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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for January, 2009

Jackie Clay

I hate sheetrocking, so guess what I am doing…

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Jackie mudding sheetrock

We’ve got the new addition coming along very nicely. Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of dry walling that had to be done. (We’re going to use log accent pieces throughout, but used the Sheetrock to break up the darkness of all log.) Will and David are cutting and hanging most of the drywall, and I’m following along, mudding the screw heads and taping and mudding all the billions of corners and joints. Unfortunately, it’s not a single application. Every one has to be done at least three times, as the first shrinks, then you have to build out from the joint to a nice even surface. So over and over, I go, trying not to leave too much compound on the area, which will interfere with the next coat and have to be sanded down before another coat is put on. I look down the long room, from the laundry room and wonder if I’ll EVER get it all done. But I know I will, eventually, and will be so happy to paint those ugly blotched walls!

Readers’ Questions:

Canning equipment

I am looking to start canning and I have no idea what equipment to buy. I looked over some pressure canners but they seem way to pricey. What would you suggest that I should start out with and or need to do to enjoy the pleasures of canning.

Guy Treszi
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

You can begin canning with a water bath canner, which costs less than $25. With that you can home can fruits, jams, preserves, pickles and other high acid foods. But you can’t can low acid foods, such as vegetables, poultry or meat. You need a pressure canner for those. You might find a used one for sale online or at a second hand store for a price you could afford. Even a new one is “cheap” when you figure it’s a lifetime investment. — Jackie

Growing potatoes in tires

In the May/June 2008 issue, you wrote an article on getting serious about gardening. I thought the idea of growing potatoes in old tractor tires was cool, but have a concern about the possible dangers of any chemicals from the tires leaching into the soil. Is there another alternative to the tires that may be healthier? Also, does the container need to be filled entirely with composted material or is a mix of soil & compost acceptable?

Kathy Williams
Baltimore, Maryland

While it IS possible that somewhere, some tires could leach chemicals into the surrounding soil, people have been using them successfully for years. I know some very old people using them, so ???? You could use anything to hold the soil. Some people have used garbage cans, 55 gallon drums and even log cribbing. You just need to hold the soil in place and slowly fill the container as the plant grows. Yes, you can use a mixture of soil and compost. Straight compost might contain too much nitrogen and give you lots of potato vines and few potatoes or scabby potatoes. It depends on what is in your compost. — Jackie

Steam canners

I love using my water bath canner for tomatoes and fruits, but I’ve seen steam canners for sale in catalogs. The ads claim they save on water, which is especially interesting to me, a municipal water user who’s charged per usage. In your opinion, are these canners just as good as a water bath canner?

Kristin Radtke
Green Lake, Wisconsin

NO. These steam canners are not recommended for canning (no matter what the ads say), as it is not certain how much heat actually reaches the centers of the food in the center of the jars. You can save money/water when using a water bath canner by re-using the water for several batches of jars…unless one breaks, of course. Just add enough to bring the level up to two inches over the tops of the jars. You don’t need to dump the whole thing every time. I use my “used” canning water to water my indoor fruit trees and other large plants. They seem to like it and that way I’m not “wasting” that water. — Jackie

Using alum in pickles

I had a bumper crop of cucumbers from my first garden. So I pulled out great-grandma’s pickle recipe to make 11 quarts of pickles. As I was telling someone about it, they asked if I used “alum” in the picking. They said it would kill me to eat them.

My question is two fold: first is alum bad? Second, say you goofed and used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon as called for in the recipe–not that I might have, well, it is hard to read the hand written Tbsp. vs tsp., well I was not paying as much attention as I should have.

William Kone
North Olmsted, Ohio

No, alum is not going to kill you. Too much, as in a Tbsp. instead of tsp. might pucker you a little, but you won’t die from it. The alum in old recipes is to keep the crunch in the pickles. Grape leaves or simply not “cooking” the pickles will do the same. Enjoy your pickles. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It might be winter, but we’re working right along

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Will insulating

We’ve been working every day on the new addition. Will’s so glad to be here, he’s like a little kid in a candy store…only with a hammer in hand. Both of us have had to do things “just temporary” because we were in a huge hurry or too broke to do it right. We made a sort of informal pact; we’re doing this homestead RIGHT. So we’re pulling out all the stops on our new addition. I’m going around each and every window, door, crack and joint with a caulking gun and cans of Great Stuff (foaming insulation). And even though we have 8″ of fiberglass insulation in the ceiling, we’re adding another inch of rigid foam board inside for additional insulation. We WILL have a toasty living room!

Insulating peak

While I’m doing this blog, Will’s out hanging Sheetrock in the new laundry room so I can “mud” it tomorrow while he hangs vapor barrier and Sheetrock behind where our wood stove will be. We got the Metalbestos stovepipe all hooked up and cut through the roof today, as the weather was cooperating; we have another Arctic blast heading for us in a day’s time, bringing the temperature plummeting down to sub zero again for several days. Brrrrr… We’re hoping to be able to hook up the wood stove soon; propane for our two little heaters is expensive. And we are cheap.

