Green Tomatoes

We have had several frosts recently and we have been getting many calls on what to do with green tomatoes harvested before the frost.  It is possible to try to ripen green tomatoes indoors, but there is a greater chance of spoilage.  Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-79 degrees F, will ripen in about two weeks.  If stored in cooler temperatures it will slow the ripening.  Below 55 degrees F they may still ripen but the quality will be inferior.  Also, remember that if the humidity is too high the tomatoes can mold and rot.  If the humidity is too low they may shrivel and dry out.

If you would rather use them as green tomatoes, there are a number of recipes that you can try.  This link is to a publication entitled “A Harvest of Green Tomatoes” from the University of Alaska Extension. It includes recipes for Fried Green Tomatoes, Green Tomato Egg Bake and Green Tomato Pie just to name a few.  There are also green tomato relishes and pie filling recipes that are preserved in a boiling water bath. The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has information on preserving green tomatoes both in a boiling water bath and by freezing.

Enjoy these recipes and using the tomatoes that were grown in your garden.

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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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Family Fun Making Apple Cider

The apples are getting ripe in our orchard and most of the varieties are producing nice, pest-free fruit this year. With an abundance of quality fruit, our family gathered over the Labor Day weekend to make ‘apple cider’.  Actually, for us, it was just fresh apple juice as we did not allow it to ferment.

We began by setting up the equipment (crusher and press) and making sure it was clean.  Then we headed to the orchard with buckets to pick apples from a variety of trees.  We like to use a mix of apple varieties as over the years we have found that the best cider comes from a blend of sweet, tart, and aromatic apple varieties. The grand kids were the taste testers to help determine if the apples on the various trees were ripe, firm, and sweet enough.  Green, immature apples give cider a flat flavor when juiced.

Apples for cider do not have to be flawless so apples with blemishes or of small size are okay.  We tried to avoid picking apples with spoilage.  However, if the spoilage was small and could be cut away, those apples made it into the cider press, too.  Spoilage will cause the juice to ferment rapidly and ruin it.

After picking the apples, we washed them in a big tub and then set about coring and cutting them into quarters.  For the most part this was a job for the adults and older kids.  As the apples were cut up, they went into the crusher.  After a sufficient amount of crushed apples had accumulated, the smaller kids help load the crushed apples into the press.  With the weights in place, the grand kids were allowed to take turns turning the ratchet handle and were thrilled to see the juice pour out of the press into a bucket.

Next we took the fresh juice into the house and squeezed it through a jelly bag to remove as many particles as possible.  Since it was our intention to not ferment the juice, we immediately pasteurized it by heating the juice to 160°F to eliminate the possibility of E coli or Salmonella poisoning.  After the juice had cooled for a while, we poured it into clean, recycled juice bottles.  There were lots of ‘yums!” as everyone sampled the warm juice before refrigerating it. Fresh juice or cider will keep in the refrigerator up to five days.  If there is more than can be used in that time, it should be frozen after chilling.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has additional information on making sweet, hard, or dry cider and turning apple cider into vinegar.

It was a great afternoon of family fun. In addition to making some great tasting ‘apple cider’, we made some great memories with the grand kids, 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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Salsa – Questions and Answers

With the summer gardens finally coming into season bringing an abundance of tomatoes, peppers/chilies, onions, and herbs, salsa making season is here! With it comes lots of questions to AnswerLine regarding how to make it safely. This blog will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

I made up my own recipe for salsa or got one from a friend. Can you tell me how long to process it? It is important to use a tested or researched based recipe when canning homemade salsa. The reason being, the ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been tested in a non-research based recipe. Recipes that have been tested will have enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that everyone can enjoy straight from the canning jar. (Source: Homemade Salsa is a Science, Not an Art, Michigan State University)

Where do I find safe recipes for canning salsa? Creating a safe product that can be processed and stored on a shelf means having the correct proportion of acid to low acid vegetables to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure that the salsa is safe is to always follow a tested or researched based recipe. These recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Land Grand University publications or blogs, The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, and So Easy to Preserve.

Can I make my own salsa recipe? Creating your own recipe is a possibility. However, instead of guessing at the processing time, freeze it or make just enough to be eaten fresh. Another alternative is to follow a tested recipe using the exact ingredients and processing time; when ready to use, add the black beans, corn, or any other ingredient that should not be used in a home canned salsa recipe.

