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It’s time to look for safe, tested canning recipes.

Seed catalogs are arriving at my house daily. It may seem a bit early to be thinking this much about gardening, but it sure makes spring seem closer when I do.  As I look at options for planting crops in my garden, I also think about what kind of food I would like to have on hand next winter.  If I want lots of home preserved tomatoes or pickles, I know that I will need to be planting several varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers.  This preparation extends to preparing my canner and even more important, looking at the source of my recipes to ensure that they are safe and tested recipes.

It can be tempting to want to replicate foods we remember mom or other relatives preserved when we were young. It is SO important to use only recipes that were scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  This is a great time of year to look over old family recipes and tested recipes to see if you can find a tested recipe that will replicate that taste from long ago.

We have some great resources for tested recipes. Here are a few of our resources.

  1. The National Center for Home Food Preservation. This resource from the University of Georgia actually tests recipes and produces both a cookbook (So Easy to Preserve) and a website. Everything you see in either resource is guaranteed to be safe—and delicious.
  2. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has Preserve the Taste of Summer publications. We also teach canning classes and have an on-line class for beginning canners.
  3. University of Minnesota. Both tested recipes and on-line instruction are available on their website.
  4. South Dakota State University. This information is also available on their website.
  5. Ball Blue Book and Complete Book of Home Preserving. Both recipe books are available at stores that carry canning supplies. Both versions were updated in 2016. They also have recipes available on their webpage.

Call us at AnswerLine or email us if you have a recipe that is hard to find and we will check to see if we can find a tested recipe that is similar to your old family recipe. Enjoy dreaming of spring; we are doing that at AnswerLine.

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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Putting Your Canner to Bed

canner1This is the time of year when the garden has stopped producing and it is time to think about storing your canning equipment.   If you spend time in the fall to clean and pack your canner and supplies your equipment will be ready to go when your produce is ready to harvest in the spring.

Here are some tips from the National Center for Home Food Preservation that you can do:

Begin with your canner.

  • Check and clean your vent and safety valve. Clean the vent by drawing a small cloth or string through the opening. In order for it to operate it needs to be free of any food or debris. Clean the valve by removing it if possible or by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check your gasket. The gasket is what seals the canner and keeps steam from leaking when canning. If you need to replace your gasket order a new one from a hardware store that sells canning supplies or from the manufacturer. It is better to do this now than having to wait for one to be ordered when you are ready to use your canner.
  • Dial gauge canner need to be tested yearly. Call us at AnswerLine and we will be able to tell you where you can have your canner dial gauge tested. If your gauge is off you will have time to get a new gauge ordered before spring. Weighted gauge canners do not need to be tested.
  • If the inside of your canner has turned dark fill the canner above the dark line with a mixture of 1 tablespoon cream of tartar to each quart of water. Put the canner on the stove and heat to boiling. Boil covered until the dark deposits are gone. Dump out the water and finish cleaning with soapy water. If you struggle with hard water try adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water in the canner when you are processing your jars.
  • Store your canner with crumpled clean paper towels inside. This will help absorb any moisture. Place the lid upside down on the canner. Never store it with the lid sealed.

Now check on your jars and lids.

  • Look over all of your jars for any chips or cracks. By taking the time now you can prevent jar breakage during canning.
  • Make sure to remove all rings from the home canned foods when storing them. Wash and dry them completely and store them in a dry place. Bands can be reused unless they rust.
  • The flat lids can only be used once so discard after using the jar of food. If you have some flats left over, write the date on the package. The sealing compound should be good for 3 to 5 years after purchase if stored in a cool dry place.

Remember to use your home canned foods within a year or two years at the longest.

By taking the time now to “put your canner to bed” you will be ready when the warmer days of spring come and the canning season begins again!

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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Can some soup today!

Cold winter days always make me want a nice bowl of homemade soup. This is the time of year we often get calls about canning homemade soup.  Sometimes a caller will have made a big batch of soup and they ask about preserving it.  As with other canning recipes, it is important to use tested recipes when canning soup.  The Ball Blue Book has the only tested recipe for tomato soup that we are aware of at AnswerLine.  But if you just want to can your own vegetable soup, the National Center for Home Food Preservation does have a tested recipe that will allow you to can your own recipe.  Due to safety concerns, you may not process soup with milk, cream, flour, rice, noodles, or other pasta.  You may add some meat or poultry as long as all the fat has been removed.  If you want to use dried beans or peas, they must be rehydrated before canning.

