Tag: Food

Is Raw Honey Safe?
The Lifestyle

Is Raw Honey Safe?

Is Raw Honey Safe?Raw honey is good for your immune system—at least, that’s what the raw foodies say.

It makes sense at first glance. After all, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if the pasteurization process kills the good microbes with the bad ones. And research suggests that small doses of the pollen in raw, unfiltered honey may work similarly to an allergy shot.

But is raw honey safe? That’s an issue health and food experts are still debating. Read More

Food Preservation
The Lifestyle

Food Preservation

Food PreservationPreserving the food we grow at home or buy in bulk from a local farmer can seem daunting to the beginner. We know that food safety is important, but how do we achieve it?

This food preservation site from K-State has the answers. Many resources have been combined into one convenient location.

Learn more about:

  • Canning.
  • Curing and smoking.
  • Dehydrating.
  • Food business.
  • Freezing.
  • Jams and jellies.
  • Pickling.
  • Special diets.

On each of these topics, choose from an extensive list of resources, including PDFs, videos, and external links.

Just to give you a sampling of the questions you can find answers to:

  • What special methods do I need to use to can low-acid fruits?
  • How do I build my own smokehouse?
  • How do I make beef jerky safely?
  • How long can I store frozen foods?
  • Is it safe to use a pickle recipe written before 1994?
  • Where can I find good jelly recipes?
  • How do I make my own horseradish sauce?
  • Where can I find canning instructions that are safe to use?
  • What is the science behind canning?
  • How do I adjust canning times for my altitude? (No, Kansas is not flat!)
  • What are the regulations on selling home-preserved foods at the local farmers market?

Also, every other month you will find a new issue of the Preserve It Fresh, Preserve It Safe newsletter—two pages of seasonally relevant advice and sometimes a recipe.

A great resource for the dedicated home canner, with plenty of other information for those looking for simple but safe ways to preserve the harvest.

Veggie Wash
The Lifestyle

Veggie Wash

Veggie WashHomegrown vegetables are good for you, but they are frequently dirty. Veggie Wash is an all-natural cleaning spray that seems to do a good job getting the produce clean and ready to eat.

For things like tomatoes, apples, and peaches, just spray the fruit and rub it clean under running water.

For berries and lettuce, fill the sink with cold water, add the produce, and spray with Veggie Wash. After a brief soak, rinse and drain the produce.

Do you still buy fruits and vegetables from the grocery store? Try using Veggie Wash to remove that wax coating—it really works!

Pros and Cons of Slow Cookers
The Lifestyle

Pros and Cons of Slow Cookers

Pros and Cons of Slow CookersPick up any slow cooker cookbook, and you’ll be amazed at the versatility of this simple appliance. With a slow cooker, you can combine the ingredients for anything from stew to oatmeal to cobbler within minutes, then just walk away until it’s time to serve and eat.

Are there other advantages to slow cooking? Are there any hidden disadvantages? And is slow cooking safe? Let’s find out.



  • Energy efficiency. Running the oven for extended periods of time can be expensive, and much of the electricity is wasted heating up the kitchen (not desirable on a summer day). The slow cooker pulls comparatively little power and wastes none of it.
  • Convenience. How much easier does it get than a slow cooker? Pile in ingredients and wait for dinner!
  • Lack of odor. No smoke, no smells of burnt food. Just a warm, savory smell when someone opens the lid. (But please resist the urge—opening the slow cooker increases the time the food takes to cook.)
  • Food safety. Don’t worry about the long cooking process when it comes to meat. The FDA recommends cooking food at temperatures above 140°F, while most slow cookers fall within a range of 170°F to 300°F. If the meat is done, the pathogens have been killed, even if the slow cooker was set on low heat most of the time. If the food is cooked, but you are not ready to eat it yet, leave the slow cooker on low to prevent the temperature from falling into a range more suitable for bacteria. As a final precaution, thaw meat thoroughly before cooking.
  • Impossibility of burning food. Okay, you can overcook food in a slow cooker; some meats, particularly chicken, may get too dry if they go too long without enough broth or other liquid. But actually burning the food is virtually impossible.
  • Tenderness. Even low-quality cuts thrive on slow cooking. This is because the collagen in connective tissue is what makes meat tough. Slow cooking melts the collagen away, leaving a tender piece of meat.
  • Flavor. The longer food simmers, the better the flavor gets. Therefore, food from a slow cooker always has a delightful, savory flavor.