Can I add more cilantro to my canned salsa than the recipe includes? Cilantro is best added to fresh salsa. It is not usually included in cooked recipes. Cilantro loses its fresh flavor when cooked and becomes dark and soft in the mixture. As mentioned in creating your own salsa, cilantro could be added at the time of using the canned salsa.

Do I have to use canning salt? Canning salt is recommended and should definitely be used with vegetable and pickle canning. However, in a pinch, one could get by with iodized or table salt with salsa. The product will be safe but one may detect a metallic or bitter flavor which may not be disguised by the spices or herbs used in the salsa. Also, table salt usually has an added anti-caking ingredient which may cause a slight cloudiness.

Can I substitute peppers? One should never increase the total volume of peppers in a recipe. However, substituting one variety of a pepper for another is perfectly fine.

Must I use the suggested spices? Spices are the only safe ingredient you may change in a tested recipe to adjust for flavor.

Does it matter what kind of onion I use? Like peppers, one should not increase the amount of onion specified in a tested recipe. However, red, yellow, or white onions may be substituted for each other.

Is it okay to use any size jar? The size of the jar can also affect the safety of the product. All tested recipes are canned in pint jars and one should not substitute another size and assume it is safe.

For more information on preserving homemade salsa, check out Preserve the Taste of Summer Canning: Salsa.

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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Juicing Grapes and Other Fruits

America’s favorite juice and jelly grape, the Concord, is ripe now.   We have a single vine that was planted a number of years ago by our daughter who gave it to her dad for Father’s Day.  It took a few years before it matured enough to harvest grapes; now many years later and with the right early-spring pruning and weather conditions, we have a large number of grapes to harvest and enjoy.  When the harvests were small, it was possible for me to turn what we harvested into a batch of grape jam or jelly for family or occasional gift use.  As my kids left and the harvest increased, it was no longer possible to easily use what we were harvesting for jam and jelly and it took too much time to make juice. 

In my quest to conquer the grape harvest, I learned about steam juicers.  After researching them, I purchased a stainless steel unit and haven’t looked back.  Steam juicers have three pots and a lid that stack on top of each other–water reservoir at the bottom, collection pan with funnel opening in the middle, and steam basket on top.  They work by stewing the juice out of the fruit. Water in the bottom pot is brought to a low boil, the steam funnels through the middle collection pan up and through the fruit in the steam basket at the top.  The steam does all the work. As the fruit heats up, the fruit juices are released and run down into the middle collection section of the juicer.  As the collection pan fills, the juice begins to run out of the unit through a silicon tube on the front of the extraction section to a collection vessel placed away from the unit.  The juice is clear, free of pulp, and is ready to drink, can, or freeze after it comes out of the steamer.  So easy!

The steamer saves so much time and effort.  After the grapes are picked, I wash the bunches and as I do so, I pull off any green or unripe grapes, leaves, and other debris that might be attached.  There is no need to stem, remove seeds or skins, or crush.  They are then packed into the basket and placed atop the middle extraction section with slowly boiling water below.  With the lid in place, the steam slowly goes to work.  There is no chance of over steaming the fruit; one just needs to be mindful of keeping sufficient water in the lower pot so that it doesn’t boil dry.  Extraction is complete when the fruit has completely collapsed; it is a good idea to let the collapsed fruit sit for awhile after steaming as juice will continue to be released for a long while after steaming.  If there is need to move on with another batch, the collapsed fruit can be placed in a colander on the counter and allowed to drain while steaming goes on with additional batches.

Directions one might find online suggest that the juice can be drained right into hot sterilized canning jars, capped, and left to cool on the counter.  This is not a good practice if the intention is put the juice on the shelf; doing so would be fine if the juice was to be used immediately or frozen.  To be shelf safe, fruit juices need to be processed in a hot water bath.  (For more information see National Center for Home Food Preservation.)

Since I do not have room in my freezer for all the juice I get, I need to prepare it for the shelf.  Instead of collecting the juice in sterilized jars, I collect all the juice in a large pot or pots.  After all the grapes have been juiced, I reheat the juice to near boiling, fill the sterilized canning jars leaving 1/4-inch head space, cap, and place in a boiling water canner for the appropriate time for my altitude.

