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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

March 23, 2007
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.


Citron melon

My interest is in citron melon. My sister got some seeds and gave me some and we were discussing the fruit Mom made from the citron. We do know that she boiled it with sugar, water, raisins and a bit of lemon sometimes and put in 1-quart jars for winter eating. The fruit was quite good but not something you would eat often. However we don’t know the measurements but with cooking to taste we should get it to work for us. I’m hoping you can help us with the amounts.

Judi Hill

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

I’ll be glad to give you a recipe for this different and real tasty preserve. Not many people grow citron melon today, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. I highly recommend it.

Citron melon preserves:

3 quarts prepared citron melon
8 cups sugar, divided
2 quarts water
1 cup thinly sliced, seeded lemon

Cut the melon in half and remove meat and seeds. Then cut the rind in ¾ inch slices, removing the peel and discarding it. Cut the rind into 1-inch pieces. Remove the seeds from the meat and cut into about 1-inch pieces. Add 4 cups sugar to water and bring to a boil. Add citron chunks and cook rapidly until tender. Cover and let stand overnight.

The next day, add remaining sugar and lemon to mixture. Boil gently until melon is transparent and syrup is thickened. Stir frequently to avoid scorching. Remove from heat. Skim foam if desired. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch of headroom. Wipe jar rims clean and place hot, previously-simmered lid on jar and tighten ring down firmly. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

If syrup becomes too thick, add a bit of boiling water; if it is too thin and the citron is cooked and tender, remove the citron and continue boiling syrup until thick, then re-add citron.

— Jackie

Canning in a pressure cooker

I have a Presto 6 qt. pressure cooker. Presto is reluctant to let me know if I am able to do any canning in my cooker.

I plan on using pint and 1/2 pint jars. Any help you can give me on this would be appreciated.

Jay Babb
Loomis, Washington

It really isn’t recommended to can in a pressure cooker. Sometimes it is hard to get the temperature of the food inside the jars hot enough because the canner interior is so small when it is packed with jars. The steam has a hard time circulating and heating the jars adequately. This is one reason we recommend using a larger pressure canner instead of a cooker. You can also process many more jars in the canner, which is to your great benefit. Good luck.

— Jackie

Canning minestrone soup

I am new to canning, but recently invested in the All-American 21-quart pressure canner so I could can my favorite minestrone recipe I eat several times per week. My question is how to pressure can ingredients that take different processing times, AND not overcook the ingredients requiring less cooking time. The main vegetables in my recipe are string beans, carrots, celery and zucchini in a tomato-based non-meat broth. The recipe also calls for navy beans, which need about three times as long to process as the veggies. Any suggestions for canning this soup so that the veggies don’t turn to mush, and preparing the beans so they come out just right after pressure canning? Would it work to just soak the beans overnight, combine and heat the raw broth, veggies, and beans to boiling, put it in the jars, and then allow the pressure canning time (of say 75 minutes) to do the cooking?

Les Sleeth
Sebastopol, California

Yes, you may can your minestrone in just this way. I would suggest allowing the raw veggies and beans to boil for just about 5 minutes to make sure the inside of the vegetables is good and hot before filling your jars. If you use hot jars, you will also cut down on your processing time, as it will take less time for the canner to get the steam exhausted and to build up pressure. These things will ensure that your vegetables do not become mushy, due to over-long processing time.

— Jackie

Canning gumbo

My question today is about canning gumbo. I’m a Cajun from south Louisiana, transplanted to Colorado Springs, and I make gumbo a lot. Mostly it is chicken and sausage gumbo. In case you are not familiar with gumbo, the base of the gumbo is a roux that is about 50/50 oil and AP flour. After that it is just onions, chicken, sausage and water, and some seasoning. That’s about it.

How can I go about safely canning the gumbo for later use? It freezes very well and for a long time, but my freezer is bursting at the seams.

