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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Jackie Clay

The last campfire of the year was for burning my cast iron pans

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

We love sitting around the campfire at night. There’s just something comforting about those flickering flames and the smell of pine smoke. Maybe it’s the Native in us? But this time, I had more of a plan. My old, old cast iron frying pans that I’d used at camp for years had developed a good case of the “crud,” especially on the bottoms. This flaky build-up is common, but after awhile, it gets disgusting. You can’t scrape it off, wash it off or wish it off. The best cure is building up a good bed of coals and plopping your pans down in them, then keeping a good fire going for an hour or so.

Of course, while that’s happening, you can watch the fire, smell the pine smoke and listen to the wolves howl out in the woods. David brought out the marshmallows and some hotdogs, too. We enjoyed our evening. Mom had gone to bed earlier, and the night was ours. A few glowing sparks drifted upward but we didn’t have anything to worry about because it had been raining and the woods and grass was wet.

I got my pans burned out well and the next day I brought them inside to wash and season with olive oil and some low temperature oven heating. My pans are now smooth, inside and out, ready to cook future meals on, over the campfire or in the kitchen. I do love my cast iron. And my campfire!

Readers’ Questions:

Flavor of Hopi Pale Grey squash

Jackie, you’re always talking about the Hopi Pale Grey squash, and I’m wondering, exactly what do they taste like? I garden, but wonder about trying the seeds because of their flavor.

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Okay. I admit it; I’m a fanatic about Hopi Pale Grey squash. Not only are they severely endangered, but they are one of the very longest keeping squash AND one of the best tasting, too. They have a thick meat that isn’t stringy. It has a fruity, almost nutty taste. I even grate some of the meat raw on salads. It really is that good! — Jackie

Canning cheese

I have read about you canning cheese. You mentioned that you didn’t can soft cheese. I’m thinking about trying to make cheese and salsa dip. Now I’m guessing that when you can your cheese that it solidifies as it cools. What I need to know is what type of cheese to mix with the chopped peppers so when it cools it is still soft and dip-able. By the way I’m a new subscriber but I’ve been a fan of the website for months and have used many things from the ask Jackie part of the site. Keep up the good work.

Joshua Schrader
Middleburg , Pennsylvania

Canning cheese is still kind of an “experimental” processing. I feel comfortable canning cheese, as it is high acid and it is often stored for months on end to age it without refrigeration or chemicals added. But I’d hate to recommend adding peppers, which ARE low acid and could possibly contribute to the end product allowing botulism spores to live and produce toxins. Until we learn more, it’d probably be a good idea to skip the peppers in the cheese. I have been having good luck by re-canning #10 cans of cheddar cheese sauce into pint and half pint jars. This stays soft, about like Cheesewhiz. I heat the cheese in the can, in my water bath canner, after processing tomatoes…so I recycle the hot water! Then I dip the hot cheese out into hot, sterilized jars to within 1/2″ of the top. The jars are processed in the water bath canner for 30 minutes. Be sure to consult your canning book for instructions on increasing your processing time if you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet. — Jackie

What brand of pressure canner?

We are new subscribers and trying to learn as much as we can about self reliant living. Are there any particular types or brands of pressure canners and dehydrators that you recommend? We have a modest budget but would “splurge” for something that would last us a lifetime. We are a family of 4. Thanks!

Steven & Gloria Schultz
Lakeland, Florida

Not really. All of the modern pressure canners and dehydrators that I’m familiar with are very adequate for the job. I DO like the dial gauge and gasketless canners, but I also have weighted gauge canners with gaskets. The only trouble with the gasket is that you have to replace it sooner or later. But they DO last for years and years. The dial simply lets you adjust your heat precisely and you know instantly when your heat is letting your pressure increase. The weighted gauges just rock faster and faster when the heat is going up too high. But, as I’ve said, all are good products. I’m real glad you’re getting into self reliant living! It’s a great, satisfying way of life. — Jackie

Teaching dogs not to chase poultry

I know you’ve written extensively about raising homestead chickens, and you contributed a great deal to the new Chicken Handbook – which is great.

Do you have your chickens completely fenced all the time, or do you let them free range? What do you do to train your own dog to leave them alone? Amazingly, we’ve never had trouble with neighbors’ dogs or other predators, but my husband’s hunting dog won’t leave my girls alone. She killed one of my Rhode Island Reds and one of my meat ducks earlier this summer, and yesterday she attacked my other Rhodie as she was coming out of the coop, from laying an egg, and wasn’t with the rest of the flock. I think she’ll be ok, and I’ve got the rest of my mixed flock back inside our fence for now. But I’d like to be able to let them range, since I don’t have much fenced in area for them. I don’t know how to teach a “bird dog” not to go after our own birds.

