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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Olive Oils

A frequent question at AnswerLine is “what kind of olive oil should I use?”  The question is often asked by those who are new to olive oil or those who have been advised to consider a Mediterranean Diet.  As they begin to navigate new territory, they find that there are a variety of olive oil choices. Choosing the olive oil depends on how much flavor is needed, what the cooking usage will be, and the available budget. It also helps to understand the classifications and common marketing terms used on olive oil labels.

Here’s a quick primer on olive oils from Fooducate, a blog sponsored by the North American Olive Oil Association.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the most flavorful and the healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals. It retains healthy antioxidants from the olives. The range of flavors is very broad, similar to wines. The oil may be strong and peppery, mild and buttery, or anywhere in between. The natural variations result in a wide smoke point range, from about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to about 410 degrees Fahrenheit. This range is high enough for most at-home cooking. Extra virgin olive oil can be used for sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying. To highlight the many flavor profiles, extra virgin olive oil does best in cold applications like drizzling, dipping, dressings and marinades.

 First Press, Cold Pressed or Cold Extracted – Extra Virgin Olive Oils may use these marketing terms. Extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing the olives without adding any heat or using any chemicals and in fact, all extra virgin olive oil is produced this way even if the label doesn’t call it out. Extra virgin olive oils might list the type of olive or olives the oil was made from, as well as the country or region the olives were grown. Like wine, these indicators help suggest the typical flavors consumers might expect from that oil. Some manufacturers blend different extra virgin olive oils together in order to offer a consistent flavor profile all the time. Also like wine, the best way to determine which ones to buy is through trying different oils with different foods.

Refined Olive Oil – During production, oil with high acidity or flavor or aroma defects will be refined to remove the defects, resulting in Refined Olive Oil. Refining removes odors and flavors using heat and physical or chemical processes. Most seed and nut oils are solvent-extracted and then refined; refined olive oil begins with the natural extraction from the olives and the following refining process for olive oil does not involve solvents such as hexane.

Olive Oil is a blend of refined olive oil with some virgin or extra virgin olive oil added back for flavor. Olive oil has a mild olive flavor, making it a great oil to substitute for other common cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil without changing the taste of the recipe. Because it is mostly refined, olive oil has a higher and more consistent smoke point range from about 390 degrees to about 470 degrees Fahrenheit. Baked goods made with olive oil have a light texture and stay moist longer than those made with other common cooking oils. Olive oil’s subtle flavor and heat resistance make it well-suited for dressings, marinades, sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying.

Classic or Pure Olive Oil is the same as Olive Oil and always refers to a blend of refined oil with some EVOO or Virgin Olive Oil added for flavor.

Other things to know about olive oil:

  •  The fat and calories are the same in ALL grades of olive oil.
  •  Olive oil does NOT get better with age. Look for the furthest out “best by date” when purchasing.
  • Store olive oil in a cool, dark place and tightly covered; under these conditions, it should remain fresh for about 18 to 24 months.  An open bottle of olive oil can also be refrigerated to extend its shelf life and such is especially recommended in hot, humid environments.  Refrigerating olive oil may cause the oil to become cloudy and even solidify; this will not affect the flavor or quality.  At room temperature, the oil will return to its normal consistency and color.  When stored properly, olive oil will be safe to consume after the “best date”.
  • Oil should be discarded if an off odor, flavor, or appearance is detected.
  • Olive oil is very high in monounsaturated fats and contains a modest amount of vitamins E and K. True extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, some of which have powerful health benefits.
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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Cherries, Nature’s Hidden Treasure

February is National Cherry Month.  Cherries are a summer fruit so why are they celebrated in February? Here’s some fun facts about cherries and why we celebrate them in the month of February.

George Washington’s February birthday is an annual reminder of the tale of our first President admitting to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree on the family farm.  The folklore tale has forever linked Washington and cherries to February.

Cherry trees come to life in February in Washington DC signaling the coming of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in late March and early April (March 20-April 14, 2019).  Thousands of trees and millions of cherry blossoms provide a spectacular sight.  The annual celebration started in 1912 when the people of Japan sent 3,000 cherry trees to the people of the United States to celebrate friendship between the two nations.

