Oct 11, 2018

The Importance of Headspace in Canning

What is Headspace in Canning
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 I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see more and more people learning to can food at home. I have noticed, though, that many newbies proudly showing off their work online are making some mistakes. Totally normal! None of us knows everything about canning when we first start out. But one mistake I see a lot is ignoring headspace.

Headspace is the amount of unfilled space between the food in the jar and the rim (top) of the jar. Using the correct headspace not only ensures a good seal on your home canned foods, but it also prevents some potentially dangerous situations.

Why Correct Headspace Matters

Using too little headspace means the jarred food can't properly burp or expand during the canning process. This means the food is forced out of the jar, leaving particles behind on the jar rim. This, in turn, means the lid can't properly seal. From what I've seen, the most common occurrence of using too little headspace is in pie filling. Usually 1-inch headspace is called for - and while that might seem like a huge amount of "unused" jar, the truth is pie filling expands a lot once it's processed.

A much more common problem (and one I battled with when I was new to canning), is leaving too much headspace in the jar. This keeps air in the jar, making the food inside darken over time. Worse, it can potentially lead to food spoilage, even when the jars seal.

Whatever recipe you use should always indicate what headspace is required. (If it doesn't, it's a sure bet it's not a test safe, "approved" recipe and therefore you shouldn't be using it.) Generally speaking, though, jams, jellies, and juices require 1/4-inch headspace, fruit requires 1/2-inch, and things that go into a pressure canner (low acid foods) need 1-inch headspace.

Bubbling is Vital

In home canning, "bubbling" refers to taking a plastic device (like a plastic spoon handle) or wooden skewer and running it between the jar and the food to remove air bubbles from the jar. (Never use metal for bubbling, since it could damage jars, causing them to break.)

If you don't bubble jars, you may end up with false headspace - that is, you may think you have the correct amount of headspace, but once air works out of the jars during processing, the contents will fall, leaving far more headspace than is ideal.

Courtesy Tom Head
By the by, if you discover air bubbles in your jars after processing, don't worry. You will never get all the air out of the jars. The idea is simply to remove as many air bubbles as possible.

What About After Processing?

Sometimes when you remove jars from the canner, you may find the headspace has changed. Usually, the headspace now looks bigger, but sometimes it may seem to have disappeared. This is nothing to worry about. If you start out with the correct headspace when the jars go into the canner - and the lids seal - the food is safe to eat and store on a shelf.

Sometimes you'll end up with increased headspace because hot food may shrink during the canning process. Other times the increased headspace is caused by "siphoning," or loss of liquid in the jars due to improper technique. Siphoning is generally caused by raw packing (not pre-heating) food that is canned in a heavy syrup; not allowing the jars to cool in the canner a full 5 minutes after processing; or simply running the canner at too high a boil. The end result may be food that discolors at the top, but this is not a safety issue.

If you neglected to bubble your jars and the headspace drops, you could end up with a poor seal on your jars - which could potentially release during storage and lead to spoiled food.

How to Measure Headspace Accurately

If you're just starting out, it's helpful to actually measure your jars' headspace, rather than eyeball things. Back when I was learning to can, I used an old fashioned ruler for this job, but nowadays, there's an even better tool, called (creatively) a headspace measuring tool. This is better than a standard ruler because  it latches onto the jar rim, making for more accurate measuring. (Most headspace measuring tools double as bubblers, too.) To use this type of ruler, hold it upright, with the tip inserted inside the jar. The food should just touch the tip of the correct measurement on the ruler. If you've over-filled your jar, spoon out some of the food. If you've under-filled the jar, add a little food and re-bubble.

Here's Ball's version of a headspace measuring tool.

And here's a less expensive version.

Once the jar is bubbled and the headspace is correct, wipe down the rim of the jar with a damp cloth. Better yet, wet the cloth with a little white vinegar; this helps remove sticky and oily substances better than just water. This step helps ensure a good seal.

Another option, though possibly not as accurate, is to use a canning funnel with headspace marks on it. (Here is a partially stainless steel version.)

When you become a more experienced canner, it's acceptable to eyeball headspace. To aid in this, use the jar's threads. Turn the jar so you can see all three threads. The first thread (the one closest to the jar rim) is where the 1/4 inch headspace mark is. The middle thread indicates 1/2 inch. Just below the last thread is the 1 inch mark.

By paying attention to headspace, you'll improve your canning tremendously, ensuring all the food you can is safe to eat. A little attention to this detail now, and you'll have home canned food that will last many years to come.
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Sep 19, 2018

How To Do Less Laundry

Americans are wasteful when it comes to a lot of things...and that includes laundry. The average American household wastes a huge amount of time, personal energy, water, electricity, detergent, dryer sheets or fabric softener, and clothes (due to wear and tear), all because they simply wash their clothing too often.

No, I'm not suggesting we all wander around in stinky or obviously dirty clothes. But there's no doubt that before automatic washing machines became popular people - including Americans - washed their clothes much less often. It was simply too much work to do laundry more than once a week. So how did the housewife of old - who probably had more kids than you do and whose work and life was messier because of lack of modern conveniences - manage to wash so infrequently?

Wardrobe Matters

The first important thing to note is that "in the old days," almost everyone had five different types of clothes:

* School or work clothes.
* Play clothes.
* Church or special occasion clothes.
* Nightclothes.
* Underwear.

The average middle-class family might have two or three outfits in each category, tops. So, obviously, there were fewer clothes to launder and therefore less laundry to do.

But it was the way they wore these clothes that saved the most labor and money. Kids wore school clothes only to school. When they came home from school, they removed their school clothes and hung them up to allow them to air out. Then they put on their play clothes.

They often had only one set of "good" church clothes, which were worn only while at church or during special occasions, like weddings. This outfit was washed infrequently since it was typically worn only a few hours per week.

Nightgowns or pajamas were worn every night for a week before they were washed. They weren't worn for lounging before bedtime or during morning play or breakfast. As soon as a child got out of bed, she took off her nightclothes and stored them for bedtime.

Adults handled their wardrobe similarly.

Now, I'm not necessarily suggesting you and your family have such limited wardrobes (although cutting back on clothes is probably a great idea that will save you time and money). I am suggesting we don't generally need to wash clothes that have been worn for only a few hours. To do so, frankly, shows how spoiled we are. What a waste of resources, time, energy, and money! I'm also suggesting that instead of wearing one set of clothes all day long, we adopt the practice of switching into work or play clothes, as needed to spare the laundry pile and our clothing budgets.

My Challenge to You
So here's my challenge for you this week: See how few clothes you can reasonably wash. Wear an apron while cooking - and perhaps even while housekeeping or doing garden chores. Change from good clothes into play clothes as soon as possible. If you know you'll be doing a particularly dirty job, change into some older clothes first. Wear your nightclothes repeatedly.

I think you'll find your life is less stressful and more simple. And you'll be a better steward.

Related Posts: 




A version of this post first appeared in January of 2011.

Sep 13, 2018

Using Fall Leaves for Garden Mulch & Compost

How to Use Autumn Leaves for Mulch and Compost
When we lived in the suburbs, I was always amazed when my neighbors raked their autumn leaves and piled them along the street for the city to pick up and throw into a dump site. Nowadays, I see our rural neighbors blowing leaves into huge piles and lighting them off as a means of disposal. But it's no more difficult to use fall leaves as garden mulch and compost than it is to rake or blow them into piles. And if you look at nature, you'll see that leaves are God's perfect garden mulch - an easy way to richly enhance the soil and make plants healthier and happier.

How to Use Autumn Leaves as Mulch and Compost

* Add leaves to your compost bin. Leaves are one of nature's great plant foods. However, it's important to not dump a huge pile of leaves into the compost bin all at once (because they’ll turn into slimy mush that decomposes very slowly). So add a layer of leaves, then a layer of "green" (nitrogen-rich) things, like vegetable and fruit scraps, then another layer of leaves, and another layer of “greens,” and so on. Running the lawn mower over the leaves to shred them first speeds up their decomposition.

* Use leaves as mulch. Place a few inches of leaves on top of your garden soil, keeping the mulch a couple inches away from plant stems. Again, shredding the leaves first speeds their decomposition and helps keep them from blowing around. However, I don't bother to shred them; we get a lot of winter rain, and that keeps the leaves from blowing away. By spring, even leaves that weren’t shredded have decomposed (or nearly so). This type of leaf mulch not only feeds the soil, but it helps prevent weeds while retaining soil moisture.

* Throw leaves into a bare bed. If you have any bare garden beds, sprinkle autumn leaves over the ground in a thin layer, then lightly dig in. The leaves will rot over winter, feeding the soil and encouraging good-for-your-garden worms and micro-organisms.
* Make leaf mold. Leaf mold is a rich compost that builds up nutrients in the soil. To make your own, fill a black contractor's bag about three-quarters full with fall leaves; close the bag securely and poke small holes all over it. In about a year, you'll have leaf mold to apply to your garden beds.

* Start a lasagna garden. Lasagna gardening (also called "sheet mulching") is a simple way to turn bad soil into spectacular soil - and one main ingredient is leaves. Essentially, you're just layering "greens" (nitrogen-rich materials) and "browns" (carbon-rich materials) on top of the soil; you'll need about twice as many browns as greens, and you should stack everything two or three feet high. Read more about lasagna gardening here.

An important note: Not all leaves are created equal. Some are quicker to decompose than others, and some add more nutrients to the soil than others. Thick leaves (like those of holly) must be well shredded before you can use them in the garden. Most importantly, eucalyptus, walnut, and camphor- and cherry-laurel leaves actually inhibit plant growth, so feel free to rake those into the street for city pick up.

All other leaves, however, are designed to fall to the ground and enrich the soil. So follow nature’s lead this autumn and let leaves do the work God designed them to do.

A version of this article was originally published in December of 2009.

Aug 30, 2018

August Homestead Life in Photos

It's been an overwhelming month...but I'm not complaining. Sure, my dad visited from out of state and we held our annual party celebrating my husband's and daughter's birthdays, but most of the overwhelmingness (I made up a word!) has come from our homestead bounty.
When we were homesteading in the suburbs, we dreamed of having every kind of fruit tree, bush, bramble, and vegetable growing on our property, all carefully preserved for the rest of the year. I knew it would be work, but...it's more work than you can imagine if you've never lived it! We still don't have many veggies (because I don't have an actual vegetable garden yet and the deer have been feasting on all the veggies I've planted here and there), but we are actually considering cutting down some of our fruit trees! What??? Yes!!! Because nobody can eat and preserve the fruit from, say, 5 Italian plum trees, all the same variety, that all ripen at the same time of year! Ha!

Anyway, we are plum wore out (both literally and figuratively), but so blessed. We've never given away so very many pounds of fruit as we have this year. Plus, I've been canning, dehydrating, freezing, and freeze drying. (Not sure what the difference between dehydrating and freezing is? Click here.)

I'm too tired to write a proper article this week, so I'm doing something a little different: A photo essay of August life on our mountaintop homestead.

This hasn't been a great year for tomatoes...too weirdly cool, even for the greenhouse tomatoes. So I've been tossing fresh tomatoes into a freezer bag as they become available, and come winter I'll can them. The tomatoes growing outside the greenhouse have lots of green fruit, so I imagine I'll have to ripen them indoors (learn how here). But this is the first year we've had more than two or three pears, so that's a happy thing!

Eating keto to reverse my diabetes, I don't consume potatoes anymore and I try to limit my family's intake of them. But the former owners had a few planted in the ground that I've ignored...and they keep producing! No worries; my family will eat them up. An unusual number of them have bloomed this year, including one with amazing purple flowers. I'm thinking it's from either a red or purple potato.
Because I didn't have a decent place to can last year, I had a lot of things in the freezer, including pounds of tomatoes. I'd wanted to can them before my surgery, but I ran out of time. So this month, I finally turned them into salsa. (I use this recipe.) So much chopping! So many onion tears! And such a mess! But worth it.
Our blueberry bushes were quite productive this year. Last year, I felt fortunate to dehydrate one jelly jar of berries...all the rest we ate fresh. This year, I've been freeze drying many trays of them. I always love the really huge berries we get off one bush. They taste terrific and are the size of a quarter.
We let a second hen hatch some eggs. Call me silly, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed to me she felt sad because she wanted babies, too. So we put her in the maternity ward (a separate cage) with seven eggs. One was a dud - probably never fertilized. She lost three before while they were done hatching. But the other three seem healthy and happy and she's having a blast bossing them around in the nursery (a bigger cage that we keep in the chicken run).

We got a few pounds of early figs this year, and I've mostly been freeze drying them. They turn out amazing; they taste like fresh but are crunchy. This is by far my favorite way to preserve figs, though my family is begging for fig jam. We'll see if the fall crop of figs gets a chance to ripen before the first frost.

One of our spoiled bunnies. Still no babies from them, which is disappointing. (And the female is always making nests as if she's about to give birth.) My son now wants a pet rabbit, too, so we will probably try breeding him or her with one of the existing bunnies.

We are still overwhelmed with Italian plums. These are our least favorite fruit on the homestead. (It's probably just the variety we have; it's not particularly flavorful.) Still, I freeze some in light syrup and use them for baking muffins and such. And this year, I've freeze-dried quite a few, which definitely improves them.

And now it's the beginning of apple season. The first tree to ripen is the oldest fruit tree on the homestead, and we use those apples mostly for applesauce (my recipe and method are here) because they are more tart than my husband cares for. I kicked off applesauce-making with plum applesauce, which combines my favorite red plums (sweet tart) with these apples. The result is divine! Now I'm on to regular applesauce, and soon I'll be canning apple quarters in light syrup (SO good!). I'll also freeze dry and dehydrate apple rings, and put some apple pie filling in the freezer. I might also make some apple juice or apple cider.
Ending with a smile! Our homestead dog has grown up a lot this year. He spent the summer mostly hanging out with us. He's also been herding the new pullets (young chickens) back into their run when they naughtily escape, digging up and killing voles, playing with garter snakes (they fascinate him), playing in the water, and getting stung by wasps. (He now knows the difference between "sky raisins" (flies) and "jalapeno sky raisins" (wasps and bees).

Aug 22, 2018

Keto Sloppy Joes Recipe (Low Carb, Paleo, Diabetic, Gluten Free)

Low carb, Paleo, Diabetic, Gluten Free Sloppy Joes
Every mom needs a good, homemade sloppy Joe recipe. The canned stuff is inferior in both flavor and nutrition (not to mention it's full of questionable ingredients), but homemade sloppy Joes are a quick and easy meal. Back in 2012, I posted my recipe for crock pot sloppy Joes, but when I went keto in order to reverse my diabetes, I had to modify that recipe. So without further ado, here's how I make sloppy Joes that are low carb, keto, Paleo, and gluten-free.

 https://sites.google.com/site/proverbs31womanprintables/home/keto-sloppy-joe-recipe-1Keto Sloppy Joe Recipe

about 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (I use 80% lean)
2 - 3 celery stalks, sliced thin
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup low or no sugar ketchup
keto buns (optional)*

1. Brown the ground beef in a large skillet.

2. Add the celery, bell pepper, and onion and saute until the veggies are tender.

3. Add the red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup, stirring well to combine. Warm for a minute or two.

Serve on keto buns, if desired. (*Tthe Internet is full of recipes for keto-friendly bread and hamburger buns; here is one I have tried and liked.) I prefer to eat these sloppy Joes without any bread. For my carbavore kids, I serve with regular hamburger buns.

Crock Pot Version:

1. Place all the ingredients in the crockpot. Add 1/4 cup of water.  Stir to combine.

2. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.

Makes about 6 servings. Estimated nutrition, according to LoseIt: 254 calories; 21 g. protein; 7.6 g. carbs; .61 g. fiber; 13.6 g. fat. (Bear in mind that your nutrition information may vary depending upon the catsup you use. If you choose to eat bread along with the filling, you'll have to add that to your carb count, also.)

Aug 15, 2018

Why Rabbit Manure is the Best Fertilizer Ever

Using Bunny Manure in the Garden
Though we are considering adding meat rabbits to our homestead, our two Polish rabbits are strictly pets. Even so, they are a huge boon to our homestead for one simple reason: They poop. A lot. And their manure is gold for the garden.

When my daughter got her first pet rabbit, I didn't know this. I only knew that rabbit manure didn't have to be composted before use (unlike horse, steer, and chicken manure). That meant I could take the manure from the rabbit enclosure and put it directly into the garden without fear of damaging or killing plants. My garden loved it - and it was so easy!

This year is the first time I've turned our rabbit manure into "tea" - that is, liquid fertilizer. The process is exceedingly simple (learn how here), and by turning the manure into a liquid, the nutrients hit the plants much faster. I am not exaggerating when I say that within an hour of application, I've noticed plants fertilized with rabbit manure tea have noticeably grown.

This lead me to wonder why rabbit manure is so very effective in the garden. What makes it different from other animal manures?

NPK Rating for Rabbit Manure

As you may know, commercial fertilizers all contain an NPK rating. N stands for nitrogen, P stands for phosphorus, and K stands for potassium.

Nitrogen is used by plants to make leaves and green growth. That means it's essential for growing leafy greens, and helps crops like tomatoes get off to a good, strong start.

Phosphorus helps transform energy from the sun into chemical energy the plant uses to grow. In addition, phosphorus helps plants become stronger and more able to handle stresses like too little water or too much sun, plus it helps the plant grow roots and produce flowers and fruit.

Potassium aids in the prevention of disease and helps produce better-tasting fruit by controlling water content, protein, and sugars.

Aged horse manure, which is widely considered the gold standard for garden fertilizer, has an NPK rating of .70-.30-.60. Steer, another popular manure for gardens, is .70-.30-.40. Sheep manure is .70-.30-.60 and chicken is 1.1-.80-.50.

Rabbit manure is 2.4-1.4-.60...the best of them all. No wonder I see such a noticeable difference when I fertilize with rabbit manure!

How to Collect Rabbit Manure

If your rabbits are in any type of hutch or cage, they should have a manure tray beneath them. Alternatively, some homesteaders allow manure to fall directly into bins beneath their rabbits' cages. It's fine if the manure has a wee bit of hay in it.

My daughter regularly empties the rabbit manure trays into a large plastic tub. We keep the tub in a sheltered location because weather (especially rain) leeches nutrients from the manure. When I want to fertilize the garden, I scoop up whatever I need, as I need it.

If you don't own any rabbits, check local Facebook and Craigslist ads. Often, local rabbit owners sell or give away their bunny manure. And if you don't see any listings, don't despair; put up an "in search of" ad.

How to Apply Rabbit Manure

When installing a new plant, I always add a scoop or two of rabbit manure to the hole. You may also sprinkle manure around plants and gently dig it in, then water. I've also sprinkled bunny manure onto the surface of the soil and watered it in as a top dressing, though this is the least effective technique.

Rabbit manure tea may be applied once a week. Whole manure that's placed in a hole, dug around plants, or used as a top dressing may be applied about once or twice a month.

In addition, rabbit manure can go into your compost bin, to help make super-compost, along with kitchen scraps and garden debris. (Learn more about composting here.)

Aug 9, 2018

Weekend Links & Updates

My clothespin apron makes a good harvesting apron, too.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

"Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:9

It's been a long time since I've updated you about our mountaintop homestead. There have definitely been some difficulties, but there are blessings (as always), too.

Let's start with the blessings. I am feeling so much better since my surgery. It's a relief to not be utterly exhausted all the time! I'm catching up on work around here, and branching out to begin working on articles for several new-to-me magazines.

And then there's the orchard. It looks like it's going to be an abundant year. Our yellow plum trees produced so much, we've had the blessing of giving away many pounds of fruit, as well as preserving some for ourselves.

In the past, these plums have been tough to preserve because they turn to mush when canned and are not very flavorful when dehydrated. (They do make great jam, but my family eats very little and there are only so many jars I can gift.) Freezing is an option, but the fruit makes them fit only for sweets, and we don't eat those much. So I tried freeze drying them this year. And guess what? I think they taste even better freeze-dried than they do fresh! Plus, freeze-dried food lasts 25 years or more. What a win! (Read about our freeze dryer here.)

Yummy freeze dried yellow plums.


In addition, we had one hen successfully raise chicks to pullets (basically, teenage chickens) and another hen has decided she wants babies, too. Currently, she's sitting on a clutch of eggs in a cage that's separate from the other chickens.
Me in the canning kitchen...another thing I'm grateful for!
All good things.

The bad things are pretty much all financial. I'm still receiving unexpected bills for my surgery, and that expense is a big hardship on us. And because our health savings account is now empty, any time we see a doctor or dentist, it's going to cost us. And then...we accidentally ruined the main telephone/broadband line for our road. I won't even go into details, but suffice it to say we are at the mercy of the telephone company financially. Would you pray for us about that? We'd be so very grateful.

Pickles and blackberries!

* A smart way to help your teens out of bad situations

* 10 Truths for Middleschoolers.

* Many common garden flowers also have medicinal uses...including hollyhocks.

* I recently discovered that a clothespin apron I made years ago makes a good harvesting apron. It's very easy to sew, too. Instructions here.  

* Getting rid of aphids naturally. 

* A cheap way to keep deer out of your vegetable garden.

Oldies But Goodies:

* How to Cook with and Preserve Plums
* How to Dehydrate Zucchini into Zoodles
* Keeping the House Cool in Summer...even without AC
* Eating Maple Seeds

Jul 31, 2018

How To Freeze Kale, Collards, and Other Greens

Preserving Greens
For the first time on our new homestead, I've got too much kale and collard greens to eat fresh. This is amazing considering the deer love greens as much as my family! The abundance is a happy thing, though, because greens are easy to preserve for winter eating.

You may certainly can greens, but I find them mushy and disagreeable when preserved this way. You may also dehydrate greens to use in smoothies or to powder and add to various dishes. You may also freeze dry greens for similar purposes. (Learn more about dehydrating vs. freeze drying here.)

But my preferred method for preserving greens is freezing - because frozen greens are most like fresh, cooked greens. Typically, I defrost frozen greens, pop them into a skillet with a dab of bacon drippings or olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and maybe some onion or garlic powder, and saute until bright green. DEElish! You may also use frozen greens in any cooked dish, like casseroles or enchiladas.

But first, you gotta prepare the greens, which may include:

* collards
* kale
* spinach
* mustard greens
* turnip leaves
* kohlrabi leaves
* radish leaves
* Brussels sprout leaves
* broccoli leaves
* cauliflower leaves
* Swiss chard
* and orach.

But no, it's not quite as simple as popping the greens into a freezer bag and tossing them in the freezer. That, my friends, would result in goopy mush. (But it works well for green beans!)

Preparing Greens for Freezing

1. Wash the leaves, and remove all thick stems. I usually tear the leaves off the stems, but you may cut them if you prefer. The stems are edible, by the way, but they require more cooking than the leaves, and I usually just compost them.

2. Roll the leaves into a cigar shape and slice into thin strips. The thicker the leaves, the thinner the slice you'll need. For example, collards are pretty thick and tough, so I cut the slices just under 1/4 inch wide or so. Spinach is pretty thin-leaved, so I make the slices about 1/2 inch wide.
Chopping kale in preparation for freezing.
Blanching Greens for Freezing

3. Fill a large pot with hot tap water and place it over high heat.

4. While waiting for the pot to come to a boil, thoroughly wash and sanitize the sink. Pour ice cubes into the cleaned sink and add cold tap water.

5. When the water in the pot comes to a full boil, carefully add the prepared greens. Blanch for an appropriate amount of time:

Collards = 3 min.
Other greens = 1 - 2 mins.

The thicker (tougher) the leaves are, the more blanching time they require.

6. When the greens are done blanching, place a colander over the opposite side of the sink (the one without ice in it) and strain the greens.

7. Quickly transfer the strained greens to the ice water.*

8. When the greens are completely cool to the touch, use a slotted spoon or your hands to transfer them back to the colander. Allow to them to drain for a few minutes.

Freezing Greens

9. Transfer the greens to freezer-safe containers. Use within 1 year.
Greens blanched, bagged, and ready for the freezer.

*NOTE: A more traditional method is to pour the blanched greens directly into the ice water, without putting them into a colander first. However, I find my method cools the greens faster, thereby stopping the cooking faster, which in turn leads to a more nutritious and fresher-tasting end product.