Spring: Time for Rhubarb!

rhubarb

A sure sign that spring is arriving is rhubarb starting to grow! Although it is technically a vegetable, it is used as a fruit since it is highly acidic which gives it the distinctive tart flavor. It is delicious combined with strawberries for a pie, made into bars or crisps, or a sauce poured over ice cream or cake. It also works well as a savory accompaniment for meats such as poultry, venison, salmon, and halibut. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg complement the tartness of rhubarb.

“Rhubarb is a rich source of nutrients providing 45% of Daily Value of Vitamin K in a serving size of 1 cup. In addition, rhubarb contains Vitamin C and A, along with Folate, Riboflavin, and Niacin. Rhubarb provides 32% of the Daily Value of manganese in a serving. Other nutrient/minerals include Iron, Potassium and Phosphorus. Rhubarb is also comprised of phytochemicals and phenols that provide the body with additional health benefits. The antioxidants present in the deep red stalks contain anthocyanin and lycopene, which have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease and have anti-carcinogenic effects towards the prevention of cancer. Over forty-two types of phytonutrients and chemicals are present in rhubarb,” (Purdue Extension). Rhubarb also provides fiber which is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Although it can be eaten raw, rhubarb tends to be too tart so it is usually cooked with sugar or other sweeteners. There are any number of ways to prepare rhubarb. Purdue Extension cautions to always use a nonreactive pan (such as stainless steel or enamel-lined cast iron) when cooking with rhubarb. Using other types of pans can cause chemical reactions with the acidic content in rhubarb. “Recipes generally call for pounds, cups, or number of stalks. Three to five stalks make about 1 pound. One pound of rhubarb makes about 4 cups of raw chopped rhubarb. Four stalks of rhubarb equals approximately 2 cups of diced rhubarb. A 12 oz. package of frozen rhubarb equals approximately 1 1/2 cups,” (University of Wyoming Extension).

Rhubarb can produce more than can be used fresh. Fortunately, it is an excellent candidate for preservation by canning, freezing or making into jam or jelly to enjoy later in the summer or next winter. Use these links to successfully can or freeze rhubarb or turn it into delicious jelly or jam. It also makes excellent juice.
Canning rhubarb.
Freezing rhubarb.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Jelly.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (also available in Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, 2006, p. 32 or 2020, p. 30.)
Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate. (also available in Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, 2006, p. 193 or 2020, p. 191)

Spring weather can change quickly in the Midwest; fortunately, rhubarb is a sturdy plant that can withstand cold temperatures after it has started to grow. If a frost occurs, check your plant in a few days. If the leaves and the stalks are blackened and soft, remove them. Any new growth will be safe to eat. If the stalks do not show any sign of damage from the frost those stalks are safe to eat.

Rhubarb is easy to grow. Stalks should be selected from plants that are at least two years old to maintain the vigor of the plant. For more information on planting and growing rhubarb, check out Growing Rhubarb in Iowa and Growing Rhubarb in Home Gardens. An old wives tale we hear often is that rhubarb is poisonous if eaten later in the summer. Rhubarb does not become poisonous, but harvesting later in the summer may weaken the plant and make it less productive the following year.

Rhubarb, one of the first of spring’s jewels, offers endless opportunities to enjoy year round. Enjoy all that rhubarb has to offer and boost your health, too!

Sources:
Rhubarb, Love It for Its Taste; Eat It for Your Health, Purdue Extension
Enjoy This Nutritional Powerhouse’s Tartness Softened by Sweet, University of Wyoming Extension
Rhubarb, Purdue Extension Food Link
Michigan Fresh: Using, Storing and Preserving Rhubarb (HN148), Michigan State University Extension
Rhubarb Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits, VeryWellFit.com

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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Spouting or Greening Potatoes . . . Keep or Toss?

“Should a potato with sprouts be used or tossed?” There is a great deal of conflicting advice on the question of use or toss. It comes down to the condition of the potato.

