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Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 74
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 have seen red and green hot peppers in decorative jars of vinegar. I figure this is fairly easy to do. How do I do this? Can I use the vinegar in cooking?

Carol Chappell
cchappell@glade.net

There are two ways to use hot peppers in vinegar; fresh and dried peppers. While either will keep in an unsealed jar of vinegar, it’s considered safe to only use dried peppers in unsealed jars. You should can the fresh peppers in vinegar.

To make your decorative (unsealed) jars of vinegar with dry peppers, nearly fill the jar with the vinegar of your choice (some folks opt for wine vinegars) and add dried red and green peppers. You can carry this one step further by drying your own peppers. Simply select thin walled peppers and string them up by the stem in a dry location.

Be sure that you end up with an inch or more of vinegar over the top of the peppers. Let steep for at least two weeks and yes, you can use this vinegar (now flavored by the hot peppers) in many recipes.

I also can pickled peppers of many types, which are very decorative, especially when put up in pretty antique canning jars. I’ve found a whole bunch at yard sales, county dumps, and lying about in pastures. Just be sure they have no cracks or nicks in their rims.

Pickled peppers:

1 gallon mixed hot peppers of your choice
1½ cups salt
1 gallon water
1 cup water
5 cups vinegar

Wash and drain fresh peppers. Cut two small slits in each pepper. Dissolve the salt in the gallon of water. Pour over the peppers and let sit over night. Drain and rinse. Drain again.

Add 1 cup water to 5 cups vinegar. Simmer 5 minutes. Pack peppers into hot, sterilized jars. Heat the water-vinegar mixture to boiling and pour over peppers to within ½ inch of the top. Wipe the rims. Place lids on and screw the rings on firmly tight. The jars will seal as they cool.

If you use decorator lids and rings or add a ruffled cap of gingham, over a regular lid, screwing down a new ring and tying a matching ribbon below it, you have a wonderful, sealed gift. You can certainly use this vinegar, as well, in your cooking.

Jackie

Every year my husband grows sunflowers. However we have never figured out how to properly dry them and salt them. Could you help us with this? Also, we would like to know how to prepare BBQ flavored sunflower seeds.

P.S. The husband has a question! How do you prepare seeds for next year’s garden; storage, preparation, handling. I’ve tried to preserve seeds in the past, but they always end up rotting.

Jana Evans
Williams, OR

Sunflowers are a great addition to the back of any garden or in a patch of their own. They are so easy to grow. To harvest the seeds (for yourselves or to feed the birds), wait until the petals have dropped from the sunflower and the seeds are the right color. (Sunflower seeds come in striped, black, white and even red. It depends on the variety you grow.) Then cut the head and a few inches of stalk off with a sharp knife or garden loppers. To dry the head, tie a pair upsidedown over a rafter in the attic or garage, out of mouse, chicken or bird reach. Repeat until all heads are hung. This way the seeds will dry, not mold and rot as they will if you simply cut the heads and put them in a pile or in a box. When crispy dry, you can harvest the seeds for any purpose. We staple half inch hardware cloth firmly on a two by four frame, which fits down over the top of a clean barrel or garbage can. Rub your dried sunflower heads over this screen and your seeds will shuck out and fall into the can below. You will get some debris from the sunflower head, but this can be winnowed out by pouring the seeds from one container to another in a stiff breeze.

Once your sunflower seeds have been cleaned, stir the contents of the can once a day to ensure that they dry perfectly. They are now ready for next year’s garden seed. You can store your seed in any moisture and pest proof container until spring.

To salt your seeds, mix up a heavy brine of 1 cup of salt to 2 cups of water. Boil to dissolve the salt completely, stirring the mixture. Then dip a cup of seeds out and drop them into the salt brine, stirring to coat them. Dip the seeds out with a slotted spoon and place in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 225° oven until the seeds are dry and you see the whitish salt on the toasted seeds. You usually have to slightly stir them with a fork to be sure they dry completely; you aren’t baking the seeds, you are only drying and toasting them.

