Author Archives: nchfp

A Good Time to Clean Out the Pantry

At this time where our national leaders and health experts are asking us to keep physical distance from others, remotely work from home if possible, cancel events and gatherings and generally spend more time at home, take advantage in the kitchen. Many of us could take stock of supplies in our food cabinets we may not have considered in a long time. You might find inspiration to re-discover pleasure in home cooking or just discover items you didn’t know you have!

cowboy caviarCanned vegetables and meat can be used for soups, casseroles or even side salads. Canned beans, chickpeas and green beans could be used for a marinated three-bean salad (or four or more!) and dressed up with just a little seasoned vinegar if you don’t have salad dressing.  Try some dried herbs in there if you don’t have fresh or find some surprises in your spice cabinet. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes but like the look of the mix I’ve pictured, you can use canned diced tomatoes instead.

soup photoCanned stock and vegetables along with some canned meat (or not) and beans can also make a tasty soup when you can be free to try your own seasonings.  (I know my homemade soup in the photo has some fresh kale and sausage in it, also, but hey, I had them to use. I just wanted to get your creative juices flowing.)

While you are in the pantry, think about giving it a good cleaning. A lot of us do not have the discipline to have been doing this on a regular basis throughout the year. When removing items to check your stock, take them all out and keep them out long enough to wash and dry shelves before replacing the food items. Use household cleaners (and EPA-registered disinfectants or a bleach solution if you also sanitize) that are appropriate for the surface in your pantry, following label instructions. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, perhaps such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.  Then, before putting your foods and storage containers back, wipe them off with a warm, soapy dish cloth and dry with a paper towel (or clean cloth towel if paper is an issue for you at these times of short supply).

Remember when preparing food, wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils (including knives), and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next food.  Then, sanitize cutting boards and kitchen countertops using a kitchen sanitizer. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water can also be used to sanitize surfaces. Leave the bleach solution on the surface for about 3-5 minutes to be effective. It is best to let surfaces air dry, but if you have to, rinse with cold water and pat dry with fresh paper towels. (If you are in household with a person ill from COVID-19 or suspected ill from it at this time, follow CDC advice for cleaning and disinfecting: https://tinyurl.com/vyc9tdv)

Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. Then the germs get thrown away with the towels! Knowing paper supplies are in demand now and short supply, launder cloth towels often, using hot water. Do not dry your hands with a towel that was used to clean up raw meat, poultry, or seafood juices. These raw juices can contaminate your hands and other surfaces. Put those towels immediately into the laundry bin and wash soon.

Check out your refrigerator also. Wipe up spills immediately. However, while you are in the deeper kitchen cleaning mode, clean the inside walls and shelves with hot water and a mild liquid dishwashing detergent; then rinse.  Once a week, you should already be checking expiration and “use by” dates on refrigerated foods.

Back to preparing food, especially if that has not been your regular kitchen activity for a while. Always keep raw and ready to eat foods separated. Cross-contamination is the word for how bacteria can be spread from one food product or to another, or from a dirty surface or hands to food. This process begins at the grocery store and continues with carry home bags, and your refrigerator. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another cutting board for ready to eat foods. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat and poultry unless the plate has been thoroughly cleaned.

Cook food to the proper temperature. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked to a proper temperature and keep a cooking internal temperature chart handy. Chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165°F to be safe; ground meat and meat mixtures to at least 160°F; egg dishes like quiche to at least 160°F; seafoods to at least 145°F ; beef and other red meat roasts and chops to at least 145°F with a 3-minute stand time before serving. Use a clean, calibrated food thermometer to check the food for doneness in at least two places in the center or the thickest part. For reasons of personal preference, many people prefer to cook chicken and turkey to higher temperatures such as 170-180°F to remove pink appearance and rubbery texture. Thoroughly reheat leftovers to 165ºF internal temperature and be sure to bring gravies, sauces and soups to a rolling boil.

Finally, chill everything promptly! Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours by placing them in shallow containers to cool rapidly. Keep the refrigerator temperature at 40ºF or below and the freezer at 0ºF. Monitor the temperature with an appliance thermometer. Always thaw food in the refrigerator, in a cold water bath of running water, or in the microwave right before cooking it.

For more information on storing foods, including freezer packaging choices and headspace for freezer containers, see general sections on these topics available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, https://nchfp.uga.edu.  Also see the Food Keeper app and website: https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app

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Preserving Those Unripe Tomatoes

Some of us have planned purposes for green, unripe tomatoes early in the season – like my mother’s delish green tomato relish recipe! – while others are grabbing end of season unripe tomatoes off the vines before the frost hits. Now you have a lot of these green tomatoes, what to do with them? greentom_blog

Unripe tomatoes may be canned like ripe tomatoes, following the same directions including acidification. Even though unripe tomatoes should have a lower pH (higher acid content) than their ripe counterparts, we do not know if even in the unripe stage your variety and growing situation may mean they are still above pH 4.6. So follow the USDA directions for canning tomato and tomato products, including the acidification. See the acidification advice even for green tomatoes here: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_03/tomato_intro.html and the available canning procedures for tomatoes here: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can3_tomato.html

How about that prized relish in our family?  That and other relishes calling for green tomatoes include

And, even though it doesn’t call for green, unripe tomatoes, I might throw in the more unusual, very tasty Oscar Relish to help use up those red tomatoes being grabbed off vines before the frost, also: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/oscar_relish.html .

