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Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

April 11, 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.

Yuck on the bottom of canner

I just finished canning my very first batch of chili (the Ball “Blue Book” recipe) and looking forward to trying it in a few months or so.

The canning process left a three-inch yuck layer on the bottom of my Presto pressure canner. I thought about just scrubbing it off with Brillo, but that would wear off a layer of aluminum every time I can, so I was wondering if there is some other solution?

So my question is: Is there some chemical non-abrasive way to get rid of the brown/black 3-inch layer of yuck that remains in the bottom of my canner?

I have read that putting some vinegar before canning will reduce the discoloration, but how about after?

Sidney L. Patin
Colorado Springs, Colorado

There really shouldn’t be a 3-inch layer of gunk on the bottom of your canner every time you can. I think that maybe you filled your jars just a little too full, causing them to blow out some of the contents during processing. This most often happens when we can chili or stews. Try filling the jars to less than the one-inch headroom called for in the canning manuals.

To remove the “gunk,” pour two quarts of water in the canner and add a little dishwashing detergent. Then heat up the canner. While it is still hot, pour out the “gunk” as much as you can. Then simply wash the canner out with a green nylon scrubbie and some more hot dishwater and soap. This cleans any mess I’ve ever had. The detergent and hot water dissolves the greasy mess, and softens the left over scum. If you clean out your canner right after canning, it is a whole lot easier to do than if you wait a day or two. The gunk really fastens onto the canner’s surface then.

—Jackie

Yogurt from powdered goat’s milk

Do you know how to make yogurt from powdered goat’s milk? I have a yogurt maker that holds a total of a quart of liquid. How much powder do I need to add? For how long do I need to hold it in the yogurt maker? With regular powdered milk, the directions say 6-9 hours. Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

Jeanne Perkins
jeanneperkins221 at yahoo.com

To make yogurt out of any type of powdered milk, simply mix up the milk as you would for drinking; according to the directions on the container. Then warm it up and add your starter culture. Just follow the directions of your yogurt maker. It makes no difference if you use cow or goat milk. The results are the same—great! But with any type of cooking or cheese making, check your results. Sometimes you have to go longer if the yogurt isn’t set in the prescribed time. Remember that homemade yogurt isn’t as thick as store-bought. They add gelatin to firm it up more. You can too, if a creamier yogurt isn’t what you want. Simply make your yogurt, then add a couple of Tbsp. of gelatin, mixed with just enough boiling water to dissolve it, then cooled a little, to your yogurt, then refrigerate until thickened. If you use flavored gelatin, you’ll have fruit flavored yogurt.

—Jackie

Choosing a wood cook stove

We just bought 40 acres in north central Washington State. We are preparing to live simply and naturally. One of the issues that has come up is choosing a wood cook stove. We have never used one before. We were looking into the Kitchen Queen, but it doesn’t have a warming closet. How important is that? It does have a shelf. We like that the Kitchen Queen has a new design that heats the oven more evenly, but should we go with a more tried and true older design stove? We also considered the Baker’s Choice but it doesn’t have a thermometer on the outside.

Thank you for your time.

Val Kieft & family
Skieft at quik.com

How exciting that you’re off on adventure, building up your homestead! I’ve never been fortunate enough to be able to shop for a kitchen stove by brand. I’ve always just looked around for a clean, functioning wood range that I could afford. A warming oven is not important. It is nice but a shelf will do all that the warming oven will do. I do like an outside oven thermometer, even if it is not exactly accurate. You quickly learn what a certain reading means in conjunction with how hot your oven is heating. If you don’t have one, just hook an auxiliary oven thermometer on the grate in the oven. You do have to open the door to read the temperature, but you’ll learn how your oven operates and probably be opening the oven to check your baking anyway. Cooking on wood is sort of like learning to dance. At first you get frustrated and make some mistakes, but soon, if you persist, it all becomes natural and you greatly enjoy it.

If you’re looking at second hand stoves make sure that the grates that hold the firewood are functioning and not burned out. This can happen when people have burned coal on wood grates. This gets them too hot and they burn out and let the wood fall through into the ash pan. Also inspect the inside of the oven to make sure that there are no rusted out spots or holes in it. This greatly affects the baking ability of your range, burning bread, and overheating the oven.

I like a stove with the largest firebox available. It holds a fire longer, holds a bigger chunk of wood, and will help heat your house better. With a “cute” little firebox, you’re constantly shoving wood into it and it’s the devil to keep a steady fire for baking or canning.

Good homesteading!

—Jackie

Ticks

I have a backwoods home in the hills of western Virginia. The ticks are so bad, what can I do?

Mitch Parrish
Mitchparrish at hotmail.com

Ticks are a problem here too, Mitch. There is really nothing you can do to completely get rid of them, but there are a lot of things you can do to lessen the problem. First off, try to brush out the area around your buildings where you spend most of your time. Ticks like long grass and underbrush. Remove their habitat and they’ll slow down considerably. If you can, let guineas or chickens free range. They eat a lot of ticks in a day’s time. So do wild birds. Encourage them by providing birdhouses, feeders, and water. You’d be surprised at how many ticks one of those “little brown birds” can peck up, especially when they’re feeding babies!

