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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

March 15, 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.

Making molasses

I would like to know if there is a way for a person to make their own molasses from sorghum using something other than a huge mill and if you can explain in layman’s terms the procedure.

Love your articles, you’re my favorite—the reason I subscribe to Backwoods Home.

Virginia Weathers
Ridgeway, Illinois

Sorry, but there’s no way to make molasses from sorghum or sugar cane without the big mill, evaporator, etc. So that makes making your own small batches of molasses at home nearly impossible. Many folks gather together with neighbors to make molasses. It takes one or more knowledgeable people with the equipment, along with some willing hands and everyone comes out ahead. Ask around! — Jackie

Dried beef

Your reply to the SOS letter (Issue #95, page 70) reminded me of a favorite depression supper at our house—creamed dried beef on toast with home-canned peas. So off to the grocery for a jar of dried beef, and there it was! However, it looked sort of odd, rather like rolled up slices of salami. So I read the ingredients: “ground beef, cooked and formed.” Ugh. So, can you please tell me if there is anyone out there who still makes the good old sliced dried beef? Otherwise, this ground beef, cooked and formed stuff will really have earned the authentic SOS label.

Beth Greenlee
Highlands, North Carolina

Dried beef has been "ground, cooked and formed" for years. At least the commercial product has. They used to slice it thinner than it is now, but it’s about the same SOS product. Anyone know of any commercial source of dried beef that ISN"T mystery meat??? — Jackie

Old flour, hybrid seeds, and Hopi Pale Gray squash

I just wanted to say my sympathy is with you since you lost your husband. You have had a rough year with that and your elbow but you have to keep going. There are a few things I want to ask. When I made whole wheat bread and white bread they were tough and heavy. The recipe said up to 8 cups of flour, so I kept cramming it in so I guess that was the problem? How long can you keep flour after the expiration date?

Now a gardening question, when I order seeds can I save the seeds from a plant that is not labeled hybrid or heirloom? I get regular kinds like Blue Lake beans and Detroit beets so will the seeds be ok to save?

My plot is 16 x 16 feet so would Hopi Squash take over? I’d like seeds if you can spare any. I let the Butternuts run around the edges over and over again. Have you ever used Brewers Yeast? I’m allergic to mold so don’t know if I should use it or need it. I enjoy reading your columns and the progress on your new house. I take care of my 100 year old granny so understand your challenge with your folks.

Jane S. Lippincott
Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Yep, I’d say your bread problems were the result of too much flour. You want a nice moist, lively ball of dough; not sticky, but not hard and dense, either. It does take some practice, then your hands will know exactly when to stop adding flour. The dough will actually be springy and feel alive.

You can keep flour forever unless it gets damp or becomes infested with insects. White flour does not go rancid. However, freshly ground whole wheat flour does because it has its entire goodness. Use whole wheat flour up fairly quickly, for that reason.

Yes, you can save seeds from any plant. Even hybrid plants. I know you "can’t" save seeds from hybrids. Bull….. The catch is that being a hybrid, the baby plants may not be copies of the parent you saved the seeds from. And you may get oddball plants. But you CAN save the seeds. You can even breed your own open pollinated varieties BACK from hybrid varieties. I have done this and many seed breeders who are a lot smarter than I am do this all the time. It’s fun and interesting too.

Of course, you get more even results saving seeds from open pollinated varieties, such as Blue Lake beans.

Yes, the Hopi Pale Gray Squash would take over your garden; the vines are often twenty feet long!! But you can dig up a separate little plot for them. I let mine run out into the edges of the woods and the squash end up hanging from trees! Let me know if you want some seeds and I’ll be happy to send them to you. Remember, though, that Hopi Pale Gray squash are C. maxima and will cross with other squash/pumpkins of that same family, so you only want to grow these to have pure seed of this very rare breed. — Jackie

Elderberry juice

My elderberries yielded approximately 6 pounds, so they went into my juicer-steamer which went into clean, sterile, pint jars (3), with a fourth having maybe 2 ounces only to observe mold after a few weeks. One of them produced a dome which sprang back after pushing down, one cover stayed flat and one is a “maybe.” Naturally the juice was boiled for 2 minutes. Many questions. What good is elderberry juice other than wine? What potential medical uses can e obtained? If I question my cooking and sealing the jars, do any sound safe to us “as is”? If I still have doubts of one full jar, could it be possible to empty all jars, reboil the juice and then do what?

May the Lord hold you in the palm of his hand. You help many. Thanks.

Wow, what a change from dry desert to Gold Beach. Keep dry, starting about now.

Lyle Knudson
Nordland, Washington

Sorry you are having trouble with your elderberry juice. When you extract the juice, you need to boil the juice just long enough to heat it, then pour it into sterile canning jars to within half an inch of the top and process in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes. This does away with jars that do not seal and mold on your juice.

You can mix elderberry juice with apple juice, sweetening it to your taste if you wish. Or you can make great jelly from it. I’ve made tons of it as elderberries have been plentiful nearly everywhere we’ve lived. To to this, mix 3 ½ c juice with ½ c lemon juice and heat to boiling. Boil 1 minute, then add 7 ½ c sugar. Boil, stirring to prevent scorching. Then add 1 package of powdered pectin product and stir well. Bring back to a boil and boil 1 minute at a hard boil, stirring constantly. Pour into sterile hot canning jars to within ¼ inch of the top. Wipe the top of the jar clean. Place hot, previously simmered lid on and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process jars in a hot water bath for 5 minutes to assure seal.

As to your questionable juice. If it was my juice, I’d open the jars and sniff it well. If it smells okay, look at it for signs of mold (whitish or bluish fuzz floating on the top). If that’s all right, I would reboil the juice and make it into jelly or else recan it as juice. If there is any doubt as to whether the juice has fermented or has gone moldy, throw it on your compost pile and figure it was a lesson learned. I do it all the time!

Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and everything. By the way, we’ve moved to Northern Minnesota, not Gold Beach where Backwoods Home is published. But for us the change was moving to New Mexico, as we’ve always lived in forested cold country. We just couldn’t handle the lack of woods, colors and green grass! — Jackie




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