Use the same method for barbecue flavored seeds, using barbecue flavored salt, instead of plain. To get a stronger barbecue flavor, you may have to sprinkle salt on the wet seeds while on the cookie sheet, depending on the flavored salt you use.

Jackie

My husband asked me to inquire about the possibility of canning dill pickles that would taste similar to those we purchase at our local grocery market. I have refused to attempt this as of yet because I recall several failed attempts by my mother. The dill pickles she produced can only be described as “nasty,” even though her sweet pickles were very tasty. Is there a fail-safe procedure or recipe you can recommend to us?

Mrs. Sean Evans
Williams, OR

Most failures in dill pickles result from the long method, where dill pickles are brined in a large crock. While this can result in very good pickles, sometimes one forgets to skim the scum that forms on top of the brine every day or doesn’t get the top plate, which holds the pickles under the brine weighted down enough to keep the pickles covered with brine. The result is mushy, nasty pickles. Try this quick dill method which is the one I most often use. (I’ve no time for scum skimming.) I think you and your husband will enjoy them.

Fresh-pack dill pickles:

18 pounds of 3 to 5 inch cukes
1½ cups plus ¾ cups salt
2 gallons plus 9 cups water
6 cups vinegar
¼ cup sugar
7 small dry pods hot pepper
2 Tbsp. pickling spice
1/3 cup mustard seed
7 cloves garlic
21 heads of dill or 1 cup dill seed

Thoroughly wash, rinse, and drain the cucumbers. Cover them with a brine made of 1½ cups salt and 2 gallons cold water and let stand overnight. Rinse and drain the cukes. Mix the vinegar, 9 cups of water, the remaining ¾ cups salt, sugar, mixed spices (tied in a cloth bag), and heat to a boil. Keep hot. Pack cucumbers to within half an inch of the top of quart jars. Put 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 clove peeled garlic, 3 heads of dill (or 1 tablespoon dill seed) and 1 pod of pepper in each jar. Cover cucumbers with hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Put on hot, previously boiled lid and screw down ring firmly tight. Process 20 minutes in boiling water bath. Makes 7 quarts.

You can adjust this recipe a little— you may omit garlic or increase it a little, omit the hot pepper or increase— according to your family’s taste. Try a batch and make notes to yourself for next time. These pickles work well every time. Use pickling salt, not iodized salt and be sure you use fresh cukes, not ones that stood around after harvest.

Jackie

I would like to know how to can Brunswick Stew in a jar. The stew will be already cooked.

Lydia Wood
wrwood@csranet.com

Heat your Brunswick Stew using chicken, tomatoes, butter beans, onions, potatoes, and spices to boiling. Pack stew into clean jars to within one inch of top of the jar. Wipe the rim. Place a hot, previously boiled lid on and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process quarts in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure (adjust pressure upward if you live above 1,000 feet—see your canning manual) for 75 minutes. When making stews to can, I add vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, after the stew just boils and heat just til it reboils. Then I pack the stew. This way the vegetables don’t get mushy as they sometimes do if you completely cook the stew and then pack it.

Jackie

I have just started milking and the flavor of the milk is bitter. I pasteurize but the odor, smell, and taste were there before I pasteurized. It must be what she is eating because I can smell the same odor on her breath when she chews her cud. Any ideas? I am very disappointed since I planned to make cheese, butter, ice cream, etc.

Deb Hemingway
d-dfarms@lakes.com

Well, Deb, let’s find out why your milk is awful so you can fix the problem and get to those dairy goodies. My first impression is like yours; it very well could be something she is eating. To test this theory, pen her up in a dry lot for a week, only feeding hay and a corn/oats mixture. Some dairy animals cannot be fed molasses, as their milk gets an off flavor.

After a week, check the flavor of the milk. If it is now good, you know it definitely was something she was eating that affected the taste of the milk. If her dairy grain has molasses, add that back to her diet. Then check the milk. If it is still good, you know it wasn’t that.

