Cashews, Not Really a Nut

If I were to ask you how cashew nuts are grown and harvested, or what they look like in their shell, would you know?  Since I’ve always been curious about where my food comes from and how it grows, I was stumped when I got this question from one of my grands.  However, what we learned together was fascinating.

Cashew nut fruits growing on tree

Cashews are not really nuts in the true sense, but rather a drupe seed.  They grow on fruit producing trees which produce a ‘false fruit’ known as the cashew apple.  The fruit resembles a small bell pepper being yellow to red in color.  At the base of the fruit is a kidney-bean-shaped hard shell with a single seed inside–the cashew nut.

After reading and watching YouTube videos about cashew farming and harvesting, the process of separating the nut from the fruit, and the steps in production, we had a whole new appreciation of the snack we enjoy, so easily purchased at the supermarket and eaten without a thought.

Cashews are gown in many parts of the world with origin in Brazil.  However, Vietnam is the largest producer of cashew nuts followed by India; cashews are a valuable agricultural commodity for both counties.  The cashew nut industry in these countries (and other producing countries) provide vital year-round employment to millions of people, especially women.  Extracting the nut from its shell is labor intense and requires a skilled workforce of which 90% are women who are paid meager wages. 

Following harvest, the shells are roasted and dried to make extracting the nut easier.  Removing the nut from the shell is the most difficult step in processing.  It is either done by hand or machine, but in either case, it is one shell at a time.  When done by hand, the workers beat the shell with a mallet in just the right way to release the nut unscathed.  If mechanical shelling machines are used, the shells are feed into the machines one at a time to split the shells; however, since the shells vary in size and shape, there is breakage so machines are not a perfect solution.  As a result manual processing is generally favored for nut perfection.  However, Vietnam has been successful at mechanizing the process and, thereby, have increased production rates and decreased the labor force.

Another concern in cracking the shell, is the reddish-brown oil that oozes from the shell composed of various phenolic lipids.  It is an irritant like that found in poison ivy causing skin burns and sores and other health issues if workers come in contact with it.  Following splitting, the nuts require tedious peeling and cleaning before moving along to grading, quality control, fumigation, and packaging.

And what about the cashew apple?  The apple has a sweet flavor but a limited shelf life so it is not a marketable commodity in its fresh state.  However, it is available in local markets and has value as a fresh food, cooked in curries, fermented into vinegar and used to make preserves, chutneys, and jams.  In India, it is fermented and distilled to make an alcoholic drink known as feni.  The apples are also used for medicinal purposes.

Even though cashews are not technically nuts, we use them as such.   Cashews are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats, plant protein, and fiber; they may be used interchangeably with other nuts in a variety of culinary applications, including trail mix, stir-fries, granola, nut butter, and nut dairy products.  Like most nuts, cashews may also help improve overall health. They’ve been linked to benefits like weight loss by boosting metabolism, improving blood sugar control, strengthening the immune system, and a contributing to heart health.

Cashews are generally a safe addition to most diets.  One should keep in mind that roasted or salted cashews contain added oils or salt. For this reason, it may be best to opt for unsalted, dry roasted instead.  People with tree nut allergies should avoid them as they are classified as tree nuts along with Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts.  Some people have trouble with bloating; soaking nuts overnight will help with nutrient absorption and digestibility.  When eaten in large quantities, cashews can cause kidney damage due to a relatively high oxalate content.  However, in moderation (true of all nuts), such is not likely.  One serving of cashews is 1 ounce and contains about 18 nuts, 157 calories, and about 9 grams of carbohydrate largely in the form of starch1.

I am so glad the question about cashew nuts was asked!  I will continue to enjoy them but with a new and profound appreciation for the people who grow, harvest, and process them.

1 https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/17283-nutrition-nuts–heart-health

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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Time for Spring-Dug Parsnips

This past week, we dug the last of our parsnips.  Spring-dug parsnips are characterized as ‘the cream of the crop!’ and I couldn’t be more of an advocate.  The seeds, sown nearly a year ago, grew into healthy plants over the summer and were left to die back in the fall.  After a frost or two, a few were dug; the remainder of the row was left to winter over in the ground. They are a great roasted vegetable in the fall, but nothing like those left in the ground for a winter deep freeze.  The extreme cold converts the starches into sugar and allows the flavor to mellow.  The timing is critical for spring-dug parsnips; they need to be dug as soon as you can get into the ground with a shovel or fork and just as their tops start to show new growth.  If they are left in the ground too long in the spring and the tops start to grow out, they become woody. 