Sprouted potatoes in bag
Photo: MGeiger

As the warmer months approach, potatoes in storage may be showing signs of sprouting or even vigorously sprouting; shriveling may also accompany sprouting as the starch in the potato is converted to sugar to feed the new plants. Potatoes have an inherent natural dormancy maintained by endemic plant hormones. The concentration of the hormones in the tubers decreases over time resulting in sprouts forming at the eyes. When sprouting starts to occurs, this is a sign that the dormant period is over and nature is telling them it is time to reproduce. Even under ideal well ventilated, cool, dry, and dark storage conditions, this natural phenomenon occurs. Potatoes that are improperly stored in the home may exhibit the same sprouting and shriveling regardless of time of year as conditions may trick them into “thinking spring.”

Why the Concern?

Potatoes contain two kinds of glycoalkaloids called solanine and chaconine. Both are naturally occurring chemical compounds. Glycoalkaloids are found throughout potato tubers, but are in highest concentration in the leaves, flowers, sprouts, green skin and the area around the potato ‘eyes’. The lowest concentration is found in the flesh of the tuber.

In normal tubers, glycoalkaloids concentrations are small with a slightly higher concentration in a thin layer immediately under the skin and around the eyes. Peeling potatoes and removing the eyes reduces the presence of the compound. The concentration of glycoalkaloids in sprouts is much higher and can be high enough to be toxic to humans. The more potatoes sprout, the greater the presence of glycoalkaloids in both the sprout and potato itself. High concentrations of glycoalkaloid compounds give potatoes an unpleasant, bitter taste and can lead to headaches, vomiting and other digestive issues.

According to articles by Michigan State and North Carolina Extensions, removing the sprouts will allow safe consumption of the rest of the potato as long as the potatoes are firm, not soft or shriveled, and the sprouts are small. Further, most of the nutrients are still intact. But if the sprouts are long (1 inch or more) and the potato has shriveled, it should be tossed.

The same is nearly true for potatoes exhibiting greening. Green skinned potatoes have been exposed to too much light. Light causes the potato to produce chlorophyll and activate the skin cells to produce solanine which has a bitter taste and is an irritant to the digestive system. Because of the bitter taste, most people do not eat enough to get sick. Despite that, always use caution when greening is found on the tubers as this indicates elevated levels of solanine. Peeling the potato and removing the green portions by simply cutting them out will eliminate most of the toxin. However, if more extensive greening occurs into the tuber, throw the tuber away. Never eat tubers that are green beneath the skin. 

Cooking does not destroy glycoalkaloid compounds; therefore, potatoes exhibiting sprouts and shriveling or deep green parts should not used. Potatoes that are firm and exhibiting only small sprouts at the eye and/or skin-deep greening can be eaten if the entire sprout and any green-tinged parts of the potato are cut away.

Storing Potatoes to Prevent Sprouting and Greening

Storing potatoes the right way will prevent sprouting and greening. As mentioned earlier, potatoes should be stored in a cool (45-50 degrees), dark, dry, and well ventilated location for maximum freshness.  Kept in these conditions, potatoes will likely last up to three months or longer. At room temperature, potatoes will usually last about 2 weeks. Storing potatoes in a cellar or cool basement is ideal. Storage areas should always be away from appliances that give off heat or any area that allows light. If potato tubers will be consumed soon, they can be stored in a cupboard/pantry in a paper bag.

Don’t store potatoes in the fridge. Cold temperatures turn the starches in potatoes into sugars. This makes potatoes sweeter and cook dark. Also, potatoes should not be stored with onions. Storing them together shortens their shelf life. Onions produce ethylene gas which causes potatoes to spoil prematurely. The high moisture content of potatoes can cause onions to turn brown and rot.

In conclusion, sprouted or green potatoes are not necessarily destined for the landfill or compost pile.  With certain precautions, the potato may be safe to eat as long as sprouts and green spots can be cut away. If there is extensive sprout growth, shriveling, and deep green within the tuber, potatoes should be tossed to prevent risk of potential toxicity from solanine and chaconine, the two natural glycoalkaloid compounds found in potatoes.

For other questions about food safety and storage advice that will help keep food safe after purchase or harvest, The Food Keeper is an excellent resource. This handy reference tool was produced by the Food Marketing Institute at Cornell University in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It contains useful guidelines for storing food safely. The app is just a finger touch away for IOS and Android smartphones users by visiting the App Store or Google Play and searching for “FoodKeeper Mobile App.” The same app is also available for computer or pads at FoodSafety.gov.

