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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

December 20, 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.

Canning cheese

I just found your web site and am interested in knowing what cheeses you have canned. My husband and I are cruising on our 45-foot sailboat with very little refrigeration hence the need for canning. We are huge fans of cheese; cheddar, jack and Swiss, I am in port right now and need to take care of about 5 lbs each of the above cheeses. I would be interested in more information if you have time to help me. Along the way I have heard about vacuum packing cheese, using vinegar and cheese cloth and even muslin to store it but need to have something that does not need refrigeration.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Nan, Greg & KC
S/V Festima Lente

I have canned mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, so far, both with good results. Canning cheese is, so far, kind of an experimental trial; you won’t find it in any books that I know of. Being a high acid food (lactic acid), it is fairly safe to play around with. If it goes bad, it simply goes moldy. You won’t get food poisoning from cheese.

The way I can cheese is to cut the cheese into about one inch squares and place them in a wide mouthed pint jar sitting in a pan of water on the stove. As the cheese heats, it melts and I can add more cheese. I do this until the cheese is about 1/2 an inch from the top of the jar. I’m careful not to get cheese on the rim of the jar because any grease or oil on it can cause lids to fail to seal.

After the jars are as full as I wish, I carefully wipe the rim of the jar clean with a hot, damp cloth. Then I place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw the ring down firmly tight. The jars are processed for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, making sure that you begin to count the time from when the canner comes to a full rolling boil after you have added the jars. Also make sure that the water covers the jars by at least an inch.

To remove a cheese from the jar, after storage, again place it in a pan of water and heat it until the outside of the cheese is just beginning to melt. Then run a knife around it and gently pry the cheese out onto a plate. Once opened, this cheese must be refrigerated like any other cheese, to avoid molding.

Good sailing!

—Jackie

Small goats

We currently keep four goats on two+ acres in Wyoming, with rotational grazing to mountain pasture in the summer and fall. One is our baby-raising whether (age 5) and the other three my breeding does (3 years and 2 years). Only the whether has reached normal size for his breed (saanen). The boer does are only about 55 pounds and the saanen X toggenburg doe is only 60 pounds. I grain daily and all have access to a mineral lick. I was hoping to breed last year but gave everyone some extra time to grow. The growing is just not happening. Is it safe to breed/milk these does? Do you have recommendations for a smaller breed to mate with? I’ll give them up if I have to, but we are quite attached. I value your thoughts.

Kathleen M. Bray
Buffalo, Wyoming

While your does are small for their breeding, they are not hugely small. Like people, goats vary greatly, depending on their family lines. Large goats usually produce large offspring. But sometimes breeding just happens and one does not know the heritage of the goats we buy as kids.

Probably if you breed your does to a “normal” buck they will go ahead and kid/milk just fine for you. I’ve had several small does like this that had no trouble kidding and milked decently. Chances are, they won’t produce that “golden” gallon of milk a day apiece, but they could milk enough to keep you happy. I’d give them a try.

There are a lot of “boer” goats out there, because of their popularity. The breed is awesome. But there are also a lot of generic “boers” out there too that just don’t carry the genetic traits that make the breed an asset. Our boer buck weighs 175 and is as stocky as a draft horse; his boer/Nubian buckling kids from this spring weigh in at about 55-60 pounds. But a friend had some “boer” does that were adults and only weighed as much as my spring bucklings. There is a lot of variation within any breed, depending on the bloodlines that produce an animal.

I would try to get a large milking doe to improve your herd with and breed her to the best buck you can find. Be sure to see him and his offspring and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what your kids will be like when they grow up. All kids are cute!

—Jackie

Canning menudo

I need to know if I can make a huge batch of menudo to put it away in canning jars? I love this stuff and I do not know if the tripe will stay good or would the hominy get really soft on me?

James H. Owens
Woodruff, South Carolina

Yes you can home can menudo. You will make up your recipe and ladle it into hot quart jars to within an inch of the top of the jar. Wipe the top of the jar clean and place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar. Screw down the ring firmly tight and process the quart jars for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure (unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude; consult your canning manual for instructions).

No, the hominy does not get mushy but don’t add it to the menudo until it is about done, then add it and bring it back to a quick boil and fill the jars.

