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Archive for January, 2008

Jackie Clay

It’s back to normal after the romantic weekend (Sigh…..)

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

It seems like yesterday that Will and I were strolling hand in hand through Home Depot, talking romance and kitchen cabinets, the pros and cons of circular saws and worm drive saws, concrete counter tops and building not only a homestead, but a new life together.  But, gee, it’s a whole week later and I’m back to day to day life, taking care of Mom, doing homestead chores and only talking to him on the phone.  It was hard leaving, but we’re hoping that he will be able to come out to Minnesota before spring.  He really is a great guy.

I planted my very first crop in the greenhouse today; a big pot with three hills of bush cucumbers.  Yeah!  Spring is here for sure.  I haven’t had much luck in the new greenhouse yet, as along with the pepper plants I brought in last fall, I also brought in APHIDS!  And I’ve been going Mano a Mano with them for months!  I finally seem to be winning, using a mixture of water, ground hot pepper and dish detergent; sprays didn’t faze them.
For the last two months, I’ve been ordering a bunch of new fruits for the orchard and around the kitchen garden we’re planning for spring, next to the house.  I’m planting a fenced patch, surrounded by semi-dwarf fruit trees and shrub fruits, such as Nanking cherries, currants and blueberries, which on one half we’ll plant into strawberries and the other will be square foot gardens, filled with veggies for the kitchen.  This is going to be a fun project!  And it’ll be oh so handy to just walk outside with a basket and knife and pick lunch.  Next to the house, with the house acting as a wind buffer, I’m even trying sweet cherries and an apricot, both zone 4-5.  We’ll have to wait to see how that’ll work, as we’re actually in zone 3.  I’ll keep you posted.
The main orchard gets new zone 3 pears from Fedco (I didn’t know there were any!), plums, pie cherries and Manchurian apricots.  Plus we’re planting three Valiant grapes by the back yard and two seedless grapes next to the house.  Both are zones 4-5, but I’m hoping that next to the house, we’ll be able to keep them going, regardless.  You can usually count on moving up a zone when you plant on the leeward side of the house, especially right next to it, as some heat does escape the building, from basement foundation to walls.
I’m hoping to get the orchard fenced too, so I can free range the chickens and turkeys in there and keep them out of my proposed wildflower beds along the driveway and also my flower beds in the front yard.  Boy those chickens and turkeys can sure dig a big hole in a flower bed when they dust themselves!  The orchard is about 100′ x 75′ and that’ll give them a good area to run in.  It will also keep down the weeds, grass and bugs!  That’s a win-win situation for sure.
I had four flying squirrels on the tray bird feeder outside the greenhouse window last night.  I actually got to see them come gliding in to the feeder, then away.  That was really neat.  But I had other "wildlife" out there this morning.  A weasel!  That wasn’t so cool, as I’ve had dozens of chickes slaughtered overnight by one small, white weasel.  I got the .22 and now have another ermine tail tied on my horse bridle.  I always feel bad when I have to shoot one but they sure play hell in the poultry house.

Readers’ questions:

Prickly pear jelly

Thank you for your inspiration and help. My son went to Southern California and brought me back some prickly pears. I made jelly out of them, but it was too sweet. Do you have a recipe for prickly pear jelly that we could us in the future, or other uses for them?

Linda Fisher
Klamath, California

I really, really love prickly pears!  In New Mexico we used to eat them as a fruit (after removing the spines, of course!), spitting out the seeds to make more plants, as a jam and jelly, and we also made a sweet drink from the plump fruit.  We ate the despined pads, too, which are called nopalitos and when sliced, resemble green beans.
To make jelly, simply remove the spines via a propane torch or over your stovetop.  Native Americans use a low fire.  Then rinse the fruit and quarter it.  Put all your fruit into a large kettle and add just enough water to cover then boil, covered until tender.  I then mash mine and simmer a couple of minutes longer.  Strain through a jelly bag for several hours or over night.
To each 2 1/2 C juice, stir in 1 package of powdered pectin and bring to a boil.  Boil one minute and add 3 Tbsp lemon juice and 3 1/2 C sugar.  Bring to a boil, stiring all the time to prevent scorching.  Boil hard for 5 minutes at a rolling boil and ladle the jelly out into hot, sterilized jars.  Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.
The lemon juice not only helps the jelly to set but lessens the "too sweet" taste.  If you make jam out of the prickly pear fruit, you just mash the cooked fruit through a strainer and add to your juice; measure the same regarding sugar and pectin, adding the lemon juice, as well.
Without the sugar, lemon juice and pectin, the mashed fruit makes terrific fruit leather when dried on a lightly oiled cookie sheet in a very low temperature oven or a gas oven with only the pilot light on for heat.  You have to turn the leather so it dries on both sides after it has set.  I simply get hold of one corner and gently peel it back, then flip it over.  Pretty good! — Jackie

No vinegar in chickens’ water

Last summer a friend gave me a hen and a rooster. I found I like having chickens around, so I ordered 25 buff orpingtons 2 black jersey giants, which will be arriving in February.