An additional link to February is National Heart Month and Valentine’s Day.  Because a single cherry looks a bit like a little heart, significant of both, it seems only appropriate that the cherry be celebrated, too.

Cherries bloom for a maximum of two weeks with peak bloom only lasting a couple of day. It takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie. The average cherry tree grows about 7000 cherries each year which is enough to make about 28 pies. It takes 30-40 bees to pollinate one tree.  70% of all the tart cherries produced in the US are grown in the northwest region of lower Michigan known as the Cherry Capitol of the World.  Cherries are not a native American fruit; they were brought to this country with the first settlers in the early 17 century.  Cherry pits can be used in pellet stoves to heat homes.

As a hidden treasure of nature, cherries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers. Tart or sour cherries and sweet cherries are rich in anthocyanins and quercitin, antioxidants which play a role in reducing total body inflammation, contribute to heart health, and help fight free radicals.  Being a good source of vitamins A and C, they help to strengthen the body’s defenses and improve overall health.  Studies have also shown that tart cherry juice may soothe sore muscles, speed recovery after working out, and help with sleep. A cup of cherries pack three grams of fiber and 87 calories (tart cherries).

Most people think of sweet desserts like cherry pie when they think of using cherries in recipes, but cherries can be used in savory dishes, too.  While fresh cherries are not plentiful in February, cherries are readily available dried, canned, frozen, freeze-dried and as juice; all can be used in a variety of ways.

Here are some ideas, beyond sweets, of ways to include cherries in our diet:
-Add frozen cherries to a smoothie for breakfast
-Add tart cherry juice to a smoothie for a post-workout recovery drink
-Add dried or fresh cherries to oatmeal, yogurt, or salads
-Eat a handful of dried cherries for a snack or add them to a snack mix
-Use fresh or frozen cherries and/or cherry juice in sauces.

One of my favorite recipes for using the frozen tart cherries and juice from our trees is Tart Cherry Pork:

1 pound boneless pork chops
Olive oil
¾ cup cherry juice (may also use pomegranate or cranberry juice)
1/3  cup tart cherries
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
Brown the chops in oil in a skillet, 4 minutes on each side.  Remove chops and keep warm.  Add juice, cherries, and balsamic vinegar to skillet.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook for 2 minutes.  Combine corn starch and water and stir into juice.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Add pork back to the skillet and simmer in sauce for 2 minutes.  Serve pork with sauce.

Now by knowing a little trivia about cherries and adding cherries to our life, there’s no reason “life can’t be a bowl full of cherries,” right?

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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Tips for Tri-Tip

Because I have family in California, I get the opportunity to visit now and again.  On one of my trips, I encountered one of the culinary delights of California–a cut of meat called tri tip.  Tri-tip is a tender, lean beef cut coming from the bottom sirloin that gets its name from its triangular shape. It is sold as a small roast or cut into steaks; there are only two of these cuts in each animal. What makes it so special is the full flavor it offers at an affordable price.  Roasting and grilling are the best preparation methods as the tri tip is considered a lean cut of meat.

While readily available nearly everywhere in California, tri-tip is not a common cut in the Midwest.  However, because I enjoyed it so much, I’ve frequently asked at different stores if it was possible to order and usually got a “no” response.  Recently I was shopping at my local Fareway store and there in the meat case was a sirloin tri-tip!!!  Right then and there, I made my first tri-tip roast purchase and profusely thanked the meat department manager for acquiring the cut.  (Manager said that they will continue to carry it as long as they can get it.)

Having never prepared a tri tip on my own, I wanted to do it right.  I looked at several recipes and blogs which offered a lot of insight.  Eventually I decided on an online recipe for Santa Maria Style Tri Tip. (Santa Maria is famous for their tri tip barbecue.)  My choice could not have been better!!  We enjoyed a succulent roast prepared on the grill.

Here’s some tips that I acquired from reading various blogs and recipes that may help anyone else who would like to try a tri tip roast should they see one in their meat counter.

