Asparagus Now and Later

There is no denying it! Spring and asparagus go hand in hand. Whether it comes from the garden, supermarket, or farmer’s market, asparagus is perfect for any meal. While asparagus may be a symbol of spring, it can and should be enjoyed year round.

Bundle of fresh asparagus spears

Asparagus is a great source of fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins K, E, A, and C. (Because it is a good source of vitamin K, those who are on blood thinning medications should monitor the amount consumed.)  Asparagus does not contain fat or cholesterol and is very low in calories—just 4 calories per spear and approximately 27 calories in a one cup serving.

Peak season is usually mid-April to early/mid-June in the Midwest depending upon the season. When the temperatures warm in June, the spears begin to get spindly indicating it is time to stop harvesting and let the plants mature into their fern-like foliage and replenish for the next growing season.

Selecting and Preparing Asparagus

Green is the most common color of asparagus. However, it can also be white or purple. White asparagus is green asparagus that has been covered to block out light to the green shoots so that photosynthesis cannot take place. White asparagus has a very mild flavor and because of the extra effort to cover and blanch it, it is usually more expensive. Like white asparagus, purple asparagus also has a mild flavor; it also exhibits a nuttiness and sweetness due to a higher natural sugar content. It is best used raw or cooked minimally as it will turn green with cooking. Purple asparagus is a result of a genetic mutation of a variety of green asparagus; purple has 40 chromosomes instead of the natural 20 found in green and contains anthocyanins contributing the purple color.

Regardless of color, select stalks that are smooth, uniform in color, and have compact tips. Avoid stalks that are shriveled, limp, or have open, seedy tips—all signs of aging or improperly cared for spears. Do a sniff test; old asparagus gets smelly fast.

Asparagus can be prepared in any number of ways—broiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, sautéed, air fried—or used fresh or par-cooked/cooled in salads. Whatever cooking method is used, the cooking time is short as asparagus is easily overcooked. Strive for stalks that are tender crisp. 

Wash and remove the woody stems prior to cooking or using fresh. Gently bend the stalk until the woody part snaps away naturally. Peeling is a personal option; some people like to peel the lower stalk or remove the scales when the stalks are ½-inch or larger as the lower stems may be a little tougher.

Storing or Preserving Asparagus to Retain Freshness

Asparagus is best used fresh. Store asparagus spears in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel or with the stalk ends in shallow water. Loosely cover with plastic to prevent dehydration. If asparagus has been purchased at the market, cut the stalk ends about an inch before wrapping or placing in shallow water. Asparagus will keep well in the refrigerator for a week or longer using one of these methods. Watch asparagus for signs of spoiling—cloudy water, soft/mushy heads, limp stalks, off odor. If heads are drooping but not soft, remove the head and use the rest of the stalk for soup.

Asparagus can be preserved by freezing, drying, canning or pickling for year-round use. In all cases, young, tender spears should be selected and thoroughly washed. Scales should be removed if the directions/recipe directs such. Blanching is needed prior to freezing or drying. Blanching—scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time—is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. It stops enzyme action which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture; cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms; brightens the color; helps retard loss of vitamins; and makes packing easier. Timing is also critical. Underblanching stimulates the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching. Overblanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals.

Freezing. Sort the spears into sizes and cut into even lengths. Water blanch small spears for 2 minutes, medium spears 3 minutes and large spears for 4 minutes. Steam blanching is also an option and takes about 1 1⁄2 times longer than water blanching. After blanching is complete, remove the asparagus from the water and put in ice water. This stops the cooking action and retains color, texture and flavor. After it has cooled, drain and package, leaving no headspace OR tray pack prior to packaging.

Pickling. The addition of vinegar to asparagus increases the acidity allowing for processing in a boiling water bath. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a tested recipe for Pickled Asparagus.  Note that the use of hot peppers in the recipe is optional. Delicate spears enhanced with garlic and dill remain flavorful and crisp.