Never had parsnips?  Some mistakenly refer to them as white carrots, but while they may be related to carrots distantly, they are actually part of the parsley family.  They are a cream-colored, gnarled, carrot-shaped root vegetable.  They can be eaten raw but are best prepared by roasting, frying, grilling or steaming to bring out their distinct succulent flavor and nutty sweetness.  They have a tan peel that is typically removed before use; peeling also removes their gnarly surface.  The flesh is cream-white.  They are a very versatile vegetable with recipes ranging from roasted side dishes, soups and stews, mashed, turned into fries, and even made into wine.  They pair well with other root vegetables, too.  Like potatoes or an apple, parsnips oxidize when exposed to air after their peelings are removed. If not prepared right away, cut parsnips should be placed in water to reduce the effect.

Being white in color, one would tend to believe that they offer little nutrition.  Quite the opposite is true.  According to the USDA [1], a half-cup serving of parsnips are high in heart-healthy fiber providing 3 grams of fiber and only 55 calories. They are a low-fat food yet a good source of numerous vitamins (especially C and K), minerals (especially folate and manganese), and antioxidants.  (Note that the level of vitamin C is somewhat reduced with the cooking.)

Besides the home garden, parsnips are available at the supermarket and likely can also be found at the late fall and spring farmer’s markets. Spring is the best time to give them a try if you are new to parsnips.  If you are lucky enough to find this once-a-year spring treasure, choose fleshy, fresh, firm, medium-sized and even surfaced roots.  Avoid woody, over-matured, long, thin, and tail-like roots as they are off-flavored and have tough fiber.  Also avoid soft, pitted, shriveled, knobby, or damaged roots. 

Fresh parsnips should be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator where they should last three to four weeks [2]. Use cooked, refrigerated parsnips within three days.  Parsnips can also be frozen [3] for later use by cutting into 1/2-inch cubes, water blanching for 2 minutes, cooling promptly in cold water, draining, and packing and sealing into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months for best quality.  Drying is another method for preserving parsnips as well.

For more information on parsnips, check out Growing Carrots and Parsnips in Home Gardens by the University of Minnesota Extension [4].

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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‘Celerybrating’ Celery

March is National Celery Month.  Even though celery may not be one of the most exciting foods to blog about, there are plenty of good reasons to. Celery is an amazingly versatile vegetable that can provide so many benefits for you and your family. Besides, it is a favorite food of mine and has been since my Grandma introduced it to me as a snack with peanut butter and raisins in my childhood.

Celery is native to the Mediterranean and is considered a marshland vegetable.  It really is quite easy to grow in the home garden as long as it has plenty of water.  Celery adds crunch to salads while adding lots of flavor to casseroles, soups, stuffing and a variety of cuisines. And it is always a great snack with dips, cheese spreads, avocado, or peanut butter.  Don’t forget that celery leaves are as nutritious as the stalks; the dark green outer leaves have the most flavor but are often a little tough so they are great additions to soups and stews.  The tender and milder inner leaves can be chopped along with the stalks for any recipe that calls for celery or used as a garnish.  It is also possible to dry celery leaves and use them to flavor anything that needs a ‘celery lift.’

Celery is high in fiber and as such is filling. Per serving (2-3 medium stalks), celery has only 16 calories and is 95 percent water. While not a superfood, it is a good source of potassium and vitamins A and C.  Celery is also a source of sodium nitrate which our bodies convert to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps relax our arteries, which reduces blood pressure and improves blood flow throughout the body. Celery is known as a negative calorie food because it requires more calories to digest it than one consumes by eating it.  Plus, it’s low on the glycemic index, meaning it has a slow, steady effect on blood sugar.  Thus, it is a great food for dieters.

