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Jackie Clay

I’ve been canning…and shooting photos for the new book

Monday, March 30th, 2009

While all the major writing has been done on the new Backwoods Home book on growing and canning your own food, I still had two photo shoots to do, showing the steps of both canning using the boiling water bath method and a pressure canner. So yesterday I canned up a batch of Pink Lady apples that Will bought me and today it was a nice big ham. And we got to eat a pie made from those great apples afterward, along with a ham dinner tonight. Gee how we suffer!!

The book was fun to write, but I’m honestly glad I’m done with my part. Sort of like being on deadline! Whew! Now I can get back to doing what I was writing about and helping Will on the addition.


Readers’ Questions:

Making soap

I made soap recently and used Backwoods Home Magazine issue #84 the article by Grace Brockway titled “The joys of making soap” and used her basic lard soap recipe. This was my first time making soap and it didn’t set up. I let it set about 3 days and it was really runny and felt a little oily to the touch. I then went to the first anthology (the first two years) and found an article about soap making. It said to pour the soap back into my bath canner with water and heated it up until it gets real creamy looking. Then to poured it out into the mold again. And that is what I did. That time it did set up. But it is really soft even after two weeks or so. I can still cut it with a knife and on the inside it is real sticky. After it has been exposed to air it will form a soft shell so it is not sticky, but it is still soft. Is there something that I did wrong or could do differently?

Jarad Brinkerhoff
Glendale, Utah

Often when we are learning a new skill, we don’t get it right the first time. It takes practice. Soap is no exception. The trick is knowing when to pour the soap out into the mold. If you pour too soon, it will stay soft, like yours did; too long and it gets hard and brittle. You might reclaim the soap by once again heating it with minimal water, even if you have to chop or grate it. Then whip the tar out of it with a wooden spoon, while it heats. Pour it our into fresh molds and put them in a warmish place to set. (Not in a cold basement; cold sometimes prevents soap from setting up.)

I’m sure your next attempt will be less frustrating. — Jackie

Good laying chickens

Could you please tell me what type of chicken is a really good layer and setter I have Dominique and Buff Orpingtons. But they are to fat, sassy and busy to set, they are pets to me I love and enjoy them so much, but would like to have some that are good setters. Any suggestions?

Penney Schmitzerle
Leitchfield, Kentucky

Your chickens should be good setters, as the breeds are known for that. I’ve had Buff Orpington hens that would hatch a golf ball. How old are your hens? Young hens often don’t get the hang of sitting on eggs; it takes a little age. You can also try any of the Cochins; they are really good mamas. Good hatching! — Jackie

Rinsing grain and woodstove baking

You said not to buy wheat (or corn) from the feed store for food purposes because it is not cleaned well. Well, would it work to wash the grain, dry it well, and then use it?

I have a wood stove but not a wood cook stove–so no oven (darn). I am trying to figure out how to bake (like bread or cakes) on it. I have tried heating the pressure canner (dry) on it and putting the bread pans inside but that did not work very well. I have tried putting the bread pans on a rack on the stove covered by an inverted roasting pan but that did not work very well. Got any more ideas I could try?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

I’m sure you could rinse your grain to rid it of bug parts, dust, etc. Just be sure it is very dry, inside and out (don’t soak it!) before storage, as it will mold if it is not.

Pick up a camping oven. They are basically a tin or aluminum box that you sit on top of your stove, with a rack in it to elevate your baking off the stove top’s heat. They work pretty well, but don’t bake a large loaf of bread. Usually you do rolls, biscuits, or small loaves in them. — Jackie

Floor insulation

We are in the process of adding an addition onto our house for our handicap daughter and our master bedroom. What do you consider to be the best way to insulate the floor for the addition will be on concrete pillars and have a crawl space of about 10 inches. The builder wants to use regular insulation (the pink stuff) but I am concerned about moisture and little critters looking for a place to

Michelle Chapin
Fresno, Ohio

What we did when we built our addition with a crawl space was to tack strips of 1″x2″ along the bottom sides of the floor joists and laying OSB down on them, sealing off the access to the fiberglass insulation to the “critters” who love it for nests. Because your crawl space is so low, you might consider using treated plywood in place of OSB because of the possible moisture issue. The fiberglass is added above the panels. — Jackie

Storing honey

I’ve been given a plastic jar of honey — perhaps 3/4 of a gallon — that my father harvested 40 years ago. I know honey lasts forever, but I’ve also heard that botulism grows on honey. I hate to process it by boiling it, but would prefer that to creating a health risk. How can I make sure my family is safe in eating it?