If you choose to can your own recipe, remember to add all the ingredients and cover with enough hot water or cooking broth to cover the meat and vegetable mixture. You will need to bring the ingredients to a boil and continue to boil for 5 minutes.  Then you will be able to load the jars.  Remember when filling the jars that the solids (meat, poultry and or vegetables) must not fill more than half of the jar.  Cover the rest with cooking liquid; leaving a headspace of 1-inch.  This product MUST be processed in a pressure canner for 60 minutes in a pint jar or 75 minutes in a quart jar.

Some callers are frustrated because their favorite soup recipes contain ingredients that are not considered safe in canning recipes. It is important to remember that safety is our first concern.  However, there are some ways to preserve food and still enjoy that favorite recipe.

Callers can always freeze soup; individual frozen portions are nearly as convenient as a “can of soup”. Callers also have the option of canning a portion of the soup recipe and then adding items like cream or noodles when they prepare the soup.  Another option is to can ingredients and prepare the soup from several jars of home preserved food.  Home canned green beans, carrots, corn, chicken or beef, and tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes could be combined with some homemade noodles for a great hearty soup meal.

Remember that even during the coldest days of winter, if you love home food preservation, there are lots of things that you can preserve.

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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Electric Pressure Cookers

instant-pot

Recently one of AnswerLine’s Facebook followers asked about electric pressure cookers and Instant Pot.  Not knowing much about either myself, I promised to do some research and share what I learned.  This is a timely question as Electric Programmable Pressure Cookers (EPPCs) have increased in popularity in recent years and Consumer Reports has included an electric pressure cooker in its Holiday Gifts for the Family Chef  article. With anything new, there comes lots of questions:  are EPPCs safe, is pressure cooked food nutritious, does cost equate quality, and are these cookers/pots all they are cracked up to be? The noted promise of an EPPC is to save you time so you can eat well.  So if you are thinking about putting an electric pressure cooker on your holiday list, here are some things you will want to know.

Pressure cookers have long been noted to decrease cooking time, reduce energy consumption, and retain nutrient quality equal to or higher than that of foods cooked by other methods.  In today’s world, the consumer has a wide choice of pressure cookers ranging from the conventional stovetop pot to the EPPCs known as the Third Generation of pressure cookers which are safer and easier to use with the big advantage of convenience over stovetop models—you don’t have to watch the pot!  A Cook’s Illustrated article points out some disadvantages of EPPCs to stove top models which included capacity, non-stick coatings, inadequate handles, weaker heating elements, and storage issues.

Nearly all EPPCs these days are multi-cookers that include slow-cooking, searing, sautéing, simmering, steaming, yogurt making, and warming functions.  An Instant Pot is simply one of many multi-cookers designed to replace a slow cooker, EPPC, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot.   These cookers may be touted as “6 in 1” or “7 in 1” which really mean very little.  The multi-cooker that does what you want it to do is the most important consideration.  While there are many websites that provide information and/or recommendations on EPPCs or multi-cookers, Utah State University Extension tested five different cookers and compared several consumer considerations including safety features, ease of operation, cleaning, and special features.  Based on their tests, the following features were deemed the most important to consider before purchasing an EPCC:

  1. Look for a safety valve that locks the appliance while still under pressure.
  2. A spring-loaded venting system (quick-release vent) delivers the best and most consistent performance.
  3. Look for a pressure setting of 10psi or above.
  4. Detailed trouble shooting/safety sections and thorough instructions on use and care in the User’s Manuel is a must.

Last, but not least, I must address the difference between a pressure cooker whether it is a stove top  model, an EPPC, or a multi-cooker AND a pressure canner.  A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner and should NEVER be used for canning.  Often, the two are used interchangeably in conversation and I want to make it clear that they are NOT!  A pressure canner is designed to CAN  low-acid foods for storage in canning jars at a temperature higher than boiling water.  Pressure cookers are designed to cook everyday foods and as such heat up and cool too quickly to adequately process canned food safely.  Articles by Oregon State University Extension Service, Michigan State University Extension, and the National Center for Home Food Preseration provide great and detailed information on the difference between pressure cookers and canners and why cookers cannot be used as canners.