We have hard water and one of my cats is prone to urinary tract infections. To help prevent them I put cider vinegar in the cats water. It seems to work I haven’t had to take my cat to vet in over a year. I know chickens pee and poop at the same time but, do I need to put vinegar in the chickens water also. Any problem I can prevent is a very big plus.

Tamara O’Connor
Brown City, Michigan

No, you don’t have to put vinegar in your chickens’ drinking water.  I’ve never heard of a chicken having any problems like cats do.  Their elimination system is vastly different.  But you can certainly put vinegar in their water; some folks swear by it.  Personally, I tried it for several months awhile back and couldn’t see any difference after that time so I quit because of the Ncost involved.
Enjoy your chickens; they are a whole lot of fun and you’ll LOVE the homegrown eggs, too! — Jackie

Removing seeds for grape juice

I love what you write and I’ve been canning since dirt. It is so refressing to get some new ideas. I just found out about BWH a few months ago and have really loved reading youre starting over
articles. My husband and I live on a 5 acre farm and raise much of what we eat. We raise wild Scotish Soay sheep, chickens, and a big garden and orchard. We arn’t off the grid yet but when we retire would like to be as self sufficient as possible. My husband is starting a rough cut limber business so hope to do that early. My question is this, can I leave grape seeds in grape jucie? I got a recipe last year from "The Have More Plan" by the Robinson’s. Great old book for the ages!

Any Fruit
1/2 Cup of hot simmerin mashed fruit
1/4 to 3/4 Cup sugar (I’m sure you can use any sweetener, or none)
Add boiling water to fill the quart jar leaving 1/2 headspace.

I dearly love blueberry juice.and the grape juice is great too. But I was thinking I’d read something about removing seeds.

Dinah Brosius
Battle Ground Washington

Sounds like you have great plans!  It really isn’t necessary to remove the seeds in your grape juice, but it is more convenient and sometimes the seeds can give a bitter taste to the juice as it is stored for lengthy times.  Just pour the juice through a sieve to remove the seeds and any other "debris" in your juice, if you choose.
Thanks for the good wishes; we’re chomping at the bit to get started with spring growing.  The peppers go in the flats in just two weeks.  I’m so excited! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Jackie Clay’s hot date

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

What??? Okay, I confess. I’ve been writing and visiting on the phone with a real nice guy from Washington for about 18 months now. Will’s been tied up there and I’ve been tied up here, with taking care of Mom and all the normal homestead goings-on every day. But when David had no school Monday and I got a real deal on a flight I found on the internet, I decided to take Will’s invitation and go on a mini-mini vacation, spanning a whole four days. Well….three actually, because one was pretty much taken up flying with all the lay-overs.

I did have problems getting help taking care of Mom, but my friend Jeri about shoved me out the door, saying that she would help David with her personal care and that they would handle things. (Not only do she and her husband, Jim, help me butcher chickens, but are also real good friends, too!) I went about nuts getting things organized for my trip, not even packing until the last day, but finally I was on the plane, flying west.

I had a few interesting moments on the flights. For instance, the plane from Minneapolis had problems with its computer system and had to return twice to the gate for repairs (that really breeds confidence!), there was freezing fog in Spokane, where I was going and I had to sleep overnight in the Seattle airport.

But Will met me at the airport with a rose in his teeth. (That’ll work.)

So what did we do on our hot weekend? Well we did the usual romantic stuff, swimming pool, hot tub and a nice dinner. Talked till 2 a.m. that night. It was SO nice. Then he got sick with the flu! Yep, throwing up all night. Poor guy! Here he is on a “first date” and is entertaining me by running for the bathroom.

However the next morning he felt quite a bit better and took me to a great antique ironworks shop, Ruby Street Antiques in Spokane. That was really neat. They had tons of statues of marble, concrete and metals, along with fancy wrought ironwork and smaller things. Then inside two houses, there were uncountable pieces of cool furniture and other decorative items. (Want an angle, dragon or full sized fighting bull?? They have it!) Or coat hooks designed with ears of corn or pumpkins? Yep. You get the idea. I spent a whole $35 and brought home some of the corn and pumpkin coat hooks and three iron hook racks; one an elk, one moose and another a horse with a blacksmith.