Readers’ Questions:

Water storage

We are trying to find some 55 gal plastic drum for catching rain water. Do you know where they can be purchased? We are going to build a garage and want to catch the water to use on our garden.

Wayne Leamon
Old Fort, Tennessee

Ask around at your local building supply stores and farm stores. These are best purchased locally, because of the shipping cost. If all else fails, you can buy new ones that are for potable water storage from Emergency Essentials ( — Jackie

Butter from goat milk

Can you make butter out of goat’s milk? I’ve never heard of anyone making anything except goat’s cheese…If so, does it taste good (assuming one enjoys goat’s milk)?

Toni Marckini
Weston, Massachusetts

Yes you can make butter out of goat milk. It is a bit more difficult, as goat milk is naturally homogenized and the cream does not rise thickly to the top of the milk, like cow milk does. But you can skim it by using a covered 9″x12″ cake tin or use a cream separator.

Well cared for goat milk from healthy goats tastes just like the best cow milk. No one has ever eaten at my table who could tell they were drinking goat milk. Mom thought it would “taste like a goat” and wouldn’t touch it. But I sneaked it into her glass. Soon she was asking for it! When she went into the hospital, she complained that their milk didn’t taste as good as her goat milk at home.

I make butter, several cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, feta, chevre and cottage cheese), ice cream, sour cream and many puddings from goat milk. I seldom have any left, either!) — Jackie

Goat meat recipe

We just had our 1 1/2 old wether butchered and would like to know if you have some good recipes for goat.

Mary Ingold
Kalispell, Montana

My favorite chevon (goat meat) recipe is to take a boned roast and marinate it in Italian salad dressing over night. Then roast as usual, drizzled with a little olive oil. Add a bit of water to keep from sizzling. When it is about an hour away from being done, add quartered potatoes, carrots, onions and rutabagas, tossing with the pan drippings. Pretty darned good!

You can find hundreds of chevon recipes online by just typing chevon recipes into your browser. You’d better be hungry! Wow! — Jackie

Canning carrots

We grew carrots (but didn’t thin them out much) so ended up with carrots about 1″ diameter, 6-8″ long. We canned them in quart jars (6500 feet altitude), cut in 1″ long chunks. The problem is that the carrots are very watery when eaten. They just don’t taste good at all. I grew up with canned carrots in England, and these are too mushy and wet. Suggestions?

Kevin Long
Elizabeth, Colorado

Some varieties of carrots can up better than others. The super sweet, crisp “store” types taste great, but sometimes don’t can up too well. Another hint is to always hot pack carrots and other vegetables when you live at a higher altitude. They are actually cooked less in the canner that way. Also, canning them in pint jars saves additional time in the canner, which results in over-cooking them. This is why they are too soft and watery. Keep at it and you’ll find tasty carrots on your pantry shelves. — Jackie

Pressure canning butter

Less of a question than a few suggestions. I have only fairly recently started canning (within the last 3 years or so) and was doing it rather sporadically, but given the deteriorating socio-politico-economic situation I have stepped up my pace. While I haven’t been canning regularly, I have been shopping regularly, especially when the local Mega-Super-Buy-It-Center-Mart puts their supplies on clearance at the end of the season. Hence I had about a dozen cases of various sized jars out in the (unheated) garage. I was having problems getting the lids off bringing them straight in from the chilly Minnesota winter days, until I discovered that setting them in warm water for a few moments made the lids unseal with a familiar ‘ping’.

Another problem I’ve been having is what to do with all of those bloody rings. I’ve got about 250 jars canned up, and my fiancee was getting a little snippy about having the rings all over the place. Then I spotted a couple of cheap wire hangers in the basement. Voila! Untwist it at the top, and you can load the whole thing with rings, then twist it back together and hang it from a pipe. Out of the way, but easily available.

The third thing I have discovered is a sneaky place to store home canned and store canned goods. We live in a small standard suburban home, with frame walls. I removed the sheetrock from the wall next to the stairs down to the basement, and put in shelves between the studs. I measured carefully so that I could stack two 15 oz. cans or 1 can and 1 pint Mason jar. With a little more forethought I would have made them tall enough to fit 2 Mason jars. *sigh*.

Now for my question. I have seen you mention canning butter, and have read a procedure for doing it in the oven, but is there a way to do it in a pressure canner?

Thank-you for a great column and blog. And if you are ever in the Twin Cities, my fiancee and I would love to take you out to dinner. We could probably even scare up a spare bed for you if you’d like.

