Summer Canning Methods with Your Children

Youth learn food preservation skills. Photo source: Melanie Taylor

At this point in the summer, many parents are at a loss for what to do to keep their children engaged and “off the couch.” How about a focus on healthy eating and food preservation? If you have a backyard garden be sure to pick the fruits and vegetables at their peak readiness. If you do not have a garden make a family trip to the local farmers market and/or a local u-pick farm.

Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrition and taste, but if you have or buy more than your family can eat in a few days’ time, be sure to make preparations to teach your children how to preserve those foods to eat later in the year. There is nothing more enjoyable than having fruit jam on biscuits or summer vegetables in your soup during the cold depths of winter.

There are six different methods of food preservation to teach your children. They are boiling water/water bath canning, making jam, pickling, freezing, drying, and pressure canning. The easiest method being freezing and the most complex and time consuming being pressure canning. No matter which ones you choose to teach your children be sure to follow valid recipes and procedures. Family and Consumer Science Extension Agents always recommend using the most current recipes and procedures from The National Center for Home Food Preservation, which are maintained at The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (CSREES-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. Many of the recipes are available for free on the website, or you can order the 6th edition of the “So Easy to Preserve” food preservation book at

Specific to children, there is also a Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth curriculum through the University of Georgia, which is a series of informal educational lessons that guide youth to explore and understand the science of safe food preservation. This free curriculum can be found online at after a quick questionnaire of how you plan to use the curriculum.

Teaching these food preservation skills to your children will be a fun-filled and very educational opportunity. Be sure to use the above resources to assist you in the food safety methods to be certain your products are safe for consumption. Enjoy this special time in the garden and kitchen with your children this summer.


National Center for Home Food Preservation

“So Easy to Preserve”

Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth




Make Home Safety a Year-Round Priority

What you don’t know can hurt you.  “I didn’t know.”  In these words lies the story of countless deaths and injuries in countless homes.

About one-half of the accidental deaths of children occur in the home— from falls, suffocation/choking, scalding, poisoning, and burning.  Elderly persons, likewise, are subject to greater dangers because of infirmities and impaired faculties.  Yet the concern about home accidents is not only for the very young or the very old.  Accidents at home can strike people of all ages.

Every year, over two million poisonings are reported to Poison Control Centers across the country, and more than ninety percent of those happen in the home.  The majority of non-fatal poisonings occur among children younger than six years, and poisoning is one of the leading causes of death among adults.

The medicine cabinet is a favorite attraction for curious young children.  It is not enough to put poisons and certain types of medicines on high shelves because exploring children like to climb.  Dangerous substances need to be locked up.

A significant number of children are being poisoned by consuming medicines brought into the home by grandparents or visitors.  Poisonings also have occurred when youngsters have visited homes where no children live.

Substances which can cause accidental poisoning in children also are found outside the medicine cabinet.  The list is a lengthy one—detergents, cleaning compounds, insect sprays, paint thinners, and antifreeze, just to name a few.

Children are not the only victims of accidental poisoning.  Every year, there are numerous cases of men and women who poison themselves unintentionally.  To help prevent a tragic accident in your home, follow safety-wise guidelines.

Keep household products separated.  Take care that foods are not exposed and become contaminated when you use insect sprays, cleaning agents, and rodent poisons.

  • Containers with flammable liquids should be clearly labeled.
  • Flammable liquids such as gasoline should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated place, not inside the home.
  • Never pour flammable liquids down sinks or other drains.
  • Store medicines and cleaning supplies in locked cabinets out of children’s reach.

The Centers for Disease Control report that about 12,000 children every year are victims of poisonous plants or berries they have ingested, or in some cases, just put into their mouths.  Most persons are reasonably familiar with dangerous outdoor plants, such as poison ivy, oleander, or deadly nightshade, but what they do not know is even some of the most common houseplants can cause serious, even fatal reactions.  For example, tea brewed from mistletoe berries is lethal and rhubarb leaves (not the stalks) contain oxalic acid, which can cause severe kidney damage.