  • Need for planning and preparation. Changing your plans at the last minute just doesn’t work with a slow cooker. You will need to know what you are making well in advance of dinner, perhaps even early in the morning. Then you will have to prepare your ingredients and thaw your meat.
  • Slow pace. Need dinner in a hurry? Obviously, a slow cooker will not help you here.
  • Incompatibility with cans. Many home cooks complain about the texture of canned food, particularly vegetables, cooked in a slow cooker. Fresh produce has the structural integrity to be tenderized while slow cooking instead of turning into mush. Frozen produce works, too, but note that as it thaws it can make the meal somewhat watery.
  • Uneven results. If you combine vegetables and meats in the slow cooker, you may notice that the vegetables (especially potatoes) take longer to cook than the meat. Often a little extra cooking won’t hurt the meat a bit. If you are concerned, however, either precook the vegetables slightly, or put them into the slow cooker well before adding the meat. Chopping them finer helps, as well.
  • Nutrient loss. As vegetables sit in the slow cooker for extended periods of time, they slowly lose nutritional value. Don’t worry—the vitamins and minerals are still present in the broth. But if maximizing nutrient intake is a priority, eat your vegetables raw.
  • Bean toxins. Raw beans, particularly kidney beans, contain the toxin phytohaemagglutinin, which is why they must be cooked thoroughly at very high temperatures before being eaten. A slow cooker does not get hot enough to destroy phytohaemagglutinin, so all beans must be boiled before going into the mix.



The slow cooker has so much going for it that it is considered indispensable by many home chefs! The biggest drawback is exactly what makes the finished product taste so good—a slow pace. As long as you can plan and prepare well before it’s time to eat, you may find that the slow cooker becomes your best kitchen assistant.

How to Cook With Bacon
The Lifestyle

How to Cook With Bacon

How to Cook With BaconBacon has long been a staple of the American farm family’s diet, and now modern cooking techniques have given it greater versatility than ever before.

How to Cook With Bacon: Delicious and Mouthwatering Bacon Recipes by Tony James Miller shares some of these new and interesting ideas in three categories:

  1. Appetizers and salads.
  2. Main courses.
  3. Desserts.

The recipes range from simple to complex, standard to surprising. Find new ways to:

  • Garnish salads with bacon for the perfect accent.
  • Wrap your favorite meats in bacon for extra flavor.
  • Incorporate bacon into traditional desserts, such as apple pie.

How to Cook With Bacon is only available in eBook format, but content is high-quality. And it’s about bacon! What’s not to like?

Get Ready for December 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for December 2016

Get Ready for December 2016Christmas will be here before you know it! Prepare tasty treats and heartfelt gifts from your own homegrown offerings, and snuggle up on the couch for a little storytelling.

  1. Retell the story of Sod Corn Jones.
  2. Read Scripture passages about the meaning of Christmas.
  3. Make a sweet potato beetle.
  4. Encourage your child to start an EcoJournal.
  5. Give a weather diary this Christmas.
  6. Create homemade gifts from the heart.
  7. Cook up some stovetop apples.
  8. Put a sweet potato casserole on the table.
  9. Visit the Christmas City of the High Plains.
  10. Check out our favorite posts from 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Get Ready for November 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for November 2016

Get Ready for November 2016Hard to believe that November is already just around the corner!  Take some time on those chilly fall evenings to learn from nature and pull inspiration from innovative farmers and gardeners.  And while you’re sitting at the table with family this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks for the simple things.

