February is National Canned Food Month

February is National Canned Food Month

Woman standing in front of shelves of home canned food.

Homemade canned preserves 1942.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo

In 1795, Napoleon needed a better way to preserve large quantities of food for his troops during the Napoleonic Wars, so his government offered a reward of 12,000 francs for the invention of a new food preservation method. In 1809, Nicolas Appert won that award with his canning technique that used glass containers that were sealed then heated to a set temperature. Peter Durand created the tin canister a year later. These inventions led to the canning materials and processes that are used today to preserve food for people all over the world.

Canned food provides a convenient and often less expensive way to include fruits and vegetables in the diet of many individuals and families. Canned foods are also considered a staple in many pantries because of their shelf life. Commercially canned products may keep the food packed inside at its best quality for 1 to 5 years depending on the type of food. Most home canned foods are able to be stored for up to a year, though there are some exceptions.

Canned goods on a shelf.

Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

To make the most of canned foods, keep these tips in mind.

Best by or use by dates on commercial products do not indicate safety. They are estimated dates provided by the manufacturer on how long they believe their product would be at its best quality. The exception to this is for infant formula products that are required to have a “Use-By” date and should not be used after that date.

Avoid cans or jars that are not in good condition. Look for dents, swelling or bulging, leaking, rust, cracks in jars or loose lids. If the food has a foul odor or spurts liquid when it’s opened, do not use it. Any of these could indicate the food may have been contaminated or could contain Clostridium botulinum toxins.

Woman canning in the kitchen.

A woman canning in the kitchen.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo

Store canned foods in a cool, dark and dry space. This will help them to last longer and keep the food inside at its best quality. Keep canned foods in an area that is between 50-70°F.

Use canned foods to fill nutrition gaps. Add a can of vegetables to your dinner menu—a side of green beans or carrots can help balance your plate. Try using a can of fruit as a basis for a dessert. Pineapple and cottage cheese, anyone? If you’re concerned about sodium or sugar in canned foods, look for products marked as low sodium or lite for less sugar. Compare ingredient and nutrition labels of different brands or varieties of a product to find what works best for you.

If you can foods at home, make sure you’re following recipes that have been tested for safety. Follow the guidelines in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 Revision or find more information at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also contact your local extension office; in Florida, you can find your local office here.

 

Resources:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, How Did We Can?: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table

U.S. Department of Agriculture, AskUSDA, How long can you keep canned goods?: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-canned-goods

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Product Dating: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating

Celebrate Watermelons!

Celebrate Watermelons!

Watermelon slices in bowls

Credit: Photo by JÉSHOOTS from Canva Free Images

Watermelon is a tasty treat so celebrating watermelons in August sounds like a great reason to break out all the delicious and healthy watermelon recipes I’ve been saving—like this one for Watermelon Limeade.

Did you know that eating watermelon provides your body with Vitamins A, B6, C and potassium? Red watermelons are also a good source of lycopene. A two-cup serving of watermelon only has 80 calories but can provide 6% of your daily value of potassium, 8% of Vitamin A, 25% of Vitamin C and more!

Watermelons are also completely edible, from the fleshy center part all the way out to the green rind. The rind is typically cooked or pickled before being eaten and Watermelon Rind Pickles are popular here in the Southeast. Ninety percent of watermelons sold in stores are seedless, but if you do get a seeded watermelon, the seeds can be cooked and eaten too! They are usually sprouted and roasted or dried first.

Watermelon slices

Photo Credit: UF/IFAS File Photo

Buying a whole watermelon versus one that’s pre-cut can be a better value, but you’ll want to make sure you select a ripe melon. There’s an old wives’ tale about thumping the watermelon but the best way to choose is by picking it up and looking at it. Here’s what you’re checking for:

  • Look for a watermelon that doesn’t have any bruises, cuts, or dents. Some scratches are normal.
  • Check for a buttery or creamy yellow spot. This is an indicator of where the watermelon rested on the ground while it ripened.
  • The watermelon should be heavy considering the size. It is 92% water!

When you are preparing your watermelon, make sure to wash it before cutting into it. Use cool running water, scrub it with a produce brush, then dry it with a clean paper towel or cloth towel. Many people skip this step since it’s heavy and can be bulky but it’s an important part of maintaining your food’s safety. If you don’t wash your watermelon before cutting into it, you could be transferring bacteria from the outside of the melon to the inner flesh. Be sure your hands and any knives, utensils and cutting boards you will be using are clean as well.

An uncut watermelon can be stored outside of the refrigerator for a week if it wasn’t previously chilled. Once it has been cut open, it will need to be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated—you’ll want to enjoy it within a week.

