Vanilla Bean Pear Sauce + a Giveaway from OXO Tot #FirstBites

Even though we have a wonderful bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables available at the summer farmers' market I don't typically start canning until the weather cools off. Our home is at the point where all of the appliances need repaired or preferably replaced and the air conditioner is just barely working. Most days I don't bother with it at all, well, unless the flowers are blooming and my allergies can't tolerate the fresh air (I am apparently allergic to anything green.) Thankfully allergy season has passed and we've had an unusually cool summer this year. I've been taking advantage of the chilly nights to replenish our stock of applesauce. My son can put it away like no other food and with several months to go before I typically start canning it I was surprised to find out I was down to my last case. It amazes me how much food an active two year old boy can put away, I wonder some days if he has a hollow leg like his great uncle.

Last week I shared his favorite recipe for Spiced Blueberry Applesauce and the Healthy mini-popsicles I've been making to enjoy during the hot days of summer. This week since pears were on sale I thought I would whip up a batch of my favorite vanilla bean pear sauce. If you happen to have any vanilla beans that you've waited a little too long to use or perhaps someone left the package open on the counter and didn't notice for several weeks (not that I would ever do that) you'll find the beans will quickly dry out and become impossible to work with. Rather than waste these expensive treasures I've found that the best way to rehydrate them is to toss them in the crock-pot on top of some pears or apples. After about an hour you'll find that the pods have rehydrated enough to easily cut and the whole house smells divine. Who needs air fresheners when you've got a batch of vanilla bean pear sauce to make the house smell good!

Because there are so few ingredients in this recipe it's perfect for even the tiniest of tots so in addition to canning instructions I've included small batch freezing instructions. If you've stopped by for my last few posts you may have noticed that I'm working together with OXO Tot as part of their blogger outreach program. They have sent me a wonderful assortment of tools to help make preparing food for my son just a little bit easier, but no other compensation has been given for this post. Today (Friday July 25th) is the last day to enter their giveaway for your own OXO Tots #FirstBites set and Seedling High Chair so check out the giveaway details below.

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Crock-Pot Vanilla Bean Pear Sauce
makes roughly 8 half pints or 4 pints

Ingredients

for canning

8-10 large pears (approximately 5lbs)
1 vanilla bean

This recipe can be scaled to produce a smaller amount that can be frozen for baby

2 large pears
¼ vanilla bean

Equipment

Crock-pot
potato masher, food mill, or food processor

If freezing for baby food:

Ice cube tray or freezer containers
ziploc storage bags 

If canning for the whole family:

water-bath canner or stock pot with lifter
8 - 10 half pint canning jars with lids and rings
jar grabber
magnetic lid lifter
funnel
butter knife
ladle
clean dish towels and cloths 

Directions

  • Thoroughly wash all fruit before beginning, cut away any brown areas, then slice and peel pears. 
  • Open vanilla bean pod with a knife and scrape the insides into the applesauce. Once insides are removed, toss the entire pod in with the apples.
  • Combine all ingredients in the Crock-Pot and cook on high for 3 - 4 hours, or until pears mash easily. You can also puree the pear sauce in with a food mill, blender, or food processor for a finer sauce.If you have scaled this recipe down to freeze, check sauce after 1 hour to see if it has cooked down far enough to mash or run through a food mill. Cooking time for the smaller amount varies widely depending on the size of the crock pot, if it is not ready after 1 hour continue to check ever 30 minutes so the sauce does not overcook.

Boiling Water Canning, including instructions for canning food for baby

North Dakota State University - Fargo Extension Service has a great PDF file for home canning fruit and fruit products. It even supplies processing times for fruit-based baby foods which require a longer processing time than standard fruit sauce recipes. Keep in mind that not all fruits and vegetables are safe for canning when making purees for babies. With the exception of apple and pears sauces it is recommended you not puree the food before canning because processing times have not been determined for safe canning of these items. 

Processing times for this recipe when canning for baby

are 20 minutes for elevations of 0-1,000 ft and 25 minutes for elevations of 1,001-6,000 ft. If you are not canning this recipe with the intention of making baby food the processing times are 15 minutes for elevations of 0-2,001 and 20 minutes for elevations of 2,000 ft. 4,000 ft. These times are for half-pints and pints only.

  • While waiting for pear sauce to cook, sterilize your canning jars, rings, potato masher, and any other equipment that will come into contact with the pear sauce. You can do this easily by putting everything in the dishwasher and running it. Just don't put your equipment in with dirty dishes.
  • While your jars are sterilizing fill your stock pot with water and let it boil. It takes awhile for a large pot of water to boil, so keep this in mind. You don't want to fill your jars before your water is ready.
  • Once you're ready to fill your jars, place a sauce pan on the stove. Add your canning lids and fill pan with several inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer and allow the sealing wax on the lids to soften for several minutes.
  • Fill sterilized jars with hot pear sauce leaving 1/2 inch head space at the top. Remove air bubbles with a knife, wipe the rims with a clean damp rag, place lids on top and fasten ring until fingertip tight.
  • Place sealed jars on a rack in the canner or stock pot. Make sure jars are covered with water and that the waterline is about an inch over the top of the jars, then cover pot with lid.