Walk her pasture and look for plants that could cause off flavored milk; wild mustard, anything in the cabbage family (kale, rape, etc.), wild garlic, wild onions, etc. Break plants off and smell them. If you notice “that” odor, you know you have the culprit. You will now have to rid your pasture of that plant or keep her fenced off patches of the culprit.

Another cause of off-flavored milk is low grade, chronic mastitis. This often shows up at freshening and is characterized, in many cases, as only a few “creamy chunks” caught in the milk filter. Mastitis can be treated by milking the udder completely out several times a day and treating her with intramuscular antibiotics.

If the diet did not cause the problem, talk to your veterinarian. There are several problems, including mastitis, that can cause bad flavored milk. She may need a check up.

Is your dairy animal a goat? If so, some does produce “goaty” flavored milk. This can usually be corrected by giving free choice baking soda in a pan in the feed trough. After several days you will often notice good, sweet milk just like you dreamed of.

Your trouble is not rare, but it isn’t common either. I’ll bet with some sleuth work you can find the problem. Good luck.

Jackie

A friend and I canned 53 jars of strawberry jam two days ago and it’s not set up the way it should. It’s a bit runnier than we think it should be. What alternatives do we have to salvage the berry mixture? Neither of us really wants 53 jars of strawberry syrup.

Joan Dove
Aberdeen, WA

Hopefully, all you will need to do is to wait a few weeks. Strawberry jam sometimes takes that long to become as firm as you’d like. But if not, what I would do is to open one jar at a time, as you need it, dump it into a saucepan, bring to a boil and add one tablespoonful of strawberry gelatin powder. Stir until it is completely dissolved and pour back into the washed, rinsed, still warm jar. (This is one application where you can re-use the lid.)

Set this jar into the fridge when cool, and keep it there after opening. I’m assuming you used pint or half-pint jars. If you used quart jars, use two tablespoons of gelatin. I’ve done this with good success. You may have to adjust the gelatin a bit, but after the first jar, you’ll have it down to a fine science. The jam will be set perfectly and will taste no different.

Causes of runny jam and jelly are: not enough powdered pectin to the batch, too much sugar, not boiling the mixture long enough after adding the sugar, and cooking up a double (or larger batch). Luckily, it’s still all edible.

Still, remember to make use of some of those jars of “strawberry syrup.” We love strawberry syrup drizzled over homemade vanilla ice cream or an angel food cake.

Jackie

Can you home can pesto? I assume that you can, since you can buy it in cans at the store, but I don’t know the processing time. I have canned baba ghanooj and so on when overseas, but didn’t know if there was a trick with pesto.

Nadine
nzanow@thecia.net

Anything you find canned in the store can be home canned, but several items, such as pesto will not be found in your home canning manuals. The only reason I would not recommend canning pesto is that it is so much better made fresh with basils from your own herb bed. Those delicate flavors will not be as perfect if you can it, which of course, must subject it to heat.

But if you want to can it, I’d recommend using half-pint jars; you don’t want leftovers. Using your favorite recipe—typically basil, peeled cloves of garlic, and olive oil, crushed well together—pack it into clean jars to within half an inch of the top. Wipe the rim, place a previously boiled, warm lid in place, and screw down ring firmly tight. Process at 10 pounds pressure (adjust the pressure upward for higher altitudes; check your canning manual), for 45 minutes.

Jackie

I canned some raspberry jam 3 weeks ago and some of the jars didn’t seal. Are they good to eat, or should I throw them away?

Rita LaPointe
Santa Rosa, CA

Unless the jars are moldy or smell fermented, they are fine to eat. I would keep them in the fridge until you use them, as they could mold or ferment. But jam will not cause “food poisoning.”

To prevent sealing failures in the future, be sure you process the jars of jam in a boiling water bath after screwing down the rings. This eliminates 99% of failed seals in jams and jellies and is why I always do it.

Jackie


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