When you think about eating watermelon, I bet the first image that comes to mind is eating a plain slice right from the fruit. And that’s great! Just keep in mind that watermelon can be made into drinks, added to salads, frozen into popsicles, incorporated in a stir-fry or slaw or even grilled!

Now, back to those recipes… here’s one for Watermelon Rind Pickles if you want to enjoy them right away (these will only keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator) and this is one for canning Watermelon Rind Pickles so you have them year-round! And if you want more, try the recipe section at the Produce for Better Health Foundation or the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Celebrate watermelons this August by trying a new recipe or two with this amazing fruit!

 

Resources:

National Watermelon Promotion Board. Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.watermelon.org/watermelon-101/facts-faqs/

National Watermelon Promotion Board, Nutrition: https://www.watermelon.org/nutrition/nutrient-profile/

Produce for Better Health Foundation, Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Watermelon: https://fruitsandveggies.org/stories/top-10-ways-enjoy-watermelon/

Produce Pointers – Strawberries

Produce Pointers – Strawberries

Strawberries

Strawberries from Fresh off the Farm event. Taken 04-12-2019 (Photo Source: UF/IFAS Camila Guillen)

Choose locally- grown strawberries during the harvesting season; they will be the freshest and the most flavorful. When picking strawberries, try to pick early in the morning or later in the day when the fruit is cool.  Strawberries are best used within 2-3 days of picking.

 

Uses & Preparation

Freezing Whole Strawberries;  Spread a single layer of prepared fruit on shallow trays and freeze.  When frozen, promptly package (to avoid freezer burn) and return to freezer.  The fruit pieces remain loose and can be used as needed.

Freezing Sliced or Crushed Strawberries;  Prepare berries: Using ripe berries, wash gently and remove caps.  Slice or crush partially or completely.  To 1 quart berries add 3/4 cup sugar.  Mix thoroughly.  Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand 15 minutes.  Pack into containers, leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Seal and freeze.

Storage

Sort and remove any bruised or damaged berries as soon as possible and use in sauces, purees or jams. Place the berries in cool, well-ventilated containers.  The moisture content of fresh strawberries is high, so store them unwashed and uncovered, or loosely covered.

Quantities

1 pint = about 3 1/4 cups whole berries (12-36 depending on size of berries) or about 2 1/4 cups sliced berries.  1 cup sliced fresh berries = One 10-oz. pkg frozen, sweetened berries.

MERRY FRESH STRAWBERRY PIE

1 9- inch pie crust, baked

1 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons strawberry flavored gelatin mix

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

1cup boiling water

2 pints strawberries, cleaned and stemmed

2 cups whipped topping (optional)

Combine sugar, gelatin, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Stir in boiling water. Boil mixture for 3 minutes over high heat, stirring constantly. Cool completely.

Arrange whole strawberries in pastry shell. Pour gelatin mixture over berries.  Chill before serving. Top with whipped topping, if desired.

Nutrition Information:  Low in calories – High in Vitamin C – Good source of folate, potassium & fiber
Available Fresh:  April – May

To learn about fresh Florida strawberries, please read our fact sheet: Panhandle Produce Pointers – Strawberries.

.For more delicious produce preparation tips, please visit: http://www.panhandleproducepointers.com.

 

Proactive Preparation – National Preparedness Month

Proactive Preparation – National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month, so right now is a great time to think about how you can be prepared, and then act on those thoughts and get ready for an emergency! This article will help get you thinking, give you some great starting points, and provide resources to turn to.

Emergencies Have a Wide Horizon

While hurricanes are likely the first thing panhandle residents think of when it comes to emergencies, are you prepared for others? Fires? Floods? Hail? Lightning? Tsunamis? Drought? Heat waves? Tornadoes? Possible winter storms? Marine oil spills? Major sewage problems? Other life-threatening medical disasters? Being prepared for a hurricane like Michael is vital to panhandle life, but it’s certainly wise to consider other possible disasters and to be prepared for anything.

Being prepared for an emergency can greatly reduce the stress it causes. (Photo source: Stephanie Herzog)

There are also so many ways to prepare for emergencies that it can be overwhelming to think about. Do you have sufficient food storage? What about clean water for your whole family (pets included)? How are you going to wash your clothes? How do you purify water? What if your toilet isn’t usable, what do you do? Can you safely start a fire if there’s no heat? What about shelter? How do you stop a gaping wound? How do you turn off the water to your house? What is the best evacuation route? How do you contact someone when there’s no power? Are those potentially life-saving prescriptions easily accessible? Where is the deed to your house, the title to your car, and your family’s vital identification documents? You’re filing an insurance claim, and you have no idea what brand your Smart TV was, where you bought it, how old it was, or how much it cost – what do you do?

