‘Home-Canned’ Cakes and Breads for Gift Giving – A Big NO

The holidays are just around the corner and homemade food gifts are often part of the giving and receiving. One can look in magazines or online to find countless ideas for foods to give and ways to dress them up for giving. While many of these suggestions are safe and cute at the same time, some are not and one needs to be wary of them. One that I find particularly disturbing is the advocating of ‘home canned’ cakes and breads in jars.

Instructions for these “special” gifts involve preparing a favorite cake or quick bread recipe and baking it in a pint canning jar. Once the cake or bread is done, the steaming jars are taken out of the oven and a canning lid is immediately popped on. As the cake or bread cools, the lid seals creating a vacuum. Many recipes claim that these products can be stored safely on the shelf from a year to indefinitely. While the pictures look attractive and the gift might be unique, these products are NOT SHELF SAFE as the recipes and instructions indicate. There is NO canning involved and this technique IS NOT RECOMMENDED. If someone gives you a home canned cake or bread in a jar, assume it is unsafe to eat and discard it in a manner that not even animals will consume it. Here’s why . . .

Many cake and quick bread recipes often have little or no acid resulting in a pH range above 4.6, a pH level that will support the growth of pathogenic organisms that cause foodborne illnesses. Of greatest concern is the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (botulism) growing in the jars. Conditions inside the jar are ripe for hazardous bacterium given that cake and bread recipes may include fruits, liquids, or vegetables which increase moisture content AND the practice does not remove all the oxygen from the jar. The two factors create a rich environment for microorganisms to thrive.

One other consideration outside of food safety, is the jar itself. Regardless of the brand of the jar, jars can break or explode due to temperature fluctuations when the oven doors is opened or the jars removed from the oven. The glass used for Ball and Kerr canning jars is not tempered for oven use and is not meant to be used as bakeware.

Commercially prepared breads and cakes made in jars are safe. Companies use additives, preservatives, and processing methods to ensure the safety of the finished product that are not available for home recipes. Avoid purchasing canned breads or cakes in glass jars at bake sales or farmer’s markets unless they meet all labeling requirements for commercial foods. Currently there are no reliable or safe recipes for home baking and sealing breads or cakes in canning jars and storing them at room temperature for any length of time.

To date, there are no documented cases of botulism resulting from cake or bread in a jar. However, experts warn that it is an accident waiting to happen. Imagine how you would feel if you were the one who gave a gift that made someone incapacitated for life or worse.

If special breads or cakes are to be part of holiday giving, consider alternatives of baking and freezing, giving the recipient the opportunity to choose when they wish to use it. Most cakes and breads freeze well. Or create a “mix” by assembling the dry ingredients into a jar and attaching directions for preparing and baking. Attach a “use by date” on the label as some ingredients will loose their effectiveness, harden, or cake. Generally one month is appropriate. Also include a list of ingredients for those who have food allergies or dietary issues.

For additional information on gift foods to be weary of, check out Is Your Homemade Food Gift Safe to Eat? by the University of Minnesota. Be sure your homemade holiday food gift is memorable, not haunting.

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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Celebrating Friendsgiving

We have been blessed to live close to family for a number of years. Especially when it comes to holiday time. When my husband and I first got married we would try and make it to both “coasts” of Iowa so that we could see all of our family. After we started having kids that quickly changed!

One year the Thanksgiving celebration was going to be at our house. Unfortunately, the weather was not going to be good and I had everything purchased for the meal. We found out that our neighbors were having the same issues. We decided that it would be a lot of fun to celebrate together! Our neighbors grew up in the south and they brought all of the typical southern Thanksgiving foods, and we have the traditional Midwest foods. Needless to say we had a feast, and we enjoyed an afternoon of telling family traditions and stories.

Our middle son played college hockey in Oklahoma. Since Thanksgiving was in the middle of their hockey season he was not able to come home. For four years he and his teammates and friends would be assigned a food to bring and they would have a huge “Friendsgiving” celebration together. They would send us pictures of amazing food, impressively including homemade pumpkin pie, and all of the kids gathered around a very large table. It always made me feel good knowing that the holiday was spent with friends and with lots of good food. Plus I loved getting the call at AnswerLine to make sure they were cooking the turkey safely! The coach would not have been happy if the whole team had food poisoning!

Whether you are celebrating with family or with friends we wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Decorating Eggs

There are many commercial products available for decorating eggs but if you haven’t ever considered naturally coloring eggs for Easter you might want to! The American Egg Board has many suggestions for decorating eggs including using natural foods to color your eggs.