Carmen Griggs
Bovey, Minnesota

Our chickens are fenced in the winter, for convenience, and let run free in the summer. It is easier to teach a pup to not kill chickens than an older dog. And bird dogs DO love birds! But so do huskies. I would NEVER let my huskies run free or I’d never have a live chicken! (I have had a husky that was fine with poultry, though. But she was trained very young; my guys weren’t and would happily eat them all. To teach our pup not to chase chickens, I just took him out there with me every time I went to the coop. When he got too “happy” with the chickens, I’d scold him real severely. Then when he grabbed one, I beat him up. No, I really didn’t beat him, beat him. I just made him think I was abusing him. Let me explain. Dogs have a pecking order, just like wolves. The alpha dog (you) reprimands the pup (him) by grabbing the scruff of his neck and shaking him, while forcing his head to the ground. I didn’t shake him hard enough to do any damage, mostly hollered and shoved him to the ground. It only took one time and he listened to me when he’d stop being enthusiastic when I’d yell at him. Now I don’t even have to watch him. He’s perfectly fine. The same worked for eating eggs, which he really loved to do. With an older dog, you’ll have to be sure to be out with him EVERY time he’s out with chickens out of the pen. And catch him in the act of chasing before he hurts a chicken. Some people have had good luck with training collars (shock collars). I prefer to train without one, but some dogs are just too aggressive to take a lesser hint. — Jackie

Curing sweet potatoes

Can you tell me how cure sweet potatoes?

Edwin Long III
Plymouth, North Carolina

Dig your sweet potatoes, then let them cure by drying them out of the sun, until the skin gets tough. This lets them resist bruising and cracking, which contributes to premature spoilage. — Jackie

Keeping bread fresh:

I’ve really taken to baking my own breads and rolls… The “Burning” question is: How to store the breads and rolls after baking, to keep them from going stale. We live at 4200′ elevation.

Lee Harris
Chalfant Valley, California

After your baked goods are cooled down, place them in a plastic container or old bread bag. Most baked goods stay fresher longer when refrigerated. The one unfortunate thing about home baked goods is that without all those chemicals, they do tend to go stale or mold faster. But refrigerating or freezing them will prevent this. If you then reheat them briefly in a covered container, in the oven, or even uncovered, in a microwave, they’ll again taste just oven baked. It’s great to hear that you’ve caught fire with baking! — Jackie

Boiling canned food

Do you think it is needed before eating food that has been pressure canned to first boil it for 20 minutes? I read this someplace and I’m afraid the quality after all that boiling is going to be gross.

I’m mainly thinking of meat/poultry and soup.

Mary Thompson
Charlotte, North Carolina

It is advised to bring home canned foods up to the boiling point for 10 minutes (add 1 minute for each 1,000 feet above sea level, above 1,000 feet). This does not have to be “boiling”. It can be heated in the oven, as if you made a casserole out of home canned ingredients. This is to kill any possible toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum. However these toxins will only possibly be present if the food was improperly canned or the seal had failed. The boiling won’t affect the taste/texture too much. — Jackie

Dutch oven cooking

I’m ready to learn how to campfire-cook and cook with a Dutch oven. Can you give any tips, and just how DO you bake over a campfire? I can understand using a Dutch oven, but until I get one, can I “adapt” any current baking pans, etc. to do this?

Kathleen Dismore
Marion, Illinois

Keep an eye open in a future issue of BHM. I’ve done an article on cast iron cookware, including a Dutch oven, and you’ll find your information there. It gets too long for the blog. — Jackie

5 Responses to “The last campfire of the year was for burning my cast iron pans”

  1. Ellendra Says:

    There’s a trick I found for cleaning off burned-on food that might be easier to use next time. Just cover the burned crud with a thick paste of baking soda and water, let soak for 2-3 hours, and the crud just wipes away.

    At least, that works for burned food. Don’t know if it works for that sooty deposit that forms when cooking over an open fire, I so seldom get the chance that I’ve never tried it on that.

  2. Jonica Says:


    I think I am going to take this idea and do this on the weekend coming up. Hubby has a grill and we will do ours that way. We can not have a bonfire in our area. But, that is a good idea. I have not cured my cast iron pans in a long time. At least 3 years. So it is time to do them again. Do you rub the pans down before you put them on the fire? My grandmother used to use lard for it. Thanks for reminding me to do this.


  3. Lyn Says:

    I wanted to let you know that I finally tried the goat milk lotion recipe you gave (months – maybe years ago) online to another reader and it turned out great! I added a little GermabenII preservative because I doubled the batch and am giving it as Christmas gifts. It’s a really thick and creamy recipe! Plus, the ingredients are ones that are easy to find! I added some lemongrass & lavender fragrance oils and a little Tea tree oil for good measure. It’s the only fragrance that seems to deter the bugs and bees. Thanks for a great recipe! I’d be happy to send you some if there is a place I can mail it to you! Thanks again for being so helpful and willing to share!

  4. Gwen Koskinen Says:

    I have heard so much about Hopi squash that I purchased some of the seeds off an Ebay auction. If mine do well this coming spring, I will be one of those that will have seeds to share! There were several listings for the Hopi squash. It may be a good place to check out.

  5. Linh Maenius Says:

    I have to say that for the last few of hours i have been hooked by the amazing articles on this blog. Keep up the wonderful work.

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