We also did Home Depot. Um hum. We played with their tools, petted wood, discussed different floor tiles, then spent an hour in the kitchen cabinet displays. Will is a talented carpenter who is also a devoted homesteader. He knows we’ve been living without kitchen cabinets for two years now, and I told him awhile back that I’d wait until he could come to Minnesota before I built them. He want’s to be a part of that, and it’ll be nice.

Unfortunately, his flu surfaced again, but not as bad. We couldn’t go or do much more because of it, but we did spend hours and hours just sitting talking and going over my plan book and his. It’s nice to find someone who is excited about the same things you are and we had plenty to talk about.

All in all, it was a date to remember. But really, it was nice. Real nice. And hopefully, in a few months, he’ll be able to come join us here in the backwoods. It feels good to be smiling about a future again.

Readers’ questions:

Don’t bother canning dry rice

I have opened a 8 year old five gallon pail of white rice to “check” on it. I would very much like your thoughts on preserving/canning white rice. I did read where you canned raw rice with carrots/onions/celery but you didn’ give processing times. I would like to make a pilaf with broth, veggies and cooked rice then can it. Have you done this and would you recommend it? What about
canning the rice dry? Thanks for all that you do in teaching us to take care of ourselves. I love your articles.

Marcia SpeltsLambert
Clay City Indiana

I don’t recommend canning dry rice; it isn’t necessary. I’ve cooked rice that was 10 years and older and it was just fine; no off tastes, provided that it was kept in an airtight container that bugs and rodents couldn’t access.

I do can many recipes with rice as an ingredient. Generally, I can meat based soups and stews with rice. In this case, you just process it for the time required for the ingredient that requires the longest processing time, such as meat broth or corn. I have not canned dense packed rice, but HAVE canned Spanish rice etc. that I do up a bit “wet” and dry it later after opening on reheating. You have to watch very dry, packed foods, to make sure that they heat all the way to the center of the jar so you get the right length of time for proper processing at a high enough temperature…all through the food. — Jackie

Canning peaches

I have been learning canning this past summer and canned peaches. The peaches turned out pretty well but despite packing as many as I could prior to cooking I had two problems.

1) All the peaches floated to the top and shrunk(?) leaving lots of space at the bottom.
2) I used pressure cooking and the syrup boiled out leaving the space at the top of jar. How can I keep that from happening.

The peaches seem fine and the seal remains unbroken months afterwards. Maybe it is just a visual thing.

Marty Brown
Chicago, Illinois

No problems with the peaches. They simply floated to the top because you cold packed them (put raw peaches into the jar and poured hot syrup over them). If you hot pack them, heating the peaches in the syrup, then packing the hot peaches and syrup into a hot jar, you have no more floating peaches. They actually don’t “shrink”, but some of the juice seeps out of them and mixes with the syrup, leaving them smaller. You probably would like your peaches better if you water bath canned them as you won’t have trouble with liquid boiling out of the jars as they process. This looks less nice, but in no way affects the taste or safeness of the food. — Jackie

What’s the saltpeter for?

In an old sugar meat cure recipe it calls for 2 ounces of saltpeter. This recipe is well over a hundred years old and I was wondering what the saltpeter does in the meat curing process? The recipe is as follows

8 pints salt
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
7 tablespoons black pepper
2 ounces red pepper
2 ounces saltpeter

Is there a modern equivalent to saltpeter or can this be left out altogether?

James Edwards
Adger, Alabama

Saltpeter is used to not only keep the red color in cured meats, which can turn an unappetizing grayish tan, but also to inhibit botulism and keep the meat from developing off tastes. Yes. You can certainly leave it out of cured meat, but you just need to handle the cured meat very well after the curing. For instance, you can freeze or can it. Both will prevent any of the above problems from surfacing. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Spencer is learning to be a ranch dog

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

It’s amazing how quick a puppy learns.  Just three weeks ago, our new lab puppy, Spencer, was just a little panting baby.  Now he’s almost house trained, knows all about how to do chores, and even has learned how to bark at deer.  (They don’t pay much attention to them yet.  I think I saw one big doe smirk at him.)

I had put off getting a new puppy because of all the puppy work.  We keep our ranch dog in the house so he learns the ropes.  In time, they learn a whole lot of words, which really helps in the future.  They learn manners and basic commands.  At twelve weeks, Spencer knows how to come, sit and what “NO!” means.  He also knows “get down” and “get your toy”.  He’s also jumping at the door when he needs to go potty.  Usually.