Sidney Patin
spatin51 at msn.com

It isn’t recommended that we thicken our soups, stews, etc. with flour before canning them. So what I’d do is to make your gumbo “thin”, without the roux and then later, when heating it to eat, add the roux to thicken it just before eating. Make up your favorite recipe(s) of gumbo (without the roux), then while boiling hot, ladle it into hot quart jars to within an inch of the top. Wipe the rim of the jar clean and place a hot, previously-simmered lid on the jar, tightening down the ring firmly tight. Process quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure (unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet… which of course, you do… and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude; check your canning manual for instructions if necessary). Pints are processed for 75 minutes, also at 10 pounds pressure. On opening the jars to eat, simply make your roux, then gently pour off most of the liquid, a little at a time, stirring it into the roux until it begins to thicken. Then add the rest of the contents of the jar and gently simmer for 15 minutes. Hint, go a little light on the roux so the gumbo will be thin enough that it CAN simmer without scorching. It’ll thicken as it cooks.

— Jackie

Canning salad dressing

I was given 3 huge containers of salad dressing from a friend. The containers are so large I was thinking if I could can it or freeze it in smaller portions this would work out great. Is it possible to do this?

Gayle Vaartjes
Greenville, Michigan

I’m sure you can either freeze or can the salad dressing in smaller containers, but I’ve just never done this. Are there any readers out there who can answer Gayle’s question and let ME know? Thank you.

— Jackie

Canning frozen orange juice

I was wondering, can you can frozen orange juice?

I have a lot of frozen oj, that hubby bought. A couple of cases, and I was wondering if I could thaw it, and mix with water, and can it up?

I have hunted high and low, and can’t find a recipe.

Thanks so much Jackie, I thought if any one would know, you would.

Debi Taber
Albion, Michigan

Sure you can home can that frozen orange juice. And it’s easy, too. Simply reconstitute your orange juice. Then place it in a large enamel or stainless steel kettle and bring to 190 degrees and hold it there for 5 minutes. Don’t boil. Then ladle into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch of headroom. Process either pints or quarts for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning manual for directions for adjusting your time to suit your altitude if necessary. That’s it! I told you it was easy. Enjoy.

— Jackie

High altitude pressure

I have a question that is more theoretical than practical, something that you might be able to answer. I live at 6000-ft. elevation. What difference should it make in pressure canning processing times if I am using the 15-pound weight gauge on the pressure cooker? Isn’t 15 pounds the same inside the pressure canner whether I’m at sea level or at 10,000 feet? Therefore, isn’t the processing temperature the same when at 15 lbs. regardless of the altitude outside the canner vessel? So why do the pressure canning tables say to increase the processing times for high altitudes? I know that the USDA says to increase the canning times for higher altitudes, like 6000 feet where I live, but I am interested in knowing the reason why?

Sidney Patin
spatin51 at msn.com

You’ve got the idea, but it’s a little wrong. You increase the PRESSURE at higher altitudes, not the processing time. You increase the processing time when you are using a boiling water bath canner. Most weighted pressure canners come with a weight that has a 5 pound, 10 pound and 15 pound settings. Most recipes are processed at 10 pounds pressure at 1,000 feet, but as you increase your altitude, this must also increase the pressure used. So if you can at higher than 1,000 feet, you’ll use the 15-pound setting, as there are no “in-between” settings. This slightly “overcooks” the food, but it is still fine.

The reason for this is that water takes longer to boil at higher altitudes. Like when you boil potatoes, it takes longer to get them tender at 6,000 feet than it does at 1,000 feet. You need the extra pressure to make sure that the food in the jars, processing, reaches a high enough temperature for long enough to kill any bacteria present.

I hope this helps you understand a little better. Good canning!

— Jackie

Self-sufficiency on 5 acres

We have a house with five acres of land, all is free and clear, is this enough land to become self sufficient with a cow, pig, chickens, a garden, and raising some of the feed for our animals? We don’t want to overburden the land, can we switch the cow to a different areas every few months, and will this keep the land from becoming overgrazed? Or what advice would you give to keep this land replenished?

lj
Msplnlana at aol.com

Yes and no. When you talk about becoming self-sufficient, do you mean 5 acres providing enough for your family to make a living from? Or just to raise your own food upon? In today’s economy, it’s very hard to become totally self-sufficient on any number of acres, due to monetary costs of living that are hard to escape. For instance, there are taxes, fuel costs, feed, insurance/medical care, supplies that can’t be raised (toilet paper, medicines, etc.). I’m not saying that it CAN’T be done, just that it would be very hard to remain in today’s economy and become self-sufficient on 5 acres.