Bruce W. Krafft
Columbia Heights, Minnesota

Thanks for the invitation, Bruce. I very, very seldom get to the Cities. It’s too hard to arrange for care for Mom. But maybe some day…

I’ve never heard of pressure canning butter; I’m afraid it would scorch. I’ve done cheeses and that tends to taste over-cooked…sort of like the cheese topping on a pizza. It’s not bad, but not like fresh cheese. Water bath processing it for 60 minutes results in a nicer product. But, again, canning dairy products is “experimental” canning that isn’t recommended by experts. — Jackie

Raspberry salsa

I’m writing to see if you have a raspberry salsa recipe. I had some at a potluck and it was great. I couldn’t track down the maker for the recipe. We raise quite a few raspberries so it would be nice to score such a prized formula.

Also loved the picture of your Buck. He really looks to have a lot of personality.

Dinah Jo Brosius
Battle Ground, Washington

There are several raspberry salsa recipes, but here’s one for you:

2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
3 tsp. chopped jalapeno pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Gently mix in bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two to let flavors mingle. Serve chilled. — Jackie

Supplementing soil, dehydrating on a pellet stove

1)I live in Tyrone New Mexico (elevation almost 6000 ft and I understand that I am on top of mine tailings with 1 – 1 1/2ft of topsoil). Any ideas of how to supplement my soil? I can’t really grow anything here. Please don’t tell me to go the Extension Ctr – they are useless.

2)My back yard is protected from critters, but my front is not. I’d like to know your opinion on “sustaining” the critters. I love seeing the rabbits, deer, skunks, javelina, quails, etc (and yes I’d love to eat them too – but not legal – they all have names – breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, and snack, etc.) I do not put feed out for them & I never will, but, Jackie, in your opinion, should I at least make sure that they have a water source?

3) I have an electric dehydrator – takes forever to dry anything. During the winter I use a pellet stove – so I’m thinking maybe I should put my apples and such on racks over the stove? What do you recommend? And how is the best way to do it?

Tyrone, New Mexico

You can redeem your soil, even with such a dubious start. You are lucky to have a foot of topsoil; I’ve worked with less than half of that! Add any and all organic material you can. If you can afford a load of black dirt, buy it. If not…and it can be expensive, dig in straw, manure, pine needles, leaves (I know you probably don’t have these readily available), corn stalks or any green manure crop you choose. I’ve used Sudan grass, peas, annual rye grass, wheat, beans and annual alfalfa. Maybe you have a friend with a horse or some goats who would love to be rid of manure? If possible, compost the manure, as fresh manure is hard on many crops, causing them to grow tops but no food. If you can’t compost it, add it in the fall, and till it in; most will rot by spring.

Adding a few bales of peat moss to your garden will also help, as most New Mexican soil is alkaline and the peat, being acid, will help even the pH.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with putting out water for wildlife; we encroach on their natural habitat, making many natural watering sites unavailable. If you have javalina, be sure your watering containers are well anchored; they are strong little buggers!

I have three electric dehydrators that work very well; you might try a different one. Mine are very efficient, enabling me to dehydrate even without steady power. I start them in the evening, when I plan on running the generator to wash clothes, use tools, etc. By the time I’m done for the night, the food is nicely started and I finish up the load the following night. You can also dry around your stove, above or beside it, but be prepared to change the trays around as they don’t dry evenly. — Jackie

Pecking chickens

We are having problems in the chicken coop with beak pecking-kind of cannibalistic. I think I remember hearing that you could trim chicken beaks to help prevent this. Do you know what this entails and how to safely do this? Or any other suggestions? The chickens haven’t been out of the pen for several weeks now with the severe weather here in northern Minnesota this winter-maybe they are bored cooped up!

Debra Brown
Littlefork, Minnesota

You CAN trim the upper beak of chickens to reduce cannibalism. But this is quite severe, done with a cauterizing cutter, as you trim back to where there is blood supply; without the cauterization, it would bleed. I would remove any chickens with any bloody pecked areas. Then let the chickens outside. Even for a few hours in the afternoon. It’s amazing what this will do for them; they peck snow, flap around and enjoy themselves; totally forgetting boredom and pecking. Giving them something “special” to peck on also helps; a squash, cabbage, head of lettuce, trimmings from the store (free). Soon the weather will turn nice again and they can be out all day, as they wish. And the pecking usually stops. Re-introduce the pecked chickens after they have healed, putting them in at night so the others don’t notice the newbie. — Jackie

Canning frozen vegetables

My local store has frozen mixed vegetables on sale. I wonder if you could give me directions for canning them? Thanks so much! P.S. I tried your meatball recipe with the cream of mushroom soup and my family loves it!

Sarah Axsom
Natchitoches, Louisiana

Glad you liked the meatballs with cream of mushroom soup. We love them too.

To can up frozen vegetables, bring them to a boil in a large pot full of water. Then pack hot in hot jars, leaving 1″ of headspace. You need to process the mixed vegetables for the length of time necessary for the vegetable with the longest processing time; often corn or potatoes. They can up quite nicely. This also works when your freezer suddenly dies or you have a long power outage that threatens your freezer full of food. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Will’s finally here and we’re getting lots done

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Will finally got here Saturday after several plane problems. I thought he’d “take a day off,” but he was rarin’ to get started on the addition. So he started off by wiring the whole works, and then we began insulating it. Of course it didn’t help that we were in the middle of an Arctic cold spell, with temperatures of -40 degrees! But we have two propane heaters and with those running, the area slowly warmed to a balmy 32 degrees…warm enough to work if you didn’t stand around too much.