You do not want the jars coming into contact with the bottom of the canner or stock pot because they will bounce around and likely break.

  • Process half pints and pints for 15 minutes, quarts for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. See above for processing times for baby food, they are different than standard canning processing times. Time starts once the water has come to a complete boil again. You may need to add boiling water to keep the water level up as the jars are processing.
  • Remove jars from canner, set on a clean dish towel and let them rest for several hours until cool. You should hear a popping sound as the lids seal. 
  • To check the seals of your jars press the center gently with your finger. If it moves up and down the jar is not sealed. You can either reprocess using a new lid never reuse an old lid or once the jar is cool, eat the pear sauce. You know you want to and you deserve the treat after such hard work!
  • Label with detailed contents and date, then store in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Freezing for Baby

  • Once you have pureed your pear sauce, spoon it into an ice cube tray and cover with plastic wrap then place trays into the freezer. 
  • If using ice cube trays transfer frozen cubes to a ziplock bag once they have frozen solid. This will ensure more sanitary storage and help prevent freezer burn.
  • Your frozen baby food will remain fresh for up to 3 months.

Other Notes

Make sure to experiment with the flavors different types of pears will produce. I used d'Anjou because they were on sale last week, but I've also had excellent results with Bartlett pears.

Disclosure

This post contains my Amazon affiliate links. I try to keep advertising unobtrusive and to a minimum in order to provide you with the best experience possible. Purchases made through these links provide me with a small income and ensure I can continue providing you with quality content.

Healthy Mini Popsicles Perfect for Teething Tots! #FirstBites

There really is nothing quite like an icy cold popsicle on a hot summer day; they've always been my favorite summertime treat. My son clearly takes after me because he will happily eat his way through an entire box in one sitting if I'm not watching him closely. Since I live in a household with a couple of popsicle addicts I've been searching for healthier options that won't leave me feeling guilty when I give in to his huge puppy dog eyes and begging for more treats.
 

What can I say, I'm a pushover!

Healthy commercial options are in short supply, so I went on the hunt for tot-sized popsicle molds. They're harder to find than you would think, but I eventually stumbled across these Fill and Freeze Pops from Nuk. They make the perfect size popsicles for the smallest of tots and the handles are easy for small hands to hold. One of my favorite features is the drip guard which cuts down on the amount of popsicle juice that ends up in my lap!

I've been playing around with different recipes with varying degrees of success. The Greek yogurt pops I made last week were a complete fail, but my second attempt made with homemade applesauce were a huge hit. The Spiced Blueberry Applesauce recipe that I posted on Monday has been my son's favorite or you could try my recipes for Easy Crock-Pot Applesauce and Strawberry Applesauce. All three make popsicles that are bursting with flavor without the added sugar found in store bought popsicles. If you're already making your baby's food from scratch you can mix this up and use any flavor of fruit puree you have on hand. The possibilities with these healthy treats are endless and they have the added benefit of being a great way to soothe your baby or toddler while they're teething.

Today's recipe is part of OXO Tot's #FirstBites blogger outreach campaign. They have provided me with a set of tools from OXO and OXO Tot, but no other compensation was given for this post. Don't forget OXO Tot is hosting a giveaway so see below for more information on how to enter for a chance to win your own OXO Tot #FirstBites set and a Seedling High Chair!

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Applesauce Pops
makes 4 tot-sized pops

Ingredients

4 ounces Applesauce or other fruit sauce

Tools

NUK Fill & Freeze Popsicle Mold (discontinued)
Nuby Fruitsicle Frozen Pop Tray or Munchkin Click Lock Freezer Pop Tray

Directions

  • In a blender puree fruit sauce until smooth. Fill popsicle molds and freeze for several hours.
  • When ready to serve run warm water around the base of the molds for several seconds and the pops should easily release. 

Disclosure

This post contains my Amazon affiliate links. I try to keep advertising unobtrusive and to a minimum in order to provide you with the best experience possible. Purchases made through these links provide me with a small income and ensure I can continue providing you with quality content.

Advice on Feeding Our Children and a Book Review: Green Mama by Manda Aufochs Gillespie

Today’s post is a bit different than my normal Thursday book review because I’m gearing up to participate in OXO Tot #FirstBites. I had recently started a post about feeding our children when I was sent this book for review. A lot of the author's thoughts line up with the way I feel about childhood nutrition. Even though today’s book talks about green living and not just nutrition I’ve decided to combine the two posts. I know I’m being a bit long-winded today, but I hope you’ll stick with me to the end because this is a topic I’m incredibly passionate about. As part of OXO Tot #FirstBites I’ll be sharing several recipes of my own for home made baby food, including some fun summertime treats, so keep your eyes peeled for those over the next few days.

