Do Those Sprouts Really Come from Brussels?

brussels on stemProbably not. Brussels sprouts may be grown in your very own home garden and still qualify as Brussels sprouts, though they are very popular and may have originated in Brussels, Belgium. Whether you actually have Brussels sprouts growing in your garden right now might depend on where you live and what the weather has been like this year, but as long as you have access to a grocery store with a healthy selection of seasonal vegetables, you can probably find some sprouts nearby. The best time to buy Brussels sprouts is between September and March. Brussels sprouts are notable not just for their unusual appearance, but also for their hardiness in cold weather. They are even said to be best when harvested after a couple of good freezes.

So it may not be surprising then that freezing Brussels Sprouts is a highly recommend method prepared brussels sproutsof preserving them. They will maintain best quality for up to 12 months in a 0°F freezer. To prepare them for freezing, select green, firm, and compact heads, removing any insects and course outer leaves. Wash well, then sort into small, medium, and large sizes if size variance is notable. Water blanch small heads for 3 minutes, medium heads for 4 minutes and large heads for 5 minutes. Cool them quickly in cold water or an ice bath, drain thoroughly, and package with no headspace. Then simply seal the containers and place in the freezer. To have properly proportioned serving sizes straight from the freezer and ready to be cooked, note that 5-6 sprouts equal one serving and/or one pound equals four servings.

If you’re feeling adventurous, then you might like also to try canning Pickled Brussels Sprouts. You may not have tried these before — the brine imparts flavor that is typical of many vegetable pickles while the texture is certainly more difficult to come by. Brussels Sprout pickles are made by boiling the clean sprouts in salt water (4 tsp canning salt per gallon), then cooling them while you prepare the brine that will be poured over the sprouts once they are in jars; the brine is a mixture of vinegar, sugar, onion, diced red pepper, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, and hot red pepper flakes. For the complete recipe, detailed instructions, and canning process time, see the recommendation in the link above. The same recipe and canning process is used for cauliflower too, so if you have some cauliflower flowerets around you could make both kinds (note that Brussels sprouts need to boil in the salt water for one minute longer than cauliflower).

Some of the information in this entry comes from Buying, Using, and Storing Vegetables from the University of Georgia.

The Heat Is On

fresh herbsDo you have the heat on in your house to stay warm this time of year? If you do, then make the most of that dry air and dry some herbs at home!

All it really takes to dry most herbs is to expose the leaves or flowers to warm, dry air. Gently flowing air and good ventilation will help pull moisture away from the herbs as it evaporates. If you have an accessible heat vent, then near the vent and moving air may be an excellent location to hang or place herbs to dry them — as long as the plants are not actually touching the vent, in order to prevent a fire hazard. You also want to protect the herbs from dust or contaminants coming out of the vents; see below.

There are two categories to apply to herbs for drying purposes: less tender herbs and tender-leaf herbs.

Less tender herbs include rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory and parsley. These are easy to dry by simply tying them into small bundles and hanging them.

Drying herbs

Tender-leaf herbs such as basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, and mint contain more moisture, so they need to be dried quickly or else they could mold. Their leaves and seeds may also fall off the stems, so try hanging these herbs in paper bags to so that they are caught before falling to the ground. Tear or punch holes in the side of a bag then secure a small bunch of herbs inside the bag with a rubber band. For the herbs to dry quickly, hang the bag where an air current will pass through it.

Leaves are dry when they are crispy and crumble easily when handled. Dried leaves can be left whole or crumbled. Place the dried herbs in airtight containers and store them in a cool, dry, dark area to protect their color and fragrance.

Remember that dried herbs are about three to four times stronger in flavor than fresh herbs, so if you are substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe then use ¼ to 1/3 of the amount listed.

Read Drying Herbs for more information about drying herbs using a dehydrator and an oven.

Illustration of herbs drying in paper bag is from “So Easy to Preserve”, 6th ed. 2014. Bulletin 989, (c) Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.

Tips for Gifting your Home-Canned Goodies

festive ribbon details with blurred backgroundGiving home-preserved gifts adds a personal touch, but you do take on the added responsibility of vouching for the safety of the foods you give. As tempting as it may be to impress your recipients with a brand new, never-before-tasted canned creation, your first measure of safety is to use tested recommendations from reliable sources. Instead of experimenting with recipes, get creative with the way you package your home-preserved gifts.

If you use an attractive canning jar of a unique size (12 oz., for example) and you can’t find canning recommendations for that size jar, be sure to use the next biggest size jar that does have canning recommendations (so in the example of the 12 oz. jar, follow the process time listed for pint size jars). Otherwise the product might be under-processed and risk spoilage or causing sickness. Also, be aware that there are lovely jars out in the market place that are NOT recommended for canning. Some jars are intended for other uses, and even if they look like canning jars they may not be tempered to withstand the intense heat of canning or temperature changes that occur in taking jars in and out of canners. dont use these jars(These jars might work well to gift beautiful dried fruits, however!) Our canning recommendations are for use with Mason-type home-canning jars and two-piece lid systems.

Decorative labels are available from jar manufacturers and other companies. As you label your precious products, remember to include the creation date, and consider telling your recipient how long the product will stay “good” (usually one year for best quality with most home-canned foods). If you have room, also include the ingredients (especially if the product contains allergens) and storage instructions like “Store in a cool, dry place and refrigerate after opening.”

