What is a vegetable, a crayon color, an entire genus, and a type of pickle?

asparagus tipsAsparagus!

Commercial production of the popular vegetable Asparagus officinalis harvests primarily from January to June, but its growing season across the U.S. is likely to begin closer to mid-April and last 6 to 8 weeks. Asparagus is unique in that you have to wait about 3 years from seed planting until first harvest, so make sure you do your research before growing it for the first time. Once you do get your hands on some fresh spears, one way or another, here’s a delicious way to make them last all year:

Pickled Asparagus

For six wide-mouth pint jarswashed asparagus

10 pounds asparagus

6 large garlic cloves

4½ cups watercutting asparagus

4½ cups white distilled vinegar (5%)

6 small hot peppers (optional)

½ cup canning salt

3 teaspoons dill seed

  1. Wash and rinse canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids according to manufacturer’s directions.
  2. Wash asparagus well, but gently, under running water. Cut stems from the bottom to leave spears with tips that fit into the canning jar with a little less than ½-inch headspace. Peel and wash garlic cloves. Place a garlic clove at the bottom of each jar, and tightly pack asparagus into jars with the blunt ends down.
  3. In an 8-quart Dutch oven or saucepot, combine water, vinegar, hot peppers (optional), salt and dill seed. Bring to a boil. Place one hot pepper (if used) in each jar over asparagus spears. Pour boiling hot pickling brine over spears, leaving ½-inch headspace.
  4. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids.
  5. Process in a boiling water canner according to the recommendations in the table below. Let cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Pickled AsparagusAllow pickled asparagus to sit in processed jars for 3 to 5 days before consumption for best flavor development.

Recommended process time for Pickled Asparagus in a boiling-water canner.

Process Time at Altitudes of

Style of Pack

Jar Size

0 – 1,000 ft

1,001 – 6,000 ft

Above 6,000 ft

Raw

12-ounce or Pints

10 min

15

20

Visit the NCHFP website for recipe quantities to make seven 12-ounce jars and links to more information about Using Boiling Water Canners and Principles of Home Canning.

Recipe developed at The University of Georgia, Athens, for the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Released by Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences. October 2003.

How do you like your eggs? Scrambled, Fried…or Pickled!

Easter eggs in a basketWhether your eggs come from your backyard chickens, the grocery store, or the Easter bunny, you might find yourself looking for different ways to prepare and preserve your abundance of springtime eggs.

There are no tested, reliable home canning recommendations for keeping pickled eggs at room temperature that we are able to recommend. Eggs are a low-acid food, and it is possible for botulism to grow in areas of a boiled egg that have not been sufficiently saturated by vinegar. The density, thickness, and very low acidity of eggs (pH ranges between 6.4 and 9.0) all present challenges for adequate penetration of vinegar and sufficient acidification throughout all areas of each egg. To read more about a case of home-pickled eggs implicated as a cause of botulism in Illinois in 1997, click here.

carton of eggsInstead of going through the steps of a canning process, simply make delicious pickled eggs safely at home by following recipes and instructions designed for refrigerator storage. Be sure to wash all utensils and surface areas (including hands) very well and sanitize jars for 10 minutes in boiling water before filling with boiled eggs if you expect to keep them for more than several days. Keep pickled eggs refrigerated, and limit their amount of time out of the fridge to 2 hours or less. Give them about 2 weeks to season in the brine before tasting. Unless otherwise indicated, you’ll want to consume refrigerated pickled eggs within 2 to 3 months for best quality. You can find more pickling tips and recipes on the NCHFP website.

refrigeratorHere is a basic recipe, copied directly from the pages of So Easy to Preserve:

Refrigerated Pickled Eggs

16 fresh eggs

2 TBSP whole allspice

2 TBSP whole peppercorns

2 TBSP ground ginger

4 cups white vinegar (5%)

2 TBSP sugar

Cook eggs in simmering water for 15 minutes. Place eggs in cold water, remove shells, and pack into sterilized jars. In a pot combine vinegar, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Pour hot liquid over hard-boiled eggs. Seal. Store in refrigerator. Use these pickled eggs within a month. This recipe is not intended for long term storage at room temperature.

Recipe from: Andress, E.L., Harrison, J.A., eds. (2006). So Easy to Preserve, 5th ed. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. ©University of Georgia.