—Jackie

Pitted canner

I have a question about my canner. It is a Sears canner that I have had for about 18 years; works wonderful. I use it all summer long. I bought it at a garage sale. I do not know how old it is but I have noticed on the bottom of the inside it has become very pitted and they look deep. Do you have any idea what is causing this and is it still safe to use?

Pam Standhart
farmkids at midtel.net

My old canner has the same problem yours does. The aluminum gets pitted from the acids in foods. (When the jars are processing, some of the “juice” works out from under the lids and mixes with the water in the canner.) As you’ll notice, the bottom is a lot thicker than the sides, for even distribution of bottom heat. Unless your pitting is severe and REALLY deep, I don’t think it’s cause for alarm. If the pitting makes the bottom as thin as the sides of the canner, I’d probably be looking for another canner. Just in case.

—Jackie

Reader Response:

Pitting of an aluminum pressure cooker can be caused by two things. Minerals in the water used in the cooker, and/or.....not promptly cleaning the interior of the pressure canner after use.

We have and use several pressure canners. (6) (Not unusual for us to pressure can 150 quarts a day)

However, the minute we finish our canning, we wash the interior of the cooker, top and rubber sealing ring with detergent and water so no acid residue from food will remain on the aluminum. I already mentioned that we also add about a quarter cup of white vinegar to the water, to prevent mineral deposits on the jars. So far, none of our pressure cookers have shown any signs of pitting.

Interestingly, the rubber sealing rings that fit in the pressure canner covers can be quite different. We have some made of gray rubber. These seem to be fine for a couple of uses, but after that they absorb moisture and swell, making it difficult to close the cover, until the rubber has dried out for a day or so. In addition we have black rubber rings that seem to be superior to the gray rings. Not all rings are the same! The earlier rings are thicker than the old, and attention must be paid to see that the correct ring is used. For example, our 1970 Mirro 22 qt. pressure canner uses a different thickness ring than our 1995 Mirro pressure canner. The thickness is hardly noticeable, yet they are not interchangeable. The best way to find the correct ring is to contact Mirro and give them the number stamped on the bottom of the pressure canner.

For storage, sealing rings should be washed, rinsed, dried and placed inside the cooker, never placed in position [under] the cover of the canner.

Bruce Clark
Interlaken, New York

Eliminating moles

Do you have any recommendations on getting moles to leave my yard alone? I think I’ve tried almost everything, from planting special bulbs, calling the mole-killing guy, to those darn wind things that cause vibration. I’m about desperate! HELP!

Michele Hayden
Sioux City, Iowa

The best way I’ve found to get rid of moles in your yard is to dig into their main tunnel and pour a good dose of well used cat litter down here. Then stomp their tunnels flat and otherwise annoy the heck out of them. Every time there is new activity, repeat the above. I’ve never had moles outlast me, using this strategy. Having a good cat around the place also helps a lot. Moles don’t spend much time above ground, but our old neutered male cat would bring in about one every week and they soon moved on.

I hope you have similar results.

(If you don’t have a cat, I’m absolutely sure a cat owning friend would be tickled to get rid of a kitty box full of you-know-what!)

—Jackie

Canned chili with air bubbles

I hope you can help. I recently started canning because we had an excess of venison meat. I canned venison chili. During the processing (pressure canner) the sauce really thickened and now the finished product has air bubbles in the actual sauce. I did use a plastic knife to get out all air before putting the lids on, and the seals are good. Is this chili safe? I did 14 quarts and the boyfriend wants to be able to take some of this chili down to his cabin for “the boys” during hunting season. I really don’t want to poison anyone….HELP!!!

Rebecca Ritley
Kent, Ohio

Yes, as long as the seals are firmly in place, the chili is fine. Thicker sauce sometimes does get little bubbles in it; it is nothing to worry about. They disappear on reheating. It happens because air gets trapped when the food is boiling in the jars, during processing. You won’t poison anyone, but they’ll probably eat every bit you take down to hunting camp!

—Jackie

Fluoride in sweetgum?

My Granddad always had a twig or two from a sweetgum tree in his pocket that he would shave the bark from and pick or brush his teeth with. He never had a cavity in 82 years and died with all his original teeth. I heard somewhere that sweetgum has fluoride and people used to commonly use it for brushing their teeth but I can’t find any information about it online. Is this true?

Robert Collins
Perry, GA

I’ve never heard about sweetgum trees having fluoride in them. What I’ll bet prevented Grandpa’s cavities was the constant picking of food out of his teeth (almost like flossing!) and the fact that he probably didn’t drink sodas or eat a lot of sticky sweets.