Drying (Dehydrating). A dehydrator or an oven may be used. To successfully dry asparagus, follow directions by Colorado State Preserve Smart. Watch the spears closely at the end of the drying period to prevent scorching and be sure to condition prior to long-term storage.

Canning. Asparagus is a low-acid vegetable so a pressure canner must be used to guarantee the spears or pieces are shelf safe and free from clostridium botulinum, the toxin that causes botulism. The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides directions for spears or pieces by hot or raw pack.

Make the asparagus season last as long as possible! Store fresh asparagus properly to retain freshness or preserve it to make the season last through the year.

Sources:
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Drying Asparagus, Colorado State Preserve Smart
Preparing and Preserving Asparagus, PennState Extension
Using, Storing, and Preserving Asparagus, Michigan State University Extension

Marlene Geiger

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

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Spring: Time for Rhubarb!

rhubarb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlene Geiger

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

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It’s Morel Mushroom Time! -‘Shrooming in the Woods or Supermarket

common morel fungus growing in the forest
Two morel mushrooms.

As spring creeps in, mushroom enthusiasts are just itching to get out into the woods and search for the highly prized morel mushroom. This elusive mushroom is prized for its tastiness and can only be wild-crafted as no one has yet figured out how to grow and farm them.

Besides being prized for their taste, morels are loaded with various nutrients. Because they tend to grow in rich soils, they come packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, folate, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, calcium selenium, thiamin, vitamin E, and vitamin B6. However, their nutrient value varies with the soil where the moral grows. Morals are also loaded with antioxidants, help to balance blood sugar and provide protein and fiber. Morals should be eaten within four days of harvest and best within 1-2 days. Due to their sponge-like texture, morels tend to trap dirt, grit, and insects in their gills, so cleaning requires a bit more attention than merely brushing. Illinois Extension says that mushrooms should be soaked in lukewarm salted water for 30 minutes, changing the water a few times. Avoid oversoaking, as it can dilute their flavor. Rinse the mushrooms well and pat dry. Morals can be used in any way that farmed mushrooms would be used. For tips on preparing morals, check out How to Cook Morel Mushrooms–If You’re Lucky Enough to Find Some.

While the wild morel mushroom is highly prized, its’ farmed mushroom cousins—white, shitake, cremini, oyster, maitake–are equally as nutritious and offer delicious and unique flavors. They are also readily available at the supermarket. Even though there are more than 2,000 varieties of edible mushrooms worldwide, most people cook with only one or two. Here is a summary of those most commonly found on produce shelves:

white button

White Button
Most common mushroom.
Mild flavor, very versatile. Protein-rich.

Cremini/Portobello

Cremini/Portobello
Baby bella = Cremini; larger, mature form = Portobello.
Makes dark sauces and is great for grilling.

shitake mushroom

Shitake
Deep woodsy flavor, especially if dried and rehydrated.
Calcium-rich.

Oyster

Oyster
Delicate, mild flavor.
Stays firm when cooked; excellent for stir-fry.
Iron and antioxidant-rich.

Maitake

Maitake
Also known as hen-of-the-woods.
Earthy flavor.
Excellent for stirfry. Antioxidant-rich.

The enemy of any mushroom is moisture in its packaging. Fresh morels will keep about a week in the refrigerator, provided they were harvested in good condition. Place them in paper bags and store them in the refrigerator with plenty of air circulating around them. Drying is an excellent storage option, too. A paper bag is also a good way to store purchased mushrooms; this allows them to breathe. Moisture build-up inside the packaging is the fastest way mushrooms break down.

Mushrooms need to be cleaned before use. The best way to clean most fresh mushrooms is to wipe them with a clean, barely damp cloth or paper towel. Washing mushrooms is usually not necessary. If you must rinse them, do it lightly and dry them immediately, gently, with paper towels. Never soak fresh mushrooms in water, which will cause them to become soggy. 

Cleaned mushrooms can be wrapped loosely in damp paper towels or a damp clean cotton cloth, placed in a container, and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days; the mushrooms may darken if stored this way.