Yeah.  He makes potty mistakes.  And he chews up our shoes, tissues, the toilet paper and almost got my checkbook.  But I knew he’d do that before we got him.  All puppies do.  But we do have dog crates, and brought one into the new greenhouse for Spencer’s “house”.  We keep him out with us most of the time, but when we need to be outside and can’t have him with us, like when we’re operating vehicles in the yard, Spencer’s given a dog biscuit and put into his house.  At first he howled, barked and whined something awful.  But after awhile, with nobody paying attention to him, he finally quit.  Now he’s gotten used to it.  He spends the night in it, then is let out early in the morning to go potty outside.  The crate remains clean and he’s learned to go outside.  It’s a huge help in training a pup.

He tried pullng the tail feathers on one of our turkeys, but I yelled “No!” and threw a feed can down by him and he stopped.  Now he would like to, but doesn’t try.  We don’t want him to get used to harrassing the poultry.  When he gets bigger, he could do some serious damage or even kill chickens.  It’s easier to train him now.

Although he’s still small, he’s growing by leaps and bounds.  He still likes to sit on our laps, but no he takes a lot more space than he did three weeks ago.  David is his special love because he takes time to play with him every day and Spencer really gets into that.  But when he gets tired, he lets David pick him up and lay him on his back on his lap.  It’s great to be a puppy!

Readers’ Questions:


I’d like to comment on an answer you gave to Bernard Falkowski in the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of the magazine. Brined pickles do not need to have vinegar added to their fermentation process. In fact, those pickles he remembers that were fished out of a wooden barrel were salt brined. If vinegar is left out of the fermentation, the resulting pickle will be lacto-fermented, meaning that the brine will be full of those good lacto-Bacillus bacteria. One recipe that I use calls for 6 tablespoons of salt in a half gallon of water for the brining liquid. Use a crock that holds about one gallon total, or a gallon glass jar. Place in it a couple of grape or horseradish leaves if you have them. They keep the pickles crisp. Then add 3 or 4 dill flower heads, 2 or 3 garlic bulbs (that’s whole bulbs divided into cloves, not just 2 or 3 cloves,) and 4# of cucumbers, not too big but they don’t have to be very small either. Pour the brine over all this, weigh it down with a jar filled w! ith water or rocks, and cover with a clean towel. In the summer  these are ready to eat in one week. The downside is that they then  have to be refrigerated to keep for a longer time; I’ve kept mine as long as 6 months. You could also can them after they have  finished their fermentation, but they lose their pro-biotic  bacteria and some of their crispness.

A question I have about the pickles I can is how to keep them crisp. I’ve often heard about adding powdered alum to the jars, but have not used it because I don’t know what it is. Can you tell me
if it’s a mineral, or derivative of aluminum, or what else it might be?

Thanks for all your help and interesting articles.

Nancy Starr
West Fork, Arkansas

Yes, some pickles in a barrel were salt brined.  But many weren’t.  We had a small general store when we lived in New Mexico and Bob sold pickles in a barrel that were floating in a vinegar brine.  There are literally hundreds of dill pickle recipes and most of them are great.  Love those pickles!!!

Yes, alum is a mineral and also related to aluminum.  Just type “alum” in your browser and you can find out more than you really want to know about it!  I did and WOW!  (Couldn’t understand a lot of it, but oh well….)

The upshot is that using modern canning methods, you don’t need alum.  Or grape leaves.  I keep my pickles crisp by NOT boiling them.  They’re salad ingredients, after all and you just don’t cook them and expect them to stay crisp.  It also helps to pick fresh cukes and begin pickling them the very same mornin.  I always soak my cleaned cukes in ice water for at least half a day….often over night….before beginning to put them up.  They always stay nice and crisp.  Without alum. — Jackie

Feeding chickens

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions and share your knowledge with all us other homesteaders. I am hoping within the next year to get 5 or 6 chickens. I wanted to know how much corn it
would take to feed 5 or 6 egg laying hens for a year. They would be free range also. The reason I’m asking is to know if it is feasible to raise the corn ourselves. If yes how much space do you think we
will need to do so? Again thanks very much for sharing your know how.

Kristi Ewing
Mondamin, Iowa

Well, that depends; on what kind of chickens you buy (heavy hens eat more than light ones; light ones lay more eggs but can’t make much meat when the time comes), what else you feed them (you can’t feed laying hens just corn and get lots of eggs; the free range will help, but the need a mixed grain, such as scratch feed to make sure they have adequate protein) and how much space you have available to raise corn (a city lot or a corn field).  I buy my dozen hens, four big turkeys and two ducks 100 pounds of feed twice a month in the winter and once a month in the summer when they are on free range.  My hens are araucanas and mixed banties, so they are smaller hens and are very active.