Jackie insulating

It was so cold today that school was canceled, so David got to stay home and help out. And he hates insulation. It makes him itch like crazy. But he pitched in and we’re nearly all done with the walls now, with the ceiling next. Wow. It looks so great!

David and Will insulating

Readers’ questions:

Waxed freezer boxes

I have been looking and looking for waxed paper freezer boxes like Grandma would sometimes use. They would be such a great help in managing the chest freezer (an addition to the canning pantry). I have looked and looked, but can’t find them, even on the Internet. I know they make them because they are used for things in the freezer section of the grocery.

Adele Ford
Marshall, North Carolina

I haven’t seen them for years, either. Manufacturers have switched to plastic because they are reuseable and let less odors into foods. I have no freezer (other than outside this winter!), so don’t keep up on this kind of thing. Do any readers out there have help for Adele? — Jackie

Canning strawberries

This past summer I used an Amish recipe to can strawberries. The recipe called for 7 cups water, 5 cups sugar, 3/4 cup minute tapioca and 4 quarts strawberries. They were cold packed and water bathed for 15-20 minutes. Several of the jars have mold on top of the strawberries. Some jars have no mold and we have enjoyed them on french toast, etc. with no problems. Can you tell me what went wrong with the moldy ones and if this isn’t a good recipe to use, do you have one?

Lisa Seibel
Coburn, Pennsylvania

I’ve never heard of using tapioca in canning strawberries. Here’s what I do:

Wash, drain and remove leaves from strawberries. Measure them as you put in a large pot. For each quart of strawberries, add 1/2 cup sugar. Stir gently. Let stand for 6 hours in a cool place, covered. Heat slowly until sugar dissolves and strawberries are hot throughout. Pack hot strawberries and syrup into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim of jar clean, place hot, previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints 10 minutes and quarts for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

I have great luck with this recipe and method and hope you do too. — Jackie

Mantis tiller

Do you have a Mantis tiller or do you know anyone who does? My husband would like to get one for me but we don’t know anyone who has one. Wondering if they are high quality and worth the money.

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Yes, Cindy, I have TWO Mantis tillers! Actually, one is Mom’s. I LOVE them. The only problem I’ve had is that they don’t handle our rocky soil well. They bounce around pretty vigorously. But in decent soil, they’re wonderful. And when our garden gets more domesticated, I’ll be using one every day out there. They’re very powerful, well built and aggressive! I even did tree holes with one by working up a small spot, spading out the loose dirt, then tilling again. It’s like holding on to a mad weasel’s tail! Excellent. — Jackie

Homesteading frugally

We are preparing to retire from the city to my family farm–in the family since about 1880. Money will be tight, as with all of us going back to the land, so this needs to be economical and not cost us more to produce than to buy at the store. There is a nice house and one huge hay barn a good distance from the house, but no buildings remain for small animals. My mother has been living there and wanted nothing to do with small livestock.

We want to have chickens and possible dairy goats. But the economics of keeping both seem high to our preliminary checking. I have never had chickens but my grandmothers of course had them up until I was in my 20’s. I personally have raised Spanish and Cashmere goats but never dairy. We live in Texas. We will have 240 acres–but it has been converted to primarily coastal pasture for a cow/calf operation (dad was a beef cattle expert)–which we are not sure is the direction we want to go. We will be starting from scratch on chicken and goat housing.

My questions are for the most economical ways to:
1. Feed chickens – layer formulas seem VERY expensive.
2. Litter for the chicken house for easy cleaning – also seems expensive. Hay is expensive – straw not really available in this part of the country as I see up north.
3. Keep chickens safe – predators will be a huge problem, especially neighbors large dogs allowed to run freely.
4. Feeding dairy goats economically. Lots of pasture – but no goat browse remotely close to the house to keep them safe.
5. Safe and usable housing for goats for protection and milking location. Any health issues with goats and chickens being close neighbors? Again predators will likely be a huge deal with neighbor dogs, coyotes and recently spotted wolves (absent in the area since the depression).

We will have a good gardening area (the only down side is it is like beach sand and will need extensive composting) and I believe there are a number of things we can grow to help feed the chickens and goats. I am considering the 2 sided chicken setup where you run chickens on one side one year and garden on the other. Then reverse. We appreciate any tips you have. I know this can be done.

Susan Ginnings
Georgetown, Texas

Yes, you’re right. This CAN be done. You just have to think outside the box. First of all, yes, layer mash IS expensive. But you can also feed your chickens plain old scratch feed, supplemented with weeds, kitchen waste, garden waste, extra vegetables and even pasture, if your chicken yard is big enough. We let our chickens free range and they only get a little scoop of feed twice a day, to keep them near the buildings. They forage, eat grasshoppers, ticks, caterpillars, and all sorts of greens, seeds and other natural foods they run across. I also give them any extra goat milk, whey, etc., from my goats, as it boosts their protein, very inexpensively.