Mushroom nutrition can be enhanced by placing them in the sun for 30 minutes before use. Since most mushrooms are grown in the dark, they need sunlight to increase their vitamin D content. Exposure to sunlight significantly improves vitamin D. Vitamin D is maximized if the mushrooms are chopped before exposure. Some packaged mushrooms are marketed as vitamin D enhanced.

Dried mushrooms may be an option for those who do not care for fresh mushrooms. Dried or powdered mushrooms pack the same nutritional punch as fresh mushrooms. To add nutrition, the mushroom powder can be included in sauces, homemade bread, casseroles, soups, etc. Several mushroom powder “enhanced” products and foods are now on supermarket shelves.

So whether it is the wild morel mushroom or farmed, store-bought mushrooms, mushrooms are an excellent food for both flavor and nutrition. Take good care of them to maximize both their flavor and nutrition.

Sources: 

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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Artichokes

It’s artichoke season! Spring artichokes are now available and at their prime! Upon first glance, an artichoke looks intimidating. Artichokes are an ancient food from the plant known as Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus which is a kind of thistle. The part that we see in our stores and eat is actually the flower bud of the plant, also called the head, which has become a highly regarded vegetable. It’s quite intriguing to wonder how ancient man figured out how to eat and enjoy such a thorny-looking thing.

artichokes
Artichokes at the market – Photo: mrgeiger

Artichokes are best enjoyed at two different times of the year, spring and fall. The spring season runs from March to May, and the fall season is September and October. 99 percent of our artichokes are grown in California, with Monterey County being the lead producer and the town of Castroville being the “Artichoke Center of the World!” Artichokes are also grown commercially in Oregon and Washington. They thrive best in Zones 7-11; however, they can be grown in colder regions, like Iowa, as an annual vegetable.

Artichokes are fiber-rich, low in calories, and come packed with nutrition. Per the Nutrition Value website, one medium-sized artichoke cooked without salt (120g) provides 64 calories, 3.5g of protein, 14.4g of carbohydrates, and 0.4g of fat. In addition, artichokes are an excellent source of vitamin C and K, potassium, and antioxidants. (For additional nutrition information, see profile at Nutrition Value.) Artichokes contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable (polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, among others) and are loaded with an army of beneficial nutrients that can protect the body from cancer per the National Foundation for Cancer Research. While a fresh artichoke provides the best nutrition, artichokes are available in other convenient preparations—frozen, canned, and marinated heart.

While nearly all parts of the artichoke are edible, they are prized for their ‘heart,’ which is found at the base of the stem. The parts of the artichoke which are usually inedible include the choke, outer petals, and thorns. The choke, located right above the heart, is stringy and indigestible. The lower part of the petals, which contain part of the heart, are edible by drawing the lower petal through the teeth with the rest of the petal discarded. The thorns are usually snipped off. 

When purchasing artichokes, choose those that have a tight leaf formation, a deep green color, and are heavy for their size. In general, the smaller the artichoke, the more tender it will be, and the rounder it is, the larger its heart. Artichokes are best used on the day of purchase but can be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Wash just before cooking.

Artichokes can be prepared by steaming, stuffing, baking, braising, or grilling. Steaming is the most common means of preparation. They are done when the bottom of the stem can be pierced with a knife. Whatever method is used, stainless steel, glass, or enamelware should be used to prevent discoloration and off-flavors. Lemon juice should be used on cut edges to prevent discoloration. 

Dani Spies of Clean and Delicious® has an excellent video, Artichoke 101, where she shares how to buy, store, prepare, cook, and eat artichokes. Check this video out, and artichoke intimidation will be over!



Sources

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 Preventing Gardening Injuries

60 plus couple garden planting
Woman and Man Gardening. Photo Source: Getty Images.

