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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

June 10, 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.

Keeping canned jalapenos crunchy

We have been canning for many years but have been having trouble with jalapeno peppers. We have water bathed them and pressure canned them after putting them in the brine just long enough to change color. (less than 5 minutes). Then we water bath them for 5 minutes. We have also tried to pressure cook them for 5 minutes. They taste just great but they are not firm. Can you tell me what I am doing wrong?

Richard Lindroth
charliex at eritter.net

To pickle your jalapenos so they stay crunchy, don’t boil them. It’s a lesson I learned with all pickles, from a champion pickle maker. Make your final brine, boiling it to mix the ingredients well. Then drop in your prepared peppers, making sure you poke a few slits in each one (or slice them in rings), so the brine gets to all parts of the peppers. Bring the brine JUST to a boil and pack your peppers quickly into hot jars.

I’ve done this for years and my peppers (and pickles) have come out nice and crunchy. Another tip is to soak the peppers for several hours in ice water before you put them in the final hot brine. Just drain them and continue with the processing. The extra ice water acts like a “wilt preventative,” just as if they were cut flowers.

For best results, process your pickled jalapenos in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (pints).

Good peppering!

—Jackie

Fencing steep slopes

I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how useful your article on goat fencing was for me (Dairy Goat Journal March/April 2003). I came across it while doing research on fencing in preparation for a move to some new land we’re developing.

My wife and I run a small ranch consisting of a mix of animals that we shear for their fiber. Mostly cashmere and some angora, a mix of sheep, a bunch of alpacas, and a few llamas thrown in. Our efforts at fencing our hilly property have been a challenge. We’re moving to a much flatter piece of land (about 20 acres) at the bottom of Petty Creek Mountain outside of Missoula and will be putting in new fencing. Our land extends up the mountainside for another 66 acres—terrain that our critters would love to explore if we could properly fence them. The terrain varies considerably with patch vegetation, wooded area, and some grassland.

Your article sounded right, and I will use it for the flat portion of our property. But what can we do with the steeply sloped portion? This is land with about a 45-degree slope. There is an old logging road that zig-zags up the side so we can get equipment up and down. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Walt Max
Superior, Montana

It is possible to use woven stock fence on mountainside applications, but it is very hard to accomplish without extreme effort. Most folks use heavy-gauge, multiple-strand electric fencing instead. We used jack-leg fencing (a series of wood post Xs, set on top of the ground) with three rails and then woven wire stapled to the outside of the X leg, so the wire leans in to the pasture, preventing goats from climbing out. But we did not leave the goats out all night because of the possible predator problem in the mountains of Montana (and elsewhere). Our animals are all brought into the barn at night, with the exception of our three big, tough geldings. So far, we have not lost a single animal to predators.

If your land is extremely steep, you’ll need a steel fence post every now and then, fastened to the center of the X to stabilize the fence so it doesn’t get to leaning downhill. And as with the flat-land goat fence, it’s a very good idea to re-enforce it with a stand-away strand of electric fencing, both on the inside at about 18'' high to keep the critters from leaning through or on the fence and another outside the fence to keep predators out.

—Jackie

Canning quick breads and yeast breads

Thank you so much for the abundance of information that you’re willing to share with those of us who are relatively new at this. You’ve inspired me—I calculated roughly how much food I’ll need to put away for a one year supply for my family. This week, I actually started putting some stuff away on shelves, with a plan on how to incorporate the rest into the weekly shopping. My oldest daughter has learned how to pressure can and is trying to can a batch of food per week to add to our supplies. Baby steps, but we’re on our way.

Now for the questions...

In one of your columns, I read that it is possible to home can quick breads. If I take the jars out of the oven once the bread is baked, all I have to do is put a boiled lid on it and put it on my shelf? Could it be that simple?

My main question, though, is can I home can whole grain yeast bread? If the answer is yes, will you give the detailed directions on how to do that?

Sherri
Florence, Arizona

Good for your family! Preparedness has slipped out of many folks’ minds, but this is a bad mistake as emergencies seldom announce themselves much in advance. A nice rounded pantry, filled with nutritious and great tasting foods, makes any emergency much less of one. We’ve been snowed in, iced in, and too broke to go anywhere, and with a pantry full of food, and a supply of other essentials, the hard times were more of an adventure than a heart-breaking experience.

I have home canned quick breads for years, baking them and then quickly placing a boiled lid on it. But, I’ve been scolded and told that that is dangerous. So I can’t advise this any more.

No, I don’t think canning a yeast bread would work. First of all, because of the above-mentioned danger of botulism, I can’t advise it. But I really don’t think the texture of the bread would be what you’d want; it may tend to be too moist and dense.

Instead, why don’t you invest in bulk yeast (I buy a pound at a time through Emergency Essentials for less than $4.) In the freezer, this will last for at least two years; in the fridge, a year or more; and on the shelf, at least a year. I just rotate my yeast, using the oldest first and know that I can always make breads, nice and fresh, no matter what. (You can even bake bread on a campfire or on top of your woodstove, lacking anything else. And the taste is great, too.)

—Jackie

Canning home recipes

I was thrilled to find your recipe for catsup, wild grape jelly, and pizza sauce. I have been looking for a simple catsup recipe my son would eat as I have not had much luck with the ones I found in canning books. Yours seems much simpler, a more ordinary and kid-friendly catsup. I was also very interested in learning how to can such things as homemade vegetable soups with and without added meats, spaghetti sauce with meat, goulash, beef stew; the list goes on. I was also hoping to find info on canning my own family recipes for these foods and more. Finally, have you written any books with this info or can you recommend any books?