I like your idea of switching gardening and chicken yards; it works great, providing your gardening area/yards are big enough to make a productive self-sustaining garden. We are going to let our hens run on our new orchard, which is also planted to clover. This orchard is 100’x 175′, roughly. The chicken manure will help fertilize it; the clover, grasses and insects will help feed the hens. AND the 6′ high 2″x4″ fence will keep out any wandering predators. This is a much better fence than chicken wire. But if you have stray dogs, you might want to re-enforce that fence with a couple of strands of electric wire. They will NOT jump against the fence more than once!

As for litter, maybe you could find a carpenter or lumber yard that would give you leftover sawdust. This makes good bedding, and is usually free for the hauling. Ground corncobs, leaves and even dried lawn clippings also make great bedding. Right now, I’m buying bales of pine shavings until we get more established, but I only buy a bale every 2-3 weeks and I have 24 hens, two roosters and two turkeys in the same coop. Of course, I’ll be eliminating that expense very soon!

Your goats will do well on pasture. They do not need browse; they just prefer it. When I had my goat dairy, my goats had a fenced pasture of clovers and orchard grass and did very well. You can also grow a lot of your own feed by growing extra corn, squash, carrots, etc. I also feed my goats left-over green corn stalks, the corn husks, cobs (from canning) and such things as spent pea vines, bean plants, carrot tops, etc. You can also cut your own hay from your dad’s old pastures to help feed your herd. Start small and gain experience. It’s also cheaper!

Like the chicken yard, use stout goat fence, with the stand-off strands of electric wire to keep the dogs away. Dogs are a worse predator than wolves ever were!

Goats and chickens can live near each other without problems; mine do. Just be sure your chickens can’t poop in the goats’ drinking water or on their feed.

Pick up a copy of the new BHM handbook on Dairy Goats for more ideas, and the very best of luck in your move! — Jackie

Watermelon rind preserves

My question is what ever happened to the thick rind watermelons I remember as a young boy? My Grandmother used to make the tastiest watermelon rind preserves from them. The ones available to me today have very thin rinds. I sure do miss her preserves! Also do you have a recipe for watermelon rind preserves just in case I can find suitable watermelons?
Thank you and keep the great articles and recipies coming.

George Deas
Northlake, Illinois

Hybrid watermelons happened to the industry! The rinds are thinner, but tougher. I miss them, too, so I’m growing my own varieties that are more to my own taste, including thicker rinds. Check out some of the melons available through Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange. Many of those old heirloom seeds produce the melons we remember from “way back when.”

Here’s a basic watermelon rind preserves recipe for you:

1 1/2 qts. watermelon rind
2 Tbsp. salt
2 qts. ice water
1 Tbsp. ginger
4 cup sugar
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
1 1/2 qts. water
1/2 cup thinly sliced seeded lemon

Trim skin and pink flesh from watermelon rind. Cut into 1″ blocks. Dissolve salt in 2 quarts of ice water and pour over rind. Let stand overnight. Drain. Rinse. Drain again. Cover with fresh cold water and let stand 30 minutes. Drain. Sprinkle ginger over rind. Cover with water and cook until tender. Drain. Combine sugar, lemon juice and 1 1/2 quarts water in a large pot. Boil 5 minutes. Add rind and simmer for half an hour, until syrup is thickened. Add lemon and cook until rind is transparent. Pack hot into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim of jar clean, place hot, previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. — Jackie

Freezing eggs

I have six laying hens and would like to freeze the extra eggs for when the girls decide to take their break. I have heard you can do it by scrambling them first. Would they still be good for baking, etc. so that they do what they’re supposed to in recipes? Any other ways to preserve them for future use? I’ve been making lots of egg salad for sandwiches to keep on hand for quick eating. Ideas would be very welcome!

Tammy Amland
Howard Lake, Minnesota

Yes, you can freeze your extra eggs. You can separate the egg yolks from the whites if you want whites for baking. Otherwise, you can just break the eggs into a container and freeze them whole. I say “whole”, but mean stirred up together, like scrambled eggs, because you must stabilize the yolks by adding 1 tsp salt or honey to each cup of whole eggs (or yolks). Be sure to note on the container, so you don’t use them in a recipe and add extra salt. Yuck!

This is the best way to save extra eggs. I’ve waterglassed eggs and did not like the results. — Jackie

Separating cream from goat milk

Do you know of a way to separate goat milk without a cream separator? They are so unbelievably expensive. Have you ever made butter from the cream of a goat?