Celery has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. As far back as 850 B.C., celery seed was believed to have healing powers. Celery still plays a role in traditional Chinese medicine because it contains a plant compound called apigenin which is an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant agent.  Celery also contains a flavonoid called luteolin that has shown promise in preventing the spread of cancer cells. Other benefits include preventing gallstones, aids in indigestion, and helps to lower blood pressure.  Because these nutrients occur in relatively small amounts in celery, eating celery alone is not likely to prevent or cure any disease.

In recent times, celery juice has become popular.  While eating celery stalks and using celery in recipes is healthy and important, drinking pure celery juice is more nutrient dense.  When celery is juiced, the pulp or fiber is removed so one is able to consume far more celery as juice than by eating it.  Moreover, it’s very hydrating and low in sugar making it a great alternative to sugary beverages.  While there are health benefits to celery juice, consumers should be weary of claims that celery juice detoxes the body as these claims are not supported by science. Further, celery juice has a high concentration of sodium nitrates which may be of concern to some. People on salt-restricted diets may wish to avoid celery juice as a single cup of celery juice contains around 215 mg of sodium.

Low in calories, packed with flavor, fiber, and crunch, celery is an amazing vegetable that can promote health and with good health, comes happiness—all reasons to celebrate! What are we waiting for? With so many benefits, we should be adding celery to our meals in whatever way chosen not only in March but always. How will your ‘celerybration’ look?

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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Recipe Makeovers for Healthier Versions

One doesn’t have to give up favorite recipes to maintain a healthy diet. Making a few simple changes can make most recipes more healthful without sacrificing taste.  It begins with preparing a recipe in a different way or by substituting ingredients.

Recipes can be altered to reduce or eliminate fat, salt, and unwanted calories in the form of sugar. Recipes can also be altered to increase nutrition or fiber. When modifying a recipe, it is best to make one modification at a time, reducing, substituting, or increasing an ingredient by a small amount at first.

Baked goods require careful adjustments as each ingredient has an important role in the outcome of the product.
– Fat provides flavor, richness, and texture.
– Eggs provide structure, act as a binding agent, and add volume.
– Sugar provides flavor, increases tenderness, and acts as a preservative.
– Salt provides flavor.

Below are suggestions for reducing fat, calories, sugar, and salt and/or increasing fiber in your recipes without changing texture, flavor, purpose or structure.  Be sure to keep a record of the changes that produce the best tasting and satisfactory product.

If your recipe calls forMake the following adjustments or replace with
Condiments and toppingsOmit or use fresh cucumbers vs pickles, cherry tomatoes vs olives, non-fat or reduced fat spreads, mashed fresh berries, thin slices of fresh apples, peaches or pears.
Canned fruit packed in syrupFresh fruit or canned fruit packed in water
Chicken stock or brothsVegetable stock/broth or refrigerated broth with fat skimmed off
Sour creamLow-fat yogurt or blended low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg2 egg whites
CreamWhipped non-fat dry milk or skim evaporated milk
RiceBrown rice
Sautéing in butter or oilNon-stick spray, chicken or beef broth
Cream cheeseNeufchatel cheese or light cream cheese
Gravy1 Tbsp cornstarch or 2 Tbsp flour added to 1 cup fat-free broth
Whole milkSkim or 1% milk
Ice creamLow-fat or non-fat yogurt
All-purpose flour½ whole wheat flour and ½ all-purpose flour
Ground beefLean ground turkey or chicken
BaconTurkey bacon
Ricotta cheeseNon-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
CheeseLow-fat or non-fat cheese or use only half 
PastaWhole wheat pasta

If your baking recipe calls forMake the following adjustments
Sugars – Brown, Corn Syrup, Honey, MolassesUse up to one third less sugar in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pie fillings. Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, or flavorings such as vanilla or almond extract to boost sweetness.
Fat – Shortening, Butter, Lard, OilReplace solid fat with vegetable oil using 1/4 cup less.  Or, use half the butter, shortening or oil and replace the other half with an equal amount of applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed prunes or commercially prepared fruit-based fat replacers.
SaltReduce the amount by ½ (except in yeast breads), use spices or herbs or light salt.