  • Be prepared for uneven cooking.  Due to the triangular shape, the roast typically has thicker and thinner parts.  Because of the variation in thickness, the two parts of the cut will cook different, thinner faster than thicker.  This is offers pieces ranging from more well-done to medium-rare.  The flavor is the same regardless.
  • Use a rub and allow the meat to marinate with the rub for a minimum of three hours and up to three days.  The rub can be applied dry or with a bit of olive oil.  If oil is used, the recommended method is to apply oil lightly to the meat before the rub.  Oil can be used after the rub is applied but if the meat will be grilled, the oil may cause flash burning.
  • After applying rub, the roast should be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated until ready to grill or roast.  If grilling, bring the meat out 30-60 minutes beforehand.
  • Whether grilling or roasting, sear the roast on both sides to lock in moisture and flavor.  This can be done on the grill or in a skillet.
  • Stop cooking at a temperature a few degrees lower than the desired doneness.  Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat until it reaches 120-125°F for medium-rare or 130-135°F for medium.  Do not cook beyond medium as the cut contains very little fat.
  • Allow the roast to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Remove the meat from the grill and wrap it loosely in aluminum foil.  The foil will collect any juices that are released and also allow the meat to reabsorb some juice.  During this resting time, carryover cooking occurs and the internal temperature of the meat will rise (depending upon thickness, the internal temperature will increase 10 to 15 degrees during resting).  This is why it is important to stop cooking before the desired doneness temperature is reached with nearly any kind of meat.
  • Slice against the grain.  Per Traeger, a little-unknown fact about tri tip is that it is comprised of two different grain directions, making slicing it correctly slightly more difficult than other meats. Incorrectly slicing the meat can make a perfectly grilled or roasted tri tip tough and chewy.  Check the Traeger website for great tips and pictures for correct slicing.
  • While I have yet to try oven roasting tri tip, I will start with the Better Homes and Garden version and experiment from there.  The BH&G method does not include pan searing which many recipes and blogs recommend.  Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner is also a good resource for tri tip preparation tips.

By following these simple tips, I hope your first experience with tri tip will be as good as mine.  If you’re already a Tri Tip Queen or King, I’d love to know your tips for success, too.

A tri tip fact sheet is available from the Beef Board which includes nutrition and calorie information as well as additional cooking tips.

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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September is National Honey Month

‘Tis the month to celebrate all things HONEY!  The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.  Honey is a great sweetener for many reasons.  However, it is important to note that honey is more than a sweetener and has a long history so let the celebrations begin!

Honey dates back centuries.  In 2012, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest honey in a ceramic jar in Georgia (Eastern European country) which is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old.  However, honey was used long before this and may have a life of millions of years.  Beekeeping apiculture dates to at least 700 BC.  Documentation has been found showing that ancient Egyptians sacrificed honey to their river gods, Roman’s slathered honey on wounds, Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey, and honey was used as a form of currency in Europe.  There are also numerous ancient references to mead, or honey wine, which is the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.

Honey when used to sweeten food has many health benefits.  Besides being loaded with minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index which means that can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion.  For more detailed information on the nutritional value of honey over table sugar, see Benefits of Honey by Michigan State University.

Bee pollen is another important substance found in honey. Bee pollen may provide some relief for those who suffer with seasonal allergies since it contains trace amounts of pollen. Daily trace amounts of pollen may help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related allergies by inoculating the individual.  When used as an inoculant, it is very important that the honey be purchased locally since that is where the allergens are located.

While some of the health benefits of honey have been discussed, the many uses of honey is extensive.  For more honey uses, take a look at some suggestions for honey outside of the kitchen by Sioux Honey™.

According to National Honey Board trivia, a single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey!   So celebrate the benefits of honey, the bees that make it, and those who work in the honey and bee industry!

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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Purslane — Weed or Treat?

PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in my garden that I curse; it comes uninvited, spreads fast, and keeps on giving.    Purslane grows nearly everywhere in the world and is known as a weed, as I see it, or an edible plant.  Some cultures embrace purslane as a delicious and exceptionally nutritious treat!