Rena Erickson
Easley, South Carolina

While goat milk is harder to get to separate than cow milk, you can do it without a separator by pouring the fresh milk into covered 9″x12″ cake pans. In a day’s time…sometimes two, the cream separates enough to skim it off the top with a large spoon. The cover is needed to keep “refrigerator” smells from the milk, as it does absorb these odors very easily. You might check online for a used milk separator. Sometimes you can find one there that is quite inexpensive. — Jackie

Baking bread

This problem has been plaguing me for years now. I cannot seem to bake bread anymore. I am currently waiting for your recipe from the BHM cookbook (the “fail proof” white bread) to rise, and guess what? It isn’t rising. I followed the recipe faithfully and from the get-go, used double the flour stated and it never did get “alive and springy.” I used to bake 4 loaves weekly but since I moved from Wisconsin to California, I can’t bake a decent loaf of bread no matter what I do. HELP! By the way, I live at 3000′ now, compared to Wisconsin elevation, but, as I said, I have tried everything and nothing has worked. Ideas?

Sandy Wester
Wilseyville, California

I would seriously check your yeast; I’d buy new yeast and try that before I threw out the old yeast. It is possible that your flour is a low gluten flour. You can buy gluten dough enhancer to add to your flour. Sift your flour; it “fluffs” it up, making it rise quicker and better. A lot of recipes have gotten away from sifting today, and many people have quit doing it. Add less flour; a softer dough rises faster. Too much flour makes a too-stiff dough; it seldom gets that springy feeling. You want your dough just shy of sticky-to-the-fingers. Oil your hands before kneading for the last time. After you have made your dough ball and have thoroughly kneaded it, cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Then be sure to set it in a warm; not hot, place. A cool place or an over-hot place will cause rising problems. When you mix your yeast with warm water to proof it, be sure the water is warm….not too hot. Too warm a water will kill the yeast plants and the dough will not rise. I hope some of these tips will get you back to making great bread again. — Jackie

Ammunition boxes for food storage

Can you use ammunition boxes for long term food storage if items are first put in plastic freezer bags or vacuum shrink wrap? Boxes do not smell of gunpowder and we are concerned more with paint smell. Thank You.

John MacMaster
Sumter, South Carolina

Personally, I’d opt for other storage containers. First, ammo boxes don’t hold that much food. Second, I’ve never tried putting food in them; I don’t know if the paint smell would seep into the food, in time. The boxes were NOT intended for food, but for ammo. Probably putting the food in airtight bags would eliminate that problem, but I really don’t know. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Mid-winter but no cabin fever

Thursday, January 8th, 2009


Sure, I’d rather have less snow and cold. But if our weather up here in northern Minnesota was milder, the whole state would be built up, elbow to elbow! Actually I find plenty to do all winter, inside and out. Chores take longer in the winter because of snow drifts to work around, water to haul and wood to bring in. Then there’s our mile + long driveway to keep cleaned, round bales to haul and the birds to feed.

No, I don’t get bored in the winter. (Especially when every day brings more seed and nursery catalogs!)

Right now we’ve got about two feet of snow on the ground, on the flat, with some places deeper because of drifting. But our critters don’t mind a bit. As soon as I’m out the door, goats in two pens are at the fence, the donkeys down in the pasture are braying and the horses nickering. No, they’re not hungry; all have big round bales of great hay in front of them all the time. They LOVE attention. In fact, Moose, our donkey won’t eat his grain until he gets petting, hugs and has his feet picked up. Even our buck goats, Rocky and Zip stand on the fence for attention. But because they’re breeding right now, they smell and I don’t exactly give THEM hugs. But I do tell them how handsome they are and gingerly pet their noses. No mean bucks, here. They are real pets and they love people.


The deer are often eating with the horses, down in the pasture, munching on the round bales. As the snow’s getting deeper and deeper, they are getting more hungry. I don’t mind sharing. Just as long as they don’t share my garden!

Readers’ Questions:

Choosing fruit trees

I am ordering fruit trees through Fedco and was wondering if you could help me with varieties. I thought I would purchase six of them and want to use them for storage, fresh eating,etc.

Deborah Motylinski
Brecksville, Ohio

Wow! How can I choose? Will and I ordered 9 and stopped because we already have 11. We want every one that grows here! But lucky you, you are in zone 5 (I think), so you have even more to choose from. Whew. I’ll tell you some of the ones I love and you’ll have to narrow it down. Choosing fruit trees is sort of like picking clothes; it’s a highly personal decision. I really like: Mantet, Keepsake, Honeycrisp, GoldRush, Connell Red and Wolf River. But, being that you are in zone 5, you also have the opportunity to buy from nurseries in warmer zones, such as Stark and Miller Brothers, who have some more of my favorite apples that I can’t grow, such as Fuji, Pink Lady, Mutsu and Red Rome. (I also love Honeygold, and have one growing now.) Decisions, decisions…Makes winter fly by! Have fun! — Jackie

Recanned sauerkraut

I recently received as a gift a quart of homemade sauerkraut. My problem is we don’t eat a lot of it. Would I be able to recan it in pint jars? My friend told me that she water bathed them for three hours would I have to do the same to get them to seal? Last thingy…KEEP up the great work and Hoping you and your family have an even better NEW YEAR!