Spring is here! Time to get active and enjoy the outdoors! Gardening and caring for outdoor plants is one activity that allows one to combine physical activity with outdoor beauty and fresh air. Whether gardening to grow food or flowers or to landscape and maintain a yard, gardening offers low- to moderate-intensity exercise.  The pulling, digging, reaching, twisting, and bending of gardening amounts to light aerobic exercise, which improves psychological wellbeing, heart and lung health, helps prevent obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, and so many more healthy benefits. In addition, these whole body movements increase endurance, strength, balance and flexibility, better hand function, bone density as well as burns calories. Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per half hour depending on the intensity of the activity.

For the most part, gardening is a safe, beneficial activity but can lead to injury if precautions are not taken.  Therefore, it is important to take note of garden safety to prevent injury from movement or improper use of tools.

Regardless of age, experts quoted in an AARP article, warn against jumping into gardening activities without preparing and warming up a little bit.  Rather, they recommend pre-gardening preparation to build strength, stamina, and aerobic power to prevent injury as well as talking to your doctor before beginning any new regiment.   The following exercises are recommended to strength garden muscles prior to gardening:

  1. Walk to warm up the muscles and build core strength. Stand tall and concentrate on core muscles as you move to support the back.
  2. Sit-to-stand exercises (raising from a chair to stand position without using hands) help to strengthen the thigh muscles and the core muscles for stability and improve mobility. Set a goal to see how many can be done in 30 seconds several times daily.
  3. Hamstring stretches help to keep the muscles loose and prevent lower back, knee, and foot pain. There are numerous ways to stretch hamstrings so it is best to find the stretching exercise that is personally best.
  4. Planks are great for building body strength as well as stretching and building strength in the arms, fingers and hands. Planks can be done on the floor or against a wall.
  5. Practice balance by standing on one foot to build stability and prevent falling.

Once one has properly prepared for gardening, safety should always be first and foremost in the way we use our body and tools in the garden. For your comfort, safety, and for the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind: 

  • warm up and stretch prior to activity;
  • begin with light movements;
  • stand tall occasionally to stretch the legs and roll the shoulders to relieve tension;
  • lift with one’s legs instead of back to prevent back injury;
  • avoid repetition; switch up activity every 15 minutes;
  • practice caution when raking and shoveling; learn safe use of rakes and shovels from Virginia Cooperative Extension to prevent strain to the back, shoulders, and wrists;
  • kneel instead of bending; consider wearing knee pads or using a cushion;
  • apply sun screen with a SPF of 30 and ultraviolet A and B protection;
  • consume plenty of water while working to stay hydrated;
  • wear a hat or other protective clothing as needed; mask when using chemicals;
  • wear gloves to protect hands from blisters, chemicals, sharp tools, etc.;
  • use the correct tool for the job;
  • maintain your tools and use them properly. (See Hand Tools Safety: Lawn Care Training Guide. Hand Tool Care and Safe Use and Lawn and Garden Safety Tips – CPSC Urges Care with Springtime Chores.)

Gardening not only provides physical activity but can also be a great source of happiness. You may garden to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or beautify your world. Whatever your reason, enjoy your gardening chores but keep your body fit and work safely to prevent injury.

_______________________________

Sources

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

As the days get warmer and the ground thaws, it is time to dig spring-dug parsnips. Characterized by some as ‘the cream of the crop’, spring parsnips come from seeds sown in the spring of the previous year, grown during the summer, allowed to die back in the fall and freeze in the ground over the winter.

Parsnips
Parsnips.

Parsnips can also be dug in the fall after a frost or two, but those left over the winter are sweeter and more flavorful. 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, 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. Use cooked, refrigerated parsnips within three days.  Parsnips can also be frozen 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.

Sources:

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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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.
Collection bucket on tree for capturing maple sap in winter grove.

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA
Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA
Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA
Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

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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Are You Prepared for a Power Outage?

Unsettled weather tends to bring about unprecedented winds, powerful storms and tornadoes causing personal loss, major damage and power outages. While personal loss and damage are devastating, power outages can be a major inconvenience.  To prepare and stay safe, it’s important to know steps you can take before, during and after a power outage.

Power lines and fallen trees after a storm.

Power outages can be over almost as quickly as begun, but some can last much longer — up to days or even weeks. This depends on the severity of the storm and what damage has been done to power lines and systems. A power outage disrupts everyday life as it shuts down communications, water, transportation and services, closes businesses, causes food spoilage, and prevents use of medical devices.

Before a Power Outage – Prepare

Preparation can keep the most important people in your world safe when bad weather hits.  Here’s some quick tips on how to prepare:

  • Have a plan that all family members know and understand. 
  • Take an inventory of items in the home and keep it up to date. Pictures are best.
  • Plan for alternative power sources and test in advance—batteries, portable generator (fuel), power banks.
  • Build an emergency kit that includes 3-days of non-perishable foods and bottled water; important medications; blankets; personal hygiene items; first aid supplies; flashlights.
  • Talk to your medical provider about medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.
  • Place thermometers in freezers and refrigerators to monitor temperature when power returns.  A container of water (or ice cubes) in the freezer is also a good indicator of temperatures going above 32ºF.
  • Remove or secure items outside of the home that can blow or become weapons.
  • Trim tree branches overhanging a house and clean gutters.
  • Get a weather alarm with battery backup (keep batteries fresh) and/or sign up for weather alert notifications from local radio or tv stations.
  • Have your phone charged.
  • Freeze jugs of water.

During a Power Outage Stay Safe

The lights are out, appliances, and all electrical equipment without battery or power backup have stopped running. Now what?

  • Report downed power lines. Do not touch down lines nor attempt to remove trees which may be tangled in downed lines.
  • Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics. Leave a lamp or night light connected to indicate when the power does come back on.
  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When the power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Food is safe in a securely closed refrigerator for up to 4 hours. In a freezer it depends on how full it is — the fuller your freezer, the longer it can last. A full freezer can last up to 48 hours, and a half-freezer can last up to 24 hours. Place frozen jugs of water in refrigerator to help maintain coldness.
  • Avoid using candles and your phone more than necessary.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning when using generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills; these items should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows. Never use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home.

After a Power Outage – Assess

Recovery begins.

  • Throw out any unsafe food, particularly meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40-degrees F for two hours or more or that have an unusual odor, color or texture.  When in doubt, throw it out. For additional help with food after a power outage, visit Play It Safe With Food After a Power Outage .
  • If the power is out for more than a day, discard any medication that should be refrigerated, unless the drug’s label says otherwise. Consult your doctor or pharmacist immediately for a new supply.
  • Plug in appliances and electric equipment including sump pumps. Check to make sure each is working properly.  Note anything that is not working properly and report to your insurance agent.
  • Note damage done to home or property and report to your insurance agent.
  • Call AnswerLine at 800-262-3804 with food safety questions or water/mold clean up should water get into the home.

For more helpful information and tips, visit ReadyOne can never be reminded too often or be too prepared when storms strike and the power goes out.

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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Eatin’ the GREEN in March and Beyond

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and green is the theme. March is a good time to “go green” by adding more GREEN fruits and vegetables to our daily diet and reap the benefits of better health by eating GREEN —fresh green foods, that is!

Basket of fresh vegetables
Green basket of vegetables – Photo: mrgeiger

Jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals, green fruits and vegetables are some of the healthiest produce nature has given us. Here’s why.

Green fruits and vegetables are:
– Nutritional power house foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables,
– Loaded with Vitamins—A (as Beta Carotene), B6, C, E and K*,
– Loaded with minerals—calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium,
– Contain antioxidants to fight free radicals and reduce cancer risk,
– Contain health-promoting phytochemicals (from the green color pigment chlorophyll) such as lutein for eye health and reducing age-related macular degeneration (AMD),
– Typically low in calories and high in fiber – dark green leafy vegetables top out at only 10 to 25 calories per half-cup serving, and
– Easily incorporated into diet raw or incorporated into soups, stews, salads, stir fries, casseroles, and so much more.

