Thickeners for Home Canning

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

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Amber Glass for Canning and More

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

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

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

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

1 Freshpreserving.com

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

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

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Plan to pack a healthy school lunch

children at lunchBefore we know it, school will be back in session. We spend a lot of time and money preparing kids for school. School supplies, new clothing, and new backpacks are on sale this time of year. There is another consideration when preparing for a new school year. Your child may be one that takes his or her lunch to school.

This is a great time to stock up on small zipper bags to pack lunches as well as small containers, a small thermos, and plastic silverware. Keeping your kitchen well stocked makes it easier to pack a quick lunch. Consider packing lunches the night before to keep the morning less chaotic.

Many of us consider the start of another school year a good time to start new healthy habits. You may want to try one or more of the following ideas this year.

  1. Plan to spend time with your child discussing likes and dislikes.
  2. Be sure to stock the kitchen with the things you will need to pack a lunch. Consider a new lunch box to make carrying a lunch to school more special.
  3. Plan menus ahead. You can plan menus for the month, plan some special occasion lunches, or plan a list of menus that you can cycle through over time.
  4. Children that help prepare meals often eat better. Allow your child to choose what they want to eat and ask them to help pack the lunch.
  5. Offer healthy foods as choices for lunches. Remember to model healthy choices for your child.
  6. Occasionally pack a surprise for your child. A note, sticker, new pencil can make lunch feel special.
  7. Remember to pack only as much food as your child can eat during the short time he or she has for lunch at school. A half sandwich is best for younger children. Small amounts of raw vegetables or fruit are best.
  8. Check with your school so you know what the rules are for allergens like peanut butter. Protect all the students by following those rules.

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Preheat the thermos with hot or cold water before adding your hot or cold food. Separate dry, crisp food from moist food. Let the child assemble the cheese and crackers or sandwich that has a moist filling during lunch. Prepackaged foods in individual servings may be convenient but are often more expensive than making your own prepackaged foods. Package some foods in advance and they will remain safe for days. Think nuts, crackers, or dried foods.

With a little planning, you can make this school year a healthy one for your child. You may even improve your own lunches, too.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

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Canning Tomatoes

It seems that the tomato plants are finally bearing fruit and we are starting to get tomato canning calls at AnswerLine. Callers are sometimes confused about canning times and recipes.

It can be hard for callers to understand that we recommend using only safe, tested canning recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the Ball Company, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are great resources for these recipes. We do not recommend old family recipes or recipes from random places on the internet. Those recipes were not tested to ensure you would preserve a safe product. Sometimes callers want to extrapolate canning times from one recipe to another. The canning times really differ between methods for tomatoes. If you skin, core, and cook the tomatoes before placing in the jars, the canning time is 45 minutes for quart jars in a boiling water bath canner. If you merely skin and core tomatoes and pack them into jars with no added liquid, the processing time in a boiling water bath canner is 85 minutes. The differences in canning times reflect the rate of heat transfer inside the jar. For a denser product, the canning time increases.

I spoke with a caller for a long time yesterday explaining that if she were using a tested recipe, the exact processing time and method of preparing the tomatoes would be included in the recipe. If she is asking about the correct processing time, and comparing several recipes, then the recipe she was looking at was likely not a tested recipe.

We want you to use a tested recipe, exactly as written. We want to help you keep your family safe while you are preserving food this summer.

Remember that you can take a canning class through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The class, Preserve the Taste of Summer, begins with an online section. Get started today.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

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Avoid Getting into “a Pickle” with Pickling Projects

Cucumbers and other vegetables  are coming on strong at the present time and AnswerLine has been fielding lots of questions from clients who find themselves “in a pickle” with their pickling project.  While we are grateful for the calls, we would like everyone’s adventures with pickles to be a success.  So here’s some of the tips we share as we try to help clients avoid getting into “a pickle.”

Use  high quality vegetables and fruits and varieties intended for pickling.   Immature salad or slicing cucumber do not make good quality pickles nor do Burpless cucumbers because they have a tough skin that my inhibit brine absorption and also contain enzymes that could cause pickles to soften.

Pickle within 24 hrs of picking.  Fresh and firm is always best.

Wash cucumbers well and remove stem end.  Soil can harbor bacteria that can cause spoilage or softening.  Of special consideration is the area around the blossom stem.  Blossoms contain enzymes that can cause softening so always remove a 1/16-in slice from the blossom end.

Use a tested recipe and follow the directions exactly.  A tested recipe from a reliable source is a MUST.  Great sources include:  National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA  Complete Guide to Home Canning, Extension publications, Ball Canning Book (recent editions), Ball website , Mrs. Wages, and So Easy to Preserve by University of Gerogia.

Use commercially prepared 5 percent acetic acid vinegar.  The level of acidity is important to both the flavor and safety of the product.

Use a canning or pickling salt.  Always used the amount and type of salt specified.  Salt draws moisture and natural sugars from the vegetables, creating lactic acid which prevents spoiling.

Use soft water.  Hard water interferes with curing and causes discoloration of pickles.  Soft water is recommended.  Soft water can be made by boiling water for 15 minutes, allowing to set for 24 hours, and carefully pouring off the clear water without disturbing any sediment.