Ralph Lincoln
Berlin, Pennsylvania

Thank you Ralph. And your family, too! Yes, you can re-can the sauerkraut. But your friend didn’t need to water bath it for 3 hours the first time; 20 minutes will do the job. It might get pretty soft if you re-can it…if it isn’t already. If you choose to re-can it, bring it just to a simmer; don’t boil it. Pack it hot, in hot jars, leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Ladle the hot liquid over the sauerkraut (you can use a little boiling water if you don’t have enough liquid), leaving 1/2″ of headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar, and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process your pints for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. — Jackie

Plum jelly

I’m making jelly from this summer’s plums. The kitchen smells so wonderful. I have run out of the cute, little jelly jars. Now I have to choose between the pint or quart jars. Is either one okay or will using a bigger jar affect the jelling? Thanks for showing us that our weak moments do not define us and that we can keep going, as you do.

Mary McEnulty
Priest River, Idaho

I would use the pints. Sometimes larger jars of jelly won’t get used up fast enough, before they start to mold. But if you have a large family, that probably won’t happen. I used to have 8 kids home and canned jam and jelly in quarts, and it always jelled. I wouldn’t do chokecherry in quarts, as it can have problems jelling, even in half pints, sometimes. But then we have great chokecherry syrup! It’s like the old saying “Out of every bad thing, some good must come.” But sometimes you have to look very hard for that good thing until it pops up and hits you in the face. Life isn’t easy, but oh so worth it! — Jackie

Dog wounds

My dog was attacked by another dog, a couple months back. My neighbor came over and put flour in the puncture wounds. Is this a good idea? What can I have on hand if something happens again? Alcohol, triple antibiotic or something else? Can I give the dog aspirin? I called the vet, but they wanted her to come in (can’t afford that) and wouldn’t give me info over the phone.

Tifani Lackey
Grants Pass, Oregon

I’m not very thrilled about the flour thing. Yes, it does stop blood. But it cakes around the wound and could cause an infection. Besides taking the dog to your vet, the best thing would be to clip the hair around the wounds with scissors, very short. Then wash the wounds out with soap and warm water. Rinse, then dry the area. Betadine works very well in wounds of all kinds. They also use it on humans. It doesn’t burn, allows the area to breathe and kills bacteria quite well. Using ointment often delays healing, as the area can’t dry out.

In any animal attack, I like to be SURE that the attacking animal had a current rabies vaccination or was quarantined, AND that my own dog was protected. Rabies is rare, but several cases occur in this country every year. And it’s nothing to fool around with. — Jackie

Containers for gardening

I’m interested in container gardening next year. Is there anything special I should look for in a container? The local Target has some storage bins on sale after Christmas (Sterilite brand and Rubbermaid) – can I use something like that? How many drainage holes should I make in whatever container I use?

Jeff Aylor
Westerville, Ohio

Yes, you can use just about ANY container that will hold soil. The problem with the storage bins is that they will spread out in the middle. You can stop this by making a wooden frame to fit around the top of the bin or running a couple of stout wires through the sides of the bin, anchored to dowels on either side to keep the wires from pulling through the plastic. I’d suggest a 1/2″ hole every eight inches. I haunt the dump for container ideas and have used old rusted out stock tanks, water tanks from hot water heaters, cut in half, buckets with cracks or holes in the bottom, and even an old bathtub.

Friends of ours, Bill and Carolyn, grow fantastic tomatoes and peppers in five gallon buckets. We’re talking about dozens and dozens of plants every year. And I’ve never seen nicer plants. Ever! Good luck! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

This year I get to make three Christmas dinners

Monday, January 5th, 2009

We had our regular Christmas dinner on Christmas, then on Sunday, my oldest son, Bill, his wife, Kelly Jo and my adorable year old grandson, Mason came up for a second Christmas, complete with a dinner, too. David’s snowmobile was down with carburetor problems. So one of Bill’s big presents to him was showing him how to take them off and clean and adjust them. After dinner, they did just that out in our new addition. Now David knows just how to do it himself. And to top it off, the snowmobile started with one, count ’em, ONE pull! Way to go Bill!

 Bill fixing carburetor

And I got to play with Mason. We played ball and horsey rides. Kelly took him for a ride on his new birthday sled, then we went to visit the goats. David’s old pet, Oreo, just loved him and kept trying to get Mason to pet him. What a ham! I mean Oreo, not Mason! Well, maybe Mason, too. When we went inside, he was playing with the newly redone snowmobile seat (my big present). Kelly said “go night night” and he laid down, pretending to sleep. Then up he’d pop. What a game! What a ham! And oh so cute!

 Grandson Mason

My last Christmas dinner is my BIG one, this year. My long-awaited sweetheart arrives for good, in Minnesota, on January 9th. So on Saturday, I’m throwing another big feed that I know he’ll enjoy. But not as much as I’ll enjoy making the meal. It’s all about incentive!