Because purslane grows so rapidly and spreads easily, most research has focused on eradication by tillage or chemicals.  The new approach is to eradicate by eating.  While I couldn’t begin to eat against the amount of purslane that pops up in my garden, a little now and then is a bit of garden treat.  The leaves, plucked from the stems, are somewhat crunchy and have a slight lemon taste.  I like it sprinkled on salads, sandwiches, and omelets.  It can also be steamed or used in stir-fries and makes a good thickener for soups or stews because it has a high level of pectin.  Supposedly it also makes a great low-fat pesto; because purslane is so juicy, only a small amount of olive oil is needed.  Purslane is high is Vitamin E and essential omega-3 fatty acids providing more that six times more Vitamin E than spinach and seven times more carotene than carrots.  It is also rich in Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.

While it is readily available in my garden,  I have yet to see purslane in the markets in Central Iowa.   If one is so lucky to not have purslane in their garden or yard but are curious to try it, likely there is a neighbor who would be only too happy to share.  Before sampling or eating, make sure that the plant is chemical free and thoroughly washed as it grows close to the ground.  And if this is a new food, don’t over indulge.  Any number of recipes can be find via Google.

Having said all these good things about purslane, I still see it as a weed and struggle to eradicate it by pulling, hoeing or using chemicals.   Using a mechanical tiller is the worst at controlling it as cultivating breaks it apart and, being a succulent, each piece becomes a new plant.  Hoeing is effective only if the root is taken and the plant is removed.  Any soil disturbance raises long-lived seeds near the surface where they easily germinate.  Purslane is not picky about where it grows, loves hot weather, and does not require moisture; but give it tilled soil and a little moisture, and it goes wild. Therefore, the best rule is to get it before it goes to seed; it takes less than three weeks from the time it emerges until it flowers and seeds.  A single plant may produce 240,000 seeds which have germination potential for up to 40 years.   Mulching helps control purslane as mulch suppresses seed germination.  For mulch to be effective, it must be thick enough to block all light to prevent seed germination; 1/2 inch of mulch is recommended.

Purslane . . . weed ’em or eat ’em?   I will be weeding more than eating.

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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Watermelon

When I remember eating watermelon as a child in suburban Chicago, I remember it as a rare treat. Thinking back, I can only remember eating watermelon in a thick, flat slice. It was always in the shape of half a watermelon.

I think that we see watermelon in the store almost year-round these days. I know that I have eaten watermelon in lots of different shapes. Sometimes scooped out with a melon baller, sometimes cubes, or small triangular slices. Watermelon is one of my husband’s favorite treats and I like to buy at least a half melon and cut it up so it is easy to grab a bit and enjoy it any time.

Here are two of my favorite ways to cut watermelon. One reason that they are my favorite methods is that they are quick and the other reason is that it is easy to enjoy a quick bite between meals.

Method 1

The first method is also a great way to cut a melon for a picnic or pot luck dinner. This method leaves a bit of the watermelon rind on the outside of the slice, thus keeping your hands from becoming too sticky.

Place the cut side of the melon down and cut slices from stem end to blossom end roughly an inch apart.


Next cut slices perpendicular the first slices, also about an inch apart.


Now you have watermelon sticks that are easy to serve and easy to eat.


Method 2

The second method is nearly as easy.

In this method, you will start with a quarter of a watermelon. Using a large knife simply cut between the melon flesh and the rind. Start on one side and then move to the other side. The object is to free all the melon flesh from the rind. Do not worry that you will not get every bit of usable melon. You can add that to your cubes when you are finished.


Next cut slices from blossom to stem end about an inch apart. Do this on the flat side. Flip to the other flat side and repeat the process.


Then slice down through the melon from top edge to rind. You can now dump out the cubes. Feel free to clean up the rind if you find you have left more melon there than you like.


Enjoy.