I wear jeans all summer, and spray the legs with insect repellent before I go out into the fields or woods. Shorts call the ticks to dinner. Likewise, wearing a baseball hat or other hat and spraying that before you put it on will do a lot to keep them at bay.

Some people swear by rubbing oil of citronella on their clothes or skin. I haven’t done that because I don’t like the smell any more than the ticks do.

It’s a good idea to check your whole body every night before bedtime for “hitchhikers.” You want to get them picked off before they get dug in.

—Jackie

Making corn brooms

I would like to learn how to make corn brooms. I am interested in any information I can get about growing the corn, to making the handles, and attaching the broomcorn. I have tried many places to get instructions for this almost lost art, and have found nothing. I hope this is where the answer will be.

Janice Langley
Pittsgrove, New Jersey

Broomcorn brooms are easy to make and fun to use. First grow your broomcorn, which is related to sorghum. Harvest the stalks when the grain is still green. This lets the broom straws be a lot more flexible and long-lasting than if you let it ripen. Trim down part of the stalk so it isn’t so fat. Then remove the seeds with a wire brush or horse currycomb. Get a piece of stout waxed thread and a long, heavy needle. Run the needle through each stalk about an inch up the stalk from where the grain head begins, facing the shaved side of the stalks all the same way, then thread on several stalks.

Cut a straight, slender branch, and remove all small branches and bark if you like. The length is up to you. Drive a small round headed nail into the new handle, about 2 inches up from the bottom. You may want to pare the bottom of the handle to a gentle, rounded point. Leave the nail out about an eighth of an inch. Then drive another nail up the handle about 3 inches, on the opposite side, again leaving it sticking out about an eighth of an inch.

Fasten your cord to the bottom nail and snugly wrap the stalks around the handle, then tie the cord tightly to the top nail. Now soak your new broom in boiling water for a few minutes to make it easier to work without breaking the stalks. Shake off the excess water and bind the broom.

To bind the broom stalks, make a fixed loop in a piece of rope and tie it to an overhead branch, with the loop down, a foot from the ground. Twist the rope once around the broom, about two inches down from the top of the broom straws and step into the loop. This crushes the stalks together. While they are constricted, tightly wrap a twine around it, next to the rope and tie tightly. Repeat about three inches lower. To make a nice job, use a large curved needle and stout waxed thread to sew the broom straws to the bottom binding twine, using an over and over stitch.

You can now trim the straws to an even length.

—Jackie

Frozen jam

This year I made jam from fresh blueberries, (in July 2006) the process went well, the jars all sealed, and the jam gelled. I hid it away to give for Christmas and found that a jar I’d left in the car overnight when it was freezing temps, had liquefied somewhat but left a solid (?) core in most of the jar. The next day I put that one back in the house, selected another jar that looked perfect, made a 15 minute trip to work in the car and by the time I brought the jam into the office it had done the same liquid-thing!

I felt embarrassed to give it! So why did that happen? I’m guessing it was the temperature.

Is the jam still OK to eat?

Is there a way to keep that from happening? (Besides not taking jam out in the cold).

Carol Mundy
Cincinnati, Ohio

Yes, the jam is still good to eat. The only jam I ever had do this was some prickly pear jam I made with sugar only, no powdered pectin. We moved and it, along with my other jams and jellies, spent many days in a below zero U-Haul truck. They were fine, except for my prickly pear jam, which separated into a solid (sugar) core and a liquid outside. I just opened a jar into a saucepan and gently heated it to boiling, then poured it back into a hot jar. It jelled fine and we ate it as usual.

If jam gets too hot, it’ll come undone too, at times. Maybe next time, you can just keep it in an insulated bag like a lunch case or cooler and keep it happy.

—Jackie

Do eggs need to be refrigerated?

An interesting discussion came up on my blog about eggs and refrigeration

Most university extension offices will say that eggs must be refrigerated—you buy them that way you keep them that way.

But others have told me that you can keep eggs just in a cool place, unrefrigerated.

What can you tell me about this?

Dawn
frugalforlife at gmail.com

Okay the great eggs/refrigeration debate! The reason the extension offices say to refrigerate eggs is that if they have any cracks they can begin to grow bacteria in unrefrigerated conditions. When mother hen lays her hidden eggs out in the bushes, she lays one a day until she has laid twelve or fifteen eggs. That means that the first egg sat out in temperatures of 75 to 80 or even warmer degrees for two weeks before she begins to sit. Now if those eggs will make baby chickens after being out there all that time, don’t you think they’ll be okay to eat? I’ve robbed lots of nests BEFORE mamma chicken begins to sit. And used the eggs, too.

When we lived very remote, our chickens quit laying about Christmas time. So we gathered all the fresh eggs we could and stored them in our cool pantry. And they kept until spring when they started to lay again. Of course, once in awhile, one would go bad. But I always break my eggs into a measuring cup anyway, just to make sure they’re okay.

So yes and no. To be extra safe, you should refrigerate your eggs. Will they keep without it? Yes. Unless they’re cracked and you don’t notice it.

—Jackie




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