For pinkish red eggs consider fresh beets or cranberries or frozen raspberries. Orange or yellow colored eggs can be successfully dyed using yellow onion skins, ground turmeric, orange or lemon peels, carrot tops, celery seed, or ground cumin. Spinach leaves will produce pale green colored eggs. For blue eggs try canned blueberries or red cabbage leaves.

After you have determined which color you want to dye your eggs, place 1, 2, or 3 handfuls of your dye base in a saucepan and add 1 cup of water for each handful of color base. The water level should be at least an inch above the dye materials. Bring to boiling then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes to an hour until you have attained the color you want. Remember, eggs will dye a lighter shade than the color you see in the saucepan.

Strain the dye mixture into a small bowl deep enough to completely cover the eggs and add 2-3 teaspoons of white vinegar for each cup of dye liquid. You are then ready to start dyeing your eggs in the warm liquid. Natural dyes require a longer soak time for the color to take hold. If you want a vibrant color and to be able to eat your decorated eggs you will want to leave the eggs in the dye solution overnight in the refrigerator. Hard cooked eggs are safe to consume for up to 7 days provided they have not been out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

 

 

 

 

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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Holiday Greetings from AnswerLine

Tis the season of holiday greetings and letters filling our mailboxes and inboxes.  Many holiday letters are a recap of or reflections on past year family highlights, vacations, and other accomplishments.  In thinking about such, I wondered what AnswerLine would share if it were to write a holiday letter.  Many thoughts came to mind as I reflected on my time at AnswerLine this past year.

First and foremost, I am privileged to work with three amazing home economists with different backgrounds who have years of experience as professionals as well as mothers and grandmothers.  I have learned so very much from them.   As such, we have had the privilege to answer over 17,000 calls and emails this past year which have run the gamut of consumer, home, and family issues to any question you could imagine.  Thankfully we don’t have to do this job alone.  As part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, we have a wealth of experts whom we can call upon when the question is “too big” or out of our league–specialists in wildlife, forestry, agriculture, horticulture, entomology, farming, child care, and food safety and nutrition to name a few.  Also, we have a partnership with Iowa Concern to help with legal, financial, crisis disaster, and teen issues.

It has been a joy to talk personally with numerous people across Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota one-on-one and help them resolve problems, issues, and concerns that affect their daily lives with research based information–removing stains in leather, canning green beans, managing meals, testing for radon, sewing new fabrics, preserving quilts and other heirlooms, selecting and using appliances, separating perennials, controlling fleas, getting food stamps and other subsidies, clearing up head lice, food safety, eating restrictions or disorders, 4-H project advice, dealing with natural disasters and power outages–just to name a few.  Further, we have had the opportunity to share similar information with people around the world through email and Ask An Expert questions that come to our inbox daily.  Many of our callers are friends we’ve never met; they call frequently and in doing so we’ve learned something about them and they about us.  We love talking to people and NO question is silly or foolish; we’d rather answer a question and make someone’s day rather than to have them distraught for not asking it.  While there is great satisfaction in helping each individual find a solution that works for them, the greatest satisfaction comes when a caller calls back or there is an email response, saying “you made my day.”

In addition to fielding calls and emails, we take turns writing blogs twice weekly on a variety of consumer and family topics.  Many of the blog topics come from questions that come to us either by phone or email.  In a day-and-age of social media, consumers may also find us on Facebook with daily postings sharing current information or recently written blogs.  And occasionally, we Tweet or post to Pinterest.  We have promotional magnets and bookmarks available in both Spanish and English and through a translation service, we have added the ability to speak with Spanish speaking callers.

AnswerLine has been answering calls (and later emails) for 43 years beginning in 1975.  In that time, there have been 30 different operators, now known as program specialists, who have been advising clients as best as they know how with either the best science based info available or personal knowledge/experience.  Thank you to the many consumers, past and present, who have challenged us daily with questions.  We hope consumers will continue to challenge us with calls and emails from 9-4 M-F and share with family and friends that AnswerLine is ready and willing to help should they need us.  I, and the AnswerLine staff, wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!

Marlene along with Liz, Beth, and Marcia

 

 

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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Green Bean Casserole

Originally called “Green Bean Bake”, we know the recipe as Green Bean Casserole today. It is a favorite Holiday side dish at my house and in many others too I’m sure. You may not know that the inventor of this recipe recently passed away. Her name was Dorcas Reilly and she was 92 years old when she passed away on October 15, 2018.