Once the jars have cooled and sat for 24 hours undisturbed, the juice is read for future jelly making or as juice to drink.  Sugar can be added prior to or after canning if needed; it’s all a matter of personal preference.  I usually don’t add sugar to our grape juice as we like it as is.  However, my grand kids like it a bit sweeter so they add a little sugar to their individual glasses to suit their taste.  We also like it mixed with apple juice.  After the juice has cooled and set on the counter undisturbed for 24 hours, it is ready to go on my shelf.

The juicer is good for far more than grapes.  Just about any type of fruit works with a steam juicer; cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, pears are just some suggestions.

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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Food Dehydrators – Why Use One?

I have been a food dehydrator user for many years. Recently I stumbled onto a short workshop on food dehydrators while out shopping. Since it had been years since I’d purchased my food dehydrator, I decided to sit in and learn what was the newest and latest. While dehydrators haven’t changed much over the years in operation, they have changed a little in style and some have a few more “whistles and bells” than my basic dehydrator.

Home food dehydrators are small appliances that are great for drying fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even meats. They are especially handy for those who grow fruits and vegetables and run short of freezer space or don’t wish to can. Dehydrators come in many sizes with varying numbers of shelves or drying trays. They are simple to operate. One places sliced food on the trays, turns on the power, and waits as warm air circulates through the unit to dry the food. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, most dehydrators are designed to dry foods fast at 140ºF.

Horizontal Unit
Vertical Unit

Food dehydrators are of two basic types—vertical or horizontal. Costs vary depending on the size and features that come with the unit. Horizontal units have a heating element and fan located on the side or back of the unit. The heating element and fan of a vertical unit are located below the trays. The major advantage of a horizontal unit over a vertical unit is that there is less chance of mixing flavors if different foods are dried at the same time. Besides showing the latest features in dehydrators, the demonstrator at the store also talked about some advantages of drying foods:

Safe form of food preservation. Because dehydrators remove the water content of foods, there is a very low risk of bacteria and spoilage.

Taste good and are nutrient dense. Vitamins and minerals are not lost. Because dehydrators work at low temperatures, foods dried in a dehydrator are still in their ‘raw’ state. The living nutrients and enzymes unique to the fruits and vegetables are not destroyed or lost to heat or water. Further, you benefit from all the fiber present in the fruit or vegetable.

Reduced waste and extended shelf life. Most dehydrated foods have a shelf life of 2 years. As such, they make 100% natural, healthy snacks. In addition, they are light weight and portable.

Reduce cost. The average drying time for fruit and vegetable chips is about 8 hours at a cost of less than $1. Further, no additional electrical cost for refrigeration, freezing, or canning is incurred after drying.

Require minimal storage space. Dried foods take about 1/6th of their original storage space. Insect proof containers, canning jars, plastic freezer bags, or vacuum seal bags are all that is needed for pantry storage.

Allow for controlled drying. Foods can also be dried in the sun where climates allow or in the oven. Both sun drying and oven drying are not predictable.

Versatile. The kind of foods that can be prepared in a dehydrator is limited only by your imagination—fruit or veggie chips, fruit leathers, jerky, and herbs to name a few. A dehydrator can also be used to proof bread.

Easy to use. The dehydrator itself is easy to use. The foods made in the dehydrator are also easy to use; they can be eaten in their dried state or rehydrated in water and used in soups, stews, and casseroles.

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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Canning in half gallon containers

Canning season is upon us and we receive many calls each year about canning safely. I don’t very often run across half gallon jars but I happened to just this last weekend. Although it is possible to can something in smaller jars using the same amount of time as the next size larger jar it is not true in reverse. There are no formulas for extending the processing time for a larger jar.

The only processes that USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation, and University of Georgia have to recommend for half gallon jars are for very acidic fruit juices. Those would be apple juice and grape juice and ONLY the juice is allowed. There are no research-tested boiling water processes for other foods for jars larger than those published with recipes.

I am including the recipes for apple juice and grape juice in case you are interested in canning those. Please remember those are the ONLY two things that can be safely canned in half gallon jars. There are no tested recipes for other juices.

Please call AnswerLine if you have any questions about canning safely!

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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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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