Green-Tomato-Pie-049-photoshoppedAnother option for something a bit different (and not a relish), is the Green Tomato Pie Filling: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/can_pie/green_tomato_filling.html This will give you a great headstart for something to have handy during winter holidays (or really anytime).

Image courtesy of Randal Oulton

Some look forward to the summer treat of fried green tomato slices; you can freeze your raw slices and have them for frying later in the year, also:

Freezing green tomato slices: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/tomato_green.html

For more information on canning and freezing methods, including packaging choices and headspace for freezer containers, see general sections on these topics available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, https://nchfp.uga.edu.

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But my jars sealed…

Often when people ask if their canned food is safe even though they know or have been told they processed them unsafely, they end by saying “the jars sealed”.  Or, they are finding really old home canned jars of food they forgot about, or found, when cleaning out a relative’s home. “They’re sealed so shouldn’t they be safe?” Here is short posting to say that a sealed jar is not a sign of food being processed safely!

A vacuum seal that forms on a canning jar after processing only means that there is a sealed_lidvacuum holding the lid on. To create a vacuum requires enough heat produced in the contents and the lid and then a cooling process that draws the vacuum.  The heat required to form a vacuum seal with today’s canning lids is much less than the heat needed to sterilize most foods.  Killing of spores of C. botulinum bacterial spores in low-acid foods, for example takes much more thorough and severe heating throughout the food mass than the heat needed to sufficiently warm the lid and headspace for vacuum to form after cooling.

Even killing of harmful bacteria like E. coli or others of concern in acid foods would take more heating of the jars of food than that needed to cause a vacuum seal to form during cooling. Enough heat has to get distributed throughout all parts of the mass of food in the jar to get to wherever the bacteria might be.

If a food was processed safely, a vacuum seal then needs to be maintained during storage of canned foods on the shelf to keep the food safe. The vacuum seal prevents food from being re-contaminated (and drying out). But a vacuum seal by itself is not a sign that the food inside was processed correctly to make the food safe.

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It’s Peak Apple Time

Fall weather brings the best fresh apples in bushels.  While we are in a season of peak applechutneysmallapple production in many states, you might consider preserving some specialties that will add variety to menus throughout the year.  Apples can be dried, made into applesauce or apple butter, or even made into a delicious apple pear jam. Those who treasure the crispness of fresh apples will not be impressed by soft canned or frozen apple slices, but they can be preserved by those methods, also.

Whether you are buying apples by visiting the nearby orchard, the grocery store or market, or even picking apples from your own backyard, choose the preservation method that is best for your apple variety. Varieties that are good for freezing include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan and Granny Smith. Varieties that are good for making applesauce and apple butter include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gravenstein and McIntosh. Red Delicious apples are best eaten fresh. They do not freeze or cook well in most opinions.  There are so many newer varieties in the last few years, it will take some time to get this list updated, but it is a starting place for your choices.

When selecting your apples for preserving, choose apples that are free of defects, such as bruises, skin breaks and decayed spots. Little brown spots appearing solely on the skin of the apple, called “russeting,” does not affect quality of the tissue underneath. Beware and on the lookout for browning or broken skins that are evidence of actual spoilage such as rotting or mold.

If making applesauce, apple butter or dried slices with your apples, use them as soon as possible after harvest. If any apples must be stored, keep them in a cool, dark place. They should not be tightly covered or wrapped up; a perforated plastic or open paper bag, basket or wooden crate are good choices. If kept in the refrigerator, apples should be placed in the humidifier compartment or in a plastic bag with several holes punched in it (or in a zipper-type vegetable bag). This prevents loss of moisture and crispness. Apples should not be placed close to foods with strong odors since the odor may be picked up by the apples.

Here are some options to prepare for and choose from in preserving your apples:

Making and canning a flavorful applesauce:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_02/applesauce.html

Making and canning a tasty, robust apple butter:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_02/apple_butter.html

For those who want a no-sugar added apple butter:
(ours was developed  for sucralose as a sweetener but no sweetener is necessary)
http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/apple_butter_reduced.html

Drying apple slices or rings:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/uga_dry_fruit.pdf

Combining the best of fall fruits in tasty pear-apple jam:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_07/pear_apple_jam.html

Making old-fashioned, pretty crabapple jelly:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_07/crabapple_jelly.html

Canning a special, spicy gift-quality apple chutney: apple chutney
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_06/apple_chutney.html

And if you like the option of a spicy pickled profile, also check out this apple relish:
http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/harvest_apple_relish.htm

And, for all those extra apple slices to save for pies and desserts later in the year, freezing:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/apple.html

For more information on canning and freezing methods, including packaging choices and headspace for freezer containers, see general sections on these topics available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, https://nchfp.uga.edu.

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