily thicken canned apples or other fruits for use in a pie.  You may see some new thickeners on the market but for now, Clear Jel is the only recommended thickener for use in pie fillings.

 

 

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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‘Tis the Season for Fruit Fly Control

Macro view of a fruit-fly sitting on watermelon.  Note the red eyes.

As the garden produce has come into the kitchen, so have the fruit flies.  Fruit flies are those pesky tiny insects harboring around the kitchen with reddish eyes and are attracted to anything fruit or vegetable in the area.  Beyond being a nuisance, they can also carry harmful bacteria.  They multiply rapidly so if not controlled quickly, a small problem becomes a big problem.

One of the best ways to control fruit flies in the home is to practice excellent sanitation, eliminate rotting fruits and vegetables and keep as much food in the refrigerator as possible. Keep counters, sinks, and drains clean at all times–even the dishwasher. Trash should be kept tied and taken out frequently, and compost scraps should not be allowed to pileup on the counter. Cracked or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables should be cut off and discarded immediately to prevent infestation.

Chemical control is not recommended; however, you can make your own traps using attractants commonly found in the kitchen such as cider vinegar, wine or even a small piece of fruit.   Put a small amount of the attractant in a glass or jar, cover  with a plastic wrap that fits tightly to the glass, and poke very small holes in the plastic.  Fruit flies will enter the glass but find themselves trapped.  The University of Nebraska offered another simple trap using yeast and sugar.

Once you’ve done the work to kill or trap fruit flies, keep them from coming back with these preventative measures:

1. Keep the counter clean. Fruit flies don’t just like to eat fruit; they also like spilled food, crumbs, spilled juice — just about anything. Wipe your counters frequently throughout the day and dry thoroughly.

2. Wash any produce coming into the home. Fruit flies piggyback their way into our homes on fruits and vegetables. By washing fruit and vegetables, you get rid of any eggs that may have been laid on the produce.

3. Keep produce covered or in the refrigerator. If produce must sit on the counter, be sure that it is fully contained and covered.

4. Remove odors immediately.  If something smells, chances are it will attracts fruit flies, too. Clean drains, garbage cans, pet bedding, litter boxes and similar things.

Female fruit flies lay 100 or more eggs per day.  With the possibility of new eggs hatching,  a couple of weeks of diligence will be necessary.  Continue using traps,  depriving them of food and water, and stepping up sanitary procedures to keep  them from breeding and eventually eliminating them from the home.

 

 

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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Amber Glass for Canning and More

I recently noticed the new Ball amber mason jars on a store shelf.  Since Ball has sold the blue and green collection jars in recent years, I didn’t think too much about it at first glance–likely thinking, another colored canning jar.  However,  these jars are not to be dismissed as just another decorative, colored canning jar.

Amber glass blocks 99% of UV rays providing excellent protection for preserved foods and allowing them to be shelf stable for up to 18 months1. This is important because UV rays can sometimes change the components of contents by photo-oxidation.  This is the phenomena that causes beer to go “skunky.”  Amber also offers superior blue light protection;  light of any kind has a photochemical affect on food and bacteria.  By blocking harmful food-damaging UV rays and light, amber makes it possible to store foods in lighter areas or even the counter top without loss of flavor, color, or nutrients.

Thus amber is ideal for canning jars.  Besides home canning, amber jars are great for storing bulk foods, baking ingredients, oils, herbs, spices, coffee, tea, or any food item that looses quality due to UV rays.  And given the natural qualities of glass, no harmful chemicals leach into the products stored in the jars as can be the case with plastic containers.

The Ball jars are conveniently wide-mouthed and available in 16-, 32-, and 64-oz sizes.  Presently they are available in cases of four, making them more costly than regular canning jars.  When used with proper canning lids and bands, they are safe for canning in hot water bath or pressure canners.

1 Freshpreserving.com

 

 

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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Try Freezing

We often talk to callers that are canning or freezing produce from their gardens or the farmers market. It sure is nice, later in the year, to pull something out of the freezer or a jar to enjoy a small taste of summer. One complaint we often get from callers is that if the weather is too hot and they do not want to heat up the house further by running a few batches of food through the canner. Callers can use their freezer to preserve both produce and casseroles or pies made with that produce.

A publication from Oregon State University, Washington State University and the University of Idaho has some great information using your freezer to preserve foods.  The title of the publication is Freezing Convenience Foods.

This publication covers the pros and cons of using your freezer to preserve foods. If you wonder whether the quality of an item will be good after it freezing it, this publication has the answer. If you wonder if you should freeze an unbaked pie or bake it first, this publication has the answer. It really is a great read and very informative. Of course, we are always happy to help with answers to your questions but a quick read of this information may help you try something new.

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 Corn Time

It may seem late in the season to think about this but I read an article by Richard Jauron, Extension Specialist in horticulture today and thought you may be interested in this information.

It can be hard to know when to harvest sweet corn but using a simple test you will know when the corn is at just the right maturity to enjoy. Using your thumbnail, make a cut in a kernel of corn. The fluid that comes out should be milky in appearance. If the fluid is clear and the kernels seem under filled, the corn is not yet mature. If no liquid comes out or if the kernel has a dent in it, the ear is over mature.

We often have callers ask how to store corn that they cannot use the day they purchase it. Corn should be stored in the refrigerator as quickly as possible. Corn not stored in the refrigerator within 12 hours of harvest can lose up to 50 percent of the sugar in it. Store that unhusked corn for no more than eight days. Try to use it in the first four days if possible.

If you want to freeze corn on the cob, or cut off the ear, here are directions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Enjoy that fresh or frozen corn.

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 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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