  1. Learn lessons from the bison.
  2. Discover that you can farm.
  3. Eat your egg yolks.
  4. Explore the world of horse and donkey breeds.
  5. Witness the life of the tree in the trail.
  6. Pull ideas from the All New Square Foot Gardening method.
  7. Search for the roots of cattle driving.
  8. Try out 10 time-saving tips for the farm.
  9. Weigh in on the ongoing GMO debate.
  10. Give thanks for the simple things.
Brix: How Do We Measure It?
The Farm

Brix: How Do We Measure It?

Brix: How Do We Measure It?

Optical refractometer

Now we have a definition of brix: the weight of dissolved sugar expressed as a percentage of the weight of the entire solution.  The next question is how we measure brix.


The Refractometer

As its name suggests, a refractometer operates on the principle of refraction.  When a beam of light passes through a liquid solution, it bends, or refracts.  The more solids (e.g., sugars) that are suspended in the solution, the more the light refracts.  A refractometer is simply a device used to measure refraction.

Two types of refractometers are commonly sold:

  • Analog or optical.
  • Digital.

An analog refractometer uses a prism and an external light source to operate.  A few drops of solution are placed on the prism, the refractometer is held toward a light, and the results are read on a scale.

A digital refractometer works on the same principle, but shines its own light on the prism from an LED.  A sensor takes the measurement, a computer calculates the results, and a screen displays the brix reading.

Note that refractometers specifically sold for testing honey are made to display the inverse of a brix reading—that is, they display the moisture content of the sample and not the percentage of dissolved solids.


Shortcomings of the Refractometer

The reading displayed on the refractometer is actually not a true measurement of the sugar dissolved in the substance being tested.  Any dissolved solids can cause light to refract; therefore all dissolved solids are included in the refractometer results.  This includes minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates other than sugar, as well as other non-nutrient solids.  Adding fertilizer to a glass of water, for instance, will change the brix reading according to the refractometer.

Of course, this may still help us reach our goals in measuring brix in the first place.  After all, if we are measuring the brix of fruits and vegetables, whether from the store or our own backyard garden, we are using brix as a gauge of overall nutrient content.  If there are more minerals in the produce, so much the better.

However, the main disadvantage of using the refractometer is that it cannot tell us exactly what is changing the reading.  The only way to know for sure what sugars, minerals, and other solids are in our food or forage is to do a complete nutrient analysis—feasible in a livestock business, but a little too costly for everyday kitchen use.

Other factors that may influence refractometer results include:

  • Sample preparation.
  • Sample settling.
  • Plant part tested.
  • Ambient temperature.

Digital refractometers are programmed to compensate for some of these variables (particularly temperature).  To ensure the most accurate results, however, try to test the same part of the plant at the same time of day in every test.  Testing in similar weather conditions is also preferable.


Next week: How do we use brix?

Brix: What is It?
The Farm

Brix: What is It?

Brix: What is It?

Brix is one of those topics that come up fairly frequently in sustainable agriculture.  Simply put, brix is a measure of the sugar content of a plant or other substance.

To be more specific, Brix expresses the weight of dissolved sugar as a percentage of the weight of the entire solution.  Pure water has a brix of 0%.  A solution of 5 grams of sugar to 95 grams of water would have a brix of 5%.

This measurement system was developed by and named for Austrian scientist Adolph Brix.

So how can this knowledge help us?


High-Brix Growing

Advocates of high-brix farming and gardening say that plants with high brix levels are vibrant and healthy—and vibrant, healthy plants resist insect pests and diseases.  They can also stand up to a light frost a little better.

High-brix fruits and vegetables generally have a sweeter, more appetizing flavor than their low-brix counterparts.  However, brix proponents claim that there are other benefits to growing and eating high-brix foods.  High-brix plants have a superior aroma and may be more digestible.  They may even have higher nutritional content (some caveats next week).

