Q: Why is my Thanksgiving turkey always dry?
A: Since we don’t know how you cooked your turkey in the past, and since there are dozens of methods people use to address the problem of dry turkey meat, it is difficult to offer advice. We have had good results with using a cooking bag and with brining. Spatchcocking (cutting out the backbone and flattening the bird) is catching on because it decreases cooking time and results in moister meat. Check out this demonstration: www.nytimes.com/video/dining/100000002547372/how-to-spatchcock-a-turkey.html
You may want to call your county Cooperative Extension office to discuss this with the home economist there. There are numerous cooking websites offering suggestions. One of the most notable is Butterball’s (www.butterball.com) along with its hotline 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372). For food safety questions related to cooking your turkey, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) and the website of USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (www.fsis.usda.gov) provide good information.
If you are frustrated with the ongoing problem of dry turkey meat, remember there is nothing in the Constitution or the Mayflower Compact that requires every family to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. Consider cooking one or two chickens instead.
Q: I want to give baskets of Georgia foods and kitchen products for Christmas. Do you have any suggestions about where to find some?
A: You may want to check out the first ever Georgia Grown Christmas Showcase on December 14, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park. Currently 49 vendors are slated to take part and will be selling many different products grown or produced in Georgia including pecans, pecan oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, barbecue sauce, blueberry juice, blueberry wine, raw honey, creamed honey, grapeseed oil, marmalade, jelly, jam, wood planks for grilling, meat rubs, sausage, chicken, meat spreads, pickles, salsa, cookies, bonbons, confections, spice blends and pesto. There will also be socks, scarves, caps and other products made from alpaca wool, handmade soaps, candles and a wide selection of Christmas trees and greenery. The event will also feature chef demonstrations, carolers and a visit from Santa.
Always look for Georgia Grown fruits, vegetables and other products produced in Georgia at local farmers markets and at your grocery store. You may be surprised at what you’ll find. For more ideas, visit www.georgiagrown.com where you can also find Georgia Grown caps and T-shirts.
Q: Should I rinse my turkey before cooking it?
A: No. Rinsing or washing turkey and other poultry before you cook it is ineffective at killing bacteria and can actually spread the germs by splashing and dripping on utensils, countertops and other food.
Q: How many counties in Georgia grow Christmas trees?
A: There are commercial Christmas tree farms in 58 counties. For a list of growers, visit the website of the Georgia Forestry Association at www.gfc.state.ga.us and click on “Christmas Tree Directory.” Another source of information is the website of the Georgia Christmas Tree Growers Association (www.gacta.com). The association may also be reached by calling 478-919-TREE (478-919-8733). Subscribers to the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin will find a list of growers organized by county in the November 13th issue.
Q: I noticed inspectors from the Georgia Department of Agriculture checking animals at the Georgia National Fair. What is the purpose of this?
A: Inspectors from our Animal Industry Division check livestock brought to fairs for diseases that could spread to other animals or to people. It would be a tragedy to allow a sick animal into a fair and infect other people’s prize animals. It would be an even worse tragedy if those newly infected animals go back to their respective parts of the state to infect more animals there and start a statewide epidemic.
Disease prevention is paramount when animals are brought together in one place or when animals and people are in contact. This fall our inspectors examined 990 goats, 431 sheep, 1,053 cattle, 122 llamas and 891 swine at the Georgia National Fair which is one of many fairs in the state where our inspectors made sure animals were safe to compete and be exhibited.
Q: The membrane inside my eggs seems thicker than it used to be. Am I just imagining this? Is this a food safety issue?
A: Several things could affect the thickness of the shell membrane including the breed and age of the hen as well as its diet prior to laying. Older eggs that have lost some of their moisture due to evaporation may have a tougher inner membrane that seems thicker. We have not had other reports of people noticing changes in the egg membrane. The membrane thickness or toughness is not a food safety concern.
Q: What is a ‘Blue Ice’ tree? I saw it many times on Christmas tree growers’ lists.
A: ‘Blue Ice’ is a variety of Arizona cypress. It is popular with Georgia Christmas tree growers because it performs well in our soils and climate, and is popular with Christmas tree buyers because of its beauty, durability, pleasant fragrance and versatility. As its name suggests, its needles are silvery blue reminiscent of the Colorado blue spruce which does not grow as well here. Another popular variety of Arizona cypress grown in Georgia is ‘Carolina Sapphire.’