ANY feed you raise yourself is a great help.  I raise plenty of “livestock” feed in my garden; weeds, spent crops, bad tomatoes, extra squash, carrot tops, corn cobs and a whole lot more.  If you have enough land to raise corn, by all means, do it, even if you don’t raise ALL your chicken feed.  In figuring how much corn you can raise on X number of square feet or acres is impossible, as it depends on what kind of corn you raise, what kind of soil you have and your farming practices.  Each corn stalk will usually produce two good ears under decent growing conditions.  This would feed your 5 “average” hens for one day, provided you also had other feed (free range or wheat/oats/barley) mixed in.

Give it a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  Remember your chickens will also eat your kitchen leftovers, too, further cutting down the feed bill. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Oh my gosh! It’s seed inventory time!

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

The last two days, I’ve been going through my garden seeds.  Now to most people, this isn’t much of a problem…maybe a jar or small box full of seed packages from last year.  But for me, a confirmed seed-aholic, it’s actually WORK.  You see, I have over two large sized plastic storage totes plumb full of smaller boxes of seeds in packages, bags, pill containers and jars.  And there are several years’ worth here, too.  Many are old, old time traditional seeds, given to me by folks here and there all across the country who know about my love of seeds.  For instance, I have a bag of perhaps half a pound of large white runner bean seeds from a man in Capulin, New Mexico who found a small pottery container of these seeds in an ancient Indian ruin on his ranch.

He gave some of the seeds to the University, where they were carbon dated back 1,500 years!!!  And, more amazing, he also planted some of them and they grew.  And he’s been growing them for many years now.  My bag of seeds came from those ancestors!  Now isn’t that cool???

Throughout all our moving, my seeds kind of got mixed up, melons with beans, squash with Swiss chard packages.  Last year I sorted them all out and put them in individual boxes.  This year, I’m inventorying them so that I know exactly what I have in my collection, what I need to grow out to have viable seed for the future and what areas my collection is a little weak.  I had to laugh.  Last year when I went to plant my Dragon’s Tongue beans, I could only find one small pack, so I planted those and ordered a half pound this spring.  (I could have sworn I had a big package of them somewhere……)

Well, today I found them.  Two half pound bags, full!  They were in the Pea Box!!!  Tomorrow I’ll have it done.  Whew!  Imagine!  I’ll know exactly what I have in those blue tubs!  I’ve been writing down all the varities in a yellow legal tablet.  Pages and pages worth.  And I’ve also been making notes in seed catalogs of varieties I need to increase.  I didn’t even notice that it started snowing.

Readers’ Questions:

Difference between pressure canner and pressure cooker

Wow this is so great! Being able to ask you a question right here from the Backwoods Home website! Here goes… I’ve been looking at pressure canning, not ready to do any canning yet, no garden yet. My question is, what difference is there, if any, between a PRESSURE COOKER and a PRESSURE CANNER?

Rick Dobert
Rochester, New Hampshire
Lifetime Subscriber! yea!

A pressure cooker is a smaller version of a pressure canner, meant to COOK food in small amounts.  It does not work well as a canner.  First you are limited severely on how much food you can process at a time.  Then there is less room for steam to move about, making the temperature a little questionable on the inside of the middle of the jars.  Because of those reasons, buy a pressure CANNER if you want to begin canning food.  Even though a pressure cooker is cheaper, you won’t get much use out of one. — Jackie

Bleeding out an animal

Can you “bleed out” an animal by slitting it’s throat just as effectively after it has been shot, or does it have to be alive when you do it?

My husband and I are in disagreement on this issue. I think it is cruel to kill an animal by slitting it’s throat and letting it bleed to death. He believes that in order for the heart to pump out all the blood, it has to be done this way? Does it?

Lisa Light-Abrego
Peck, Michigan

You’re both right in my opinion.  I couldn’t cut a live animal’s throat, although many people do just that, in order to get more thorough bleeding out.  Generally, most people first shoot the animal, then quickly cut the throat.  If this is done quickly, the animal will bleed out enough before it is dead, dead.

What about when you hunt and shoot a deer?  You usually don’t slit the throat on a live deer.  Right?  And the meat is just fine. — Jackie

Canned pickled egg recipes

My mom was wanting to know if you have any good canned pickled egg recipies. All she can find are refrigerated pickled eggs.