Other options to add fiber include adding whole oats or chopped dried/fresh fruit to cookies, muffins, waffles, and pancakes and beans to soups, casseroles, and salads. Using fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits whenever possible not only increases fiber, but also ups nutrition.

Cooking methods such as baking, boiling, broiling, grilling, roasting, or stir-frying whenever possible are the best choices for reducing fat intake. Along with fat reduction, the high heat associated with frying changes the chemical structure of the fat making it difficult for your body to break down which can negatively affect health.

Remember, make small modifications at a time. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun! Enjoy the challenge!

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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Taking the ‘Myths’ Out of Cooking Dried Beans

Last spring we decided to plant beans—beans, as in eventual dried beans—for a new garden experience, health benefits, and future use in cooking, or as a meat substitute.  Beans are a rich source of fiber and B vitamins and help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria.

My husband chose five different varieties—Amish Knuttle, Black Turtle, Tigers Eye, Peregion, and Garbanzo (chick peas) to plant.  It was fun to watch them grow, set and fill their pods.  The foliage of the first four looked very much like any other kind of bean or soybean (edamame).  The garbanzo foliage was very different; the lacey, delicate leaves looked more like they belonged in a flower garden than a vegetable garden. 

As fall dawned, the leaves began to yellow exposing the pods which would eventually dry and need to be picked.  Enter the human harvester–me. As I spent long hours picking bean pods and later removing the beans from their pods, I had more appreciation than ever for the dried beans that I so nonchalantly pick up at the grocery store and grateful that bean farmers had mechanical harvesting equipment.  Once my harvest was complete, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful jars of beans as if they were a work of art! 

Since I had such a high regard for my beans, I felt they were worthy of being cooked properly to show their unique texture and flavor.  In the past, I hadn’t taken much stock in how I cooked beans; my method or lack thereof probably stemmed from a combination of whatever I haphazardly learned from my mother years ago, heard from other advisors in my life, or simply what I had time for.  I soon learned there are as many ways to cook beans as there are people who cook them and many of the methods stem from ‘myths’—soak or no soak, fresh water or not, salt or no salt, lid or no lid, oven or stove top.

I was intrigued by an Epicurious article:  How to Cook Beans: The Epicurious Myth-Busting Guide.  The Epicurious kitchen staff experimented with pinto beans to determine the best method for cooking dried beans, debunking many of the myths surrounding bean cooking.  I repeated their experiment using each of my bean varieties to determine what was best for each; in the end, regardless of variety, I had to agree with their recommendations.  Quick-soaking the beans, cooking in their own water, salting them at the beginning of cooking, and cooking in a pot without a lid on the stove top resulted in beans with great texture and flavor.  (Use the Epicurious link above to read more about the Epi method.)

Once the beans are cooked, they are ready for whatever comes their way.  I usually cook a quantity of beans and freeze in portion containers what will not be used in 2-3 days.  Frozen cooked beans can be used like a drained can of beans.  Thawing is not necessary when they are used in soup or baked beans. If used in a salad, side dish, or baking, they need to be defrosted prior.  Beans keep well in the freezer for about 6 months.  Dried beans will generally stay at best quality for about 2 to 3 years at normal room temperature; they will remain safe to use after that but may take longer to cook and have less flavor. 

How do you cook your beans?

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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Butternut Squash – Versatile, Nutritious, Long Keeping, and Convenient Size Make It A Favorite

Fall has arrived and winter squash is available.  Butternut squash is one of my favorite winter squash varieties. I like it for a variety of reasons—versatility, nutrition, long keeping quality, and convenient size.

Versatility. It is delicious cooked, steamed, baked, roasted, sautéed and pureed and as such can be used in countless ways. The smooth texture of the butternut squash is a great addition to many sweet and savory dishes and can be used as a substitute for pumpkin in nearly any recipe.  During the fall and winter months, I keep butternut squash on hand continuously for pancakes, soups and stews, breads (yeast and quick), desserts, dips and spreads, shakes, and even pizza.  It can be eaten raw, but cooking the squash softens the flesh, making it easier to consume and digest.  Because squash takes on many different flavors, it is tastier when cooked but it is also a nice addition when grated raw and added to salads.