There are plenty of green fruits and vegetables to choose from. Some of the best nutrient-packing greens to incorporate into your diet to feel your ‘green’ in a good way include:

Kale
Spinach
Avocado
Green Peppers
Asparagus
Green Beans
Peas
Broccoli
Leafy green lettuce
Collard greens, Swiss Chard
Bok Choy
Green grapes
Kiwi
Green apples
Honeydew melon

Fun tips to get green foods into your diet:

  • Add bright green vegetables to a party tray.
  • Add a green salad as a side dish to lunch or dinner using lots of greens, green peppers, green onions, etc.
  • Make the color pop in broccoli and green peas by blanching them briefly in boiling water, then put them into ice water to stop the cooking process. This enhances the green color to make those vegetables more appetizing.
  • Include kiwi fruit, green grapes and/or honeydew melon in your fruit salad.
  • Add avocado slices to toast, salads and sandwiches. To maintain the green color, eat avocados immediately or sprinkle them with lemon or lime juice. 2 tablespoons of avocado have about 5 grams of fat which is mostly heart-healthy Omega-3 monounsaturated fat.
  • Enjoy your favorite veggie dip with broccoli florets, pea pods, and celery or a favorite fruit dip with green apple slices.
  • Make a vegetable pizza with green peppers, asparagus, and/or spinach.
  • Serve thinly sliced green onions over rice, pasta, broiled or baked fish or soups.
  • Add sautéed spinach and kale to egg dishes or fresh spinach and kale to smoothies.
  • Stir-fry with bok choy, collard greens, or Swiss chard.
  • Roast broccoli and/or asparagus with other veggies.

Additional green ideas include spinach noodles, green vegetable soufflés and omelets; parsley garnish; pesto; cream of broccoli, celery, or spinach soup; finely diced spinach, kale, or green onions in chicken noodle, rice or orzo soups; or glazed kiwi over cake. For recipes and other tips, visit UNL Extension.

March is a good time to start the “go green foods” trend and enjoy the many health benefits from eating something GREEN!

*Limit intake of greens containing Vitamin K if you are taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®). Eating too many foods rich in Vitamin K reduces warfarin’s effectiveness and may cause more clotting in the body.  [1]

Sources:
Go for the GREEN on St. Patrick’s Day, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL Food
1Warfarin Diet:  What Foods Should I Avoid?, Mayo Clinic, 2021
Eat Green for a Healthy St Patrick’s Day and Beyond, Utah State University Extension, 2016

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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Storing Fresh Ginger

Ginger rhizomes

Fresh ginger, also known as ginger root, adds a flavorful punch—spicy, pungent, sweet—to a variety of sweet and savory dishes and is one of the key ingredients in Asian, Indian, and Caribbean cuisines.  Fresh ginger root is usually grated or slivered.  Ginger can also be dried and ground; ground ginger is a spice commonly used in baked goods by Americans and Europeans.

Ginger originated in India and was regarded as an essential spice and medicine for various ailments.  It was one of the first spices traded globally making its way into Europe and other Mediterranean regions via the various trade routes.  Ginger quickly gained in popularity making it a highly sought after commodity at significant cost.  Spanish explorers brought ginger to the New World.

There are many varieties of ginger but all are an herbaceous perennial–not to be confused with Wild Ginger, a weedy ground cover.  Ginger is cultivated throughout the tropics in some 40 different countries.  India is the largest producer of ginger followed by China.  Hawaii is the largest producer in the US; however, ginger can be grown in home gardens throughout the US. If started indoors in March, ginger can be successfully propagated, transplanted and grown in Midwest gardens for fall harvest.