Preparation Brings Relief

Have all of these questions got you thinking, but perhaps exhausted you? Now imagine that you could answer every one of these questions confidently – how do you feel? A weight lifted? Stress is a central source of fatigue for us all, and with it comes a variety of problems – mental, physical, financial, and social. Think of a time when you were prepared for the expected or unexpected – was your stress considerably less? Most likely it was. Preparation is a positive, proactive behavior that gives foresight into the unknown. Procrastination tends to be the default within a human’s nature, so being prepared doesn’t necessarily sound like a fun thing to do with your time. But it will be a game-changer for your life when the time comes that you have to react swiftly and decisively in the event of an emergency. The investment is well worth it!

However, you don’t have to do it alone. Thankfully, there are many professionals here to help you! Here are a few starter tips to aid you in the beginning of your preparation:

  1. Human Life. First and foremost, in an emergency the highest priority is that of preserving human life. Material objects can be replaced – a life cannot be. Always keep this in mind while preparing for and responding to emergencies!
  2. Sustenance Storage. Have adequate food and water storage for your needs. Label your food and water storage with the month and year to help track expiration dates.
    • Canned and dehydrated foods are great for storage, and many items have a long shelf life.
    • Remember one gallon of water per person/pet per day – store as much fresh water as you can! You can only survive a few days without water, but weeks without food.
    • Plan in your near future to eat and drink the food and water supply that are nearing expiration and then replace the storage with fresh sustenance.
  3. 72-Hour Kit. Have a 72-hour kit for each member of your family, including pets. Backpacks or duffel bags are ideal grab-and-go containers. Keep a 72-hour kit both in your home and in your car.
  4. Review Annually. Pick one Saturday a year as your “emergency preparedness day” where you review all of your food and water storage, medical supplies and prescriptions, fire extinguishers, and all other emergency materials.
    • Make an inventory and then head to the store to replace any expired or missing items.
    • Clean and organize your storage space and emergency kits so everything is accessible.
  5. Evacuation Plan. Have an evacuation plan and put it on the calendar to practice it with your family – and even neighbors – every three months.

Start now to be prepared!

Additional Resources

Sources

Jaffe, E. (2013, March.) Why wait? The science behind procrastination. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination

Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65

Getting to Know Herbs

Getting to Know Herbs

Herbs are like people; each herb has its own personality. Some herbs have bold flavors and should be used with care while others are mild and can be used more freely. View Shopping for Health: Herbs and Spices for more about this.

Herbs can be divided into two categories. Accent herbs and herbs that add character to dishes. Parsley, chives, and dillweed are a few of the accent herbs. They are milder in flavor and are often combined within the same recipe. The character herbs; basil, marjoram, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, sage, and tarragon add dominant flavor to dishes.

Yellow herb garden sign, herbs in pots, herbs in the ground

Getting to Know Herbs
Photo source: Beth Bolles

A little heat releases the flavor of herbs. Herbs are bitter, however, when cooked too much. Add accent herbs during the last few minutes of cooking time. Character herbs, such as bay leaves, can withstand longer cooking times and usually are added at the beginning of the cooking process.

When selecting fresh herbs, look for plants with an all-over green color. Yellowing indicates old plants, while black, watery areas are a sign of bruising.

To refrigerate fresh herbs for future use, rinse herbs under cold water, pat dry, wrap in paper toweling and refrigerate in a plastic bag. To use, just cut or pull off leaves. Most refrigerated herbs will retain freshness for up to four days to a week.

Herbs can be frozen or dried for longer storage. To freeze fresh herbs, wash herbs, pat dry and freeze in airtight bags or containers. Frozen herbs should be thawed just before use. Fresh herbs can be dried for later use.

When experimenting with a new herb, pull off a leaf and crush it, let it warm in your hand. If it has a delicate aroma you can add more. If it is strong and pungent, use it sparingly. It is always easier to add more of an herb than subtract.

Dried herbs are more concentrated. When cooking with dried herbs use one third of the dried leaves to substitute for the fresh. One teaspoon of dried leaves is equal to one tablespoon of fresh. The fresh leaves are more pungent than the dried.

 

Cooking with Herbs

Try these herb blends to enhance the flavor of beef, poultry, and seafood dishes.