Ashley Ritchie
Roseburg, Oregon

Here’s a recipe for your mom: Sterilize quart jars…you’ll need about one jar per dozen medium eggs.  Pack hard boiled, peeled eggs into jar to within an inch of the top.  Add 1 sprig dill, 1 chopped garlic clove,and 1 crushed, dried red pepper if you want spicy eggs.  For every jar of eggs, pour 3 c. white vinegar and 3 Tbsp sugar into a pan and bring to a boil.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Pour over eggs in jar, to within 1/2″ of the top.  Process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.

Enjoy! — Jackie

Making cat food

Love your columns!! Do you have any experience with making cat food? Have an active kitten, and he almost died from “tainted” top-quality cat food; I want to avoid that in the future. Would appreciate any help.

Gay Cornell
Meridian, Idaho

I would really not want to make cat food; getting the proper nutrition is harder than you might think.  The tainted pet food makes me really, really nervous, as it is only the possible tip of the iceberg.  For instance, how easy would it be for tainted gluten or other products to get into human food?????  Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of choice here; questionable nutrition or possible tainted food.  But as the focus has been strong on pet food safety, I’d gamble on it….at least for awhile.  You can certainly give your kitten some home cooked food, such as chicken, giblets, liver, beef and fish for a portion of its diet.

If you are strongly in favor of making your own cat food, check online.  There are many sites for homemade cat food and you will gather some ideas there.  Be sure that the nutrition is well balanced and your information is from a reputable site. — Jackie

More on my post from January 3 about canning

Jackie, please can you elaborate on this? (Jan. 3 post regarding canning). I’m having a problem with pressure canning broth. I let the canner cool until there is no pressure on the gauge, as instructed, but my problem is that after I remove the canner lid the jars will go from still to explosively boiling, such that hot broth spills out under the lids.

I first canned chicken broth a couple of months ago, and some of my jars look just 3/4 full due
to the losses as the jars cooled. However, they all sealed nicely and remain sealed and seem to
be fine. (I washed up the jars after they were cool enough to handle, really testing the seals. . . )

Tonight I’m canning up some beef broth, and, figuring that the loss of liquid was secondary to either too much broth or too fast depressurizing, I tried to go slower with taking off the lid and removing the jars from the canner. I still had problems with loss of liquid though, and I was inclined to leave the jars in the canner until the morning until I read this entry of yours.

Now I’m not sure what to do! My second batch is done, and I hear the “ping” sounds of lids sealing, even though I haven’t opened the canner lid. I’m up late baking bread, so I think I’ll wait as long as possible before opening the canner. At least what you’re warning against is loss of seal–I can check for that and just place any unsealed jars in the fridge.

My second question is regarding fat in the broth. All of my references instruct to discard the fat, but I can’t help but think this is coming from the fat-phobia of the past 20 years or so. This is broth from good pasture-finished organic beef–I’m inclined to save the fat! I read somewhere that a layer of fat on top of broth helps it keep longer, but I suppose that’s not as relevant for canned broth. What is your opinion on fat in canning broth (or meat)?


Broth sometimes does this because it is pretty much totally liquid.  To stop it, first be sure not to fill the jars too full.  Then, when the time is up, watch your canner that it doesn’t go BELOW zero.  They sometimes do that when cooling and it will cause furious boiling when you take the jars out.

No, don’t save the fat!  The reason you don’t leave fat on foods is that while the jar exhaust, some fat can blow out of the jar and onto the rim, preventing a seal.  It’s not a fat-phobia but a real problem.  I don’t remove ALL the fat on my broth; it gives flavor.  BUT scoop off a lot of it because the more you leave, the better chance that one or more jars won’t seal.

The reason you take the jars out of the canner as soon as it returns to zero is so that they go from a very hot environment to a room temperature.  This change helps them seal.  Don’t leave them in till they cool.  I did this once only.  With a whole canner full of corn….and I have a huge canner; 9 quarts and 18 pints, double decked.  It was late and I figured oh, what the heck and did it.  They seemed to seal. I put them in the pantry and two weeks later I checked them and phew!  all of them stunk because every single seal had failed!!!! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our first baby born this year

Monday, January 7th, 2008

While we’re still rejoicing at the birth of Bill and Kelly’s son, Mason, we had our very own baby yesterday.  Okay, so it’s a baby goat, but hey, it’s the best I can do!  Actually, she was not expected until the end of the month, so she was a total surprise.

