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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

February 24, 2006
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.

Sealing jelly with hot wax

I have tried my hand (with a friend) to can grape jelly. After we where done putting the jelly into the jars, she told me to go and buy some jelly wax. I asked her if it was supposed to go on the jars while they where still hot and she said it could be done in the morning after the jelly has cooled. My question is; if the jelly is cooled down (which it now is) and put hot melted wax on top of the jelly, how will I get a vacuum seal on my jars? Do I have to submerge the jars in boiling water? Please let me know as soon as you can since I have 30 jars of jelly sitting here and Iím afraid they will go bad without a vacuum seal on them.

Mrs. Bambi Jaskolka
Red Lion, Pennsylvania

Hmmmm. We seem to have a bit of the old and a bit of the modern here. When I first started canning, everybody put jelly into jelly glasses with loose fitting tops that just slipped down over the top; no water bath processing of two piece lids. And lacking those, we used any old odd jars, sealing the tops with hot wax. Even further, many of us old timers simply poured hot jelly into glasses or jars, then poured the hot wax on the top of the hot jelly, where it rose to the top, making a tight seal on the jelly. This prevented mold, which is the only jelly-spoiler to form. (Even if it does, due to a slipped wax top, we just spooned the little mold off and used the jelly to no ill effects.)

My biggest problem with wax only seals was that sometimes mice would get into the pantry and chew through the wax to get at the jelly! That jelly I did throw out, so to avoid the mice I went to the odd jars with metal lids. Chew through THAT you little buggers!!!

Now, it is accepted by the food experts that we water bath our jars of hot jelly with two piece lids for a short time; usually 5 or 10 minutes, which causes them to vacuum seal. There is no wax used at all. This jelly never molds and of course, never gets mouse chewed.

If you used two piece, regular canning jar lids, the lids probably sealed if you worked quickly, keeping the jelly very hot. Check the lids for seal. If they did, sealed is sealed; the wax wonít help things more. Next time itíd be best to water bath them for ten minutes, just to be sure. Sometimes we donít work quickly enough or have too big a batch and some of the hot jelly begins to cool down from boiling temperature and the jars donít seal.

If you used one piece odd ball lids, I hope you boiled them to kill any mold (as well as the jars). It would have been better to wax the jar tops when they were hot. But then, I always preferred to pour the hot wax down directly on the hot jelly so no air space remained between the jelly and the wax.

It would be best to refrigerate this jelly if they arenít sealed and you didnít get the wax on while everything was hot. ó Jackie

Canning beets

I just canned beets about 2 weeks ago and went to try some last night. I noticed that they were still hard and that leads me to believe that I didnít cook them long enough. This was my first try at beets and now I am wondering if there is anything that I can do. I was thinking of taking them and putting them in their own juice on the stove and reprocess them. Is this safe to do? Thank you

Chris Michaud
Bristol, Connecticut

Iím not sure how you canned your beets. If you followed the directions in your canning manual and processed your pints of beets for 30 minutes in a pressure canner, the beets are perfectly fine. To soften them further, simply simmer them awhile before serving them. I would not reprocess them; they are either canned right or not. If not, they are not safe to eat. ó Jackie

Vegetable beef soup

Could you please tell me if vegetable beef soup can be canned in a hot water bath? I donít have a pressure cooker and donít like them. If you could let me know I would be thankful. Thanks in advance.

Sonia Bagby
Bedford, Virginia

No. No soup can be SAFELY canned in a hot water bath canner. Why donít you like a pressure canner? Are you intimidated by the sealing handles and safety petcocks on the top? Or is it the stories of pressure canners blowing holes in peopleís kitchen ceiling?

Iíve used one for over 30 years and I do mean USED. Iíve canned literally thousands and thousands of jars with one and have never come close to having an accident of any kind. Most of those stories involved old canners without safety petcocks, where someone left their canning to talk on the phone, play with the children, etc. You must monitor your canning at all times, like driving a car. Other accidents happened with pressure COOKERS, which are different than canners. Food sometimes plugged the vent, causing pressure to build and build, resulting in explosions. This does not happen with pressure canners, as the food is inside jars, and canít escape to plug vents.

