Plan now for county fair 2020

Just picked green beans.

Now that both County fair and State fair are over, it is time to start thinking about projects for next year in 4-H. If there is an area that looked interesting, now can be a great time to time to look deeper into a project area. If you are interested in food and nutrition projects, think about exhibits you can prepare ahead of time for the fair in 2020. An easy make-ahead project area would be food preservation. Many foods are ripe and ready to preserve now that may not be ready again before the fair next year. Green beans and tomatoes are plentiful now and would make a great exhibit for the fair. Be sure to use an approved recipe from Extension and Outreach, the USDA canning guide, or So Easy to Preserve. If you choose to make a jam or jelly, the insert from the pectin package contains approved recipes. It is important to only use a tested recipe for a canning exhibit; old family recipes may not produce a safe product.  Those recipes will be disqualified if you bring them to the fair.  Follow the tested recipe directions exactly, adjust the recipe for altitude if necessary, and compose the write-up now while everything is fresh in your mind. You will be grateful next summer that you took time now to complete a fair exhibit.

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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Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds at my feeder in early September 2018

Last spring, in 2018, we saw the first hummingbirds ever at the home we have lived in for over 40 years.  We enjoyed watching the birds all summer and then were in for a surprise in September when they began massing at our home.  We had not seen more than a handful of hummingbirds at the same time all summer.  It was fascinating to watch them while we ate supper on our patio.  Although they do not tend to migrate in a flock like other birds, they do start preparing for migration in late August or early September.

I learned that the hummingbirds were eating more nectar in preparation for migration south for the winter.  I did a bit of research on hummingbirds last summer but I’m afraid that I did not remember to check early enough this spring for the date hummingbirds would return from the south. I got the feeder out in late May or early June this year but I have since learned that hummingbirds often arrive in April in central Iowa. I can put my feeders up but if a freeze is expected, I will need to take them inside for the night.

I plan to put a note on my feeders when I take them in this fall to remind me to get them out earlier next spring.  I’ve learned that hummingbirds have great memories and do return to a spot they fed at the previous year.  If they arrive and there is no feeder present, they may look elsewhere and not return.  My feeders will remain out until October this fall or until 2 weeks have passed without seeing a hummingbird.  I have enjoyed them this summer and miss having something to look at while I’m working in my kitchen. 

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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Jam and Jelly problems

Jar of strawberry jam

We have been getting a lot of calls and questions about problems with jams and jellies in the last few weeks.

We do have directions for remaking jams and jellies and often give this information to callers. The remade jam or jelly will be a slightly different flavor and texture as the directions call for adding more sugar and pectin but no more fruit or fruit juice. These directions will allow you to save the jelly or jam and still have a spreadable product.

Other callers have been concerned about jam that was too stiff to spread without breaking the bread. Their jam may have been overcooked or they may have chosen too much under-ripe fruit. The under-ripe fruit contains more naturally occurring pectin than ripe fruit and the extra pectin could make a stiff jel.

Jelly or jam containing many bubbles may actually be fermenting in the jar. This product may not have been heated enough before filling jars or it may have been under-processed during canning.

If you find crystals that seem like glass, especially in grape jelly, it would be tartrate crystals. Letting the juice stand overnight in the refrigerator and then straining the juice before making jelly can eliminate this problem.

Jam that appears to have a layer of jelly on the bottom and then floating fruit in the rest of the jar is a common problem. We often see this in strawberry jam. Floating fruit is due to a difference in density between the fruit and the liquid. If this your problem, try cutting the fruit into smaller pieces and using only ripe fruit to make jam.

We love to help callers with jam and jelly problems, please contact us and we will do our best to help.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

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Back to school time, again!

I can hardly believe that it is time to get ready for another school year.  The commercials are on TV, school supply displays are popping up in the stores, and summer activities are winding down.  It seems like just last week was the first day of summer. 

Most schools in Iowa will start in about three weeks.  This is a good time to set some goals for the upcoming school year.  If getting kids up, fed, and out the door always is a struggle, you may want to look for some easy changes to your routine.  Lost library books or assignments may be preventable when you designate a special spot for those items.  A little planning now may make weekdays a little easier throughout the school year.

If mornings are chaotic because your child takes forever to choose an outfit and get dressed, consider some options.  Some students choose their clothing for the next day at bedtime.  If it takes your child so long to make a decision that it delays bedtime, consider allowing them to choose a weeks worth of clothing over the weekend. 

Breakfast options are easy to plan ahead.  Allow your child to choose five or six different options that are nutritious, fast, and easy to prepare.  You can chart the options or the student can choose one before school. 

Take some time now, before life goes back into a difficult routine to make some changes.  You will be glad you did. 

 

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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Preserving food with children

Do you have children in your life you would like to share your love of food preservation with? My sister and I host a “Camp Iowa” for our granddaughters, who live in Chicago, every Summer. We are always looking for unique and fun hands-on projects to do with them. We enjoy preserving food together every Summer and are looking forward to when they can help us. We have been looking for research-based, tested recipes to use with them and came across a wonderful publication put out by the University of Georgia. The University of Georgia is where the National Center for Home Food Preservation is located. It  is also where testing is done on recipes for home preservation that you can find in “So Easy To Preserve” which this office recommends on a regular basis. I cannot stress enough the importance of using a research-based, tested recipe. If you are unsure about your recipe being a safe tested recipe please call us at AnswerLine and we will be happy to discuss it with you.

The publication we found is titled “Preserve It & Serve It“. It is a children’s guide to canning, freezing, drying, pickling and preparing snacks with preserved foods. It gives directions for preserving foods as well as recipes to use the preserved foods in. For example, you can make and preserve your own applesauce and then use it in Applesauce Cinnamuffins.