If you didn’t already do your canning for gift-giving, then here are a few festive ideas using seasonal ingredients:

Spiced Apple Rings, Apple Butter, Sweet Apple Relish

Citrus Marmalade

Chutneys

Cranberry Sauce, Cranberry Marmalade, Cranberry Conserve

Flavored Vinegars

There are also a few popular holiday gifts that are NOT recommended for home-canning. Don’t risk the health of your loved ones — try the alternative suggestions instead:

Herbed Oil Infusions (try Flavored Vinegar instead –you don’t even need to can it!)

Canned Breads (instead, package dry ingredients and make a tag with baking instructions)

Canned Chocolate/Fudge Sauce (make this Freezer Chocolate Fudge Sauce instead)

presents 2

This entry was inspired by Resources for Home Food Preservation Gifts by Brian A. Nummer. For more canning-related gift ideas, see Looking for a Gift that Keeps Giving? Try a Dehydrator! and Holiday Gifts for the Home Food Preserver .

 

Can I Can in a Multi-Cooker?

cartoon cookerYou may have seen advertisements for electric multi-cooker appliances now containing “canning” or “steam canning” buttons on their front panels. Before you make a purchase, we want you to be aware that we do not recommend our canning processes for use in electric multi-cookers at this time.  We do not know if proper thermal process development work has been done in order to support the canning advice that is distributed with these multi-cooker appliances. The way the USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation and University of Georgia process development work has been done would not yield results expected to be transferable to these electric cookers.

Our process directions for low-acid foods, for example, were developed for stovetop pressure canners which hold four or more quart-size jars standing upright. Even if there are referrals to the National Center for HFP in the instructions for canning in the manufacturer’s directions, we do not currently support the use of the USDA canning processes in electric, multi-cooker appliances. If you are canning low-acid foods and the proper amount of heat is not delivered to all parts of the food in the jars during the process, then the risk is botulism food poisoning in under-processed foods.cartoon pressure canner

Some of the major reasons we cannot recommend using electric multi-cookers for canning:

  1. No USDA thermal process work has been done with jars inside an electric pressure cooker of any kind. Thermal process canning work relates the temperatures in the jars to the temperature inside the canner throughout the processing. It is not the temperature or pressure in just the canner that matters, but ultimately the temperature and heat distribution inside the jars is most important for the destruction of microorganism in the food product. The position of jars in the canner and flow of steam around them also impacts the temperature in the jars.  For example, there would be expected differences in jars piled together on their sides from those standing upright.
  2. What matters is temperature, not pressure.  Even if a manufacturer says its cooker reaches the pressure required for canning, that does not prove the food in the jars is heated throughout at the same rate as in the canner used for process development.  What is important is what temperature relates to the pressure reached in that cooker, and what the temperatures are throughout the whole canner environment.  And does the temperature stay at the minimum required the whole process time? If air is mixed in the steam, the temperature is lower than the same pressure of pure steam. (That’s why a proper venting process is so important in pressure canning – to obtain as pure a steam environment inside the canner as possible.) How does the user adjust for altitude changes if the cooker is set to reach only one pressure? If the pressure actually obtained reaches a desired temperature, can the user actually verify the pressure reaches the stated description and stays there throughout the continuous process time? We do not know of ways in which these questions have been answered.  (And unfortunately we do not have a budget to be able to buy and use all of the versions in the marketplace.  We have been able to read some user manuals that do not answer these questions, however.)
  3. In order to ensure the safety of the final product, the temperature in the canner must stay at minimum throughout the process time, so do power surges or drops with an electric canner cause the temperature to drop too low?  How will you know if that happens?
  4. USDA process times rely on a combination of heat from the time the canner is coming to pressure, during the actual process time, and then during the early stages of cooling the canner and jars. Even after the heat is turned off under the canner, at the end of the recommended process time, the food remains at high enough temperatures for another period of time that can still contribute to killing of bacteria. This retained heat while the canner has to cool naturally to 0 pounds pressure before opening is used to advantage in calculating the total sterilizing value of the process to preserve some food quality. There is no way at this point in time to know exactly the percentage of contribution for each of the canning recommendations. Therefore, we emphasize that the canner size and steps in managing the pressure canning process from start to finish (heat up to cool down) are important to maintain. For example, if anything is done to shorten the cooling period, including using a very small cooker or force-cooling the canner, then the food could cool down more quickly than expected, and be under-processed. (This is one reason we recommend using only pressure canners that hold four or more filled quart-size jars, upright on a rack, with the lid fastened in place. It is a way to help judge that the cool down period will not be too short.) Bacteria are not killed in the food only during the process time; the time it takes the canner to come up to pressure, the process time, and the cool-down time all matter.

Please note: This statement about electric cookers does NOT include the Ball Automatic Home Canner for acid foods only, which is electric, but (1) is not a “multi-cooker”, but a dedicated canner, (2) comes with its own instructions and pre-set canning options for specific food preparations, and (3) has had thermal process development done specific to that canner to support the recommendations with it.

For more information about canning in pressure cookers, please read “Burning Issue: Canning in Pressure Cookers”: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/pressurecookers.html