One home safety issue that is not well-publicized regards pressurized containers.  Pressurized containers have revolutionized packaging economy, but caution is necessary in their use.  Never incinerate a pressurized container.  The heat will cause the air inside to expand, which, in turn, may cause the container to burst.  Read the warning message on the container to find out if the mixture is flammable.  Keep pressurized containers away from children.

Keeping home safety in mind at all times can mean the difference between a happy home environment and a tragedy.

Note:  See the following article for additional information on home safety and children,

I’m Home and I’m Starving!

Those are familiar words for most of us with kids.  Though they are not really starving, most children do need a little afternoon boost when they come home from school.  It may have been hours since lunch and dinner won’t be ready for a while.  A healthy snack is usually just the right answer.

When planning afterschool snacks, think of them as the fourth meal of the day or as a mini-meal.  Hopefully, you wouldn’t plan a dinner of just potato chips or candy, so why plan snacks that way?  Use the food groups from MyPlate to help you plan healthy, ready-to-eat snacks from each food group.

  • Fruit – Have a bowl of fruit on the counter always at the ready.  Keep a pre-cut fruit salad or peeled oranges in the refrigerator.  Make 100% fruit juice popsicles.
  • Vegetables – Keep cut up veggies available in plastic zippered bags with kid-friendly dips like ranch dressing to go with them.
  • Protein – A variety of nuts and seeds is always good to have on hand.  Hard boiled eggs offer great protein power as well.
  • Dairy – String cheese and yogurt cups are terrific dairy sources.
  • Whole Grains – Whole grain crackers, popcorn, and granola mix add plenty of crunch.

Easy” and “available” are the key planning points to remember.  Designate a snack area in the refrigerator or pantry.  Decorate a personalized snack box for each child filled with favorite healthy snacks.  A healthy variety of snacks always at the ready holds our child’s interest, provides the much needed energy to close the gap between lunch and dinner, provides nutrients they may not have gotten from other meals in the day, and keeps them from … well, starving.

Something Fishy

Something Fishy

This may sound like a fish story, but it’s true!  People are eating more fish and shellfish than ever before!  While seafood has always been popular in the South as a whole, no area is more graciously endowed with an abundance of fresh seafood products than the northern Gulf Coast.  The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico abound with many delicious saltwater fish, as well as a plentiful supply of shrimp, crabs, scallops, and oysters.

Fish and shellfish have become an even more important part of the diet as people turn to more healthful eating. People are choosing fish and shellfish more for several other reasons as well—it is economical, high in nutritive value, quick and easy to prepare, versatile, and, best of all, seafood is great-tasting.

Buying seafood can be a daunting process because of the huge variety of market forms available, yet with general guidelines you can easily learn to recognize quality and freshness.

Always purchase your fish and shellfish from a reliable dealer who will stake his reputation on the quality and freshness of his merchandise.  Seafood is a highly perishable commodity, and therefore should be purchased as near to the time of preparation as possible, and as close to the time the catch was made, if that information is available.

When buying fish, look for bright, clear, bulging eyes; reddish or pink gills; tight, shiny scales; firm, elastic flesh that springs back when pressed; and a pleasant salt-water-like odor.  Fresh shrimp should be slightly green in color and firm to the touch.  Shucked oysters should be plump with no evidence of shrinkage.  The liquid in which oysters are packed should be clean, fresh, and sweet-smelling.  Scallops are usually sold shucked.  Select scallops that are cream-colored rather than white.

Fish and shellfish are best if cooked the day of purchase, but can be stored no more than two days in the coldest part of the refrigerator, preferably on ice.  Frozen fish and shellfish should be kept solidly frozen until ready to thaw.  Frozen seafood will remain fresh for four to six months.   Cook seafood immediately upon thawing.  Never refreeze seafood.