Dorcas was working as a supervisor in the home economics department of a Campbell’s test kitchen in New Jersey in 1955 when she was given an assignment to create a recipe using ingredients any cook would have on hand at home including Campbell’s mushroom soup and green beans. The recipe she and her team came up with consisted of just six ingredients: Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans, and crunchy fried onions. She has said she and her team talked about adding celery salt and ham to the recipe but decided to just keep it simple with minimal prep time needed, affordable ingredients that could be stirred together, and a short amount of bake time. Plus the recipe worked well with canned or frozen green beans. Cheap, fuss-free cooking was all the rage for post-War America at that time. More women were entering the workforce and looking for easy-to-make meals. Convenience cooking was starting to take off since wartime rations had been lifted on canned goods and new innovations in canning and freezing made packaged foods more accessible than ever.

The “Green Bean Bake” became very popular once Campbell’s started printing the recipe on the side of their cream of mushroom soup cans. That was not the only recipe Dorcas and her team were credited for helping create however. She was also a part of the team that created the tuna noodle casserole and Sloppy Joe’s made from tomato soup recipes. Dorcas has been quoted as saying she was very proud of the “Green Bean Bake” recipe and pleasantly shocked when she realized how popular it had become. Her hand-written original recipe card even made it into the archives of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

Over the years people have changed the recipe a bit to make it a better fit for their family. Here are two lighter versions of the original recipe: One is from Campbell’s and one is from the American Heart Association.

I will be thinking of Dorcas this Holiday season as my family enjoys a traditional green bean casserole!

 

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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Homemade Eggnog Made Safe

Eggnog and holidays seem to go hand in hand.  While prepared eggnog is readily available at the supermarket, there is nothing like homemade eggnog.  But homemade eggnog has the potential to spoil holiday fun and cause Salmonella poisoning from the use of raw or undercooked eggs.  Salmonella bacteria is a potential risk even when refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells are used.

Since eggs are a standard ingredient in most homemade eggnog recipes, let’s look at someways to convert a special family recipe into a safe recipe.

Use a cooked egg base.  FoodSafety.gov  recommends a cooked egg base for eggnog. This is especially important if you are serving people at high risk for foodborne infections: young children and pregnant women (non-alcoholic eggnog), older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.  Eggs must be cooked to 160 °F to kill bacteria that may be present such as Salmonella.   A cooked egg base or custard is made by heating half of the the milk and/or cream to almost boiling and ever so slowly adding the beaten egg yolks (or sometimes the whole egg) and sugar (or any sugar substitute).  Continue to cook and stir the mixture gently until an internal temperature of 160 °F is reached.  At this temperature, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon and remain separated when a finger is drawn through it. Do not let the mixture go beyond 160 °F as above that temperature, the eggs are likely to curdle.  (If curdling occurs, put the mixture in a blend and blend until smooth.)   Place the mixture in a bowl of  ice water to stop the cooking action and prevent curdling or further curdling and then refrigerate.

Use pasteurized eggs yolks. Eggnog may be safely made at home by using whole, liquid or pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes in place of raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are found next to regular eggs at the store.  Commercial pasteurization of eggs is a heat process at low temperatures that destroys any Salmonella that might be present without having a noticeable effect on flavor or nutritional content. Even if you are using pasteurized eggs for your eggnog, both the FDA and the USDA recommend starting with a cooked egg base for optimal safety.  When egg substitute products are used, some experimentation might be needed to figure out the right amount to add for the best flavor.

Use alcohol to inhibit bacterial growth.  While alcohol will inhibit bacterial growth, adding alcohol (in amounts recommended by most recipes) will not be sufficient to kill bacteria.  However, if one wants to use alcohol, Cooks Illustrated suggests that 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor per egg and three weeks of aging in the refrigerator is sufficient to kill bacteria when dairy is omitted until ready to serve. Such was conclusively proven by microbiologists at Rockefeller University where salmonella bacteria was purposely added  to eggnog and analyzed over a three-week period. By the three-week mark, the alcohol had rendered the eggnog completely sterile.

Substitute egg whites.  If a recipe calls for adding beaten egg whites to the hot egg/milk custard, use pasteurized egg whites.  While pasteurized egg whites do not whip to the same volume as raw egg, they are safe.  It has not been proven that raw egg whites are free of Salmonella bacteria; NOR has it been shown that when adding them to the hot milk/egg custard, the custard remains hot enough to kill any bacteria.  Another good substitute is whipping cream whipped to soft peaks added at the time of serving.

Here’s to a safe and worry-free holiday!  Follow these suggestions for your favorite eggnog recipe to assure everyone can enjoy delicious, creamy homemade eggnog without worry of a foodborne illness.