The picture I have included is of freezer peach jam. Freezer jams are a good starting point with children. They are pretty simple, there are recipes with and without pectin, and they look beautiful when finished. The jam can be used on toast, sandwiches, or ice cream, and used in a thumbprint cookie.

If you love home food preservation I hope you will share that enthusiasm with a child in your life. It is a lifelong skill and a great bonding experience!

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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Sweet Corn

Sweet corn was a little bit late in my area this year but it has been here for a few weeks now and it seems the local stands sell out daily. We receive calls every year at AnswerLine concerning how long to cook sweet corn for “best” flavor. There is discussion every year among we coworkers as we all tend to do what we remember from growing up. Since there are no safety risks involved it is okay to cook the corn as we remember. However, much research has been done on the optimal way to cook sweet corn. Regardless of which way you decide to cook your sweet corn you will want to always start with the freshest corn possible and cook it as quickly after getting it as you can. Very soon after picking corn starts to convert the sugar in its kernels to starch. It also starts to lose some of its aroma and nutrients.

It is important to not overcook corn. The ears should be cooked only until the milk in the kernel is set. A very common way to cook sweet corn is to drop it into enough boiling water to cover and boil covered for @5 minutes. Penn State posted an article a while back that was interesting to me. One of their vegetable experts recommended after bringing fresh water to a boil to add 3 tablespoons sugar and a teaspoon of skim milk to the water. The reasoning was that the sugar helped the corn retain its own sugars rather than letting them be leached into the water and the skim milk enhanced the color of the corn. They recommended 7 minutes of boiling and also recommended never adding salt to the cooking water as that would toughen the kernels.

Many people like the convenience of microwaving sweet corn. One way to do that is to remove the outer husk, wash a single ear in cold water and wrap it in a paper towel dipped in cold water. Microwave each ear for 2-3 minutes on High. Another way is to remove the husks and silks, brush the ear with butter, seal in waxed paper and place in the microwave allowing at least 1 inch between ears. Microwave on High approximately 2 minutes per ear. Don’t do more than 4 ears at a time.

We have already enjoyed sweet corn at our house this season although I have not tried adding the extra sugar and little bit of skim milk to the cooking water. I’m planning to try that the next time!

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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Freezing Peaches

Peaches are in season! If you like peaches you probably have a favorite source – Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, etc. Missouri peaches are my favorite and they are plentiful right now. I enjoy freezing peaches to be able to use them in the middle of Winter. Somehow having those peaches on my cereal or on angelfood cake makes the Winter day seem much more tolerable.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has detailed instructions on freezing peaches in a syrup pack or sugar pack along with freezing crushed or pureed peaches.

I have a favorite recipe for freezing peaches that I received from a friend many years ago and have been using it ever since. I am sharing it for anyone that is interested. For one lug of peaches you will need 2 cans of frozen orange juice, 4 cans of water, and 8 cups of sugar. Mix together the orange juice, water and sugar in a large bowl. Dip the peaches one at a time in boiling water for 30 seconds then plunge into cold water to make peeling much easier. Peel the peaches and slice into the orange juice solution. Fill your containers leaving ample head space for expansion during freezing.

If I could just freeze a whole peach as is for later enjoyment I would but since I cannot this is one way I can enjoy the delicious peach flavor all year long!

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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Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs

It is County Fair time again and we have been getting many calls from county fair judges and 4-H members preparing for their fairs. Over the past few years, we have tried to explain what makes an acceptable exhibit for county fair and what projects would be better represented by only a write-up and pictures of the actual food product. It can be difficult for 4-H families, judges, and Extension and Outreach staff to all understand and remember just what foods are safe and acceptable to exhibit at County Fair.

We have a publication explaining this information that is updated every few years. This publication covers most common foods and the rationale for including or excluding a food for exhibit. Unfortunately, we cannot include every food product in this list. In an effort to make this publication user friendly, the information is presented in chart form. This format allows for the inclusion of only a handful of examples in every category. It can be frustrating for 4-H members unable to find their exact exhibit listed in the publication, but the “method notes” section lists some explanations of why an item is or is not considered acceptable for exhibit.

Even though many food products are not considered acceptable for exhibit at the fair these same foods could be exhibited by using a write-up only format. These foods could be prepared at home and photographed. The 4-H member can provide a self-evaluation of the product or an evaluation by family members, friends, or other 4-H members in the write-up. The pictures and evaluation would be included in the write up along with the goal statement, description of what I did, and what I learned information in the write-up. This very complete write-up would be entered at the county fair as the food and nutrition exhibit and would be judged at the same time as other food products are judged. A well-written exhibit has an excellent opportunity of being chosen to go to the Iowa State Fair.

If you are preparing for a fair, either call us at 1-800-262-3804 or email us at answer@iastate.edu. We are very happy to help.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

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Is it safe to eat rhubarb?

It is time to stop pulling rhubarb and picking asparagus. We often have callers asking if rhubarb is poisonous after the middle of June. Actually, it is safe to pull rhubarb all summer long but we stop in mid-June for the health of the plant. Rhubarb plants will feed their roots while growing the rest of the summer. It is safe to pull a small amount of rhubarb for an occasional pie or crisp throughout the summer as long as the plantings are well established. You should pull the thinnest, most tender stalks when harvesting later in the summer.

You will not be able to harvest asparagus throughout the summer as the stalks will grow their fern-like foliage and you will not enjoy eating it. The easiest way to keep the weeds out of the asparagus is to mulch it. I used some grass clippings on mine this summer.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

More Posts - Website

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