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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Preserving Pumpkin Safely

pie-pumpkin1Its fall and time to visit your local pumpkin farm to get pumpkins and gourds to decorate your house. Carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds is a tradition for many families including ours.  While you are there getting jack-o-lanterns why not get a pie pumpkin as well.  These are the pumpkins grown for use in pies, breads and bars.  They are sweeter and have less water in them than the traditional carving pumpkins which tend to have a stringy flesh.

If you are cooking a pie pumpkin this year remember that pumpkin puree cannot be safely canned at home.  The best way to preserve puree would be to freeze it.  To freeze simply wash the pumpkin and cut into cooking size pieces and remove the seeds.  It can be cooked in boiling water, in steam, in the oven or in a pressure cooker.  Cook until soft then remove pulp from rind and mash the pulp.  Place the pumpkin puree bowl in another bowl filled with cold water and stir occasionally till cool. Package in freezer containers in the size you want to use (2 cups equals 1 can).  Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it.

If you would prefer to pressure can pumpkin it can only be done in cubes and in a pressure canner.  The steps to can cubed pumpkin are to first wash and remove the seeds.  Next cut the pumpkin into 1 inch wide slices.  Then peel and cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Fill the jars with the cubes and cover with the cooking liquid leaving 1 inch headspace.  Process according to your altitude using this chart from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Pumpkin can be dried or made into fruit leather. To dry cut strips no more than one inch wide by 1/8 inch thick.  Steam the strips over boiling water for 3 minutes then dip in cold water to stop the heating process.  Drain well then dehydrate in a food dehydrator until brittle.  For making pumpkin fruit leather use pumpkin puree and spices with this recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Be sure to follow safe preservation methods when dealing with pumpkin. Using safe freezing and canning methods will allow you to enjoy your pumpkin all winter!

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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Successfully Freezing Homemade Soup

slow-cooker-pork-chili_0There’s nothing like homemade soups and stews to enjoy during the fall and winter months. Soups and stews are also great ‘prepare ahead’ foods to freeze and enjoy at a later time when a quick meal is needed, relieve stress during the holidays, or share with elderly parents, neighbors, or college students.  While freezing is a great convenience, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Recipe.  Freezing will not improve the texture, flavor, or quality of food. It simply preserves food quality by stopping microbial growth.  Which brings us to the question, “will all soups freeze satisfactorily to assure a good product later?”  Most soup recipes can be used for freezing but one should check the listing at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for ingredients that do not freeze successfully.  Vegetable and meat based soups generally freeze very well; however, potatoes and pasta may need special consideration.    Joy of Cooking advises to add freshly cooked potatoes or pasta just before serving if a soup or chowder calls for such OR to undercook the potatoes/pasta if they will be part of the frozen soup.   Dairy-based soups and chowders can be frozen, too, but the outcome is not always as predictable as they tend to separate slightly when thawed and reheated.   This can typically be fixed by whisking in a little additional milk or cream or by stabilizing the cream with a slurry of arrowroot or potato power and water.  An immersion blender can be used to mix together a dairy-based soup that has separated. Using a modified starch suitable for low temperatures such as ThermFlow® or tapioca flour will help prevent separation of a thickened soup; Joy of Cooking suggests substituting 1 tablespoon tapioca flour for 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour for 1 cup liquid.
  • Cooling.  After preparing your soup, it must be cooled quickly to prevent a foodborne illness. Soup should cool from 140 degrees to 70 degrees in two hours or less and from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in four hours or less.  The University of Minnesota (Cooling Soup Safely) offers some great tips to cool soup safely such as placing the kettle in an ice bath, using shallow pans, dividing into smaller batches, and stirring to hasten cooling.   Regardless of method used, it’s most important to get the soup cooled by whatever method works best for you to get the temperature down as quickly as possible.
  • Packaging.  Once the soup is cooled, packaging appropriately becomes the next step.  How you intend to use the soup later, will dictate how you will package it.  If you want to freeze a large quantity, freezer bags with a zipper lock work very well and save space in your freezer because they are stackable after they have been laid flat and had time to freeze solid.  For individual servings, smaller freezer bags can be used.  Some of the plastic containers made by Ziplock® or Rubbermaid® work very well, too.  These kind of containers come in all shapes and sizes, each with a unique ability to seal, lock, stack, nest and are sturdy enough to travel with ease which is especially good if the soup is to be transported to and used by an older adult or college student. ½ – 1 cup is considered a snack size portion and 2 cups is a meal portion.
  • Freezing.  Always remove as much air as possible as you close the bag or container and leave ½ inch of headspace for pint-size- and 1 inch for quart-size-containers.  Clearly label each package with the name of the food, ingredients, packaging date, and any special instructions.  This information can quickly be typed and printed on mailing labels and attached to the individual packages.   Prepared packages or containers should be placed in the coldest part of the freezer allowing for good air circulation around each container.  After the product is fully frozen, stack to save space.  Soups containing starches or starchy vegetables should be placed in the back of the freezer where the temperature remains more constant to prevent slight thawing allowing starchy ingredients to absorb moisture and get mushy.
  • Defrosting and Reheating. To retain the best flavor, dairy-based soups should be consumed within two months of freezing and broth-based within three months.  Soups kept longer than these suggested times are still safe to eat but the flavor begins to fade along with some freezer burn.  Soups should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight; or if it is defrosted in the microwave oven, it should be heated and eaten immediately.  Pour the defrosted soup into a saucepan to reheat on the stove top; heat to boiling on low heat gently stirring until it heats through. Or pour soup into a microwave-safe dish to reheat in the microwave, again stirring occasionally to heat more evenly.  If your recipe calls for the addition of cheese just before serving, omit that prior to freezing and add during reheating.  Even though you can freeze cheese on its own, it reheats at a different rate than the soup contents.

