Freezing strawberries

This is the last week for picking strawberries at the farm I go to. I am always sad to see the season end. The berries are consistently delicious! The ones I buy in the store the rest of the year never measure up. I do make sure I freeze a certain amount to have on hand during the Winter as I enjoy the flavor in smoothies and desserts.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using a sugar syrup or sugar pack when freezing strawberries. This process works very well and helps preserve the color and texture of the berries. It is however a quality issue, not a safety issue.

Many people prefer not to have the added sugar. This also gives you more options when you are ready to use them later in the year. For my purposes I prefer the dry pack method. It is easy right now to spread my berries out in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and let them freeze individually overnight then transfer them to my freezer bags/containers. By letting them freeze individually first it is easy to just remove the amount I need without any of them sticking together in a glob.

I will enjoy the fresh strawberries of the season as long as I can and also make sure I freeze some to enjoy later.

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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Blanching?

We are starting to get calls about freezing and blanching fruits and vegetables. We often explain to callers that blanching is a quality step and not a safety step. Blanching vegetables will kill the enzymes present that will continue to soften the food even in the freezer. Blanching will also protect the color of the vegetable. The directions for blanching are often confusing for callers.

We tell callers to blanch vegetables in small batches; work with a quart of product at a time. Start water heating on the stove and when it boils, add the vegetables. Wait until the food returns to a boil to begin timing the blanching time. When the time is up, remove the vegetables from the boiling water and plunge them into ice water. The ice water will stop the cooking process. Plan to cool the vegetables for at least as long as the blanching time. Cooling for a bit longer will not hurt the quality of the food and will help it cool much faster in the freezer. Callers can choose from freezing in a container or freezing on a tray and then transferring vegetables into a freezer bag or container after 24 hours. Tray freezing will allow the caller to enjoy any amount of vegetable at a time without thawing an entire container of food.

Happy blanching!

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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Keeping Asparagus Fresh

While fresh asparagus from the garden season should be nearing an end, the asparagus in my garden is just getting into full swing; like me, I think it has been looking for warmer temperatures and sunshine which have escaped us for much of spring. At any rate, I recently picked more than we could use so shared some with a couple of friends. Both asked, “how do you keep it fresh?”

The method I use for keeping asparagus garden fresh is to put the spears in a small amount of water in the refrigerator.  I use a wide-mouth pint or quart jar depending upon the size of the spears. I bundle a group of asparagus spears with a rubber band, pop the bundle, cut-ends down, into the jar and add about an inch of water. I place the jar of spears inside a loose fitting plastic bag to minimize moisture loss and prevent odors from getting to the spears before placing in the refrigerator. The spears seem to keep very well for at least two weeks and often longer.

The same procedure works well for purchased asparagus. However, I trim about an inch from the dry ends before placing them in the water. Depending upon the age of the asparagus at the time of purchase, I find that 7 to 10 days is the maximum time purchased asparagus stays fresh.

Another method is to wrap the ends of the spears with a wet paper towel and place in a plastic bag.

You will want to watch your asparagus and use it before it goes bad. Asparagus is no longer fresh when the heads start to droop or get soft. If the heads are simply drooping and are not soft, use immediately. If the heads are soft, the head can be removed and the rest of the stalk used; stalks make great asparagus soup. When the stalks become limp and start to slack, the asparagus is no longer good and should be discarded.

The garden asparagus season will soon be over.  Harvest should be stopped when the stalks are the size of a pencil or less.  Make the season last as long as possible by keeping your spears fresh and usable long after the last cutting is taken.

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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Freezing Strawberries

I have been seeing strawberries in the grocery store since mid-winter. Before we know it, strawberries will begin bearing in our area. When strawberries are ripe, we get many calls asking for directions to freeze strawberries. So, if you need directions and AnswerLine is not open now, read on.

Freezing or any type of preserving of food never improves the quality of the food. So choose only fully ripe and firm berries. Look for a nice deep red color on the berries. Do not freeze anything that is immature, green, or damaged. Always wash produce well before freezing. Remove the caps from the berries.

Often, the recommendation for freezing fruit includes using a sugar syrup. The reason for this is to preserve the color and texture of the food. We do not use syrups to make the berries sweeter. There are several different syrups to choose. You will want to choose the one that best fits how you will use the strawberries once you have thawed them. Whole berries are best to freeze in syrup.