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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Olive Oil, A Healthier Baking Option

Recently an AnswerLine caller asked if olive oil could be substituted for butter in a cake recipe she wanted to prepare.  Extra virgin or extra light olive oil can be a butter or margarine substitute in most baking recipes.  However, it is not a 1:1 substitute; rather it is a 3:4 ratio (3 parts olive oil to 4 parts butter/margarine) for butter or margarine.  Butter is made from milk solids and water so an even swap would result in the baked product being too greasy and heavy.  The caller’s recipe was for 1 cup butter so she was advised to use ¾ cup of olive oil.  (For help with other butter measurements, click here.) Besides the ratio consideration, olive oil may not be a good substitute if the recipe requires creaming of butter and sugar to create a light and airy cake or product.

When recipes call for vegetable or canola oil, extra virgin or light olive oil is a perfect choice; in these recipes, the swap is a 1:1 ratio (1 cup vegetable oil = 1 cup olive oil).  Olive oil can be used to prep baked good pans as well.  When a recipe calls for buttering and flouring baking pans, brush the pan with olive oil and dust with flour for the same effect as butter.

Will one notice the flavor of olive oil in baked products and desserts?  Olive oil has long been known as a flavorful and versatile cooking oil trusted for sautéing, stir-frying, dressings, marinating, and grilling.  There are several varieties of olive oil available each offering its own distinct colors, aroma, and flavor.  Extra light or extra virgin olive oil is the  best for baking; either offers the most delicate aroma and subtle flavor that often compliments baked goods.  Olive oil contributes moistness to bake products and brings out the flavor of some ingredients.  It is especially good in recipes using spices and chocolate.  However, if one is new to olive oil and its flavor, starting with half butter/half olive oil or half vegetable oil/half olive oil is a good way to develop taste.

When olive oil is used in baking, the recipe becomes healthier because olive oil is lower in saturated fat than butter.  Additionally, it provides high levels of mono-unsaturated “good” fat and low levels of saturated “bad” fat, making it a better nutritional choice when compared to butter or margarine.  And since olive oil is a 3:4 ratio to butter/margarine, calories are saved, too.  Olive oil also adds extra antioxidants (natural chemicals that help protect cells) and vitamin E which contribute to heart health.  Vitamin E may also help to keep baked products fresher longer.

Olive oil is fragile and needs to be stored properly for the best flavor, quality, and health benefits.  Store it in a cool, dark place and not over or near the range or oven.  Heat, light, and air cause the oil to break down over time leading to off-flavor and nutrition loss.

Adding olive oil  to baked recipes is nothing new.  However, it may be new to you.  Experimenting and sampling is the only way to find out if the substitution is right for you.

Resource for  “click here”:  Olive Oil by Rosemary Rodibaugh, PhD, RD, LD, Professor (rrodibaugh@uaex.edu) and Katie Holland, MS, RD, Program Associate (kholland@uaex.edu), University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Extension and Research.

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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Gardening for Food Pantries

Food insecurity exists to some extent in nearly every community.  People who are food insecure not only experience food shortage, but they usually are unable to include fresh fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet because they are out of reach.  Either produce costs too much or is not available.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  By sharing our garden or orchard surplus or planting a dedicated giving garden, home, community, and school gardeners can help food banks, pantries, and community food distribution programs provide fresh produce to ease this problem.

A giving garden can be a whole garden, a row or two as championed by the Garden Writers Association’s Plant a Row for the Hungry, or even one container dedicated to growing healthy (organic if possible) vegetables or fruits for those in need. Or it can be a planned effort such as a Master Gardener garden program done alone or in conjunction with another organization. Every donation, no matter how big or small, makes a difference to someone in need.  Besides helping to fill food banks, pantries, and programs, raising vegetables and/or fruits to donate is rewarding for everyone involved, including children, so it can be a family affair.

Before planting, you will want to do a little research.  Contact local food banks, pantries, or distribution programs to find out if they will accept local produce, what fruits and vegetables they prefer, and when and where to drop off donations.  Once you know the details of donating, purchase seeds or plants for the preferred produce, plant, and tend your garden.  Often the most sought after produce is some of the easiest to grow.

