How to store potatoes, onions

490988441My boyfriend stores potatoes and onions in the refrigerator. I keep them in the pantry. Who’s right?

Experts recommend potatoes be stored at a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and that onions be stored in a cool, dry place.

So, unless your boyfriend has a particularly warm refrigerator (which should be kept at 40 degrees or below), and unless you have a particularly cool pantry, neither of you are storing potatoes and onions in ideal conditions.

Potatoes especially should be kept out of the refrigerator. When stored at temperatures cooler than 45 degrees, starches in a potato begin to break down into sugars. Note: This is not how you make a sweet potato. The accumulation of sugars will cause the potato to darken when cooked. If you do have cold potatoes, it’s recommended that they be warmed gradually at room temperature before cooking to reduce the sugar levels and the risk of discoloration.

Potatoes also store better in high humidity — as high as 90 percent. Not surprisingly, a root cellar would be the perfect place for potatoes. Barring that, store in the coolest, most humid place you can. But not the fridge.

It’s also a good idea to keep potatoes in the dark. Overexposure to light can cause a buildup of solanine, an alkaloid that potatoes naturally produce to repel insects. Light also causes an increase in chlorophyll, which gives a green hue. So, potatoes that have a green tinge also likely have higher levels of solanine, which is toxic at high levels.

Actual illness is rare because not only are solanine levels usually quite low, but because solanine actually causes cooked potatoes to taste bitter. Luckily, solanine tends to stay near the surface. Peeling off green areas of a potato will also remove any solanine.

Potatoes that are stored too long or in too warm of a place will often sprout and begin to shrivel. If that happens, it’s time to throw them out. Potatoes with just a few sprouts can be salvaged by cutting them out.

Onions need a lot less humidity — ideally, 65-70 percent — but just as much ventilation as potatoes. In fact, the National Onion Association says not to store onions in plastic bags, because the lack of air movement will cause them to go bad more quickly. Common yellow onions are hardier and will store longer than other types. White onions and sweet onions are moister and more perishable, and to keep them longer, the association suggests storing them in the refrigerator, but wrapped in paper towels first to keep dry.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Selecting, Storing, and Serving Ohio Squash and Pumpkin

144727297Squashes are members of the gourd family, which also includes watermelons, cucumbers, muskmelon, pumpkins, and gourds. Squash was a common food of Native  Americans. Archeological research indicates findings of rind and seed in cliff dwellings dated around 1500 BC. The blossom of the squash was the Hopi emblem of fertility. All through writings of the earliest explorers and colonists there are references to squash.

Pumpkin had its original habitat in South America. The names pumpkin and squash, especially in the United States, are applied inconsistently to certain varieties of both. Squash is available from July through September. October is the big pumpkin month, although a few are available in September and November.

Selection Soft Shelled (Summer Squash)

Selection Tips
• Skin should appear fresh, glossy, tender, and free from blemishes; both skin and seeds are eaten.
• Avoid over-developed summer squash—it has hard rind, dull appearance, and enlarged seeds and tends to be stringy.

Varieties to Look For
Crookneck and Straight Neck—delicate yellow, pebbly skin; gold color indicates it is over-ripe.
Zucchini—dark green, long, and straight, 8 to 10 inches in length.
Cocozelle—similar except smaller with green and yellow stripes.
White Bush Scallop—green flesh with white tinge; smooth skin,scalloped edges.
Spaghetti Squash—yellow to golden yellow skin, light yellow flesh, 8 to 10 inches long and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. After cooked in water about 30 minutes, flesh separates into spaghetti-like strands.

Hard Shelled (Winter) Squash and Pumpkin

Selection Tips
• Should be heavy for its size, indicating more edible flesh. Shell should have no cracks, bruises, or decay and should be firm.
• Seeds and rind are not eaten.
• Pumpkin should be fully ripe with firm rinds, bright orange color, and fairly heavy weight.