—Jackie

Old sweet pickles

My Mom has a few jars of sweet pickles canned by the Grandfather in 1994. It’s now ‘06. He was an expert canner and knew what he was doing. Do you think they’re still good? Mom doesn’t want to throw out perfectly good pickles since “PaPa” is now deceased and his pickles are a part of his legacy. Please, please respond as Mom’s having a crisis with losing control of her household treasures. She needs to downsize her clutter. HELP!

Mare’ Harmon
Columbia, South Carolina

Yes, I’d say that Grandfather’s pickles are still fine. I’ll admit to having cherries that are 23 years old! And pickles stay good just as long, if kept in a fairly cool, dark dry place. As long as the jar lids are not rusted and the seals are fine, the pickles are probably pristine.

Getting Mom to downsize her clutter is a tough battle. A lot of those older folk, who have gone through the depression and hard times are very reluctant to part with the least little thing. If she says she needs to get rid of some stuff, help her; encourage her. But if she won’t, don’t make a battle out of it. I know from experience. Life is too short to fight over possessions.

—Jackie

Can lids getting loose

I have stocks of can goods that I have purchased before Y2K and after. I try to keep up with the stock rotation FIFO (First in, First out). But since it is just my son and I, I have a large selection.

I have the usual variety of soups, vegetables, fruits, and meat products, which I have kept dark and cool. My question is, on some of the tomato products (metal cans), diced tomatoes and a Campbell’s tomato soup, I have noticed that the tops of the cans are getting loose (where you can make them click). They were not this way when purchased. I know on glass jars that means the seals have broken. But these are sealed cans. They do not have that pull type lid. No rust is on the cans. I have opened some of the diced tomatoes and they smelled fine. They did have extra pressure in them when the can opener broke the seal. I cooked them for a long time in a recipe to insure that no bugs will be alive. It seems fine. But, I’m nervous about this. I don’t want to waste food. I also don’t want to kill my son or myself with food poisoning. Have you seen this before? Are the cans OK, or should I just cut my losses and trash any cans like this?

I love your articles and advice. You, David, and your mom are in our prayers. You do more than most of us could ever dream. Keep up with the great work and God Bless you.

Mitch Ladd
Walhalla, South Carolina

I’ve kept a lot of canned goods for years and years; both home canned (of course!) and store bought cans. No, I’ve never had lids on cans come loose like that. Never. I’ve had cans rust out but never had lids like yours. I would definitely use those cans first, examining them very carefully before using the contents. Tomato products will not kill you if they go bad; they’ll mold or ferment perhaps, but you’ll be able to see and smell that. Any meat or vegetable cans with lids like that, I’d just ditch; they could be dangerous to use because of botulism. You CAN open your tomato cans and re-can the good ones yourself so you don’t lose the food. I probably would; just as a precaution.

Thank you for the prayers and kind words. Folks like you help me keep on when times get tough.

—Jackie

Chainsaw blade getting dull too fast

Just wondered if you knew why my chainsaw blade is losing its cutting edge so fast. I am using a petrol chainsaw but after only 5 minutes of cutting the blade is blunt again. As the chains are very expensive, would be nice if I could cure the problem. The wood is a plum tree. The trunk is about a foot in diameter and it has only been felled about 8 weeks ago. Can’t think what I’m doing wrong; any help would be much appreciated.

Kevin
kd3296 at ntlworld.com

If your saw chain is getting dull that fast, you must be hitting something with it. Do you have your plum tree up off the ground when you are sawing? It only takes a little running the tip into the dirt to dull it severely. Likewise, any dirt or gravel on the trunk, like you’d get when you pull the log with a truck or tractor, can act the same.

Could there be something in the tree trunk itself that is dulling your saw? I’ve cut trees with old nails, barbed wire imbedded in it, and even spent bullets from someone having a target nailed on the tree years back.

Be sure your chain is tight enough. If it is too loose, not only is it dangerous because the saw could throw the chain and injure you or a bystander, but it could be dragging over the housing and dulling it.

It is not normal for a saw chain to dull that fast; we cut for hours before touching up a chain. If this problem continues, take the saw in to your chainsaw repair shop and explain what’s happening. They should be able to stop this expensive problem if it’s something wrong with the saw, such as the chain contacting the housing, etc., on use.

—Jackie




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