Sources:
Toxic Glycoalkaloids in Potatoes, Centre for Food Safety
Glycoalkaloids in Potato Tubers, Oregon State University Extension
Food Safety of Potatoes, Michigan State University Extension 
Is It Safe to Eat a Potato That Has Sprouted?, North Carolina Extension
Is It Safe to Eat Sprouted Potatoes? Here’s What the Experts Say, EatingWell
Are Sprouted Potatoes Safe to Eat?, Poison Control

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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Oh no, my freezer is out!

Food in freezer
Food in freezer

Freezer failure can happen at any time due to mechanical problems, power failures, or human error. Regardless of cause, freezer failure means the loss of all or part of a large investment in food, time and money.

When you discover that the freezer is not working, it is important to determine why it is no longer working. Has the door been left open? A blown fuse, a broken electrical circuit or an accidental disconnection? Is the freezer over packed or full of frost build up? Has there been a power failure or did the unit simply die? In any of these cases, normal operation should be restored as quickly as possible and the food checked for thawing.

If the freezer outage is due to a power outage you will want to do what you can to keep all the food from thawing. If the outage is not expected to be more than 12-24 hours, avoid opening the freezer and cover with blankets or quilts. If a longer outage is expected, the food should be moved to a locker or taken to a working freezer (friends and neighbors), if available. Move food as quickly as possible using insulated boxes or cooler chests. Purchased dry ice or packaged ice can be added to help keep the contents cold for a longer period. If dry ice is used, handle it carefully and get usable sizes. Don’t open the freezer again until you need to replace the dry ice or until the freezer is working again. (For more tips on using dry ice, see If Your Home Freezer Stops.) If the freezer is in need of a repair or has died, the same guidelines for moving food or adding dry ice may save the food until a repair person arrives or a new unit is purchased.

Once the freezer is working or is replaced, check to see if the contents are still completely frozen or partially frozen. It is possible to refreeze many foods that have completely thawed if you are absolutely certain that they have been kept at a temperature lower than 40°F for no longer than two days (about normal refrigerator temperature). Refreezing food must be done quickly. It is best to set the temperature control to the coldest setting and once the food is solid again, return the setting to maintain 0°F or lower. Since refreezing may affect the quality of the food, it is a good idea to mark the refrozen food and use it as quickly as possible.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Oregon State University have guidance on what to do with thawed foods. Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded.

  • Meat and Poultry: Re-freeze if the freezer temperature stays 40°F or below and if color and odor are good. Check each package, and discard any if signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor are present. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature). Refrozen meat should be used within three to four weeks and cooked to 165°F before eating. The same is true for refrozen sausage, bacon and other processed meats. Refrozen meats will probably be drier than other frozen meat.
  • Vegetables: Be careful with blanched or cooked vegetables. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in them. It may be impossible to tell by their odor whether they have started to spoil. Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Vegetables should be immediately refrozen if they still have ice crystals. Discard any packages that show signs of spoilage or that have reached room temperature.
  • Fruits: Re-freeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams, or preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality. However, fruits and fruit products are likely to ferment after they have thawed and been held at temperatures above 45°F. This doesn’t make them harmful, but it will change their flavor. They may be used in cooking or baking or for making jams, jellies and preserves.
  • Shellfish and Cooked Foods: Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or the freezer is 40°F or below. If the temperature is above 40°F, discard as bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods.
  • Ice Cream: If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture of ice cream is not acceptable after thawing. If its temperature rises above 40°F, it could be unsafe. The same is true for creamed foods and puddings.
  • Breads, Nuts, Doughnuts, Cookies and Cakes: These foods re-freeze better than most. They can be safely re-frozen if they show no signs of mold growth. Refreezing will likely result in some loss of moisture.

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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Freezer Burn and Food Safety

Have you opened some frozen food to find it has a dry, grayish surface or lots of ice crystals clinging to the surface? This is freezer burn. Freezer burn is simply the result of air coming into contact with food, and while it may not look appetizing, it is usually safe to eat.

Package of food in the freezer
Frozen food

The phenomenon of freezer burn happens when tiny ice crystals on the food’s surface evaporate directly into vapor without first going through the liquid water phase – a process scientifically termed sublimation. This moisture loss or dehydration leaves the food’s surface layers dried out and discolored.