Harvest your produce at its prime as you would for yourself and practice safe-handling.  Many who are served by food banks and pantries are at a higher risk for foodborne illness as they include children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.   Here are a few tips from Michigan State University Extension to minimize food safety risks when donating produce:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water before handling produce.
  • If pesticides were used on the product, be absolutely certain that you have followed the instructions on the pesticide label for application and safe harvest times. If you are unsure, discard the produce in the garbage—do not compost, eat or donate it.
  • Inspect each item of produce carefully. Discard any items that have signs of insects, bruising, mold, or spoilage. If you wouldn’t buy it, toss it!
  • Brush off as much mud and soil as possible from the produce.
  • Only use clean, food-grade containers or bags to store and transport produce.
  • Keep different types of produce separate.

If you have to wait a day or two to deliver your produce, refrigerate the produce so that it will stay as fresh as possible.

Some food banks offer donation receipts that you can use at tax time so remember to ask for a receipt if that is something you want. Gardeners who donate produce from their gardens or orchards to nonprofit organizations for distribution to people in need are protected from criminal and civil liability by the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Under terms of the act, donors are protected from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient.

For additional help on donating and handling produce, download these free fact sheets from Michigan State University: Donating Produce  and Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables. If you are interested in a Master Gardener program, contact your county extension office.

Mother Teresa said it best, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”  Donating garden surplus or harvesting from a giving garden can do just that.

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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Eat Like the Animals: Go for the Nuts!

An american red squirrel holding a nut in it’s paws.

Humans could take a tip from nut-loving animals like squirrels, chipmunks, and black bears! Somehow these animals know that nuts are good for them. Nuts are good for humans, too. They are a great source of plant protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, and important vitamins and minerals, thereby providing significant health benefits to both humans and animals. Besides, they taste good and make a great snack or addition to meals.

Here’s a quick look at the most common nuts available to us and their contributions to our health:

Almonds have more calcium than any other nut, plus an abundance of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein and fiber. A number of studies have shown that almonds may reduce LDL as well as risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Brazil nuts are high in protein, fiber, thiamine, copper, and magnesium and an incredibly rich source of selenium. Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. Only a small amount of selenium is needed in the diet so one needs to watch quantities as high levels of selenium can be toxic. A one-ounce serving of Brazil nuts will provide more than 100% of the RDI for selenium. They may also help reduce cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

Cashews are packed with iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While they low in fiber, they are a source of oleic acid and provide good monounsaturated fat and some polyunsaturated fat. Like other nuts, they contribute to good heart health, muscles, and nerves and reduce the risk of diabetes.

Macadamia nuts contain a wide range of nutrients and are a great source of monounsaturated fat; in fact, per serving, they contain the most heart-healthy monounsaturated fats of all nuts. This may explain their ability to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Macadamia nuts are the most caloric of all nuts averaging 240 calories per quarter-cup.

Pecans are nutrient dense containing more than 19 vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of fiber, contain antioxidants, and may help lower LDL cholesterol.

Pistachios are especially high in vitamin B6, thiamine, and copper and offer high levels of other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eaten in high quantities (more than 28 grams per day), pistachios appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease.

Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, particularly an omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid. They also contain a relatively high percentage of a healthy omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid which is important for skin health. Studies have found that eating walnuts significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL while increasing HDL. They also contain the most antioxidants compared with other nuts. Overall, walnuts are a winner among nuts.

While nuts are one of the healthiest of snacks, they are also high in calories so limiting consumption to one ounce/, quarter-cup portions/, or a small handful/per day is recommended. To reduce the calorie load from nuts, choose raw or dry-roasted instead of oil-roasted nuts. Further, nut choices should be minimally processed and have no added ingredients; in addition to oil, many snack-packaged nuts are high in salt or added flavors. Nutritionists suggest eating different kinds of nuts on different days to maximize nutrition available from the various kinds.

Nuts make an exceptional addition to meals or dishes, too. Some ideas include adding them to trail mix, sprinkling on salads, cereal, oatmeal or yogurt or using them crushed as a coating for fish, chicken, or other meats. Roasting nuts brings out their special flavors. To do so, preheat oven to 300F. Place shelled nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 7-10 minutes. They add nutrition and crunch to desserts and make great ravioli fillings and pesto.

Yes, the animals know—nuts are a very healthy food and pack a big bang for the bite in terms of their nutrients. Eat like the animals.

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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