Nutrition. Butternut squash is very nutritious. The flesh is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C as well as a good source of thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. The seeds are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats making them a nutrient dense, filling snack. Even though it is a high-carbohydrate food, it has a low glycemic index, making it a smart addition to most healthy meal plans. It is also a great choice for people on low-fat diets as it contains almost no fat. Lastly, it’s a good source of dietary fiber; a 1-cup serving provides a fourth of our daily needs.

Keeping qualities.  If stored properly, butternut squash is a long-keeping squash lasting up to 6 months. For best results, squash should be stored in a cool, dry spot (50-55 degrees F) with relative humidity of 60-70 percent. Uncooked butternut squash should not be refrigerated.  If picked from the garden, it needs to be cured with warm temperatures and good air circulation for 10-14 days before storing. 

Peeled or cooked butternut squash should be refrigerated; it is good for 5-7 days.  Cooked or raw butternut can be frozen.  To freeze raw squash, simply cube or slice the squash and place in air-tight freezer bags for up to a year.  Cooked squash can be frozen in any appropriate freezer container. 

Convenient size. Mature butternut squash range from 1 to 5 lbs. The average butternut squash will be around 2 to 3 lbs. Since the skin is thin and the seed cavity small, there isn’t much loss. A 3-pound squash yields about 4½ cups uncooked 1-inch cubes. 1 cup cubed raw butternut squash weighs about ⅔ pound. A cup of raw butternut squash cubes yielded ½ cup of soft cooked cubes. Therefore, if a recipe calls for a can of pumpkin which is just shy of 2 cups, it takes about 4 cups raw cubed squash.

As a member of the Cucurbita moschata family, butternut has two cousins–cushaw and cheese pumpkin–that work equally as well, but their bigger size becomes a consideration.

For more about butternut squash, check out How to Select, Peel, and Use Butternut Squash.

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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Boosting the Immune System

Health officials advise us each fall to get our flu shots.  The flu vaccine helps reduce the severity of flu symptoms and helps prevent against the virus. This year the flu shot’s importance has been heighten because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After getting the shot, the next step should be regular visits to your local grocery store to pick up foods that will continually boost your immunity.  It is important to note that NO diet or supplement will cure or prevent disease; rather a healthy immune system is a powerful weapon against colds, flu, and other infections.

There are several different vitamins and minerals that fall in the immune booster category. These booster foods can increase the number of white blood cells and enhance their function while helping to flush non-functioning cells from the body. Listed below are some key nutrients and the foods where they can be found.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C sits at the top of the immune boosters. It increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies which are key to fighting infections.  It also increases the antibody, interferon, which coats cell surfaces and prevents the entry of viruses. Besides helping with colds and flu, Vitamin C is a key element in fighting cardiovascular disease by raising HDL (good cholesterol) and decreasing blood pressure. Good sources of Vitamin C include: bell peppers (especially red peppers), citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, clementines, tangerines, limes, lemons), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, sprouts), kiwi, papaya, and herbs (parsley, thyme).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E sometimes takes a back seat to Vitamin C but this powerful antioxidant is key to stimulating the natural killer cells that seek out and destroy germs, bacteria and even cancer cells. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts) are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats. Other foods containing Vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens (see Vitamin C), avocados, and sweet potatoes.

Beta-Carotene

Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A and plays a very important role in immune health by increasing the infection fighting cells while decreasing the number of free radicals in the body. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and helps fight cardiovascular disease by interfering with the way fats oxidize in the blood stream to form plaque. It is also known to aid in the battle against cancer and promote eye and skin health. Common foods containing beta-carotene include: naturally orange foods (carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash) dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, red leaf lettuce, turnip greens), cantaloupe, red and yellow peppers, and apricots.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3’s boost immune function by increasing phagocyte, the white blood cells that destroy bacteria. They also protect the body against damage from inflammation due to infection. Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E complement each other, working together to give a major boost to the immune system.  Omega-3’s are important to heart health by maintaining heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood vessel function. Foods high in Omega-3 include: fish and fish oil, canola oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.

Zinc

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention, but our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended. However, too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function so the RDA (11 mg men, 8 mg women) is sufficient. Shellfish (oysters, crab, mussels) is the best source of zinc.  Other sources include: red meat and poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. 