Varieties to Look For
Buttercup—turban shaped and fairly smooth shell; has nutty-type flavor, smooth textured flesh.
Butternut—gourd shaped with smooth, light beige skin; flesh is orange, fine textured, sweet.
Acorn—small, dark green with ridges; orange color on shell means loss of quality.
Hubbard—skin may be golden yellow, greenish-blue, or dark green; size ranges from 10 to 20 pounds.
• Decorating as well as good pie varieties of pumpkin are available.

For information on squash and pumpkin varieties available in Ohio, contact your county Extension educator, Agriculture or Horticulture.

• Summer Squash—Best when eaten soon after purchase. To store, refrigerate and use in 3 to 5 days.
• Winter Squash—Store whole in a cool (50 to 60 degrees F) dry area. Will keep several months if mature and stem is still attached.

Due to the many variables, such as moisture content, size, and variety, it is impossible to give specific recommendations as to quantity to buy. The recommendations below are approximations.
• 1 bushel squash = 40 pounds
• 1 bushel squash = 16–20 quarts canned
• 1 pound summer squash = 2–3 servings
• 1 pound winter squash (flesh) = 1 cup cooked

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” recommend that adults need 2–2½ cups of a variety of vegetables daily. Squash and pumpkin are great choices to meet this requirement. They contain antioxidants, Vitamins A and C, some B vitamins, iron, calcium, and fiber. Pumpkin and winter squash varieties are especially good sources of vitamin A. Calories per cupserving: summer squash—15, winter squash—65, pumpkin—40.

Safe Handling
Clean surfaces, utensils, and hands after touching raw meat and poultry and before you use them on fresh produce. To remove dirt, bacteria, and possible pesticide residue, wash vegetables thoroughly in cold water. Do not use soap, dish detergent, or bleach when washing since these household products are not approved for human consumption. Dry completely before storage, especially if refrigerated, to discourage growth of bacteria and mold. We recommend that you only prepare the amount of fresh squash or pumpkin that you plan to use for a recipe or for a meal. Extra squash or pumpkin can be frozen.

Squash and pumpkin may be baked, boiled, steamed, broiled, pan-fried, or pressure cooked for immediate use.

Serve Summer Squash Creatively
• Slice or dice and cook in a small amount of water or fry in oil, season to taste.
• Dip in flour or egg and crumbs; fry in oil.
• Good combined with tomatoes.
• Season with basil, marjoram, oregano, or rosemary. Sprinkle with Parmesan or mozzarella cheese. Bake, mash, or fry—top with cheese or chive-parsley butter.

Serve Pumpkin and Winter Squash Creatively
• To bake, cut in half or pieces. Remove seeds and stringy parts. Place cut sides down in baking dish; add 1/4 inch water. Bake until tender.
• When nearly done, turn right side up and season with margarine, brown sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg, or try stuffing with sausage, apples, and cinnamon.
• To boil, cut up or cook whole in salted water; then scrape out of shell and use as a puree in pies, breads, and casseroles.
• Remove from rind and mash with cream, nutmeg, brown sugar, crumbled crisply fried bacon, candied ginger, and grated orange peel or orange juice.

Written by Barbara A. Brahm, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences.
Reviewed by Lydia Medeiros, Ph.D., R.D., Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

Freezing Vegetables

179038355Freezing is a simple, easy, and convenient way to preserve vegetables. The process takes little time but the cost of a freezer and the utility costs make it one of the more expensive ways to preserve food. The freezing process preserves nutrients and provides a fresher flavor than canning or drying foods.

Freezing foods retards the growth of the micro- organisms and slows down chemical changes that may cause food to spoil. While freezing slows down spoilage, when the food is thawed the growth of bacteria, yeasts, or mold will continue. Proper handling of vegetables is important before freezing.

For step by step instructions on how to freeze vegetables click here

Original information compiled by Sharon L. Mader, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H, Sandusky County. Revised by Pat Shenberger, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ashland County. Revised by: Deb Angell, Associate Professor, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Huron County; and Doris Herringshaw, EdD, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Wood County. Reviewed by: Julie Shertzer, PhD, RD, LD Program Specialist, Department of Human Nutrition, Ohio State University Extension; and Lydia Medeiros, PhD, RD, Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension. 