We were having serious generator problems.  As in two were in the shop and the third backup totally melted down.  Oh great.  We use them half as much and have even more trouble.  Isn’t that backwards?  I’m leaving in two weeks for a weekend flight to visit a sweet guy I’ve been writing to and talking to on the phone for 18 months, in Washington, and I want to make sure that David and the friends who will be taking care of Mom in our home won’t have any trouble while I’m gone.  (I’m a huge worry wart!)

So when I had nightmares about generators and our friend Tom suggested we buy a new Honda generator (brushless), I decided I’d better do it, even if they were $$$$$$.  Ouch.  So while all this was going on, I went out to do chores and missed our black and white Nubian doe, Luna, at the feeding trough.

Oh oh.  Yep, I went inside and she was getting ready to give birth.  I watched and soon a head popped out, but the feet were over the head.  Not the normal birth presentation.  I still waited and waited.  Nothing.  So I hauled bales of hay to the gate which David had SCREWED shut after they’d gotten out recently, climbed in the pen and delivered the kid.  A DOE!!!  I’ve been waiting for a doe from Luna for years and here she is.

Today she’s up and frisky.  And we’re using the new Honda generator.  Pretty soon I’ll need a license or something because we have 6 generators in various states of repair.  Actually, 5 work.  Usually!  Sigh.  Life was so much easier without all the technology!  But we’ll get it whipped yet.  And I’ve got a nice mini-vacation coming up….the first in years.

Readers’ Questions:

Can I freeze the eggs?

I am the happy owner of 20 beautiful hens and 2 dashing roosters. My question is this, is there a way to longterm store the eggs? Can I freeze them in anyway? Also, what is the breeding and gestation time for hens. My roosters are breeding now and I would rather the hens not go broody until warmer weather. Could you help shed some lite? Love your magazine. Thanks!

Sherry Preedy
Meade, Kansas

Yes, you can freeze eggs.  Most folks just break the eggs, several at a time, into small plastic freeezer boxes.  You want enough eggs to just about fill the box, leaving room for expansion during freezing but not enough space to let a lot of air contact the eggs.  You can leave them whole or mix the whites and yolks.

You don’t have to worry about your hens.  Roosters breed year around, but hens very seldom go broody until summer hits.  Their bodies know when it’s time to sit on eggs, even when you provide them with artificial light in the winter. — Jackie

Hulls in my compost

I love your column! It has so much valuable information. I live in New Mexico at 7400 feet, and have been working for two years on building good compost for my two garden beds built by my boyfried
last year. I feed the birds, black oil sunflower seed… and have been adding the hulls to the compost pile, and then when done I add the compost to the garden beds… but just read something about the
hulls inhibiting plant growth!

My question: what do I do now? I have two compost bins ready to go into the beds in the spring, but with hulls in them. How long does it take for this inhibiting to dissipate? I looked on the web and
found that it will, in time, dissipate, but nothing to say how long. Do you have any information about this?

Natalie Dimitruck
Los Alamos, New Mexico

It depends on how many hulls you added to how much compost.  If it was just a little rakings from around the bottom of a couple of bird feeders, I wouldn’t worry too much.  But if your’re talking about a hundred pounds of hulls in a couple smaller compost bins, I wouldn’t plan on using that compost around my tender new garden plants; instead use it where you don’t want plant growth (around mature trees, in walks, at lawn edges, etc.)  I wouldn’t be too concerned about a few shovelfuls of hulls; if they were THAT bad, my garden would never grow.  I feed several hundred pounds a year and those hulls go eveywhere….and my yard is certainly GREEN. — Jackie

Old fashioned ketchup recipe

Could you please help me find an old fashioned cold ketchup recipe using tomatoes and horseradish? I want to surprise my mom with a “gift from the past” as she used to get a jar from my great grandmother every year for Christmas in a basket of homemade goodies. She says it is wonderful with fried potatoes.

Sheri Bowlin
Dayton, Oregon

I’ll give you what I’ve got and hope it’s what your mother remembers!

4 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/2 c chopped onions
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 C sugar
1 C vinegar
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
8 drops Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp grated horseradish

Chop vegetables fine and blend well.  Add other ingredients and mix well.  Let stand, covered overnight.  Then bottle into sterilized jars.  This product must be kept refrigrated or you can heat it to boiling then home can it as you would spaghetti sauce then it can be kept on the shelf. — Jackie

Hard water, salami recipe

Jackie we love you! I got a new pressure canner not too long ago. We have very heavy water and the canner is aluminum. Can I add some vinegar to the water in the canner to stop the scale?

Also, I have been looking for a salami recipe. Yrs ago I able to eat home made salami an old family made and processed in the basement. It was so wonderful.