You would be SO happy when you get over your fear of pressure canners, as there are so many foods you can put up, youíll soon forget your former dislike. If youíre leery of one, ask a friend to let you come watch them put up something in their canner a few times. Youíll soon see how easy it is to process a wide variety of foods from meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, soups, stews, baked beans and more. ó Jackie

Canning bands and lids

I just picked up 1,100 really nice, clean canning jars. Now I am trying to find a place to buy bulk bands and lids in regular and wide mouth. Do you know of any sources to buy bulk?

Jane Phillips
Deshler, Ohio

What I do, Jane, is to contact the manager at a smaller local grocery and ask if he will order lids for me by the case for a reduced price when he orders for the store. By doing this, he gets a price break for ordering more lids and I get a good deal on cases of lids. I have also done very well by buying on ďseasonís endĒ sales at larger stores, getting lids for less than half price. But you have to be very watchful during the late fall; they come on sale and are gone.

Iíve also done very well at our Family Dollar store! This year, I bought a case of regular lids for 90 cents a box. This is a savings of 27 cents a box over the local store prices.

Remember that you can re-use rings over and over, as you remove them after processing your jars. You only need a couple dozen of each size.

You can buy canning supplies by mail from Gardenerís Kitchen, P.O. Box 322-BH, Monument Beach, MA 02553 or www.gkitchen@cape.com. ó Jackie

Finding pigweed

I suffer from osteoporosis, and I understand that pigweed is loaded with calcium.

I live in Ridgewood, NJ a suburb of New York City. I have no garden and live in an apartment.

How do I get some pigweed?

Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

Robert Metzger
Ridgewood, New Jersey

Iíve never heard of anyone who WANTED pigweed this much! I donít know how many tons Iíve pulled and thrown on compost piles or fed to the livestock! But you do have a problem, living where you do. You might consider a different source of calcium.

But, if you have your mind set, why donít you contact organic growers at your local farmers market. Iíll just bet that there are some of them who would either be very happy to have you come out some weekend and pick pigweed or else bring you baskets of it in season, to market so you could pick it up. Come to think of it, you may just make some new friends and have a ball! ó Jackie

Feeding steer, rabbits, & goats

Thanks for a great column. Couple of things I would like info on.

1) When I feed our steer in his manger, the leafy part of the alfalfa falls and is wasted cause he wonít eat the fine powdery stuff. What can I use it for. Seems a waste to throw it away. There is always the compost pile but surely there is a better usage for something.

2) I have access to a lot of bakery white three day old bread. I bake whole wheat for the family, but what could I use this source for. I do feed a little to the chickens and goats. Any additional ideas?

3) What can I feed the rabbits beside commercial feed pellets. I do give them a little of the white bread, garden left overs etc. but supplement with the pellets.

Thanks for the advice. Have a great day.

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

I hate to waste ANYTHING. Let alone alfalfa fines. You can make him eat it, providing it is clean, by mixing it with his grain, especially if it is a mixture containing molasses. Or you can add boiling water to it and then cool it. If he doesnít gobble it down, your chickens will love it.

Another use is to sack it up, then till it in your garden, next to your rows of young plants. This is a terrific soil amendment, rich in nitrogen, but will not burn your crops.

You can give this bakery bread to your steer or any other livestock you have. Our horses and cows loved it when we used to come home with a truckload from Helena. Just donít give too much, too soon and be sure to remove the plastic. I quit this after figuring that we didnít eat store bread because it had so many chemicals in it so why would I feed it to my livestock which, in turn, fed us; chickens for meat and eggs, the steer for beef, the milk cow and goats for milk, etc. I figured that feeding them the white store bread was, in turn, feeding us all those chemicals so I quit. Of course, this decision is a personal one.

Your rabbits may enjoy some of your steerís soaked alfalfa fines. There, again, start slowly to avoid digestive upsets. We always fed our rabbits comfrey, a little ear corn, carrots, turnips and left the pellets in free choice. They went a lot further when we fed "real food" and the rabbits did well on their diet, which also included garden waste, weeds, grass and bits of bread. This wouldnít work in a commercial rabbitry, because you end up taking some of the old food out of the pens and have to keep track of what you fed to what pen, but it works well for us homesteaders. (After all, there are many countries where rabbit pellets are unheard of.) ó Jackie




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