Roman and Kelly Balaban
Wilmington, California

I have no information regarding ADULTS or older children getting botulism from eating honey. The risk is for infants under the age of 12 months of age. If you have no infants in your family, I, personally, wouldn’t worry. I have some of my own honey that is over 15 years old and I am still using it. It tastes fine and we are all alive. — Jackie

Canning lemon juice

I was hoping you might be able to help me. I just received three big bags of lemons and was hoping you might have some ideas on how to preserve them. I read in your archives how to dry them (which I will try), but would also like to make and can them as lemonade? Is this

Tami Wagner
Manning, Oregon

Glad to hear you scored on the lemons. You can juice them and can the lemon juice but I’m not so sure about the lemonade as you’re adding a lot of water which dilutes the acid in the lemonade. Why not juice the lemons, then can up the juice; it only takes a minute to make your fresh lemonade by adding the juice to water and then adding sugar to taste. To can the juice, heat the strained juice to 165 degrees; do not boil. Then ladle it into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Process the pints or quarts for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. (If you live at an altitude over 1,000′, consult your canning manual for directions on changing your processing time to suit your altitude, if necessary.) Enjoy your bounty! — Jackie

6 Responses to “I’ve been canning…and shooting photos for the new book”

  1. Matt Says:


    Consider using a dutch oven to bake in. I’m refering to the haeavy cast-iron pots with legs and a lid with an edge around it. You should be able to set it on top or your wood stove and place a few coals on the top to get it to bake evenly. Using it inside on top of your wood stove is kind of risky, build a small fire outside and use it there. It is pretty easy to learn if you are willing to put a little time in it. It is possible to make cakes, biscuits, breads and even exceptional cobbler in a dutch oven.

    If a dutch oven isn’t possible, you might have success with some recipes that call for steaming bread. I have succesfully cooked corn bread in a rice cooker (all I had to cook in at the time). I put the prepared batter in a ramekin, put it in the steamer, added water about half way up the ramekin and turned it on. It worked well, had the consistency of baked corn-bread and was moist. There are old yankee recipes for steamed brown-bread that I grew up on which are to die for.

    Good Luck,

  2. Kate Montgomery Says:

    re – soap making…does take some tries to get an understanding of the look and feel…but it will eventually dry (use cake racks) and then I grate (three times) and finally mold them, try olive oil and adding essential oil on the final milling…two good sized batches last for a year or more!

  3. Elly Phillips Says:

    This is so great, Jackie! I can’t wait to get your new book. I love hot water bath canning but haven’t dared to try pressure canning. With your book in hand, I will! And as a fellow author, I know what a great feeling it is to send everything off to the publisher and get back to living. Congratulations!!!

  4. Karin Says:

    I’m a soapmaker and the recipe from issue #84 has some issues, that may be why their were problems with the soap batch. Firstly, the oils should be weighed rather than measured by volume since various oils have different weights (and even the same oils may have variations from batch to batch). Have a pair of googles or safety glasses handy when handling the lye–if it gets in your eyes it CAN BLIND you. NEVER NEVER NEVER add water to lye!!!! the chance of a lye bead or granule jumping around and ending up where you don’t want them is way higher and dangerous! Always add the lye to the water. Add to all of this, Red Devil lye was discontinued several years ago (fallout from the illegal methamphetamine industry that uses lye and made the Red Devil name synonymous with meth making) and most products available from the store are not 100% lye. Roebic has one that is pure, but is not available everywhere. I get mine online from AAA Chemical, but many smaller suppliers also carry it along with other needed items for soaping.

    Sounds like not only did it not come to trace but it is possibly lye heavy or water heavy as well. To tell if your soap bar is lye heavy (excess lye that wasn’t used up in turning the oil into soap-aka “saponification”) do the “zap” test–barely touch your tongue to the soap, if it gives a zap or tingle like a battery does their is too much lye. It can be fixed but that’s a whole ‘nother project. If it’s water heavy then it will dry some but not enough for a hard bar. Stick blenders are the tool of choice for blending the soap to trace, they shorten the hour to about 15 minutes or less depending on oils and additives. Lard also makes a softer soap, with very little cleansing ability. Grace’s second recipe uses coconut oil (available in many grocery stores) which gives cleansing properties to soap and is used in most soap recipes.

    Good places for someone to start soaping are Miller Soap ( ) Teach Soap ( ) and for playing with recipes and checking to see if a recipe you find will work– Soap Calc ( ) . If you get serious about soaping (it’s a lot of fun and can easily become addicting) there are tons of great groups that will help you out, especially Yahoo’s Southern Soapers.

  5. Jenny Pipes Says:

    I am so excited…can’t wait for your new book. I love the Starting over one. I had all the magazines and most of the anthologies, but so nice to have all your articles in that series in one book.
    You are such a hero to me. I don’t say that easily. I love that you are real and I strive to be more like you. Thanks for all the inspiration. My little farmette is small, but we are getting there.

  6. Dinah Jo Brosius Says:

    I am excited to check out the new book! I am hoping for a tid bit of something new too. I’ve been canning and gardening for 30 years but find there is always something new to try; a new recepe, a quicker or more efficient preperation trick, or even a new plant to try.
    I did get som Hopi Pale Gray seed and I’m excited to try it. I plan to share the seed I’ve got with family and friends too so they can try it and save their own seed. Keep up the good work Jackie. We do appreciate your efforts.
    Dinah Jo

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