Most fish and shellfish can be cooked using a variety of methods. Seafood can be broiled, grilled, deep-fried, poached, steamed, baked, panfried, and sautéed.  Particular care must be taken not to overcook seafood.

Many seafood aficionados/enthusiasts prefer flavoring their dishes with only small amounts of salt, pepper, and occasionally lemon, yet the delicate taste of seafood blends exceptionally well with a variety of herbs, spices and seeds, as long as those seasonings are used sparingly so as not to overwhelm the flavor of the seafood.

So the next time you are in the neighborhood of your favorite seafood market, stop in.  Remember that fish and shellfish from the Gulf are nutritious, economical, quick and easy to prepare, and taste great.  And that’s no fish story!



1 pound shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined

¼ cup margarine

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 bell pepper, diced

1 (8¼-ounce) can pineapple chunks

½ cup white vinegar

¼ cup white sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon salt


Cut shrimp into bite-sized pieces.  Heat electric wok to 350°F and melt margarine; cook onions and bell peppers until they are crisp-tender.

Drain pineapple, reserving syrup for sauce.  In a large bowl blend together pineapple syrup, vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, dry mustard, pepper, and salt.  Mix well.  (Note:  a whisk will aid in thoroughly blending ingredients.)

Stir sauce into sautéing onion and bell pepper; cook until sauce thickens.  Gently stir in pineapple chunks and shrimp.  Heat until pineapple and shrimp are hot.  Serve over hot rice.

Author:  Dorothy C. Lee, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Escambia County Extension

Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning

Energy Efficient Home: Air Conditioning

Photo by Les Harrison, Wakulla County Extension Director

Welcome to the Florida summer!!! Feeling the heat?  No pool to cool off in?  Running your air conditioner and then feeling blue when the bill arrives?  Let’s review some basics in energy-efficient use of your air conditioner.  Perhaps you and your family could make some small changes that could result in money being saved. Quick Facts:  Did you know that…..

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) account for more than 40% of your utility bill?
  • For every degree setting below 78˚F, you spend up to 8% more in cooling costs?
  • Upgrading your system can reduce your air conditioning costs by a significant amount.  Is it time to consider doing so?

Short-term solutions to improve the efficiency of your existing system include…..

  • Set your thermostat at 78˚ F or higher.
  • Use bath and kitchen fans sparingly when the air conditioner is operating.
  • Inspect and clean both the indoor and outdoor coils.  The indoor coil in your air conditioner acts as a magnet for dust because it is constantly wetted during the cooling season.  Dirt build-up on the indoor coil is the single most common cause of poor efficiency.  The outdoor coil also must be checked periodically for dirt build-up and cleaned if necessary.
  • Shade east and west windows.
  • Delay heat-generating activities, such as dishwashing and drying clothes in a clothes dryer, until the evening on hot days.
  • During most of the cooling season, keep the house closed tight during the day.
  • Try not to use a dehumidifier at the same time your air conditioner is operating.  It increases the cooling load and forces the air conditioner to work harder.
  • Consider installing ceiling fans to circulate the air more effectively.  The improved circulation will make you feel cooler.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.  You can then schedule the time blocks during which your heating or air-conditioning system operates.  As a result, you can set the equipment to more economical settings—such as lower temperatures in winter while you are asleep or when you are away from home.  Choose one that can store and repeat multiple daily settings, so that you can have both a workday and a weekend heating/cooling timetable.

We have such great resources from our UF/IFAS Specialists available to you.  This article was adapted from Factsheet FCS 3262 Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning  This publication includes information on understanding terms used in the industry, how to purchase a new unit, and questions you should be prepared to ask and answer when working with a HVAC representative.  Contact your County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with further questions or for a copy of this factsheet.  For additional factsheets on energy efficiency and other topics, visit

Author:  Shelley Swenson,  Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP Agent, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension


Shelley Swenson
UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County
Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP Agent

Totally Tasty Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in backyard gardens.  With each plant capable of producing 8-10 pounds of fruit or more, good gardeners may have more tomatoes than they can eat.  If you lack a green thumb, tomatoes are easy to find at farmers markets, roadside stands, and even grocery stores.