Use white sugar.  Only use brown sugar or a non-nutritive sweetener if the recipe specifies.

Use clean, fresh, insect-free spices and herbs.  Fresh dill is preferred for better flavor; 1 to 3 teaspoons dill seed can be substituted for one head fresh dill.

Avoid firming agents.  Firming agents (alum, food-grade lime, calcium chloride) for
crisp pickles are not needed if high quality ingredients and the most current preservation methods are used. The safest way for making crisper pickles is soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours prior to pickling.

Use stainless steel, glass, or enamel-ware for pickling liquids.  Copper, brass, iron, pewter, aluminum, and galvanized pans and utensils may react with the acids and salts to produce undesirable changes in color, flavor, or even form toxic compounds.

Use sterilized standard canning jars and two-pieces lids.  Sterile jars must be used for all pickled products processed in a boiling water canner for less than 10 minutes.  Oven sterilization is not recommended.

Process in a boiling water canner per recipe times with adjustment for altitude if necessary.  All pickle products must be heat processed in a boiling water (water maintained at 212F) canner to destroy yeast, mold, and bacteria that cause spoilage, inactivate enzymes that might effect the product’s color, flavor, or texture, and insure a good airtight seal.  Exceptions are recipes intended for refrigerated “enjoy now” pickles or recipes acceptable for low-temperature pasteurization.

Spoilage or poor quality pickles can result from improper processing, unsanitary techniques, or when poor quality or incorrect ingredients are used.  For more information about specific pickle problems, recipes, and detailed information, download the ISU Extension and Outreach publication  Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning:  Pickles .

 

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

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

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Pie Storage

Home Made Apple Pie

It’s summer time and a favorite summertime dessert is PIE!  We often get questions on how a pie should be stored—on the counter or in the refrigerator?  Here’s a look at the different kinds of pies and how to store them.

Fruit Pies made with Sugar.  According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), fruit pies are food-safe at room temperature for up to two days.  This recommendation is based upon fruit pies made with sugar as the combination of sugar and acid in the fruit is sufficient to retard bacterial growth.  If additional storage time is needed, the pie may be stored loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for two more days.   Fruit pies freeze quite well.  To freeze a fruit pie, place them uncovered in the freezer until frozen solid, then wrap in plastic wrap or foil and place back in the freezer for up to four months. Thaw at room temperature for one hour and if desired, reheat at 375°F until warm for about 30 minutes.

Custard, Cream, Mousse, Chiffon, and Fresh Fruit Pies.  These soft pies need to be refrigerated until ready to serve and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days.  Soft pies do not freeze successfully so enjoy while fresh.

Pumpkin, Pecan and other Pies containing Eggs.  Pies containing eggs should be eaten as soon as possible after baking and cooling.  Otherwise, these pies should be refrigerated.  They keep well in the refrigerator for up to four days.  Both pumpkin and pecan pies can be frozen with some success for up to two months.  In freezing, they loose some of their integrity; the filling may separate a bit and the crust may get soggy.  To freeze these pies, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and foil or place in an air-tight freezer bag.  Thaw the pies in the refrigerator before using.

Pies made with a Sugar Substitute.  Sugar acts as a preservative, helps retain moisture, and keeps baked-goods fresher longer.  Therefore, it is best to consume pies made with Equal or SPLENDA® in 1-2 days.  These products are best stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  If you want to keep pies made with sugar substitutes longer, they should be frozen by wrapping in plastic and foil or in an air-tight freezer bag.  These pies can be frozen successfully for for up to two months.

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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Call AnswerLine

As I am sitting at work today between phone calls, I am reflecting on the tornados and damage that happened in Iowa yesterday. I have a daughter and family that live in Marshalltown. Their home had no damage and they were lucky enough to finish dental appointments early and be off the road and safe in their basement before the tornado hit.

Fortunately, there were no lives lost in the tornados that struck our state. There was a lot of property damage. Electricity is out in many homes and businesses, which leads to questions about food safety. We are always happy to help callers determine which foods to keep and which foods to discard. If your power has been off for a long time, remember to check the condition and temperature in the freezer and refrigerator when the power comes back on. Give us a call and we can help you keep your family safe.

Sometimes callers have damaged property from flooding or landing in the mud after a storm. Call us at AnswerLine and we can try to help you salvage property and prevent the growth of mold on your damaged possession.

The AnswerLine staff really care about our callers and we want to help you as much as we can. Please call us as often as you need an answer and know that we do not mind visiting with a caller as often as necessary.

 

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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Prebiotics and Probiotics

It seems some topics circulate around periodically. I recently heard a dietician talking about prebiotics and probitoics on TV. They rise to the forefront in nutrition news every few years it seems. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a little research into prebiotics and probiotics and their relationship to one another.

They are both considered nutrition boosters and are both found naturally in food. They are both also found in supplement form. Whenever possible I recommend getting your nutrition from food rather than supplements though as they are more readily digested and absorbed that way.

