Q: I remember reading a while back that we should add lemon juice to figs if we’re canning them. What about pears, especially the little hard sand pears that used to grow everywhere? I have a tree, and they don’t taste very acidy to me. I think my mother boiled them before she canned them, but I don’t remember any vinegar.
Answer: You’re right that figs need acid if they’re canned. But whether you can taste it or not, pears do have enough acid of their own, so they don’t need added acid.
The amount of acid doesn’t always affect the taste, and you can’t depend on the flavor you taste to tell how much acid is there. Also, different acids have different strengths. One might be strong enough with one tablespoon (lemon juice), but you’d need two tablespoons of a different one (vinegar) to make something safe.
That’s the case with many fruits, including tomatoes, and it’s why lemon juice is usually recommended. It’s actually a stronger acid and more effective at stopping botulism bacteria.
Sand pears don’t need extra acid, but if you want to add some for flavor when you boil them, that’s fine. It is recommended that pears be boiled until they’re just barely tender before they’re canned. Usually sugar syrup is all that’s needed, or you could use apple or white grape juice. And if you want to add vinegar and spices (cinnamon, cloves and/or ginger) to the syrup, they’ll be even more delicious.
Q: I read that article some time ago about using sodium phosphate to make processed cheese at home. I started reading food labels and, sure enough, a lot of processed cheese has either di-sodium or tri-sodium phosphate in it.
I was thinking of trying it myself and realized that I have some tri-sodium in the garage. I use it for cleaning. But my guess is I can’t use that for cheese. Am I right?
Answer: Completely right! Tri-sodium phosphate is a good emulsifier. That’s why it works for cleaning — it lifts grease off things and into the cleaning water. You can find it in home supply stores, paint stores, etc., for cleaning walls before you paint. It’s good for all kinds of cleaning.
But you have no guarantee that what you have is ONLY tri-sodium phosphate. It is industrial grade, maybe, but certainly not food grade. And if you intend to eat your homemade processed cheese, you really do need food grade. That way you’ll be sure you’re getting only sodium and phosphate, with no extraneous things like arsenic, cadmium or other possibly toxic minerals.
As an emulsifier in the cheese, it allows the proteins to be melted without the oils or fats separating and floating to the top of the pot, or oozing out of the block of cheese. If you lose the fats, the cheese protein will be crumbly when you slice it and tough when you cook it. But with the emulsifier, the proteins of the different cheeses you decide to blend and their fats will stay together as one soft lump of cheese.
So take the time to search for food grade if you want to do this. Then have fun!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.