I live in Ontario Canada on a small (30 acre) farm and am trying to be as self sufficient as possible. It has been difficult to do with just myself and my 14-year-old son, and we have had many mishaps while we learn (many of them hilarious), but I would never go back to living in town and becoming totally dependent on grocery stores again.

Valerie Hutchinson
Ontario, Canada

You can home can nearly all of your family recipes by simply processing the food for the longest time required for any one ingredient, say meat or corn. Simply make up a big batch, heat it well, then ladle it into your pint or quart jars and process. Be SURE to use a pressure canner to process any and all food containing meat or vegetables. Exceptions would be pickles and salsas (don’t over-do the veggies here; stick pretty much to a tried and true recipe from a canning manual).

No, I don’t have a book yet, but have certainly been thinking about doing one. You would like the late Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living. It’s huge and packed full of great homesteading information, especially on raising food and preserving it for your family. (It is a bit pricey, but it is well worth every cent.)

—Jackie

Grinding flour without a grain mill

I want to try some sprouted grain flour, but am on a tight budget and want to know how I can grind the flour without buying a grain mill. Can I use a coffee grinder? I have an old Champion Juicer; can I use it? (I don’t have a mill attachment)

Debra Purdy
Yuma, Arizona

There’s always a way to grind grain. Native Americans used to (and some still do) grind grains with two stones. One is a matate and is a flatish stone that has a dished-in center. The grain is poured in that, a little at a time. The other stone is the mano and is a roundish stone, made to crush the grain in the matate.

But in most households, there is a better way to grind small amounts of grain. Just use a blender. (If you don’t have one, pick one up at a thrift store. Today I saw three at our local shop, all for under $5.) Of course you cannot grind pounds and pounds at a time, as it is time consuming to only do a cup or so at a time, dumping the flour out, then adding more grain. But it does work.

So will your coffee grinder, but it will be more work and the grain will come out coarser.

—Jackie

Canning bulk dry goods

My sister is a single mother with one son. She has been working very hard learning how to can and store food. She would like to be able to buy dry goods in bulk, but with just the two of them it is difficult to keep things fresh and insect free. She had purchased one of the bagger/sealer machines wanting to re-package different foods, but with the cost of the bags, it isn’t very cost effective.

My question is--could she put her dry noodles—macaroni and such—into a hot quart canning jar, put on a hot lid, and seal it in the oven? I seem to remember reading something similar, but it was so long ago it is pretty vague. She loves the idea—if it is safe. Is it? Or is there a better way?

Thank you,

Stephanie in Arkansas

I’m sure your sister could do this, as this was the way nut meats were canned before folks were advised to use a hot water bath canner or a pressure canner, instead. Just be sure the hot, previously simmered lids are dry when placed on the jar. Holding them a few seconds with a lid lifter will quickly dry them when you remove them from the hot water. Then quickly place the lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process in the oven at 225° for 45 minutes. Or you can also water-bath process them, as you would the nut meats or sunflower seeds, filling the jars with the dry pasta, putting the two-piece lid on, and processing in a water bath canner for 30 minutes. You can also pressure seal the jars by processing them in your pressure canner at 5 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. Any of these should seal the jars and kill any bug eggs possibly already existing in the pasta.

I have always stored plenty of pasta, as well as a lot of other dried grain products and grains themselves by simply keeping them in tightly sealed, airtight containers. Gallon glass jars with screw lids work very nicely for this.

If bugs are a real problem in your sister’s stored grain products, I’d strongly suggest that she pick up pantry moth traps, which are cheap, effective, and totally harmless to humans, pets, and the earth. They are available through many seed catalogs as well as gardens alive!, 5100 Schenley Place, Lawrenceburg, IN 47025 or www.GardensAlive.com.

—Jackie

Generator oil

After reading Jackie’s story about starting her generator in really cold temps, -0 , I would advise using synthetic oil in the generator. I am a woman living alone off the grid in the mountains, and I have found this a tremendous help starting my own generator in such cold temps. Just one woman trying to help another. I subscribe to your magazine and after letting my sub lapse in an effort to save a little money, I found that I really, and I mean really, missed it. Keep up the good work. (I have chosen you, over Mother Earth...too yuppie anymore.)

Martha Nestorick
moosemeadows at starband.net

Yes, synthetic multi-viscosity oil does help a generator start in cold weather. But here in Minnesota, we sometimes get -20 for days, or quite colder. Trucks won’t even start unless plugged in, let alone our pull-start generator! (When you jump into the truck, the seat feels like concrete.) Our generator is so stiff without pre-heating that you can scarcely pull the cord, let alone start it.

But in warmer “cold” temperatures, say zero or -10, the synthetic oil does help. It’s good to note here that we use 30-weight oil in the summer but switch to 10w-30w in the late fall. If you keep the 30-weight oil in during the winter, the generator is even harder to start, and if you keep the 10w-30w oil in it during the hot summer, you use more oil.

—Jackie

Seal-a-meal bags

Was wondering if you would know if you can use the same canning techniques for stews and other meals but store them in boilable seal-a-meal bags for hiking and such. Would appreciate any info you may have on this subject. Seems there should be a way to do this.

Thanks,

Nancy
ngarz at wavecable.com

I’m not sure that the boilable seal-a-meal bags would keep your food from spoilage as you would not be pressure processing them and unless low-acid food (such as stews) are processed under pressure, they could harbor deadly botulism toxins. For my hiking and canoeing trips, I freeze meat for my first two days’ meals, then carry home-dehydrated foods. These are much lighter than whole foods and when we travel light, you need to measure your pack in ounces, not pounds. The seal-a-meal bags would be fine if you can keep them cold (maybe next to your frozen meat?), but only until they thaw and are not chilled anymore.

—Jackie




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