To do this, you would have to raise several specialty crops and market them very wisely. For instance, some folks have had success by marketing perennials, such as fancy daylilies and peonies as well as gourmet salad blends. You can get very creative here, choosing carefully what you see a market for and would enjoy working with. Stay away from “fad” livestock such as pygmy goats, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and llamas. The market has been saturated in most areas.

Choose something you can both easily grow (with lots of elbow grease, of course) in your area, whether it is fancy pond fish, such as koi or fancy goldfish or garden produce. Try to find something that will keep your income up nearly all year long. This is the trick. Seasonal produce, such as Christmas trees, only gives a few weeks of income and that just isn’t enough.

Okay, if you are simply talking about becoming self-sufficient in raising your own food, the answer is a resounding YES. Although it is “dated” I would recommend you reading the book Five Acres and Independence by Maurice Grenville Kains for a lot of good ideas and suggestions for your place.

I would suggest fencing your pastureland in one piece with good fencing, then dividing it into several pieces with electric fencing. Turn your cow into the first piece in the spring as soon as the grass is up growing well, at least several inches high. Let her graze that piece down and move her to the next strip. As soon as she is taken off the first strip, drag a harrow lightly over the grazed down piece to break up the manure. Then let the land rest. By the time she’s moved all through the pasture, the first will be well able to let her resume grazing again. Don’t let the first strip become grazed/trampled barren. If there are any weeds on the pasture, mow the strips before you harrow them to keep the weeds cut down. This will hugely discourage any. Rank weeds such as thistles or burdock can be dug at this time, before they go to seed. You will soon have a good, weed-free pasture.

If your pastureland does not have a good stand of legumes/grasses, you might delay getting your cow for a year and get that land tilled up and planted. The first year lost to preparing your pasture will really pay off in the years to come. It’s amazing how fast the years pass!

Your chickens can be housed in a wire pen for outside running or fenced in a small orchard, which can supply your fruit. The birds will scratch and keep down the grass and weeds and at the same time fertilize the trees. They’ll also quickly gobble up any fallen fruit, which will keep your trees a lot safer from fruit worms and other pests. The trees provide shade as well on hot summer days. The chickens can also be fenced so they have access to the garden before and after harvesting. They love to scratch and dig up weeds, insects and gobble any leftover crops such as soft tomatoes and unripe melons. In this way your feed costs will stay way down, too.

I’ve always grown extra corn and pumpkins/squash to feed my animals. We get the prime stuff; they get the rest. We’re all happy!

Our chicken manure goes onto the garden, as well as our goat/cow manure, too. If you have “extra” manure, you can lightly fertilize your cow’s pasture with it in the fall, letting the winter soak the nutrients into the soil. Again, harrow lightly a few weeks before turning your cow onto the spring pasture to break up any left over clumps. Cows hate rank “manure” tasting grass.

You’ve got a huge start in having your land paid for. Try to keep it that way. A lot of folks get tempted into mortgaging their land to make improvements. I feel that this is backward. Why risk everything with an economy so unstable? I want to know that no matter what happens I’ll always have a place to live that no one can kick me off of.

Avoid the temptation to get lots and lots of animals right away. So many new homesteaders that I see fail because they simply overdo, with the joy of owning their own place. One doesn’t need six dogs, nine cats, 100 chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants, ten pigs, four cows, six horses and twelve goats on any homestead the first few years of operation. Go gently and see what your needs really are and try to keep things in bounds. Animals have a way of increasing rapidly; we have such a hard time saying “no” to those cute little kittens, goat kids, lambs, piggies and beautiful poultry. We’ve always wanted a horse and someone offers two free. You get the picture. We’re all susceptible and I’ve been there too. The smaller the acreage, the more careful you have to be. And all those mouths require feed. It can get expensive. This is not self-reliant living.

Enjoy your homestead to the fullest and let us know how things are coming!

— Jackie




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