Q: There was an almost perfect circle of mushrooms growing in my yard in September. What caused them to grow this way? It was amazing.
A: What you saw was a phenomenon known as a fairy ring. The name comes from an old folk-tale. People once believed that mushrooms growing in a circle marked the area where fairies danced at night.
While it is fun to let our imaginations take flights of fancy, there is a scientific explanation for fairy rings. Mushrooms are the fruiting part of the fungus growing in your yard – the part that produces spores that enables the fungus to spread to other areas. Underneath the ground is the mycelium, a network of fibers that feeds the mushrooms and that grows outward from the point where it began. As years go by and the mycelium grows, what was originally one mushroom or a clump of mushrooms may become a circle of mushrooms. Where several rings converge or when the mycelium meets obstacles in the soil, the fungus activity stops or slows, giving the ring a more erratic shape.
Fairy rings are most common in lawns and forests. Sometimes you will see a circle of grass, with or without mushrooms, that is darker green than the surrounding grass. That is because the mycelium is breaking down organic matter in the soil and releasing nutrients that the grass is feeding on.
Q: What can I do about rats living in a large area of English ivy? They are not getting inside but they ate corn in my garden and eat at the bird feeder.
A: Work with neighbors to eliminate food sources and the places where the rats live and hide. Remove the English ivy by cutting it down and pulling it up. Get rid of your bird feeder and stop feeding dogs and cats outside. Do not allow any food to remain out overnight. If possible, feed your animals indoors or remove the food as soon as they have finished eating. Make sure your garbage is securely covered.
Enlist the help of your neighbors. All of you need to work to get the rat population under control. Consult a pest control company if the problem continues.
Q: Is salt pork the same as bacon?
A: Salt pork is not bacon. Although it is salted, it is much fattier, and, unlike bacon, it is not smoked. It is generally cut from the hog's belly or side. Because salt pork is so salty, cooks often blanch or soak it to remove some of the salt before using. There are numerous uses for salt pork. It may be fried and eaten on biscuits and used to make gravy. Some recipes for the popular French coq au vin (chicken with wine) call for salt pork. Salt pork is often used for flavoring dried beans, chowders, soups, greens and potatoes.
Q: How many eggs do Americans eat each year?
A: According to the American Egg Board, per capita egg consumption in the United States was 248.7 in 2012. Per capita consumption is a measure of total egg production divided by the total population. The highest annual per capita egg consumption since records started being kept in 1909 was 404 in 1945. Egg consumption went on a 46-year downward slide until 1991 when it reached a low of 229 per person. Since then, eggs have become increasingly popular.
Q: I found a slimy, worm-like creature under a potted plant outside. It was about seven inches long, brown with black stripes and had a flat, fan-shaped head. What is it? Is it dangerous?
A: It sounds like Bipalium kewense, a flathead worm that is also known as a land planarian or hammerhead worm. The species is believed to be native to Indo-China. It has been found in American greenhouses since 1901 and is now found outdoors in numerous states, including Georgia. Land planarians need to stay moist, so you may find them in leaf litter or under potted plants. They eat earthworms, slugs, insect larvae and each other. Control is generally not recommended in a home garden. They are not dangerous to you or your pets. For more information visit: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/land_planarians.htm
Q: Are almonds and pecans closely related? Would it be possible to create a pecan-almond hybrid?
A: Pecans and almonds are not closely related. They are in separate plant families. The almond is in the Rose Family (Rosaceae) and the pecan is in the Walnut Family (Juglandaceae). It would be impossible to create a pecan-almond hybrid by conventional plant cross-breeding.
Pecans are closely related to hickories and more distantly related to walnuts. Odd as it may seem, the almond is closely related to the peach. They are both members of the genus Prunus and subgenus Amygdalus within the Rose Family. In fact, if you look inside a peach pit, you will see that the peach seed, although not edible, looks remarkably like an almond.
Consumer Q's is written by Arty Schronce. If you have questions or need further information, please contact him at 404-656-3656 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.