Thank you for everything you do for us!

Jo Ann Nelson
Vallecito, California

Yes, you can add a little vinegar to your canner.  But you probably would find it easier to just use some soft water, such as rainwater, spring water or water from a friend’s house for your pressure canning, as you really don’t use too much at a time.

Here’s a salami recipe, although you’ll find dozens of other ones, as well, like you do any other recipe.  This one is modernized, instead of using casings, you just use aluminum foil.


2 C waer
5 pounds ground lean meat
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp red pepper flakes, crushed
5 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp liquid smoke (omit if you will be smoking this product)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Mix water, liquid smoke & spices
Add meat and mix well with hands
Divide into 3 long rolls and wrap each in heavy foil and fold tightly closed down the center and on ends.  Refrigerate for 24 hours.  With a fork, poke small holes on bottom of rolls.  Place foil wrapped rolls on broiler rack, on broiler pan half filled with hot water, in center of oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Remove foil.  Set rolls on rack to drain and cool.  You may smoke at this point or not if you used liquid smoke.  The smoking darkens the product and dries it to the familiar dry texture you’re probably familiar with.

Store in the refrigerator up to 10 days, freeze or home can, if desired. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Why do you feed the birds? It’s a waste of money!

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Yes, I feed the birds.  Both summer and winter.  But the joy of the colorful interaction, just outside the window during the cold, bleak winter months and the symphony of birdsong around the place in the spring and summer more than makes up for the seed I buy.  Then there’s Mom, who is in a wheelchair and is nearly blind.  She can sit by the big window in the greenhouse and watch the birds come and go all day and it provides her with enjoyment and entertainment.

But those birds pay me back, too.  Some are “meat eaters” and eat garden pests right out of the garden.  I’ve laughed when bluebirds chased down white cabbage moths, up and down the rows.  They always catch them, too!  Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and wrens all help the bluebirds patrol my garden for me.

Other birds are seed eaters.  They go around and eat tons of weed seeds for me; grass, thistle, pigweed and others.  You won’t hear me complain!

No.  I don’t eat the birds, or sell them or “make” anything from them.  But to me they’re still a very valuable homestead commodity.  Priceless treasues, actually, here in the backwoods.

Reader’s letter:

DON’T leave the jars in canner until cold

Thank you so much for the practical education I’ve received from your writings in BHM. I have a question that popped up last week and I immediately thought of you as a possible source of

So here’s the backstory: The Thanksgiving turkey. No way in Hell was I going to do what I did last year, when I and my family picked on the carcass for a week or two as it sat there taking up valuable fridge space and finally my wife laid the poor dried-out, shriveled-up, still-good-for-a-pot-of-soup bird to rest in the garbage can. Nope. This year I was gonna use the whole dang bird.

So I boiled it for about 12 hours in water with a shot of vinegar, pulled the meat, diced it, packed it in half-pint tapers and topped ’em up with broth. The rest of the broth went into wide-mouth quarts. And into the Presto they went.

OK, so when it was time to get them out, I let the Presto cool down until the built-in weight dropped. Then I popped it open and started to unload.

That’s when I heard a faint whistling sound. Very, very faint. If I hadn’t happened to be alone in the house I would not have heard it. The sump pump running would have drowned it out. I am still not sure what it was, but here’s my worry: Could it have been a jar seal that didn’t quite take — that sucked in a tiny bit of atmospheric air before sealing up and becoming indistinguishable from the others? And if it sucked in some air, is it theoretically possible that it could have picked up a botulism spore with it?

I managed to isolate what I think was the jar making the noise. After everything was cool, it was indistinguishable from the others. It was sealed up nicely. None of the others in this batch failed to
seal. Of course, I popped the suspect open and ate it the next day.

Right now I’m canning up the Christmas turkey — which is what brought it to my mind — and out of sheer paranoia I think I’ll just leave the food in the kettle all night until it’s stone cold tomorrow morning.

But, what do you think? Is there a danger involved with the Thanksgiving stuff?

Finn J.D. John
Albany, Oregon

No!  No!  Don’t leave the jars in the canner until it’s stone cold.  That is the best way for your jars NOT to seal.  They need the transition from very hot (the canner with the pressure just returned to zero) to room temperature in order for them to seal.  Take ’em right out as soon as your pressure is down to zero.  The whistling sound you heard is normal; it’s the sound of the seals beginning to suck down.  It doesn’t always do that but it is common and nothing to worry about.  Just check your seals when the jars are cold.  If they’re well sealed, they are perfectly safe. — Jackie


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