I hope you’ll enjoy having homemade soup on hand for a quick meal or to share as much as I do.

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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How to Select, Peel, and Use Butternut Squash

20161013_071946aButternut squash is by far the favorite winter squash and with good reason. Its sweet, nutty flavor and smooth texture, reminiscent of buttered sweet potato, make it a great multi-use squash for fall dishes, including those that call for pumpkin.  Further, butternut squash stores well for several months in a root cellar or cool, dry location.  And last but not least, it is very nutritious (Vitamins A and C), including the seeds.

Like all winter squash, butternut squash have a thick, hard skin and a seed cavity inside with large seeds. If you’re new to squash, it might be a bit intimidating to select, peel, and turn a hard-shelled squash into something delicious.  It doesn’t have to be.  Here are some helpful hints:

Begin by selecting a squash that has a smooth, even tan colored skin free of blemishes, cracks or soft spots. The stem should be brownish and woody looking. Look for the ones with the longest, fattest necks as this is the “meaty” part of the squash; the seeds are found in the bulbous lower part. Butternut squash come in various sizes weighing between 1 ½ to 5 pounds.  One pound of squash becomes roughly 2 cups of cooked squash or 2 cups cubed.

There are a number of ways to peel it. The method really depends upon the intended use.  If it is to be used as a puree, it is not necessary to peel it at all.  It can be sliced in half length-wise, seeds removed, placed face-down in a lightly oiled baking dish, and baked in a moderate oven (350F) until tender; it can also be microwaved in the same manner.  After cooling, the soft flesh can be scooped out and used for pumpkin pie, soups, breads, and desserts. (The pulp can also be run through a food processor if desired for an even smoother texture.)  If the recipe calls for cubed squash, then the peel needs to be removed.  Good Housekeeping offers an excellent tutorial on peeling and cubing squash.  Cubed squash can be roasted, steamed, cooked, or pureed.  Cubed butternut is typically added to recipes raw and it cooks with the other ingredients.  However, roasting butternut squash adds a new level of caramelized sweetness and is so easy to do. Simply season squash cubes as desired, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet/dish, and bake a 400F oven until tender and lightly browned (approx. 25-30 min).

Butternut squash keeps well for four months in a cool dry, well ventilated location. Even greater success is assured when the squash has been “cured” post-harvest.  This involves approximately 10 days of air drying in warm temperatures (80-85F).  If you have more squash than can be used at one time, it will keep up to four days in the refrigerator (cooked or fresh) or can be frozen for later use as a puree or cubed.  To freeze cubed squash, blanch peeled cubes of raw squash for 3 minutes—just until heated through, drain, and chill in cold water.  Keep blanched cubes in a colander while chilling to avoid their breaking apart.  Drain thoroughly and spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer; place in the freezer for at least 4 hours and then transferred to an air-tight freezer bag (Nebraska Cooperative Extension) (photos at  http://www.livestrong.com/article/520339-how-to-freeze-chunks-of-butternut-squash/).  Frozen cubes can be added directly to your recipe.