Are You Prepared for Severe Weather?

house in thunderstormIf the trials of this winter season have not already spurred you to carefully evaluate your severe weather preparedness, or perhaps if you are still feeling uncertain if you are as prepared as you want to be, then don’t think you’ve missed your chance – it’s never too late to prepare for the next severe weather event.  The National Weather Service declared the first week of March 2014 as Severe Weather Preparedness Week. In case you missed it, here’s a link to preparedness resources provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Do you have a disaster supply kit yet? If not, you can use the disaster supplies kit link on NOAA’s site (above) to help you put one together to meet your particular needs. In addition to items like a flashlight and first aid kit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggests that you stock a disaster supplies kit with food supplies enough for 3 days and nights. If you chose foods that require heating, then remember to also pack a small camping stove and fuel.

happy face mug with clown wig? Comfort foods like cookies, lollipops, and coffee are very useful for morale, but it’s important to primarily pack an assortment of nutrient-rich foods to sustain your health during the crisis. Store-bought canned fruits, veggies, soups and meats are good options, as are granola bars, peanut butter, and crackers. Some home-preserved canned foods also make a great choice, although you’ll want to pay extra attention to packing glass jars so they do not break, and keep in mind that they add weight as compared to metal cans. Conversely, dehydrated fruits and veggies make for a very light-weight option to help maintain your energy.

To maintain the usefulness and quality of your supplies, check expiration dates, batteries, and your own changing personal needs to re-stock your disaster supply kit at least once per year.

electrical plugsIf you lose power, remember to first eat foods from your refrigerator and then from your freezer before turning to your supply kit. Eat your non-perishable foods only once your perishable supplies run out. Refrigerated foods need to be monitored at 40°F or below or else eaten quickly, as they may cause support microbial growth and cause sickness after just a few hours at temperatures above 40°F. Keep the refrigerator/freezer doors closed as much as possible and wrap it in blankets or towels to help hold in the cool air. Freezer foods can be consumed as long as they still have ice crystals and/or you can check that the freezer has remained at 40°F or below. Usually, you’ll have 2 to 3 days to eat freezer foods if the freezer is well-insulated.

More tips, including how to prepare a two-week supply, are found in this publication from the University of Georgia: Preparing an Emergency Food Supply, Short Term Storage. A collection of publications including Storing Water Supplies is available from UGA Cooperative Extension’s Consumer Guide: Preparing an Emergency Food Supply.

Why Can’t I Just Guess at a Process Time for Canning?

Mold on JamIf you guess at a process time for canning, you run the risk of underprocessing your food, which could lead to food poisoning and/or product loss due to spoilage.

All reliable recommendations for canning include process times that have been determined by or based on results of laboratory testing. The exact time and temperature combinations of tested canning processes are needed to assure the destruction of microorganisms that may be present in the filled jars. Sure, it’s possible that you could use unsafe canning practices for some time without causing waste or harm, but it only takes one batch of food with destructive microorganisms in it to ruin your streak of luck. And especially if you are canning low acid foods, the consequences could be severe and irreversible.

microscopebacteria in petri dishes

While some microorganisms are apparent just by looking (think molds growing on the surface of jelly), others remain invisible to your bare eyes (think pathogenic bacteria which cause food poisoning). Many different types of mold, yeast, and bacteria dwell on food. Given their preferred conditions of moisture, acidity, oxygen levels, and temperature they will grow, and some will even product toxin.

Fortunately, all microorganisms can be destroyed by breaking their threshold for heat. The process times provided in each of our home canning recommendations have been found to deliver enough heat to destroy microorganisms of concern in that particular food. Characteristics such as consistency, pH level (acidity), size of food pieces, presence of protective nutrients, size and shape of jars, and solid to liquid ratio all influence the ability of heat to move through and thoroughly penetrate the entire contents of a filled jar. You can trust that your home-canned foods will receive adequate heat treatment by using proper canning methods and following recommended process times.

elevation linespressure change

Why does each recipe have a process time table with multiple times or amounts of pressure? (See Crushed Tomatoes for a good example.) Because atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases, causing water to boil at lower temperatures as altitude increases. In order to achieve the same overall heat treatment as at sea level, more time is needed in a boiling water canner at higher elevations (since the temperature of the water distributing the heat is less). Pressure canning relies on temperatures inside the canner building even higher than that of boiling. So, likewise, more pressure needs to be applied to a pressure canner at higher elevations so that the temperature inside can reach higher.

If you’d like to learn more about how process times are determined for home-canned foods, please read ‘Backgrounder: Heat Processing of Home-canned Foods’ by Elaine M. D’Sa.