Salt Free Blend

1 Tablespoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons parsley

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons thyme

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons dill weed

2 teaspoons savory

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoons lemon peel

Garden Blend

3 Tablespoons dried parsley

3 Tablespoons dried basil

3 Tablespoons dried thyme

3 Tablespoons dried marjoram

3 Tablespoons dried rosemary

3 Tablespoons dried chives

3 Tablespoons paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

 

“What is paradise, but a garden of herbs full of pleasure and nothing there but delights”

                                                                                                            William Lawson, 1617

 

 

Make Grocery Shopping Sustainable

Make Grocery Shopping Sustainable

reusable shopping bags

One way to be more sustainable when shopping for groceries is to use reusable shopping bags. They’re durable and sturdy and can help reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the landfill each year. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

Sustainability should not just be a buzzword during Earth Month.  The fact that everybody either shops for or eats groceries means the whole grocery shopping experience is a good time to reflect and improve upon what we can personally do to embrace issues of sustainability.

This year in April, the Earth Month theme focuses on Returning to Nature.  There is no better place to start a quest for personal sustainable improvement than the grocery store!  Grocery shopping truly embraces the three main areas of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.  In fact, it has been well documented that the average family wastes about 25% of the food it purchases.  (Much of this ends up in a landfill and creates problems of its own.)

With a bit of forethought, meal planning before grocery shopping can help individuals and families apply sustainable best practices for environmental, economic, and social well-being.  In fact, many of the principles of sustainability can be effectively applied to both meal planning and grocery shopping.

RESPECT yourself.  Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. Improve health by keeping a balanced diet.  Vow to make healthier food choices for personal health and the environment.

REFUSE to use food products that do not fit your principles of sustainability. This may mean buying food with less packaging, eating more locally-grown fruits and vegetables, or looking for foods labeled as more responsibly sourced.

REDUCE the amount of food thrown out.  Planning meals ahead of time and writing out a grocery list are excellent ways to start living sustainably.  Planning not only saves money on groceries, it can save time and decrease the amount of personal food waste a family contributes.  (Remember, freezing products can prolong their life, so if you find that you’ve overbought, try preserving some of your bounty for later use.) Reducing the number of trips to the grocery store also can help save on fuel and transportation costs.

REUSE /REPURPOSE food for another occasion.  Careful meal planning helps ensure that leftovers from one meal can be incorporated into the next one, thereby reducing food waste.

RETHINK!  Healthy, nutritious, delicious, and inexpensive grocery choices can be found in every food group.  Not all food has to be prepackaged.  In fact, with a bit of planning, dinner can be on the table in 15 minutes.  (That’s less time than it takes to wait in line at a fast food restaurant.)

BE RESPONSIBLE!  Use what you buy.

Stock up on low-cost healthy grain products like whole-wheat noodles, brown rice, and store-brand cereals and oatmeal.

Purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season and cost less.  In addition, do not forget that frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables can play an important part in meal planning.

Buy the largest size you can effectively use before it reaches the expiration date – and look for the items with the latest dates.  Purchase store brands or generic brands whenever possible. Keep in mind smaller containers tend to cost more, no matter what the food group. Buying larger packages and dividing them into smaller portions can save money and reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in the landfill. Investing in small, reusable storage containers will save money and reduce waste in the end.

Practice Meatless Monday.  The protein group provides inexpensive protein sources like beans, lentils, and eggs, which can be substituted for meat in many meals.

Protein does not have to be the most expensive item purchased.  Consulting the store’s weekly sales flyer during meal planning can help you plan meals around meat and poultry items that are on sale.

Prepare food your family will actually eat.  There are two schools of thought here: preparing just enough for one meal or preparing big-batch recipes that provide leftovers which can be frozen for later use. Either practice can be sustainable. Freeze leftovers only if you’re going to use them. Otherwise, cut down on the amount of food cooked to help reduce food waste.

Learn how to cook.  Prepare and eat more meals at home.  It is sustainable, good for you, and delicious. Meals cooked at home are more nutritious, less expensive, and result in less overall waste, such as packaging.

Two additional ways to be more sustainable when grocery shopping are to use reusable shopping bags and to stop using single-use plastic produce bags. Plastic grocery bags choke our landfills and end up in our water bodies. They are not biodegradable and can last thousands of years virtually intact. Reusable shopping bags are made from recycled materials and can drastically reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the trash each year.

For more information on making your grocery shopping more sustainable, check out these related articles:
Freezing: Nature’s Pause Button (UF/IFAS Extension)
What’s in your FREEZER? (UF/IFAS Extension)
Best Practices for Shoppers at the Farmers’ Market (UF/IFAS Extension)
Sustainable Grocery Shopping (University of Northern Iowa)

Picture, name, and bio of UF FCS agents: Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy

UF/IFAS Family and Consumer Sciences Agents Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy