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Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 67
Jackie Clay
Jackie Clay answers questions on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.
Click Here to learn how to Ask Jackie a question.
I tried canning fresh pack tomatoes for the first time. I followed the directions exactly, but when I took them out of the canner, the fruit was at the top of the jar and the liquid was all at the bottom. Is this normal? I want to make sure that I did not do something wrong.

Karen
garaoke@earthlink.net

When you cold pack tomatoes or other fruit, it floats to the top of the jar. This is why home canners who vie for prizes at fairs always hot pack tomatoes and other fruit; it stays evenly distributed in the juice in the jar. It is “prettier.” I often cold pack tomatoes when I’m in a hurry, but I usually mash them in tightly. When they’re left to their own space, too much juice floats them badly. They’re still great to eat, just have more juice than “meat.”

Help! I have just finished canning my first bunch of tomatoes of 2000. I pack the jars tightly, at least I think I do, get the air bubbles out, add salt and lemon juice, process them in a hot water bath 45 minutes for quarts, right? The USDA says 85 minutes. Which is correct? But after I remove them from the kettle, the liquid and tomatoes have separated and on some jars, the liquid is down 3 inches. What am I doing wrong?

Cindy
aces@spiritusa.net

See the above reply for “floating tomatoes.

And about the juice, which has boiled out? It could have been that the tomatoes were a little too fully packed in the jars or that water did not entirely cover the jars while processing. Check for both, next time. Also hot packing tomatoes results in less of this. At any rate, the tomatoes are perfectly okay to eat, providing the jars are sealed.

I process my quarts of tomatoes for 45 minutes in a hot water bath.

I pickled garlic recently and several of the cloves turned a blue/green. I was told that they were perfectly ok to eat and in fact they were. However, it doesn’t look very nice and I am wondering how to pickle garlic without the cloves turning dark or blue/green.

Susan Fleming
susan.fleming@ualberta.ca

If it was just the top layer of the pickled garlic that turned unappetizing blue green, I’d suspect that they touched the lids. Simply fill the jars less full with cloves of garlic and pickling solution.

If the color persisted throughout the jar, I’d suspect one of these: minerals (especially iron) in the water or iron cooking utensils, perhaps a cast iron pot in which the garlic and pickling solution was heated in, or perhaps spices-vinegar reacting to the garlic. If it is minerals in the water, simply use water without iron (filtered or bottled) for your garlic pickling. It really makes a difference sometimes.

My wife and I have a 50 x 100-foot garden with a lot of habañeros, serrano and cayenne peppers. How do you can them?

Jay Helton
helton@netins.net

I prefer to dry cayenne peppers, then powder them to use in recipes as you use very little of them at one time. You can do this with habañeros as well, but I’d seed them first as they are fire to eat with seeds.

I like to pickle jalapeños and serranos, and you might like to do that with habañeros, too. That way, you can use the peppers in recipes, salads, as a snack, and use the vinegar, which becomes spicy and flavorful, too. And they sure are pretty in the jars. Just be sure to use plastic or rubber gloves when working with them as your fingers, especially under the nails quickly begins to burn, and you can’t put the fire out.

Pickling hot peppers is easy. Cut slits in each pepper with a small, sharp knife. Over four quarts of peppers, pour four quarts of water, into which 1½ cups of canning salt has been dissolved. Let this stand, covered, overnight in a cool place. In the morning, drain and rinse. Combine in large saucepan: 10 cups vinegar, ¼ c sugar (optional), 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Pack the peppers into hot, sterile jars, leaving ¼ inch of head space. Pour the boiling liquid over peppers, just covering them and leaving ¼ inch of head space. Wipe the rims and seal. Process pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath, quarts 15 minutes. (Adjust the time if you’re over 1,000 feet above sea level.)

I have lots of terrific pumpkins this year and would like to make pumpkin pie from the real thing. Do you have a recipe that would tell me how to prepare the pumpkins to use instead of what you buy in a can? I would appreciate any advice you have.

Jill Danielsen
jdanielsen@excite.com

Like everything else, “real” pumpkin pie always tastes better than who-knows-where-it’s-been store pumpkin. First of all, you need to cook a raw pumpkin. You can do this by slicing the pumpkin into manageable pieces, peeling it, then simmering it until tender in barely enough water to keep it from scorching on the bottom. You will need to stir from time to time. Or you can cheat and simply remove the seeds and pop the pumpkin in the oven at 350 degrees till tender, as if it were a squash.

Whichever method you choose, scoop up the pumpkin meat and mash it through a sieve. A food mill is easier, but the process is not difficult.

When you have a lot of pumpkins, why not simply can your own pumpkin? Just fill hot jars with mashed pumpkin and process in a pressure canner. Follow any recent canning book. It’s simple, and you’ll have pumpkin pie any time you want.

Pumpkin pie

1 raw pie crust

Filling:
3 eggs
1½ cup mashed pumpkin
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup milk
2 tsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. flour

Beat the eggs. Add pumpkin, sugars, salt and spices. Mix. Add the milk and mix. Add the flour and melted butter. Mix well.

Place in pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn down heat to 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a straw inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remember, there’s also pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin milk shakes...mmm! See the next letter.

I want to make and can pumpkin butter, but am having problems. I’d charge ahead with my own “recipe,” but have safety concerns with the long term preservation aspect of it. The recipes I have found suggest pumpkin butter be made with commercially canned pumpkin puree. I would like to start with a fresh pumpkin. But other recipes I have found state that pumpkin should not be canned. So I’m hesitant to make pumpkin puree add the sugar and spices and then hot water bath it. Do you know if that’d be safe? We were wondering if perhaps the commercial canning process does something to kill off bacteria, etc. that we couldn’t do so well at home. Or if the pumpkin lacks the natural acidity to kill off things for itself. What about using apple juice?

I feel a little stuck between being a child of modern commercially packaged everything and a would be do-it-yourselfer. We currently try to live a simple lifestyle, gearing ourselves up for the day we do it full-time. I’ve said to my spouse a couple of times that I think it would be fun to spend a few days with you just to take the mystery and awe out of the self-sufficient lifestyle. Let me know if you ever open a guest house or start weekend seminars!

Becky Erickson
Colorado Springs, CO

We never thought much about our lifestyle as having much mystery or awe about it. Some days there’s so much to do that we have a hard time convincing our half-century plus bodies to get up in the morning.

The more you live it, the more natural it becomes, I guess.

Okay, to your pumpkin butter. Yes, you can home can pumpkin anything. I can it every year in glass jars. Okay, here I get into trouble; my recipe for pumpkin butter does not require pressure canning. It’s from a 1975 Kerr book. To be safe, I suppose you can pressure can your butter as per pumpkin, but I’ve used the “unsafe” method for several score of years and am still kicking. Here’s my recipe, which I am not advising you to use. Spices can be adjusted to preference.

Pumpkin preserves:

4 pounds pumpkin
2 lemons
sugar
½ tsp each, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg
pinch salt

Mash the pumpkin and lemon meat in preserving kettle. For every cup of pumpkin, add ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the spices. Mix and let stand overnight, refrigerated. In the morning, boil slowly, stirring well. Pour the mixture into sterilized half-pint jars to within ½ inch of the top. Put on a cap, screw the band firmly tight, and process five minutes in a boiling water bath.

Do not attempt to make pumpkin butter with less sugar if water bathing it, because pumpkin is low-acid. Otherwise, it requires pressure canning to be safe from bacteria. In the above recipe, the sugar acts as a preservative. And no, commercially canned pumpkin is in no way better than home-canned, nor do they add anything to kill bacteria. To be safest, you probably should pressure can your pumpkin butter for 30 minutes (for pints) at 10 pounds pressure—just in case.

I am a small farmer and raise a few calves to keep the pasture cleaned up. I saw where you revised the Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners. I keep steers and sometimes I buy bull calves and have to have them castrated. I would like some information on castrating calves; the best method and so on. I would like to be able to do this myself.

Larry C. Estel
Gate City, VA

There is no reason you can not learn to castrate bull calves yourself. After spending over 20 years as a veterinary field technician, I much prefer using a Burdizzo. This is a totally bloodless, relatively painless method of castration. There is no chance of infection and quite easy, when done right.

The Burdizzo is basically a large pinching clamp with long handles to increase leverage for the operator. With the calf adequately restrained, the testicles are taken in one hand, while the Burdizzo is held in the other. The operator makes sure the clamp only is placed over the cord leading to one testicle. Never clamp across the septum, the division between the testicles. Likewise, never include a portion of the testicle in the clamp’s jaws. Carefully position the Burdizzo above one testicle, cord in the center, well away from the center division, then close the handles, completing the clamp. Hold the Burdizzo in this position while you count to ten, then release. Repeat the process with the other testicle.

When you are finished, the only sign of the castration will be a slight indentation where you clamped. It is wise to check, as the few “slips” (failed castration) I’ve seen with the Burdizzo were often because the operator clamped the same testicle twice.

You might pick up a copy of A Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners sold by BHM) for illustrations and information on this subject.

I have a complaint that I would like addressed in your forum. Ball and Kerr are owned by the same company. They no longer use rubber around the inside of the lid from what I have been told by the company. It is a synthetic product. For the last few years I have called them and complained. They send a form to fill out, listing all kinds of reasons why my jars didn’t seal. I have been canning for over 30 years and know exactly why a jar didn’t seal. Now I am being told that I should let my jars sit for 24 hours. By that time the food is not fit to eat and if I reprocess it right away, I end up with mush. I am so angry about this I could scream. I feel sorry for new canners who find that their jars don’t seal and are convinced that it was something that they did. It sure would discourage me from trying again. All of that time and money wasted.

My main problem is with pressure canned foods. The lids seem to seal well in a hot water bath. They will also seal if I leave the jars in the pressure canner over night without opening it. There is a definite problem here. I am losing four or five quarts out of seven. The old lids were so forgiving.

Please address this problem.

Colleen Mysliwiec
myscolleen@hotmail.com

Colleen, I really sympathize with all your troubles. As canning is such a huge part of our self-reliant lifestyle, I can imagine how frustrated you must be. Two years back, I also had trouble with Kerr lids, but the problem was a crease which formed in the lid after pressure canning chiefly meats and poultry which require longer processing time. But the lids did seal, albeit peculiarly.

I’ve canned hundreds and hundreds of jars in the past few years and can truthfully say that I’ve not had more than about one percent that did not seal. I’m not thrilled that Ball and Kerr are now owned by the same company, but I don’t blame the lids on your failure, though I can sure see why you would. But let’s see what could be happening.

I had a bunch of quarts of cold packed, pressure canned sweet corn that didn’t seal once. I was literally canning a pickup full of corn and was in a real hurry, using two canners, going 24 hours a day. And I was in too much of a hurry.

I didn’t let my canners get hot enough, after putting all those jars of cold corn in them. When steam sputtered out the exhaust vents, I shut them and went on. Not good enough. The vents should have had a steady stream of steam exhausting before they were closed. The canner simply didn’t get hot enough, even with the pressure built up. Subsequently, the jars sealed poorly. Even some that appeared to seal later spoiled when the seal broke during storage. It was a big lesson for me.

A good friend had trouble with her jars not sealing. I went to her house during canning to find out why. Everything went great until she went about wiping the film off the jar lids while they were still hot. A big no-no. The jars need to be left totally alone until cool to the touch. When she did this, every jar sealed fine.

I would check the gasket on your canner, if it has one, to make sure it is pliable and not cracked. Also have the gauge checked, if your canner has one instead of the jiggling weights. I’d strongly suspect that something was wrong with the pressure during processing, caused by a faulty gasket or pressure gauge, as you don’t seem to have any problems with water bath canning.

Another thought: you’re not “helping” the pressure return to zero by manually letting off a little pressure are you? I’ve been tempted to do this a couple of times when I was in a deadly hurry to get the jars out of the canner and had a few jars not seal. They can also break if you do this.

Still another way a few friends have caused jars not to seal is to retighten rings after processing. This often breaks the seal already in place. They thought that because the rings seemed loose, and the directions said “complete the seal” that this is what they should do. It sounds reasonable, but that “complete the seal” is for old-fashioned lids and rubbers, and just confuses things today, when few folks use them.

I know this may seem banal, but let’s go through the basics in pressure canning. It might help someone who has not canned much and may strike a chord with you. (Some of us who have canned for years occasionally take shortcuts and ax ourselves by doing so.)

• Fill clean jars with prepared food, according to directions. Wipe the rim with a moist, clean cloth.
• Place the boiled lid in place.
• Screw ring down snugly, without force.
• Place jars in canner.
• Tighten down lid evenly all around.
• With petcocks open, turn on heat.
• When steam exhausts steadily, close petcocks.
• When pressure builds to desired pressure, begin timing. Keep heat even, adjusting minutely to keep at desired pressure.
• When time is up, turn off heat and wait till pressure returns to zero.
• Carefully open petcock to release any remaining steam.
• Open the canner and remove the jars at once to a clean, dry place, out of drafts, padded by folded dry towel.
• Leave alone until cool, then wash and remove rings.
• Store in cool, dark, dry place.

I’m really sympathetic towards your problems. If you can’t resolve them, let me know and I’ll call you and see if we can’t work this out. I want you happily canning.

I have a very good sweet pickle recipe (icicle pickles). They are very tasty and always make a big hit with everyone we serve them to. I do have a problem and I am wondering if you could help solve it for me. Some of the pickles get somewhat shriveled during the two weeks of processing them. Could it be the alum? I always keep them totally covered from the beginning stage of salt water throughout the final stages of pouring the hot syrup over them. They taste just fine but some of them just are not attractive for serving. What can I do different to prevent this problem.

Jeanne Ver Hage
jverhage@powercom.net

Shriveling in pickles usually can be traced to four causes. The most common is using pickles that have been picked too far in advance of actual processing. Use very fresh cukes. Placing cucumbers in too strong a pickling or brine solution can cause shriveling, so always follow directions exactly. Using too sweet a pickling solution is my usual pickle-shriveler. This is why we usually increase the sugar slowly as the pickling process goes on. Shortcutting here by adding too much sugar really wrinkles those little gems quickly. I hope your pickles soon come out plump and smooth.

I would like to know where I can find recipes for sugar-free canning. I love to can but hate all that sugar. I presently can jam using only honey, but I need some varied recipes with no sugar.

CntryHrts2@aol.com

Any fruits can be canned sugar-free, using only fruit juice and the fruits’ natural sweetness. Sugar does nothing regarding canning keepability. As for sugar-free jam and jelly recipes, check out a box of any sugar-free pectin product at your supermarket. There are a lot of recipes listed, and best yet, they’re pretty good, too.

We have a good sized crop of jalepeño peppers to preserve. We’ve made plenty of salsa. What are some ways to preserve jalepeños other than jelly and pickling?

Michael Varnes-Epstein
varnesep@mwt.net

Peppers are my passion and salsa’s just a start. Have you ever tried salsa verde, made with jalepeños and tomatillos? This is a green salsa with a different taste.

Then there’s roasted, dried jalepeños. Roast them on your outside grill until skins are black. Pop them in a paper sack until cool, then peel and seed. Lay in a single layer on a dehydrator or cookie sheet in a cool oven until dry. Store in a jar, ready to use, either whole or powdered. I like to grill them on mesquite for a smoky taste.

I also love to can these smoked peppers. Simply pack in a jar and process for 35 minutes at 10 pounds in a pressure canner. You can also can them in ½-pint jars to use later in nacho dips or fried with eggs.

You can also dehydrate raw jalepeños and grind them to use in your own spice mix. I usually stem them and cut them in half to help dry them as they are thick meated.

Then there’s meat stuffed jalepeños, canned jalepeño rings, etc.


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