Variety is key. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off cold, flu or other infections. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake to keep things in balance. Beyond immune boosting foods, staying healthy also involves regular exercise, staying hydrated throughout the day, and practicing good hygiene to protect oneself from colds, flues, and other illnesses.

In light of the 2019 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to note that no specific food, supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification has been shown to protect one from COVID-19.  As with other infections, immune boosting foods will help with the fight.  Physical or social distancing, masking, and proper hygiene practices are the agents known to protect one from COVID-19. 

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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The Not So “Bitter” Truth About Eggplant

Eggplant, also called an aubergine, is now in season as a ‘fresh from the garden’ vegetable.  For many Americans, it is an underused vegetable even though it is highly versatile. It can be grilled, stuffed, roasted, and stir-fried and also used in soups, stews, curries, and kabobs.  Eggplant is nutritious, low in calories, fat, and sodium while high in fiber and nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, folic acid, Vitamin B6 and A.  Eggplants are also recognized as a source of phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants.  All of this “goodness” helps with maintaining good blood cholesterol, cognitive function, weight, and eye health and preventing cancer and heart disease.  As such it is a big component of vegetarian and Mediterranean diets; it is also a family favorite and we are fortunate to have a number of varieties in our garden to enjoy.

While this vegetable provides so much good, many shy away from it because they detect a “bitterness” in it or have heard that the fruit is bitter.  A young, freshly picked eggplant with smooth, glossy skin and intense color will have no bitterness whatsoever if consumed soon after picking.  Old or overripe eggplants or those that are off color or sit out for a while after being harvested are more likely to exhibit a bitter flavor.  Therefore, choose eggplants that are heavy, shiny and firm and avoid eggplants that are off-colored and/or do not exhibit a bright, glossy color. The seeds of a young, fresh eggplant are very small, so the flesh will not have accumulated the bitter compounds found in eggplants that have become overripe and rubbery. 

If bitterness should be of concern, there are some actions one can take to eliminate it.

Begin by peeling the skin to remove any bitter compounds present in the skin or between the skin and the flesh.

 “Sweating” an eggplant with salt will draw out the compound solaine, the chemical found in the seeds and flesh that contributes to the bitterness; it will also draw out some of the moisture making the eggplant more tender.  To do this, slice, dice, cube, etc the eggplant and sprinkle the pieces with salt.  (Canning and pickling salt is best, but any salt will do.)  Allow the eggplant to set for 30 or more minutes, rinse off the salt, pat dry, and continue to prepare.  Sweating an eggplant will also reduce the amount of oil it will absorb during cooking, too.

If salt is a dietary problem, another method used to remove bitterness is to soak the eggplant pieces in milk for 30 minutes prior to cooking.  Drain off the milk and prepare the eggplant normally.  Some feel that removing the seeds from the flesh is helpful.  This may be of some use in an older eggplant as the seeds enlarge with age thereby increasing bitterness.  To remove the seeds, slice the eggplant length-wise and use a spoon to scrap out as many seeds as possible.

In an ideal world, the eggplant is used the day of harvest and is fine on the counter short term.  For longer storage, eggplants can be refrigerated for about a week as long as they don’t get too cold or damp.  They should be stored in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a perforated plastic bag. I find it helpful to also wrap it in a paper towel before placing in the bag; the thin skin is highly susceptible to moisture damage so the paper towel helps with that.  It can be sliced or cubed, then blanched or steamed, and frozen up to eight months for later use. 

Eggplant should be cooked as it has chemicals that can cause digestive upset if eaten raw.  Since the flesh discolors quickly, use right away after cutting.  Lightly sprinkling raw eggplant with lemon juice helps to prevent browning.  Eggplant is best cut with a stainless steel knife since carbon blades will cause discoloration.  Cooking in an aluminum pan also will cause blackening.  Eggplant fruits should be handled with care as they do bruise easily and those flaws quickly turn bad; a bruised eggplant will exhibit brown, corky flesh in the affected area. 

Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, same plant family as tomatoes and peppers.  There are many varieties of eggplant in numerous colors and sizes.  To learn more about eggplant, check out the eggplant fact sheet from the National Garden Bureau. (This site has fact sheets on other vegetables that may be of interest, too.)  Visit ISU Extension and Outreach’s Quickinars, 5-15 minute online lessons, of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation to also learn more about gardening and how to use garden produce.

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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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is here to HELP!

While AnswerLine has been providing information and resources for Iowa consumers with home and family questions for over 40 years, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been serving Iowans since the early 1900s.  The Mission of ISU Extension and Outreach is to engage citizens through research‐based educational programs and extend the resources of Iowa State University across Iowa. AnswerLine is just one of the entities of extension outreach. Let me introduce you to some of the other resources available to help individuals and families navigate issues that may concern them. 

  1. Stay informed on general ISU Extension and Outreach resources and opportunities through the Extension home page and news feed.
  2. The Iowa 4-H team has at-home learning resources which are publicly available for members and families to use.
  3. Iowa Concern offers free and confidential calls and emails 24/7 to help with stress management, financial issues, legal aid, and crisis resources.
  4. The ISU Horticulture and Home Pest news page offers download publications, how to improve your garden videos, and a Hortline for answers to lawn and garden questions.
  5. Get help with meal planning and food budgeting through the Spend Smart Eat Smart website.
  6. Visit the Beginning Farmer, Women in Ag and Ag Decision Maker websites for updates on programs and helpful resources from the Farm Management team. You can also contact the farm management field specialists with your questions. 
  7. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers a number of publications and resources for safe food preservation techniques.
  8. For great information on home gardens, farmer’s markets and u-pick operations, plant sales, and more or how to become a Master Gardener, the Master Gardener Program site is a must.
  9. When Teens don’t know who to talk to, Teen Line can help with a variety of issues that affect Teens and their families.
  10. Use the ISU Extension Staff Directory when looking for a specific person or persons in a specific area of expertise.  The Contact page offers additional resources and provides a form to send an email with questions, concerns, or suggestions. Ask An Expert is always available for questions; those questions come to AnswerLine where we either answer the query or send it to someone in Extension (Iowa or elsewhere) that can better answer it.

Besides these resources, one can always find help at the ISU Extension and Outreach extension offices located in each of Iowa’s counties, on social media outlets, and the many blogs written by Extension staff on current topics.  At the present time, most ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events throughout the state have been canceled through May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, ISU Extension and Outreach staff remain committed to serving Iowans during this difficult time; phones and emails are being answered by Extension staff at the county and state levels.  Please check out the resources available that may provide the help you seek and watch for updates on how ISU Extension and Outreach will proceed to serve Iowans after May 31.

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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Pacific Salmon

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries has proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Salmon. They are working to “protect salmon by bringing countries together to share knowledge, raise public awareness and take action”. I recently returned from a trip to Alaska where I was able to visit a salmon hatchery. It is such an interesting process and I enjoyed learning more about the Pacific salmon. They are a migratory species. Born in fresh water, they migrate to the ocean for their adult lives then return to fresh water to reproduce.

Salmon is an oily fish that provides protein, essential vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week. Salmon fits perfectly into that recommendation.

There are five main species of Pacific salmon along the west coast of North America:

Chum (KETA): their large size and mild flavor make them great for smoking or salmon patties

Sockeye (Red): considered the premium of all salmon due to its rich flavor and firm red meat

King (Chinook): best choice for the BBQ due to its strong flavor and thicker fillets; Chinook are the largest but least abundant species

Silver (Coho): always a great choice with a milder flavor and price to match

Pink (Humpy): smallest and most abundant species; known for a softer texture and mild flavor; perfect for dips and spreads

To better remember the five species I was taught to use my fingers and thumb: Chum – rhymes with thumb; Sockeye – it’s #1; King – the biggest; Silver – for your ring finger; and Pink – for your pinky. Quite clever!

Spend Smart Eat Smart had a recent blog post on Safe Seafood and Broiled Salmon was their Recipe of the Month for April 2019.

Here are a couple recipes for you to try using canned salmon from the USDA: Salmon Patties and a Salmon Casserole.

I know salmon is plentiful in our grocery stores but I had fun bringing some home in my suitcase to try with new recipes!

 

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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