 

Syrups to use when freezing fruit

Type of syrup Percent syrup Cups of sugar Cups of water Yield of syrup
Very Light

10%

½

4

4 ½ cups
Light

20%

1

4

4 ¾ cups
Medium

30%

1 ¾

4

5 cups
Heavy

40%

2 ¾

4

5 1/3 cups
Very Heavy

50%

4

4

6 cups

 

You can also freeze whole berries in a sugar pack. Simply add ¾ cup of sugar to a quart of strawberries. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves or you can let it stand for 15 minutes. Place into a container but allow enough room so the strawberries can expand in the freezer without pushing the lid off.

If you prefer sliced berries, use the sugar pack after you have prepared and sliced the berries. Stir until the sugar dissolves or let them sit for 15 minutes. Freeze and 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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How to Store Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger, also known as ginger root, adds a flavorful punch to many foods and beverages.  However, usually only a small amount is needed to season and that leaves one with, “what do I do with the rest?”

To begin, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger is the equivalent of 1/8 tsp dried ground ginger.  Keep this equivalency in mind when purchasing fresh ginger.  Since it is usually sold by the pound, choose a rhizome that fits your needs as closely as possible.  That aside, the piece that you have may still be more than needed.  Ginger will be okay on your kitchen counter for a day or two but it is better stored in the refrigerator.  To store in the refrigerator, place the rhizome in a storage bag or container; it will keep 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator.  Do watch the rhizome for molding, softness, discoloration or off smell or appearance; these are signs of spoilage and if detected, the rhizome should be disposed.  Like other fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh ginger contains enzymes that break down its starch and pectin over time.

If longer storage is needed, fresh ginger can be frozen.  To freeze, peel the skin off the rhizome if desired (peeling is done more for aesthetics than need).  Removing the skin may be easier by scraping with the edge of a spoon or knife rather than with a vegetable peeler due to it’s gnarly and irregular shape.  Ginger may be frozen in pieces, grated, or finely chopped.  Pieces should be wrapped tightly in foil or a freezer bag with as much of the air removed as possible.  Grated or chopped pieces freeze better by making small piles on a parchment lined baking sheet or in an ice cube tray and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours; once frozen, put the small piles in individual freezer bags or into a freezer bag, again removing as much air as possible.  Fresh ginger will maintain its best quality in the freezer for about 3 months but will remain safe well beyond that time; in fact, ginger that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep indefinitely.

Another method that some use to preserve fresh ginger is to submerge pieces in alcohol.  Cooks Illustrated experimented with this process by using vodka and sherry and compared the flavor and texture to frozen ginger.  After four weeks, the submerged samples were grated and cooked in a stir-fry.  The samples retained their ginger flavor and grating ease as well as the frozen ginger; however, the ginger stored in sherry picked up sherry flavor.  The takeaway on the experiment was that fresh ginger stores as well in vodka as freezing.  A note of caution here as the same may not be true beyond the four weeks used in the experiment.

Even though we have ginger year-round in our markets, ginger has a season.  Young ginger is usually more readily available in the spring (April and May) and is not as strong flavored or as tough and fibrous as ginger that has been stored for year-round availability.  It is juicy and plump, has a fresh lively taste, and a pink blush; the skin is so thin that peeling is generally not necessary.  If you are a fresh ginger fan, this would be the time to pick up a large quantity and freeze it for future uses.

 

 

 

 

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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Storing chocolate

If your sweetie got you some chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just how long you can safely keep them. I did a little research and discovered that you can store that box of chocolate longer than you may have thought.

Chocolate should be stored at temperatures that are slightly cooler than room temperature. Try to keep them between 60° and 70° Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, they should keep well for at least six months. If you need to store them longer, consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Chocolates will keep for a year in the refrigerator and for a year and a half in the freezer.

If your sweetie went all out and bought some handmade or premium chocolates, enjoy them now. These chocolates have a much shorter shelf life and will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Chocolates will absorb odors from their surroundings so store them in the box they came in or place the box into a freezer bag and keep it sealed. Enjoy that special treat.

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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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.

More Posts - Website

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