Botanically, the tomato is a fruit but in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable because of a tariff dispute.  Nutritionally, tomatoes are low in calories and fat and high in vitamin C and potassium.  They are good source of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene.  Tomatoes are also high in the antioxidant, lycopene.  Research has shown that lycopene may reduce the risk of heart disease and several types of cancer.  Lycopene is more easily absorbed from cooked tomato products. Eighty percent of the lycopene in the American diet comes from tomato products.

There is nothing tastier than a freshly picked tomato.  Choose tomatoes that are firm, fragrant, and brightly colored.  Avoid bruised tomatoes that are too soft or too hard.  Store tomatoes at room temperature, and only refrigerate tomatoes to keep them longer.  Fresh tomatoes are good in salads, on sandwiches, or tossed on scrambled eggs, nachos, or in other common dishes like macaroni and cheese.

Tomatoes are easy to preserve by freezing, drying, or canning.


Frozen tomatoes are mushy when thawed but can be used in soups and casseroles. Wash and dip tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins.  Core and peel.  Freeze whole or in pieces.  Pack in freezer containers, jars, or packaging, leaving 1- inch headspace.

Cooked Puree. Wash, peel, core, and cut tomatoes. Cook until soft. Press through food mill or sieve. Cool and pack into freezer jars or containers. Concentrate the puree by boiling until amount is reduced in half.

Juice. Wash, core, peel, and cut tomatoes. Simmer about 5 minutes; put through a sieve or food mill. Cool and pack as above.


Small cherry tomatoes or tomatoes with a high solid content, such as Romas, work best for drying. Dried tomatoes are good in soups, stews, sauces, and salads. Tomato leather can be eaten as is, added to soups for flavor, or a little water can be added to the leather to make a savory tomato sauce.  Steam tomatoes for 3 minutes or dip tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute to loosen skins. Chill in cold water; slip skins off. Cut into sections about 1/2 inch wide or slices; cut small tomatoes in half.  Dry tomatoes in a food dehydrator for approximately10-18 hours (length of time depends on initial moisture content).  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Tomatoes are a low-acid food and must be canned carefully to avoid the risk of botulism. To acidify tomatoes, add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon citric acid, OR 2 tablespoons vinegar  per pint jar.  For quarts, add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon citric acid, OR 4 tablespoons vinegar per jar.  The acid can be added directly to each jar before filling with the product.  Add a little sugar to offset any strong acid taste.  Tomatoes can be processed using a boiling water bath or a pressure canner.  Use only tested recipes and current canning recommendations from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (

Whole or halved raw tomatoes packed in water:

Add two tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each clean quart jar and fill with peeled, raw whole or halved tomatoes.  Cover tomatoes in jar with hot water leaving ½ inch headspace.  Wipe off jar rim.  Adjust pretreated lids and screw ring onto jar, finger tight.  Process quarts for 45 minutes in a boiling water bath.  If you use a dial-gauge pressure canner, process for 10 minutes at 11 pounds pressure   With a weighted gauge canner, process 10 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.


Fresh Garden Salsa

The ingredients can be finely diced or use a medium chopped consistency for chunky salsa. Serve with tortilla chips or use as a side dish with grilled meat or anywhere you want a bright, tart, savory accompaniment.

2 large ripe, red slicing tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 green onion, top included, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
Juice of lime
teaspoon salt

1. Using a serrated knife, chop tomatoes. If using plum tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons water.

2. In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and sprinkle on the salt. Allow to rest 30 minutes before serving to allow salt to draw juice from the tomatoes. Stir again just before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

For more information about growing or preserving tomatoes or other produce, contact the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension office at 850-606-5200, or your local Extension office.

Author:  Kendra Zamojski, County Extension Director and Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Leon County Extension