Freezer burn happens when food is not adequately wrapped to remove oxygen, which has a bleaching effect on the food surface. Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy or inadequate freezer storage.

The bleaching and moisture loss effect of freezer burn may not make food unsafe to eat, but it certainly affects the taste, texture, and color. Severely freezer-burned food will have an off taste and smell that is especially noticeable. It’s best to toss any food that exhibits severe freezer burn as the quality does not merit the effort to save or prepare it. Products exhibiting mild freezer burn are usually fine to eat by cutting away the burned area either before or after cooking. Foods with a higher water content are more likely to get freezer burn.

A few simple precautions will help to avoid freezer burn and ensure frozen foods remain at peak condition at time of use and eliminate food waste. Here are some tips from the experts:

  • Use freezer-safe containers. Only use bags, jars, paper and containers that are labeled for freezer use. These products are designed to keep air out.
  • Remove as much air as possible. Air is the enemy of frozen food. Vacuum sealers do a wonderful job of removing air. However, squeezing the contents without smashing will also remove a lot of air.  Some people like to insert a straw into the corner of a zipper bag and pull air out before the final close. If using freezer containers, crumple a piece of waterproof paper on top of the food to help minimize headspace. This helps prevent freezer burn, ice crystal formation, and keeps food pieces from drying out.
  • Maintain the freezer temperature at zero degrees F or lower to help freeze food fast and stay frozen solid. Foods stored near or in freezer doors or at the top of a chest freezer should be eaten first as these areas are for short-term storage. Also avoid packing the freezer tightly; air must be able to flow freely around the food.
  • Let foods cool before packaging. The USDA recommends cooling food as rapidly as possible, either in the refrigerator or in an ice bath. Cold foods are less likely to trap steam inside the packaging. Steam, like air, is detrimental to frozen foods as it turns to ice crystals. Individual blanched vegetables, fruits, meat pieces, and baked goods are best if cooled and then flash frozen on baking trays (tray pack method) for an hour or two before packaging.
  • Store-packaging may be left on meat products but they should be over-wrapped in freezer paper, heavy duty foil or plastic wrap, or placed in freezer bags prior to freezing for long-term storage.
  • Label and date. Freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely. However, there are recommended storage times for best quality. Refer to the FDA Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart which lists optimum freezing times for best quality. 

Freezer burn affects food’s quality but not its safety. Even though the food is safe to eat, it doesn’t mean one should. Freezer burn fundamentally changes a food’s chemical composition, affecting its flavor and texture. All foods are susceptible to freezer burn but with proper packaging and freezer management, the problem can largely be eliminated.

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 Yeast Dough

The frozen yeast dough products available at the supermarket are a nice convenience. But did you know that yeast dough can also be prepared at home and frozen to nearly duplicate the convenience of a ready-to-use product?

Bread rolls
Baked rolls – Photo: mrgeiger

Fleischmann’s Yeast introduced home bakers to freezing yeast dough in their 1972 publication, Fleischmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book. Included in the book were the very first recipes for frozen dough one could make at home, freeze, and bake later. The recipes introduced were specifically developed for freezing and to this day, they remain the standards for freezing yeast doughs.

It should be noted that freezing dough at home may not yield the same results as commercially frozen dough but is still a means to delicious, freshly baked bread when time is short. Frozen dough manufacturers have access to superior dough stabilizers and freezing equipment that freeze the dough very quickly, allowing doughs to freeze with minimal damage to the yeast and dough structure. Dough freezes slower in home freezers increasing the risk of damage to the yeast and dough structure.

Tips for Preparing Yeast Dough for the Freezer  

  • According to Fleischmann’s Yeast, only yeast dough recipes specially developed for freezing should be used for best results. Freezer dough recipes usually call for more yeast and sugar and less salt and fat. The most success is achieved with roll or pizza dough. The method of preparation is not limited; dough can be made by hand mixing and kneading, mixer, food processor, or bread machine.
  • Original freezer-dough recipes used all-purpose flour. Today, it is recommended to replace all-purpose flour with bread flour as it helps to maintain better structure.   
  • Active dry yeast should be used instead of fast-acting yeast. Fast-acting yeast is not ideal for recipes that require a long rising time. King Arthur Baking suggests making the dough with cool, not lukewarm liquid (water or milk) to keep the yeast as dormant as possible so that it is less vulnerable to damage during the freezing process.
  • To compensate for the yeast that will inevitably die in the freezing process, King Arthur Baking suggests increasing the yeast by ¼ to ½ teaspoon per 3 cups (360 grams) of flour.
  • Dough may be frozen at two junctures:
    1) after kneading and before the first rise (proofing) OR
    2) after the first or second rise.  
    American Test Kitchen tested both junctures and found “freezing the dough between the first and second proofs was the best strategy. The first proof ensured that enough yeast had fermented for the dough to develop complex flavors and for some gluten development for better baked size. The remaining viable yeast cells then finished the job as the dough thawed and proofed for the second time.” 
  • Form the dough into balls for rolls or flatten the dough into a disk about 1 inch thick for pizza crust or dough to be shaped later. French bread, loaves of bread, braids, and cinnamon rolls can be shaped prior to freezing; loaves should be frozen in greased loaf pans and cinnamon roll slices placed on their sides on a lined baking sheet. Tightly wrap the dough with plastic wrap.
  • Flash freeze the dough in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Dough should be covered during flash freezing, thawing, and rising prior to baking to prevent the dough from developing a dry crust.
  • When the dough pieces have formed a hard shell around the outside, transfer to a zipper freezer bag or air-tight freezer container. Return the dough to the freezer. Dough may be frozen up to 1 month. For best results, use dough sooner rather than later.

When ready to use, remove needed dough balls, loaves, rolls, or disks from the freezer and allow to thaw covered in the refrigerator, a warm location, or combination until doubled in size. Do not over proof.  Since the yeast and bread structure have been compromised during freezing, over proofing may cause the dough to collapse on itself.

Previously formed dough can be thawed in a greased baking pan until double. Disks should be allowed to thaw and then rolled or shaped (pizza crust or any shape or specialty desired), placed in a greased baking dish, and allowed to rise until doubled. (Rolled dough for pizza crust does not need time to double unless desired.) When dough has reached the desired size, bake as directed.

Thawing and rising times vary according to the temperature of the dough, the size of the dough pieces, and where thawing takes place. Use these times as a guideline for thawing:
Refrigerator: 8-16 hours
Countertop: 4-9 hours
Warm location: 2-4 hours
Dough balls for dinner rolls take about 1½ -2 hours to thaw and double before baking in a warm location. Loaves of bread may take 4-6 hours at room temperature.

Cinnamon rolls

Recipes for freezer dough can be found on the Fleischmann’s website. Some examples include: pizza dough, bread dough, and dinner rolls. If one is lucky enough to have a copy of Fleischmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book, 1972, a variety of yeast doughs developed for freezing can be found therein.

Fresh-baked bread is always more delicious than reheated. If you plan ahead, you can freeze yeast dough to save time provided you remember to pull it from the freezer early enough—that’s the hardest part! 

References:

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Tray Pack for Freezing Food – Why and How

Sometimes a small amount of a frozen food is needed, like a few strawberries for a smoothie, one chicken breast, or a few pepper slices for a soup. By “flash freezing” or using the “tray pack” method, one can easily remove just the right amount of fruit, vegetable, meat, and even baked items needed, rather than thawing larger amounts of food all at once. Removing only what is needed is a great way to reduce food waste.

Tray of raspberries in the freezer

In the food industry, flash freezing quickly chills food items at extremely low temperatures with circulating air. This quick-chill method keeps ice crystals small, preserving the cell structure and preventing moisture loss in the food when it thaws. In the home, flash freezing refers to the tray pack method or practice of freezing individual pieces of food separately spread out on a baking sheet or tray until firm (1-2 hours). When frozen firm, the frozen food is promptly packaged (use containers or bags specific for freezing to prevent freezer burn) leaving no head space, sealed, labeled, and returned to the freezer. This prevents individual pieces of food from fusing together during freezing.

Small ice crystals are desirable in frozen food to preserve texture. Large ice crystals rupture food cells and cause a soft, mushy texture. Small crystals are formed when food is frozen quickly and kept at a constant storage temperature of 0ºF (-18ºC) or lower, making the at-home tray pack method desirable for any foods that come in or can be cut or broken into individual pieces. Raw, cooked, or blanched foods may be frozen using the tray pack method.

Foods that can be Flash Frozen with the Tray Pack Method

Bacteria, molds, and yeast are present on all fresh foods and multiply rapidly between temperatures of 40°F and 140°F (4°C and 60°C). Therefore, fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed with cool water to remove dirt and residues and prepared appropriately, including blanching when necessary, prior to freezing. Other foods should be handled appropriately for their type. Freezing does not kill most microorganisms in food but prevents their growth. When thawed, the surviving organisms on any frozen food can grow again.

  • Fresh fruits: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, mango chunks, cranberries, grapes, bananas slices, pineapple chunks, peach slices, kiwi slices, gooseberries, currants, rhubarb. Fruits that darken, such as peaches, can be pre-treated with ascorbic acid and drained prior to freezing.
  • Fresh vegetables that do not need blanching prior to freezing: peppers and chilies (seeded, whole, halved, or chopped), onions and garlic (chopped), tomatoes (peeled). [See Freezing Onions, Peppers, and Tomatoes.]
  • Fresh vegetables that have been blanched, cooled, and drained prior: green/yellow beans, shelled peas, zucchini/summer squash, whole-kernel corn, carrots, okra, sugar/snap peas and small mixed vegetables. [See How to Blanch and Freeze Vegetables.]
  • Individual portions of meat or chunks of meat.
  • Individual scoops of cookie dough.
  • Unbaked, shaped yeast dough. [See Freezing Yeast Dough.]
  • Individual portions of baked items.

Trays or baking sheets may be lined with a silicone baking mat (Silpat) or parchment paper if sticking or freezing to the metal is of concern. To ensure that there is sufficient cold air to circulate around the trays to freeze quickly and not raise the temperature of already frozen food, add no more than 2 pounds of food per square foot of freezer space.

Food stored at temperatures of 0°F or below will always be safe to eat. Freezing prevents the growth of the microorganisms that cause food-borne illness. However, frozen foods might lose flavor, texture, or overall quality over time. The FDA Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart lists optimum freezing times for the best quality of most foods. Other recommendations from StillTasty.com for items not on the list include:

  • Baked items – 3-6 months
  • Unbaked yeast dough – 1 month
  • Cheesecake slices – 2 weeks
  • Fruit – 1 year
  • Cookie dough – 3-4 months

With the exception of most yeast dough products, it’s best to plan ahead and thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature — at 40°F (4°C) or below. Other options include thawing in cold water or in the microwave. It’s also safe to cook foods from the frozen state; frozen vegetables are commonly prepared this way. Frozen fruit can be served frozen as snacks or used in salads or desserts.

The Mayo Clinic favors flash-freezing of produce, indicating that studies have shown that fruits and vegetables that are appropriately prepared and frozen as quickly as possible retain nutrients better.

For more information on freezing foods, check out The Science of Freezing Foods by the University of Minnesota Extension.

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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March is National Frozen Food Month!

March - Frozen Food Month

Some of America’s favorite, most versatile foods are found in the frozen food aisle. There are some 3,700 frozen food options available to consumers catering to every lifestyle, ethnic cuisine, daily food need, or food occasion.

Frozen foods have definitely made our lives easier and offer great value. With a wide assortment of choices from ready-to-cook meals to ingredients and produce that leave nothing to waste, there are so many reasons to prepare meals using frozen foods. Freezing keeps our foods safe and fresh tasting. Here are some frozen food facts from the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association:

  • Frozen foods are picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen, sometimes right in the field, locking in all of the beneficial nutrients and keeping them in their perfect, just-picked state.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are equally as nutritious as their fresh and canned counterparts.
  • Freezing acts as a natural preservative, so many of your favorite frozen foods contain no preservatives.
  • Frozen foods are consistently priced year-round. You are paying for 100% edible food – no stalks, seeds or rinds. And many frozen foods are perfectly portioned so there’s no waste.
  • Frozen foods last much longer than their fresh counterparts. You can use just what you need and put the rest back in the freezer for next time – wasting less food and saving you money.

We can also freeze many things ourselves at home—summer produce, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, leftovers, make-ahead-meals, casseroles, breads, cakes, pies, and more. Our food dollars are saved when we use frozen foods in our meals. Prior to freezing, best practices must be followed for any food to retain best quality and be safe after thawing. Check out Storing Food in the Freezer for helpful and safe preparation tips and Freezing Convenience Foods for using your freezer to help with meal preparations.

Although frozen food is convenient, foods in the freezer only remain safe and at best quality if the freezer temperature is at or below 0 degrees F. Keeping a thermometer in the freezer is helpful for monitoring the temperature. The thermometer should be checked frequently to be sure the freezer is maintaining the appropriate temperature. Further, always date and label foods placed in the freezer. Older foods should be used before newer ones for best quality and to avoid freezer burn. Food Safety.gov has a Cold Food Storage Chart for maintaining frozen food best quality; frozen foods stored continuously at 0°F (-18°C) or below can be kept indefinitely.

If you would like more information about freezing and food safety, contact AnswerLine,
Monday-Friday, 9 am to noon and 1-4 pm: 
Phone: 1-800-262-3804 or 515-296-5883 (Iowa residents); 1-800-854-1678 (Minnesota residents);
 1-800-735-2942 (Relay Iowa)
Email: answer@iastate.edu
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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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Getting to Know the National Center for Home Food Preservation

When AnswerLine clients have questions about food preservation, reference is often made to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). What is the National Center for Home Food Preservation?  What relationship does it have with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it comes to food preservation?

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a publicly-funded center for research and education for home food preservation. The center is located in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia® and is hosted by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. The NCHFP is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The mission of NCHFP is to conduct and coordinate research to further develop knowledge in the field of food preservation and to share science-based recipes, techniques, and guidelines with educators and end-users to insure that foods preserved in the home are done so safely.

The Center was established in 2000 with funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (NIFA-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. The Cooperative Extension System (CES) and USDA have long been recognized as credible sources for science-based recommendations. For more background on the USDA work in food preservation and the founding of the NCHFP, see the webinar, Welcome to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Dr. Elizabeth Andress, who was instrumental in founding NCHFP, became the first director in 1999. She served as director until her retirement in December 2021. During her tenure, the center researched home canning and preservation recipes and methods; published So Easy to Preserve; developed the NCHFP website; wrote current topic blogs; developed preservation curriculum and courses suitable for institutions, workshops or webinars; and revised and updated the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015). The NCHFP webinar also discusses additional work done by the center.

NCHFP is now under new leadership. In November 2021, the University of Georgia announced Dr. Carla Schwan as the new director of the NCHFP, along with titles of Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in food safety and home food preservation. Dr. Schwan recently completed her Ph.D. and postdoctoral research at Kansas State University and began her appointment at NCHFP January 2, 2022. NCHFP has been a strong resource for home food preservation research and guidance and will continue to be there for consumers under Dr. Schwan’s leadership.

The resources provided by the NCHFP have become increasingly important in recent years. Due to consumer desire to have more control over their food and the impact of COVID-19, many consumers have turned to home gardening and food preservation at home. Both factors have led to demand for science-based information to educate consumers on safe methods to preserve food. 

Every consumer interested in food preservation should faithfully use the resources provided by NCHFP. If you are not familiar with the NCHFP, spend some time perusing the website or order So Easy to Preserve or USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015). You’ll discover useful food preservation tips, find answers to food preservation questions, and be inspired to can, freeze, dry, pickle, jam and jelly at home safely!

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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Elevation? Does It Matter?

While residents of most midwestern states usually don’t think about their elevation, elevation affects all aspects of food preparation–cooking, baking, canning, jams and jellies, and candy making. As elevation rises, air pressure falls and water boils at lower temperatures making recipe adjustments necessary.

Pan of boiling water on stovetop
Boiling water at 1014 Ft of elevation – Photo: mrgeiger

Elevation and Everyday Cooking and Baking

When it comes to everyday cooking and baking, there are few noticeable effects of elevation until one reaches 3,000 feet. Higher elevations present several challenges when preparing some foods. At higher elevations, leavened products using yeast, baking powder/soda, egg whites, or steam rise more rapidly, may collapse, and may not be fully cooked. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer. High elevation areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. At elevations above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe.  For those that find themselves at higher elevations, Colorado State University and New Mexico State University have excellent tips and guidelines for successful baking and cooking.

Elevation and Canning Safety

Because water boils at 212°F at sea level and decreases about 1°F for each 500-ft increase in elevation, adjustments must be made when canning foods at home to ensure home-canned foods are processed safely. The amount of time that jars are held at a certain temperature during canning is important to producing a safe product. Processing times for most recipes are based on elevations of 0-1,000 feet unless stated otherwise. When elevations are above 1,000 feet, extra time is added for food processed in a water-bath canner. For food processed in a pressure canner, extra pressure is added. Both adjustments are needed to get to their respective safe processing temperatures for high acid and low acid foods. 

USDA and National Center For Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recipes include a table for proper processing based on elevation to insure sufficient time and temperature have been reached for a safe, shelf-stable product. In the NCHFP table for Crushed Tomatoes, note that time is increased in 5 minute increments as elevation increases for boiling water canning and pounds of pressure is increased for pressure canning. (Crushed tomatoes are one example of a food that can be processed by either boiling-water bath or pressure.)

While time is adjusted for water-bath canning, pressure regulation differs by the type of pressure canning equipment used—dial- or weighted-gauge canner.

Elevation and Sugar Concentrations

Elevation is also a factor in candy making and the gelling of jams and jellies when pectin is not used. At higher altitudes, atmospheric pressure is less so water boils at lower temperatures and evaporates more quickly. Syrups become concentrated and reach the gel point at a lower temperature. The concentration of sugar required to form a gel is in the range of 60 to 65 percent which occurs at 217 and 220 degrees F, respectively, at sea level. As elevation increases, the gelling point decreases by 2 degrees per 1,000 feet. When elevation is not taken into consideration, overcooked jam is the result as too much water has boiled away leaving a sugar concentration that is too high, leaving a jam that is gummy, dark in color or tough. The same is true for candy making. For each 1,000 feet above sea level, reduce the temperature in the recipe by 2 degrees F to prevent overcooking. Colorado State University provides a High Elevation Candy Making (Sugar Solution) Adjustment chart for various kinds of candy mixtures.

Find and Know Your Elevation

Elevation matters in all aspects of food preparation. It is especially important for the safety of home canned products beginning at elevations above 1,000 feet. Before beginning the canning process or making sugar concentrations, find your elevation using one of these sources to insure proper processing of canned products and prevent overcooking of jams and candies:

  1. Visit a web page about your town or city.
  2. Use an online tool such as What is my elevation?
  3. Use a smartphone app such as My Elevation.
  4. Refer to an elevation map for your state showing approximate elevations such as this one by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach from the Preserve the Taste of Summer series.

To learn more about elevation, watch this YouTube video by UNL Extension Food & Fitness.

To learn more about safe water-bath or pressure canning practices, watch these videos produced by South Dakota State University:

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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Pressure Canner Load

Pressure canner and boxes of lidsIs there a minimum load limit or guidance on the number of jars one must have for pressure canning?

Guidance has been given by the USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) regarding the minimum physical size requirements to be considered a pressure canner: the device must be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars standing upright on a rack with the lid secure for USDA and NCHFP published recipes and processes.  Pressure canners meeting the specifications come in various sizes with either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge.

A minimum load for a pressure canner has not been specified by the USDA or NCHFP.  In 2016, Ball canning issued guidance on a minimum pressure canner load stating, “To ensure proper pressure and temperature is achieved for safe processing, you must process at least 2 quart or 4 pint jars in the pressure canner at one time.”

At this time, the USDA, NCHFP, university extensions, and contacted pressure canner manufacturers have not endorsed or tested the Ball recommendation regarding the 2 quarts/4 pints load minimum for safety.  However, it may be a good practice.  The more jars there are in a pressure canner, the more space is filled and the quicker it will vent (and the less time the food in the jars will be subjected to heat).2  UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County (CA) have found that a very small canner load can be difficult to bring up to required pressure and risks the water in the canner running dry.  At any rate, canner load would have an effect on the warm-up and cool-down times, both of which are important to tested pressure canning processes.

When pressure canning a small batch, add jars of water (no lids necessary) to fill the canner space.  The added jars will also prevent jars with food content from tipping over.  Adding jars of water when water-bath or steam canning also helps with jars floating or tipping.

If you have canning questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail. We are happy to help!

Sources:

1The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving, 2016, page 274.

2Pressure Canner Minimum Loads, UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County, December 2023.

Updated January 2024, mg.

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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