Brix can be used to positively determine if a fruit is ripe, as the sugar content of a fruit increases dramatically while ripening.

Finally, high-brix produce keeps surprisingly well.


More Uses for Brix

But brix is not just a useful tool for those who grow plants.  If you raise livestock, you can also benefit from monitoring brix:

  • Beekeepers use brix to monitor honey quality.
  • In dairy cattle, brix is used to evaluate the nutritional content of colostrum fed to calves.
  • To all grazing animals, brix equals palatability.  When given a choice, livestock will always choose high-brix forages over low-brix forages.

Some consumers also shop for brix these days, tapping into the nutritional benefits of high-brix foods.  Besides testing fruits and vegetables for flavor and nutrition, they can also check honey and maple syrup for dilution.


Next week: How do we measure Brix?

The Heritage of Turkey Red Winter Wheat
The Sunflower State

The Heritage of Turkey Red Winter Wheat

The Heritage of Turkey Red Winter Wheat

Kernels from assorted wheat varieties; 2b is Turkey Red

There are many reasons to love heritage foods, including health and flavor.  But another fascinating aspect of these foods is their history.

And what better heritage food to celebrate than Turkey Red winter wheat, the grain that made Kansas the Wheat State?



The history of Turkey Red begins in the country of Turkey, not surprisingly.  By the early 1800s, it appears to have spread northward into Crimea.

Turkey Red owes its presence in America to the Mennonites.  These were originally Germans that had moved to Crimea, by then annexed by Russia, in the 1700s to avoid being drafted into the German military.  A change in Russian policy, however, led the Mennonites to move once again in the 1870s to a country where they would be allowed to pursue a pacifist course.  Kansas railroad officials actively assisted the Mennonites in purchasing land and moving their belongings, hoping to benefit from the shipping this agriculture-oriented group would need.

When the Mennonites came to America, they brought with them seeds to start their farms.  The variety that some of them brought was Turkey Red, an unusual choice since many Mennonites had raised other types of wheat in Russia.


Shaping the State

Attempts had been made to raise wheat in Kansas before the Mennonites arrived, starting at the Shawnee Methodist Mission in 1839.  However, these attempts involved spring wheat, which was not well suited to the climate.  The wheat was planted in the spring, as its name suggests.  In theory, it was to be harvested in late summer.  In practice, it rarely lived that long, usually withering early due to heat and drought.

Turkey Red, on the other hand, was planted in the fall, lay dormant over the winter, and was harvested in late spring or early summer.  In short order, it proved that it could thrive in the Great Plains climate.  It had a complex root system that could scavenge nutrients from even poor soils.  Furthermore, it resisted many of the diseases that other varieties succumbed to.

Whatever other varieties of wheat the Mennonites might have brought and tried, Turkey Red was the one that survived.  It was also the one that Kansans of all backgrounds quickly adopted.  By the 1900s, the state of Kansas produced more wheat than most foreign countries.


Turkey Red Today

Turkey Red is no longer the top variety of wheat grown in Kansas, modern hybrids having become the norm in the 1940s because of their high yields and their ability to absorb fertilizer without lodging over.  Many of these hybrids trace back to Turkey Red.

However, Turkey Red in its pure form has become a relatively rare variety.  For a long time it was preserved mainly by hobby farmers.

Fortunately, there is an increasing number of heritage wheat growers, particularly in Kansas, who are dedicated to preserving and milling this historic variety.

Proponents of Turkey Red wheat believe that it is superior to hybrid wheat in several ways:

  • Better drought tolerance.
  • Stronger but fresher flavor.
  • Finer, lighter texture.
  • More workable dough.
  • Higher protein content.
  • Better digestibility.
  • Reduced risk of gluten intolerance symptoms.


Helpful Resource

Turkey Red Wheat
Text of and directions to a historical marker near Walton, KS, telling the story of Turkey Red Wheat.