Probiotics are probably most familiar to us. They are active, living cultures considered “friendly bacteria”. They are found naturally in your gut and they help reintroduce or change bacteria in your intestine. They help maintain healthful bacteria in the intestines and improve immune health. The best known source is probably live-cultured yogurt. Other sources include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, green pickles and tempeh.

Prebiotics are not living bacteria.  They are nondigestible and are usually fibers found in raw food. They promote the growth of friendly bacteria in probiotics and help protect the intestines from unfriendly bacteria. Prebiotics selectively feed good gut bacteria. Sources of prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, onion, wheat bran, artichokes, bananas, aged cheese and soybeans.

Prebiotics and probiotics are generally recognized as safe and few people experience side effects. If you have a compromised immune system however, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before adding them into your diet. Studies suggest adding these into your diet helps support a strong immune system however there is potential danger in promoting overgrowth of good and bad bacteria in patients with weak immune systems.  If you do decide to add them into your diet, try to include a combination of both prebiotics and probiotics in the same meal. They work together to help improve your gut health. A yogurt parfait with a banana in would be an example of combining probiotics and prebiotics.

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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The Canning Police?

Comments

BWB1Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?  Callers are sometimes a bit frustrated with us when we answer canning questions.  We often have to tell a caller that the old family recipe for a canned product is not safe.  We must advise them that oven canning, canning low acid vegetables in a water bath canner, and using “any old recipe” for pickles are not safe practices.

Times have changed since Great Grandma was canning for her family.  We now have recipes that have been scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  They are available through several resources.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has the Preserve the Taste of Summer series of recipes, The National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia has both a website and a cookbook “So Easy to Preserve”, the USDA has a Home Canning Guide, and the Ball company has the Ball Blue Book as well as their Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The recipes and procedures in these books have been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure the coldest part of a canning jar gets hot enough long enough to kill the botulism bacteria if present.  We don’t want you to cut corners and put your family at risk.  Botulism can be a deadly disease and those at the greatest risk are those who are often most dear to our hearts; the elderly and the very young.  Pregnant women and those people with a compromised immune system are also at great risk.  Why take unnecessary risks with the health of your family and friends?

We sometimes don’t enjoy our role as the “canning police” but our main goal is to help you keep your family safe for years to come. Please contact us if you have any canning questions or need some tested recipes.

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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Celebrating Iced Tea Safely

June is National Iced Tea Month!  I didn’t know we celebrated iced tea nationally but after reading that iced tea makes up 85% of all tea consumed in the U.S., I concur that Iced Tea should be celebrated.   Further, I learned that iced tea was born in America.  Wikipedia relates that iced tea started to appear as a novelty in the U.S. during the 1860s.  (Prior to that, very little tea was consumed as it was thought to be unpatriotic after the Revolutionary War.)  By 1870, iced tea was quite widespread as it was available on hotel and railroad station menus.  Its popularity increased quickly after being introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis by Richard Blechynden.

Iced tea is my ‘go to’ summer beverage as an alternative to soda.  With the popularity of iced tea, we now have a large assortment of teas to use to make our cherished iced tea.  While some manufacturers have developed specific blends or formulations for iced tea, just about any tea can be enjoyed cold.  Until recently, iced tea was made by either brewing with hot water or brewing with the sun.  For years, I used the natural rays of the sun to make sun tea as the mild heat of the sun seemed to enhance the flavor of the tea and cut down on the tannins.  Well, no more!  Since 2011, the Centers for Disease Control have highly discouraged making sun tea as it is the perfect medium for bacteria growth.  Sun tea gets warm enough to brew tea, but it does not get hot enough to kill a ropy bacteria called Alcaligenes viscolactis that may be present in the water or in the tea or herb leaves.  Ropy bacteria is commonly found in soil and water.  If tea containing the bacteria is consumed, it has the potential to cause abdominal infections and illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and the National Tea Association recommend the following for brewing tea:

Brew tea by steeping tea at 195 degrees F for three to five minutes. Some tea drinkers complain that when tea is brewed with hot water, the tea becomes cloudy. The cause of the cloudiness may be due to tannins from the tea being released into the solution when the tea is cooled too rapidly or by chemicals or minerals in the water supply. One way to avoid cloudiness due to the tannins is to gradually bring the temperature of the steeped tea down with cool water before refrigerating or adding ice.  If chemicals in the water are causing the cloudiness, let the water sit for several hours to evaporate the chlorine.  Tap water containing minerals may need to be replaced with distilled or reverse osmosis water to eliminate the problem.  While cloudy iced tea may not be desirable, it is not a health risk.

Tea can also be brewed safely in the refrigerator by putting tea in cold water for six hours to overnight depending on the strength of the tea desired.  It can also be made more quickly with the Cold Brew formulations now available.

One should only brew enough tea to be consumed within a few hours.  When tea is not in use, it should be refrigerated.  If you use an iced tea maker, be sure to wash, rinse and sanitize the equipment regularly.

So get out your tall glasses and ice cubes and celebrate the warm weather by pouring yourself a safely home-brewed glass of iced tea be it plain, sweetened, flavored, or spiked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice tea certainly offers a healthier alternative to soda which is our country’s #1 beverage of choice.

 

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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