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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

April 25, 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.

Saving asparagus beds

We will be moving in the next year or so and I hate having to leave my asparagus beds behind. One bed is over 20 years old, the others range from 2 years to 12 years. I think I could transplant the newer beds as the plants (and roots) aren't that entrenched. In the oldest bed, many "babies" have sprung up and I suspect they are from seeds. What is involved in saving the seed (non-hybrid) and planting at the new homestead? I have considered using a skid loader or other large implement and attempting to dig up the well established beds. No wildlife seems to eat asparagus and once we sell, the property will not be used as a residence.

Selena Gray
sgraysr1 at hotmail.com

Yes, you can save your asparagus roots! In fact, I've dug up wild asparagus roots and taken them home to replant in the edges of my garden. When you dig up your roots, dig deep, as they run down a foot or more. And one clump of roots will have many smaller "children" among the big, older roots. If you soak the roots in a washtub full of water over night, you can more easily untangle all those roots. I ended up with fifteen plants from one "root" clump!

Yes, your skid steer loader will do a great job of the backbreaking work of digging up your asparagus roots. Just make sure it digs DEEP enough to get the entire root, not just cutting them off.

You can save the seed, but it will be at least four years before you begin harvesting "normal" asparagus. To save the seed, just wait until the berries are orange in the fall. Then pick them and let them dry well. When they are dry, crush the berries by rolling them between your hands. Winnow out the seeds and plant them in a row in well tilled soil on the edge of the garden (where they will remain for years!). Thin the new little plants to about two feet apart. Keep them well watered and mulched to protect them from drought and weeds.

—Jackie

Canning horseradish

In searching for information on canning horseradish, I came upon Backwoods Home Magazine. I am going to subscribe it looks interesting, and I loved reading your info about canning. I am going to start canning, and have been given access to my friends organic horseradish.

Can you give me any info on canning this root? I have found recipes, but is the process the same as regular veggies?

Jan Murphy
North Star Farms
janm777 at earthlink.net

I have never canned horseradish. (Any readers out there who have?) But if I were to do it, I would simply grate it and pack it into sterile half-pint jars. Do this outside or your eyes will REALLY burn! Then bring a quart of vinegar to a boil and pour over the horseradish, leaving half an inch of headspace. Seal the jar and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

To use, either use straight (very strong) or drain and mix with mayonnaise or salad dressing, which makes it more smooth-tasting.

I usually just dig horseradish in the late fall and grate some of the peeled root into a jar of vinegar. I hold this in the fridge for use all winter. I keep a few roots in the cellar to grate and use as this is used up, and before the next crop comes in.

—Jackie

Old canned food

My parents died 5 years ago and there are still canned foods and jellies in the basement. Are they safe to eat or should I get rid of all of them? Certainly I can tell the ones that have leaked but the others I have no idea. They date back to 1988. Thank you for your help.

Mygrandmasawsome at aol.com

If you are sure that any vegetables and meats were canned correctly in a pressure canner and the other foods LOOK and SMELL good on opening a sealed jar (firmly indented in the center), they are perfectly good to eat. If they have frozen at any time, the foods will look okay, but will be soft….often too soft to be appetizing.

They are probably just fine; many of my own canned goods date back to that time…or earlier, and we use them happily.

—Jackie

Rennet source

Can you help me we recently moved to Nevada from Northern California where we used to make cheese .

The rennet store where they carried Rennet no longer exists can you please give the name and where of a store that carries and sells rennet?

David and Linda
vacas111 at cox.net

Sure. There are several sources of cheese making supplies, but one I use often and have been very happy with is HOEGGER SUPPLY COMPANY, P.O. Box 331, Fayetteville, GA 30214 or www.thegoatstore.com Happy cheesemaking!

—Jackie

Hopi Pale Grey seed available

Jackie, I have a limited amount of Hopi Pale Grey seed if anyone needs some. We grew for the first time last year with seed from a reliable source on the West Coast. No other squash or gourds were within 1 to 2 miles of us that I am aware of. Anyone needing seed to get a start can email me.

Enjoy your column... sorry about your loss.....

Mike Ledbetter
mledbetter at infoave.net

Thank you for volunteering to share your Hopi Pale Grey Squash seed! I am running out of my stash of seed, so yours is welcome, indeed. Working together, we CAN save this truly great squash!

—Jackie

Pressure canner and cleaning jars

I have to tell you that I am a really big fan of yours. The amount of knowledge and skills that you have are truly amazing.

I have two questions. My first involves my 22 quart pressure canner. While canning last year, I somehow blew the pressure plug. I know that I need to replace this with a new one. However when this happened it also slightly rounded the bottom of my pressure canner. It still sits on a burner ok. If I replace the pressure plug, will it still be safe to use?

My second question... I have been given some used canning jars that have been in storage for quite awhile. The mice got into them and built nests. Are they still safe to use? How should I clean them?

Trula Morgan
Paradise Valley, NV

Thanks for the kind words. The knowledge came from lots of hard work, through the years….

Yes, if you replace your pressure plug, your canner will be safe to use. Evidently, the canner got overheated and the bottom warped before the safety plug let go. As long as it sits decently on the stove, it'll be fine to use.

As for your canning jars, simply wash them well with hot, soapy water, then sterilize them by immersing them in a kettle of boiling water. Let them drain and air dry and you are in business. I've done just that, evicting mice and pack rats, and we're still here to tell the tale. (But the rodents are mad at us, though!)

—Jackie

Stocking the pantry

I have recently unplugged my 13 foot upright freezer and turned it into a pantry. I want to have a four month supply of canned goods for two adults. So far, I have a good start of canned veggies, fruits, and meat. Also, extra crackers and cereal, two small boxes of powdered milk. The door is stocked with pork and beans and soup. What would you add to this stock?

We have thought of you often during your difficult times. God bless you and your handsome son!

Iris Starks
strongeagle50 at netzero.net

In addition to your stock of canned foods, I would certainly add powdered margarine, a few cans of shortening, flour, sugar, jams, tomato sauces (like spaghetti sauce with meat), pasta, rice, baking powder, yeast, egg powder, bacon flavored TVPs (textured vegetable protein; i.e. soy; bacon bits), salt and spices. You REALLY get sick of stored canned goods in a short order, when that's all you have to eat.

I would also add more dry milk, as you'd be surprised at how much you use in cooking. You've got a great start. Keep up the good work and use your imagination!

—Jackie

Canning sausage

A friend gave me about 10 lb of sausage and it is frozen. I can't use that much at one time, so I would like to know how to can it once I thaw it out?

Thanks

Lyn Lord
lynlord at etcmail.com

The easiest way to can sausage is to thaw it, shape it into patties a little larger than the mouth of a wide mouthed pint canning jar. Then gently brown the patties, just until they've shrunk down and are beginning to brown nicely. Then stack them in your clean jars, to within an inch of the top of the jar. Add a cup or two of water to the fat and brownings in the frying pan and gently bring to a boil, stirring well. To each jar of patties, add about 4 Tbsp of this liquid. Seal the jars and process in a pressure canner at 10 pounds (unless you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, then check your canning manual for directions for adjusting the pressure to your altitude, if necessary). Process pint jars for 90 minutes.

—Jackie




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