Readers’ Questions:

Flat cookies

I was wondering if you could give me any advice on flat cookies. Over the past year or so, my cookies have come out flat. I have baked for years and have made many different kinds of cookies. My molasses cookies are flat, my chocolate chip cookies are flat,and even the oatmeal cranberry chocolate chip cookies I just made turned out flat. I have tried adding more flour and that doesn’t seem to help. Any thoughts you might have would be welcomed! Thanks for doing what you do! Bless you,

Lisa Seibel
Coburn, Pennsylvania

I’d check my baking soda. It usually doesn’t “age,” but it’s a possibility. Try a new box. More “fat” cookies often have baking powder instead of soda. They also have more flour and another egg. Thinner cookies usually have more butter/margarine, fewer eggs, and less flour. Also, don’t press your cookies down when you put them on the cookie sheet. Just put a walnut sized ball on there and bake. Pressing them down results in thinner cookies. Better luck next time! I’ll bet your skinny cookies taste okay, anyway! — Jackie

Leather patterns

I have been looking everywhere for patterns to sew tanned leather hides. Could you give me some resources to these patterns. This would be greatly appreciated. I would like to make slippers and purses.

Debbie W.
Hillsboro, Wisconsin

Just type leather patterns into your browser; there are dozens of places out there, offering just what you are looking for and probably even more. Wow, what fun! — Jackie

Canning peppers

Would it be ok to can peppers, sweet or hot in plain water? I don’t want them to taste like a pickle as I saute them with onions etc to add to my rice or scrambled eggs. Thank you for reading my letter.

Helen Cavaness
Mendota, Illinois

Yes, you can home can peppers, using water as a liquid. But if you do, you must pressure can them, not water bath process them. When using vinegar, it pickles them, making the naturally low acid peppers into a high acid food. Without the vinegar, they stay low acid and thus must be pressure canned. You will pack them hot into hot jars, add boiling water, leaving 1″ of headspace. Process half pints and pints for 35 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. — Jackie

Slicing homemade bread

My family loves homemade bread but slicing it is a chore in itself! I have searched for a manual bread slicer with a cutting guide but options are limited. How do you slice your homemade bread so that slices are the same size and not thinner at the top and thicker at the bottom?

Janetta Rothmeyer
Kirtland, New Mexico

I turn my loaves of bread on its side. In that way, bread slices much better and I don’t get those thick/thin slices. One of my kids made me a bread slicer in shop, in school. It is a piece of 1″x6″ on the bottom with 1″x6″ sides and a slot cut in both sides, opposite each other. You put the loaf in it, and just push it forward as far as you want your slices to be thick. A serrated knife fits in the slot, neatly cutting perfect slices of bread each time; you choose the thickness. Simple, cheap and it works. But usually I’m too lazy and just turn the loaf on its side. — Jackie

Making new garden beds

I have been reading your columns on line for about 2 years. I have been gardening for better than 15 years, always small gardens. I have been able to get some good crops and can the harvest. I just started some potatoes in a container a couple of years ago. With the state of the economy I am looking to expand my gardens. My question is in regard to a yard where my dog is kept during the day. He has been in there for years. What do I have to do to the soil to make this ready for gardening? After I clear the yard and prepare the soil I am planning on using some raised beds near the garage in addition to other beds in the yard. Please let me know what I need to do to the soil. I can send pictures if you would like to see the yard.

John Sweger
Chesterfield, Virginia

I would be really uncomfortable about using this area (dog potty) for a vegetable garden. This is because dogs can carry intestinal parasites, namely roundworm and hookworm, that can be passed on to humans by ingesting worm eggs from the soil. And it can take up to 10 years for the eggs to die in the soil.

What I think I would do is to spread agricultural lime lightly over the area, then till it in very well. If viable, I’d make long rows of raised beds OVER the tilled area, with a growing bed of at least 12″ deep. In this way, you will not be exposed to the possible contaminated soil while working the beds and harvesting crops.

If you think you must use this area, as is, till it very well, then only plant crops that are well above ground, such as sweet corn or pole beans. When you weed, wear gloves and wash your hands very well after gardening. No root crops! Remember: possible worm eggs. Yuck! — Jackie

Concentrating citrus juice

I just had to pick my all the tangerines from my tree due to an early hard freeze. Now I’m faced with a whole bunch of fruit. I know I can can the segments, but I would also like to concentrate some of the juice. In an earlier article you commented about freezing grape juice then thawing and pouring off the excess water, but I’ve heard that also pours off good vitamins. Do you have any ideas for concentrating citrus juice that doesn’t require a ton of specialized equipment? Thanks for your help. Your articles have helped me bunches in the past.

Linda Reuter
Tucson, Arizona

I’m sure that doing the freezing/thawing concentration does reduce the vitamin content a bit, but I really doubt it does, that much, as more of the solids, where the vitamins are concentrated, stay in the ice. No. I don’t know of another “home” method of concentrating citrus juices. Any readers have any good ideas? — Jackie


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