The aroma and flavor of ginger is greatly influenced by where it is grown, cultivar used, growing conditions, and time of harvest. The peak season for commercially grown fresh ginger is early spring through late summer (April, May) and is known as spring or young ginger.  Spring or young ginger has a very thin skin and is juicy, mild and tender; it may also exhibit pink knobs or pink blush.  Ginger harvested in the fall is known as mature ginger; it has a tougher skin and is more pungent and fibrous.  Whether young or mature, the rhizome should be firm and have a light brown skin.  Removing the skin from the rhizome is optional; if removed, scraping is recommended over peeling.  Ginger may be grated, chopped, sliced minced, or julienned.

Keeping Ginger Fresh
To preserve the qualities of ginger, it is important to keep it as fresh as possible.  Unless you have long-term plans for fresh ginger, purchase only what fits your needs as closely as possible. A recipe may call for a thumb or a specific amount of ginger.  If a recipe calls for a thumb of ginger, it usually means a piece that is approximately 2 inches (5 centimeters) long, ½ inches (1.5 centimeters) in diameter, weighs 0.5 ounces (15 grams), and will yield one tablespoon of minced ginger.

Fresh, unpeeled ginger can be kept on the counter at room temperature for 1-2 weeks but is better kept in an airtight container/bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer where freshness can be retained for 4-6 weeks.  Leftover peeled ginger will keep 2-3 weeks if tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator.   Do watch the rhizome for molding, softness, discoloration or off smell or appearance; these are signs of spoilage and if detected, the rhizome should be disposed.  Like other fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh ginger contains enzymes that break down its starch and pectin over time.

If longer storage is needed, fresh ginger can be preserved by freezing, storing in alcohol, dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, and candying.

Freezing.  Scrap the skin.  Slice, grate, or chop the ginger.  Place sliced ginger in a freezer bag removing as much air as possible.  Grated and finely chopped ginger is best frozen in small piles on parchment paper or in ice cube trays and flash frozen (tray method) prior to packaging.  Fresh ginger will maintain its best quality in the freezer for 3 months but will remain safe well beyond that time; in fact, ginger that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep indefinitely.

Storing in Alcohol.  Scrap the skin and slice the ginger.  Place in a glass jar and cover with vodka or other alcohol. Store in the refrigerator for 1-2 months.  The vodka will take on the flavor of the ginger; despite the alcohol, the ginger works well in stir-fries, sauces, soups, and marinades.

Dehydrating.  When properly stored, dried ginger will keep for a year.  Dried ginger can also be made into ginger powder.

Pickling.  Scrap and thinly slice 1 pound of ginger.  Pack sliced ginger into a quart jar.  Prepare a brine of 1 ¼ cups rice vinegar, ½ cup sugar, ½ cup mirin, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt.  Bring to a boil.  Pour over ginger.  Let cool, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 week and for up to 3 months. (Recipe source:  Joy of Cooking, November 2019)  Pickled ginger is used as a side dish called gari with sushi.

Fermenting.  Similar to pickling, scraped and sliced ginger is place in a sterilized jar.  The ginger slices are submerged in a salt, sugar, rice wine, and water solution.  A lid is placed on the jar and allowed to set at room temperature for 5-10 days after which it is placed in the refrigerator for keeping up to 3 months.   Fermented ginger is more commonly used in Chinese cooking and dried chilies and other ingredients may be added to the ferment.

Candied.  Scraped and thinly sliced ginger is first boiled in water and then a sugar syrup.  Check out this easy recipe.  Candied ginger is often used in baking or eaten as a snack.

Ginger adds flavor and health benefits to many different kinds of foods.  Prolong the flavor and benefits by keeping it fresh and usable for as long as possible.

RESOURCES:

The Journey of Ginger and How Ginger Came to Be.  Fresh Zen Foods.com
History of the Spice Trade.  Silk Road Spcies.ca
How to Grow Tropical Ginger for At-home Spice.  Illinois Extension
How Much Is a Thumb of Ginger?  The Whole Portion.com
Ways to Prepare and Serve Ginger.  Harvest to Table.com
4 Ways to Store Ginger for Months.  Cici Li Asian Home Cooking. Cicili.tv

Updated February 2024, mg.

Marlene Geiger

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

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