There are a myriad of recipes and ways to use butternut squash. Some additional creative suggestions include:

  • Shave raw squash into ribbons (like carrots) and use in your favorite salad
  • Add a little puree to your breakfast oatmeal along with your choice of nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, flax seed, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, etc
  • Blend puree or small chunks into your favorite hummus recipe
  • Add more texture to a soup by stirring in squash pureed in a blender
  • Add to smoothies, dips, or baked goods batter
  • Add cubes to pizza or make a pizza sauce with puree
  • Season cubes with cumin and/or coriander and top off your tacos

Lastly, don’t toss the seeds. They can be roasted as a garnish for soups or enjoyed as a snack.  Butternut squash seeds are smaller than pumpkin seeds so they are a bit faster and easier to prepare.  I learned a good tip from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes to boil the seeds prior to roasting that really works well and seems to make the seeds easier to digest.

Butternut Squash is a member of the Cucurbita Moschata or “cheese” pumpkin family and as such other family members such as cushaw and winter crookneck can be prepared in the same way as the butternut.  Happy Fall and enjoy your squash!20161010_163428

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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Do you have more apples than you know what to do with this fall?

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Apple trees seems to be fully loaded this fall! Are you looking for some new ideas to preserve your apples?  Here are a few that you can try this year!

 

 

 

 

 

Apple butter

This is like a concentrated applesauce that is excellent on muffins or toast. It is a great flavor paired with pork chops.  Try it instead of jelly on a peanut butter sandwich.

Spiced Apple Rings

Add these beautiful red pickled apple slices to a relish tray or add them to a salad for flavor and color. Serve them on the side with turkey or ham.

Apple Pie Filling

There couldn’t be anything simpler than opening a jar of home canned pie filling and adding it to a pie crust. This tested recipe calls for Clear Jel which is a modified corn starch for thickening.  This is the only thickener that should be used when canning pie filling.

Dehydrated Apple Leather

Make your own apple fruit rollups in your dehydrator. Fruit leathers can be made without sugar so it is a very health snack for your kids or grandkids. If you have apple pulp left from making apple jelly use that for your fruit leather.  Add other fruits to come up with your own favorite flavor.

Applesauce Frozen or Canned

Freezing and canning are both options for preserving applesauce. Instructions for both are listed here.

Enjoy the abundance of apples and the variety of ways to preserve them. You will appreciate your efforts this winter when you are enjoying them!

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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How to use your frozen fruit

frozen-berries

 

We have had many calls about food preservation this summer and fall. Many people have chosen to freeze extra produce. I thought it might be good to review the best ways to thaw and use the fruit you have in your freezer.

 

Here are some tips for using frozen fruit:

  • Don’t allow the fruit to completely thaw if you are serving frozen fruit as a dessert. If allowed to thaw completely it will have a mushy texture but if a few ice crystals remain the texture will be much better.
  • According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation frozen fruit can be thawed safely in the refrigerator, in a sealed bag under running water or in a microwave if you are using it immediately.
  • If you plan to use the frozen fruit in baked goods like muffins or bread keep the fruit frozen when adding. If it is thawed the fruit will be soft and the color will bleed into the final product.
  • If sugar was added when freezing be sure and count that when making a baked good. Be sure and mark the packages with amounts before putting them in the freezer.
  • Only thaw the amount that you are needing for a recipe. If too much fruit is thawed you may refreeze it (if it was thawed safely) but the texture will be even softer when you are using it.
  • You can use frozen fruit to make jam and jelly. Thaw it in the refrigerator and measure the fruit and the juice after it is thawed.
  • Use frozen fruit in smoothies instead of adding extra ice cubes. Your drink will contain even more nutrition since you are not watering it down.
  • Frozen fruit will remain safe indefinitely as long as they stay solidly frozen. They will lose quality if they aren’t well protected. Use freezer bags or containers since the more protection you give them the better quality they will be.

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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Storing caramel apples

carmel-applesYou can buy caramel apples year round these days but what fun to make yourself and how delicious they are this time of year when such a wide variety of apples are so plentiful.

When you make them keep in mind caramel has a low amount of water and apples are acidic so neither are normally breeding grounds for Listeria but piercing an apple with a dipping stick causes a bit of apple juice to leak out and become trapped under a layer of caramel. This creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria already present on the apple’s surface.

Listeria growth occurs more quickly when a caramel apple is stored at room temperature compared to refrigeration. Caramel apples should stay fresh up to one week if refrigerated.

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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