 

 

 

 

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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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

from your friends at AnswerLine

Liz, Beth, Marcia, and Marlene

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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Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

This is your friendly reminder to keep your friends and family safe this Thanksgiving. We speak a lot about food safety this time of year. Here are some tips to remember.

  1. Remember to wash your hands often. Use soap and wash for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Resist the urge to wash your turkey. Washing will not make it safer to eat and the splash of water from the turkey will cross contaminate other parts of your kitchen.
  3. The safest way to make stuffing or dressing is to cook it outside the bird.
  4. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. In some families, the tradition is to leave food out on the table all afternoon so people can nibble a bit more. This is a recipe for food bourne illness. Leave leftovers on the table for less than two hours. The clock starts ticking on the two hours as food comes out of the oven or refrigerator.
  5. Cool leftovers quickly. Store them in shallow pans separated in the refrigerator or freezer. Storing leftovers on the back porch or garage is NOT a good idea. Store them in a refrigerator set between 32°F and 40°F. Closer to 32°F is best.
  6. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, cooked meat, and vegetables.
  7. Keep that pumpkin pie in the refrigerator.
  8. Use a meat thermometer to know when your turkey is done. Cook to 165°F.
  9. Use or freeze your leftovers within 3-5 days.
  10. Call AnswerLine if you have any questions. We really do love to help.
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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Talkin’ Turkey

Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year at AnswerLine. Most callers eat turkey only one or two times a year and often do not’ feel comfortable preparing turkey for guests. We are always happy to talk turkey with callers.

We often get these questions:

  1. How large a turkey should I buy? You should plan on two and a half or three servings per pound. Buy a larger bird if leftovers are important to you.
  2. How soon can I buy a fresh turkey? Use your fresh turkey within two days. Call us for advice if you buy your turkey too early.
  3. How long does it take to thaw a turkey? Plan on 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey. Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator.  Once thawed, use within two days.
  4. Oh my, I forgot to take my turkey out of the freezer. What can I do? You have two options. You can cook a frozen turkey, just remember to take the giblets and neck out of the cavity after an hour or so. Plan to cook the frozen turkey for one and a half times longer than a thawed bird. Or you can use the cold-water method. Thaw the turkey by leaving it in the plastic wrapper and place in a sink full of cold water. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Change the water every half hour. I was a bit skeptical the first time I tried this method, but it does work well.
  5. What temperature should I set the oven for turkey? 325°F
  6. If you want to cook the turkey the day before Thanksgiving, call us for advice.

These are the top turkey questions callers ask every year. Please call us with all of your questions. We love to help.

 

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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Tips for planning Thanksgiving

Callers often want to get ready for Thanksgiving as soon as possible. They often call to see just how far ahead of time they can begin preparing food. Here are some tips from AnswerLine staff to help you get ready and still keep your guests safe.

  1. In early November, compile your list of guests. Keep in mind any food allergies and favorite and least favorite foods.
  2. In that same period, begin putting a menu together. Do you want to have a traditional meal or would you enjoy trying something new?
  3. After deciding on a menu, gather recipes. If you want to try something new, you may want to make a dish in advance to ensure it will be what you expect on the big day. If you have a tradition of asking guests to contribute a dish, be sure to get them the recipe you have chosen so that they have time to buy the ingredients needed.
  4. Plan seating for your guests. Do you have enough chairs and tables? Do you need a larger tablecloth? Do you have enough place settings and serving pieces? If they are a bit dusty, consider getting them out and washing in advance.
  5. Plan the order of cooking for the foods you have chosen. Consider which dishes may be prepared ahead of time and frozen. If guests will be contributing a dish, think about how to keep it hot or cold before serving. Make room in your refrigerator ahead of time.
  6. Clean your house and set your tables a day or two in advance of the holiday.
  7. Cut up fresh vegetables the day before Thanksgiving. Peel your potatoes early Thanksgiving morning.
  8. When making foods with many ingredients, remember that you can measure out ingredients ahead of time so when the time comes to put a dish together, you can easily make it without measuring. Cut onions and celery for dressing the night before and take them out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving to make that stuffing at the last minute.
  9. Follow your order of cooking and check your menu often on Thanksgiving so that everything is ready in time to serve.
  10. Remember that we are available to answer any questions you may have about Thanksgiving. Call from 9-4 the week of Thanksgiving. We will not be leaving the office those three days for lunch. You can email us or ask a question on our Facebook page.
Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

More Posts - Website

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