Quick Process Pickles

477645693Quick process pickles differ from fermented pickles because the pickling process uses acetic acid from vinegar rather than lactic acid from fermentation. Quick process pickles are ideal for those who want to make pickles, start to finish, in a few days. However, the flavor of fresh pack or quick process pickles is better if they are left to stand in sealed jars for several weeks.

The correct acid concentration, in the form of vinegar, is important because acid prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly microorganism, in quick process pickles. If acid concentration is not sufficient, there is a danger of botulism poisoning. Therefore, use only tested recipes, and do not change the proportion of food, water, and vinegar.

For tested recipes and step by step instructions on how to make quick process pickles click here.

Information Compiled by Lydia Medeiros, Professor, Department of Human Nutrition.
Updated 2008 by Lois Clark, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Auglaize County, and Jean DeBrosse, Program Assistant, Family and Consumer Sciences, Greene County.
Reviewed by Julie Shertzer, Ph.D., R.D., Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

Salsa: From Garden to Table

salsa2Americas have grown to love salsa. The sauce is healthy, easy to make, and flavorful. Cooks love to experiment with salsa recipes and may wish to preserve their winning combination by canning. Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods (onions and peppers), with higher acid foods (tomatoes). Acid flavorings such as vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice are also common additions. The type and amount of ingredients used in salsa, as well as the preparation methods, are important considerations in how salsa is canned. Improperly canned salsas, or other tomato-pepper combinations, have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism.

Important guidelines are provided for preparing safe, home-canned salsa. Use only research-tested recipes. Follow the directions carefully for each recipe. Use the amounts listed for each vegetable. Add the amount of vinegar or lemon juice stated. If desired, the amount of spices may be changed. Do not thicken salsas with flour or cornstarch before canning. Salsa can be thickened at the time of use.

To read the full article on water bath canning of salsa click here. It includes descriptions of ingredients that are used in the tested recipes. These recipes have been tested to ensure that they contain enough acid to be processed safely in a boiling water bath canner. If your personal favorite is not listed, it is best to eat it fresh. Untested, fresh salsa recipes can be stored up to several weeks in the refrigerator, or freeze it up to one year for longer storage.

Compiled in August 2008 by Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Educators Marisa Warrix, Cuyahoga County, and Pam Leong, Shelby County. Reviewed by Lydia Medeiros, Ph.D., R.D., Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

Canning Basics

177578403Methods for canning foods at home have changed greatly since the procedure was first introduced almost two centuries ago. Since then, research has enabled home canners to simplify and safely preserve higher quality foods. Knowing why canning works and what causes food to spoil underscores the importance of following directions carefully.

How Canning Preserves Foods
Invisible microorganisms are all around us. Many are beneficial; others are harmful. All foods contain microorganisms, the major cause of food spoilage. Proper canning techniques stop this spoilage by using heat to destroy microorganisms. During the canning process, air is driven from the jar and a vacuum is formed as the jar cools and seals, preventing microorganisms from entering and recontaminating the food. It does not take long at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the temperature at which water boils, to force air out, create a vacuum, and seal a jar. It does, however, take a specific amount of heat for a specific amount of time to kill certain bacteria. Although a jar is “sealed,” all bacteria are not necessarily killed. Adequate acid (as in pickled products and fruits) or sugar (as in jams and jellies) protects against the growth of some microorganisms. In low-acid foods, however, some microorganisms are not destroyed at 212 degrees F. Low-acid foods, therefore, must be heated to higher temperatures that can be reached only with a pressure canner. Low-acid foods, such as vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish, must be pressure canned at the recommended time and temperature to destroy Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism food poisoning. Canning low-acid foods in boiling water canners is absolutely unsafe

To read the full article on Canning Basics, including step by step instructions, click here.

Information compiled by Ruth Anne Foote, Extension Agent, Home Economics, Mercer County.
Updated by Marcia Jess, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ottawa County.
Reviewed by Dan Remley, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/Community Development, Butler County.