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The holiday season is a time of giving, and what's not the perfect gift but a homemade treat from your kitchen? While peanut brittle, fudge, and cookies are a popular and generally safe choice, you'll need to consider a few things before giving away homemade jarred goods, such as jams and jellies, dessert sauces, and even cake in a jar.

Food safety is of paramount importance when it comes to cooking. No one wants to give the gift of food borne illness. Jams, jellies and preserves must be processed in a boiling water bath canner for room temperature storage. Correct processing times must be followed, or you'll risk spoilage and possible illness. Jars specifically designed for home canning and two-piece lids must be used. When processing time is less than 10 minutes, jars should be sanitized first by submerging in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Dessert sauces make great gifts, but there are no safe, reliable recipes for canning them. Sauces are typically low in acid, making them more susceptible to the growth of spores and risk of Clostridium botulinum, a potentially deadly bacteria. The USDA recommends storing homemade dessert sauce in the refrigerator or freezer only.

The latest craze is baking cakes, brownies, breads, and pies in glass jars. Most of these recipes are not really "canned" but are baked in the jar and then sealed by the heat of the jar causing an airtight vacuum. Like dessert sauces, these low-acid baked goods are also a potential risk for botulism when oxygen is limited. As an alternative, make a "mix in a jar" by layering dry ingredients and attaching the recipe. Homemade food gifts are absolutely wonderful; just be sure to prepare them safely!


Country Chili Mix

1 lb. kidney beans

3 Tablespoons chili powder

2 Tablespoons dehydrated onions

1 Tablespoons garlic salt*

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

* To reduce sodium, substitute garlic powder for some or all of the garlic salt.

Pour the kidney beans into a clean quart-sized jar. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into a clear sandwich bag and place it on top of the beans. Cover the jar tightly with a lid, decorate and attach a copy of the recipe card below:

Country Chili

• 1 container Country Chili Mix

• Additional ingredients:

10 cups water (for soaking beans)

1 (8-oz.) can reduced-sodium tomato sauce

1 (24-oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 lb. ground beef or turkey

6 cups water (for cooking beans)

Remove bag of seasoning from jar and rinse beans. In a stockpot, bring 10 cups of water to a boil. Add beans and return to a boil; let boil two to three minutes. Cover and set aside at room temperature

for one hour. Drain and rinse the beans. Fill a pot with 6 cups of water and add the beans. Cook beans until soft, about one hour; simmer gently with lid tilted. Brown meat; drain and add to the beans with tomatoes and sauce. Add in seasonings, stir and simmer, covered, for one hour. Add a little more water if

needed to thin the broth. For best flavor, use mix within one year.

Yield: 8 servings.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 240 calories, 6 g fat, 21 g carbohydrate and 290 mg sodium.

Source: North Dakota State Extension