During the Christmas holidays, gift giving reaches a frenzied pitch. It is exhilarating to choose just the right gift for the holidays. Food is always a popular gift, particularly among friends. Innovative and clever ideas predominate. Who doesn’t appreciate a Christmas mug filled with miniature marshmallows and chocolate powder with a clever poem attached? There are lots of good ideas out there.
Unfortunately, some ideas are better than others and some are not good ideas at all. One not-good idea that periodically resurfaces in our area is bottled quick bread. It is a natural in our local society where so many people practice home canning. At first look, it seems like a great idea to give a treat that will in theory keep for a long period.
The idea is both appealing and clever but it is also extremely unsafe. These bottled breads are likely sources of botulism.
The recipes floating around produce breads or cakes that are baked in canning jars. Then canning lids are attached. As the cake cools, a vacuum is formed, sealing the jar.
According to circulars published by the Utah State University Extension, this process does not destroy the organism that causes botulism. Instead, the moist bread inside a vacuum favors the growth of botulism. The clear warning is don’t can breads or cakes and don’t eat any given to you.
You may run across commercially produced canned breads in stores. These use very large amounts of sugar in the product and minimize moisture. The recipes must meet federal and state food and drug safety requirements.
However, Utah State University and Kansas State University have done scientific research on these breads and were not able to come up with a recipe that is safe for a home-canned product.
Again, if you receive these breads or cakes, do not eat them and do not can them or pass them along.
There are other options to consider. You might put a mixture of the dry ingredients for these tasty breads in a jar. It will keep safely for a while. You can use an oxygen absorber packet available at home canning stores to prolong shelf life if you desire. Attach complete directions to the jar that includes wet ingredients to be added and baking instructions. Make it clear that the baking should be done in a pan, not a canning jar.
Botulism bacteria, Clostridium botulism, grow best in a moist, low acid, anaerobic environment (a vacuum). The spores are present in the soil and while the spores won’t hurt people, the toxins they produce as they grow will. Tiny amounts of the toxin can lead to severe poisoning. Fortunately, with safe canning and preservation methods, the disease is very rare – about 110 cases occur in the U.S. per year.
The rules of thumb for sealing items in a jar for long-term storage are, if the mixture has dry ingredients, no sealing or processing is needed.
If foods have an acid content of pH or lower, they can be processed in a water-bath canner for the time required on a food safety tested recipe. If they are not acidic enough, use a pressure cooker for the time prescribed on a tested recipe.
Oven heating does not produce similar results for any canning project. Foods processed in a water-bath canner must have a high rate of acidity. Otherwise, they should be processed in a pressure cooker for a prescribed rate of time.
There are all sorts of possibilities for food in a jar. Dried soup mixes are another good possibility. Put such ingredients as uncooked pasta, dry carrots, dry potatoes, dry peas and other dry vegetables into the jar in layers to form an interesting design. Pour the seasonings in over the top.
Dry beans and the seasonings for chili also work. Add a can of tomatoes or tomato sauce to complete the meatless version.
You might try dinner-in-a-bag. Put all the ingredients for a tasty supper meal into a decorated paper sack for a quick-and-easy meal to simplify a friend or neighbor’s busy day. Spaghetti and spaghetti sauce mix along with canned vegetables and ingredients for a no-knead bread is one useful and popular meal idea. If you are sure they will use it soon, add a salad mix and a loaf of French or Italian bread along with a dessert.
A tasty dessert is pumpkin cookies. A simple way to give this treat is to purchase two boxes of spice cake mix, a large can of pumpkin and a 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips. Give the ingredients and the following recipe to go with it. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
2 boxes spice cake mix
1 giant can pumpkin
1 12-ounce bag chocolate chips
Mix well and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
1 1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup instant nonfat dry milk
1 cup water
2 tbsp. oil
Put dry blueberries into water and let rehydrate for about 15 minutes. Stir dry ingredients together to mix. Add moist ingredients all at once and stir just until blended. Fry in oil in moderate skillet, around 375 degrees or when water drops bounce and skitters around when dropped on skillet.
Note: When making this as a mix, put the dried blueberries into a small zip-lock bag and lay it on top of the other ingredients to keep the berries separate until time to rehydrate them.
Chocolate Chip Bar Cookies
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 6-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch round pizza pan or cookie sheet. In large bowl, cream butter until light. Beat in egg and vanilla until well blended. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients and mix until it forms a dough. Spread dough to edge of pan, keeping dough at uniform thickness. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Should feel set to the touch.
Note: When making this cookie recipe into a mix, layer dry ingredients into a glass jar, including chocolate chips.