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Did you know that childhood obesity rates have doubled in the past 30 years? This was something I wasn’t particularly aware of before my son was born, but once I discovered this alarming trend I knew it was time for some serious changes in our household. We decided to make slow changes to our diet and go on from there because we knew that our child would follow the examples we set. If we couldn’t even show him how to eat nutritiously, then how could we expect him to ever learn what good nutrition was? As Manda Aufochs Gillespie, author of Green Mama, mentions in her book, “whether you start big or start small, just start!” The hardest part was knowing where to start, because when it comes to nutrition, especially childhood nutrition, there is a lot of conflicting advice. 

Doctors have a rather shocking lack of nutritional education, I often found myself butting heads with my doctor over the guidelines I was given for feeding my son. I disagree with them as well as the latest food pyramid, in my opinion they’re setting us up for a life of obesity. As you can tell, I’m very opinionated about this and it’s something I’ll likely be talking more about over the next few days. I will say that the best advice I was given, which is also touched upon in this book, is to look back at previous generations who were green by default. They made their food from scratch, often from gardens grown themselves; there were no corner stores, pre-packaged food, or fast food restaurants to worry about. 

Modern generations have become accustomed to these types of conveniences, but these conveniences aren’t necessarily doing our health a lot of good. They’re especially affecting our children and we need to speak up and let restaurants and manufacturers know that we demand better. Change often comes slowly, but it starts with us and what we allow our children to eat. By not purchasing unhealthy foods we’re sending a message to the manufacturers that we want something different, but sending them an email doesn’t hurt either! As parents we need to remember that we are the ones in charge of what our children eat, they may want the sugar coated cereal with the cartoon character on the box, but we have to be strong and tell them it isn’t nutritious for them. As the author points out in her book we shouldn’t “give in to the temptation of biscuits, bars, or crackers in lieu of real food. Whether you are trying to buy a few minutes of peace while you run an errand, are worried that he must be starving because he hardly ate dinner, or are just reaching for an easy snack, these quick fixes can turn into a serious junk food habit. If children know that a processed, and often sugary, substitute is likely, they will figure out a way to get it.”

I couldn’t agree more! 

It's blindingly obvious that we all need to make a concerned effort to foster not just a love of food, but a love of HEALTHY food in our children. However, many of us struggle with this because manufacturers have played a large roll in telling us what is healthy. It’s time we stop listening to them. We need to ignore the labels that tell us we’ll meet our recommended daily intake of such-and-such vitamin if we eat their processed food and start getting our nutrition from real food. It’s only within the last few generations that we’ve begun to eat processed foods and the manufacturers have a huge advertising budget they use to turn our eyes to their product. 

It isn’t just the food we eat that we need to be concerned about, baby food is more processed than ever before. If you haven’t been down the baby food isle recently, it may shock you to see how many processed snacks now line the shelves. These pre-packaged foods are full of added sugar and preservatives, so now more than ever it’s important to read the labels to see what your child will be consuming. If you haven’t yet decided to make the switch to home made baby food I’ll give you a suggestion that I hope you follow: go buy a jar of baby food, open it, eat some of it. Now ask yourself if it even remotely tastes like what the label claims it to be. We played a guessing game at my baby shower were we tasted the food and tried to identify what was in the jar; hardly anyone was able to identify the foods because they taste nothing like real food. It was a real eye opener for me and helped fuel my determination to feed my son home made food. If you’re looking to bypass feeding your child processed baby food this book has plenty of suggestions for first foods as well as tips to ensure you child eats a healthy, balanced diet. There are also tips to improve your diet so that if you choose to breastfeed you are passing on the most nutrition possible to your child.

While I’ve spoken mostly of nutrition in this review it is actually a small part of what Green Mama offers. You’ll find information on improving air-quality, limiting toxic chemicals, making your ownDIY green cleaning products,and a whole host of other helpful tips. There are also lengthy discussions on nursing and while the book mentions “breast is best” the author doesn’t shame you into thinking you’ll fail your child if you are unable to breastfeed. This is something that I really commend her on. Many of the other references I’ve consulted over the years made me feel that way, even though I knew I was acting in his best interest by choosing not to breastfeed. The medication I take everyday for my epilepsy causes a whole host of problems in children. Unfortunately many other resources don’t look at the whole picture before taking their stance, this book does and I find it incredibly refreshing. This book also recognizes that not everyone can afford to be green all the time. There are sidebars titled When Money Matters More filled with ways to make more green choices without breaking the bank and many helpful tips to be green in smaller ways.

Before I end my review I’ll leave you with one last bit of important advice I found in this book. “Green doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘more expensive,’ although it can mean spending more on one type of item (like food) and less on another (like toys).” I think this is advice that everyone, not just new parents, should take to heart. If we make a conscious decision to cut out some of the less important items in our life we can take those savings and apply them where they really matter and where they will make the most difference in our lives and the lives of our children. Small actions can make a big difference, we just need to take the first step.

Where to Purchase

Disclosure

This book was sent to me for review by Dundurn Press through NetGalley. As always, all opinions are my own. 

This post contains my Amazon affiliate links. I try to keep advertising unobtrusive and to a minimum in order to provide you with the best experience possible. Purchases made through these links provide me with a small income and ensure I can continue providing you with quality content.