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Ask Jackie headline

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Jackie Clay

I’m finally canning corn

Friday, September 11th, 2009

After planting our corn three times (count them; THREE), I’m finally getting some corn canned. With a hard freeze two weeks ago, which I fought hand to hand with six sprinklers running for three hours, prior to dawn’s early light (REAL early!), I managed to save the corn. But it’s still slow. I figured I may get a bit to eat, but none to can. So I thought, why not can some of the heirloom Native corns? So when some of my first Quickie bi-color sweet corn finally became ripe, I picked that, and also a bowl full of a mix of Abenaki, Bear Island Chippewa, and Painted Mountain. All of those old “Indian” corns were long, thin cobs with 8 rows of kernels.


I cut corn and got six pints of sweet corn and six half-pints of the mixed Native corns (my sweet corn has 16 rows!) plus we ate some of each for supper. Yes, the Native corns were getting colorful (Will’s fingers are still stained purple from holding the cobs to eat!), but they were kind of tough. It would sure be better than starving, but I know I won’t be eating any of it as table corn any time again soon. On the plus side, we now know, in a decent year, we could get dry corn here to feed our poultry and stock. And the corns are all extremely hardy and pretty too. Of course the colors will be brighter as the corn matures and dries. Right now, they are pretty pale yet. This was an experiment and we had fun sampling. I do know these corns all make great cornmeal, so maybe we’ll have a late fall and we’ll get some mature dry corn to grind. If nothing else, around here we always have fun!

Readers’ Questions:

Homesteading with health issues

…We are ready to move ahead with our dream of buying land and homesteading. We have 14.5 acres on a large creek in the Mat Su Valley picked out.

My husband is 56 years old, 5’9″, and 320 pounds. I’m 49 years old, 5’8″, and 375 pounds. We both have some health issues, but nothing extremely serious.

My question is: before we invest money into land, equipment, etc… do you think it’s possible for us to physically do this? I’ve heard you repeat over and over, about how hard of work it is. I don’t want to sound stupid, but this is our dream and we now have the financial ability to go after it. And I know that you are the one that can answer that for me.

Alaskan Dream
Walla Walla, Washington

If you are truly determined to build a new homestead, you CAN do it. It depends on how much you are happy working. If it is an unpleasant “chore” to get over, it will never work. I totally love looking at what I’ve accomplished at the end of the day or early in the morning the next day. Yes, I work, but I also take breaks when I’m tired. When I was going through chemo and radiation several years ago, I took a LOT of breaks; work ten minutes, sit ten minutes. But the stuff got done and now we’re enjoying the house we built. I could have whined and said I just couldn’t do it; but then we wouldn’t have this great house around us now.

You’ll work hard and I’ll just about guarantee you’ll find less health problems troubling you and you’ll lose weight. But you’ll gain a great new lifestyle. I hope you’ll love it. — Jackie

Charging batteries with a generator

I noticed in one issue of BHM that you stated that when you run your generator you charge up your batteries for your home. How do you do this? Do you just hook a battery charger to your batteries? How many batteries are in your bank and how long does it take to charge your batteries? Also, what can you run on your batteries? How many lights, etc.?

Robert Smith
Stilwell, Oklahoma

We have a charge controller that charges when the generator is on, automatically. It also “controls” how much the batteries are charged so they don’t become over-charged when we run the generator for an extended period of time like when we are using a lot of power tools all day. That’ll fry your expensive batteries! Right now we have four 6 volt golf cart batteries. They will, when decently fresh (ours are more than 3 years old now and are getting “tired” and will soon be replaced), they’ll charge in about four hours.

When our batteries were decently fresh (for the first 2 1/2 years), we could run the house entirely off the batteries at least for 24 hours. This included my desktop computer, David’s TV and video games, several CF lights, and our 12-volt water pump, which pumps water from our basement storage tanks to supply water pressure in the house at all times; i.e. shower, bath, washing, sink, etc.

Our batteries are still halfway good, so we will extend their lives by hooking them to our 12-volt water pump ONLY and hooking our new 6 batteries to the house system. You can’t hook old and new batteries together because the old ones will help kill the new ones. With only the water pump on the old ones, we should get many more months’ worth of power out of our old timers. After all they weren’t “cheap” and we aren’t rich!

I’ll be so glad when we get solar panels hooked to them and a wind generator so we don’t have to use the generator much at all! I DO hate the noise! — Jackie

Saving flower seeds

Here in Alabama one of our favorite annuals to plant are impatiens. This year I saved and dried seed pods, how do I store them?

Liz Mullican
Decatur, Alabama

Rub the dry pods over a paper to remove the seeds. Be sure the seeds are dry. Then carefully pour them into an airtight jar and store in a cool dry place. Just think of the flowers you’ll get next spring! Enjoy them. — Jackie

Canning pumpkin pie filling

I wanted to know if you have a recipe for canning pumpkin pie filling. I wanted something like Libby’s where you just add a few things to make a pie. The Ball Book only has pumpkin chunks.
I’m planning on ordering your new book next week.

Barbara Arsenault
West Grove, Pennsylvania

Sorry, but dense products, such as pureed pumpkin pie filling can run into trouble because the center of the jar may not heat thoroughly enough during processing; it is not longer advised to can it. Instead, now I can the chunks, then when I go to make a pie, I simply press the chunks through a sieve with a wooden spoon. It takes seconds and you’ll love the end product. It may not be Libby’s but it will be better for you and taste better, too! — Jackie

Giving yeast to goats

Recently in another ” farming” publication I came across ideas I had never heard of before so would appreciate your take on it. It says that now in the fall is a good time to give natural yeast in the goats’ rations. It helps keep the rumen in good shape and contributes to the overall health of your animals. Okay, if this is true, what other animals should be getting it and how much and how long and what kind would be “natural yeast”? Later in another article is says “don’t forget to put out free baking soda for your goats. It helps keep the right balance of acidity in the goats rumen.”

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Some folks swear by giving their animals brewers’ yeast as a sort of vitamin for their stock. I have never used it and my goats and cattle have done extremely well. Likewise, giving free choice baking soda, can help when goats receive too much grain in their diets. But, again, I have never done this and my goats’ rumens have always worked quite well without it. I do believe in having a routine fecal check by your veterinarian at least every year or two (depending on any sign of problems, such as thinness, diarrhea, etc.), just to be sure they aren’t harboring parasites. Even a healthy looking animal can be wormy! If there is a parasite problem, your vet will prescribe a wormer for that specific parasite and you will also become aware you need to check more often until your herd has a few negative checks. No need to feed worms instead of goats! But without a fecal examination you can’t say “my goats are worm free.” I’ve heard that from a lot of people because their goats are fat, shiny and sassy. — Jackie

Canning lids and rings

My mom just gave me some boxes of canning stuff. I have two questions, one is there are some Klik-It one piece reusable canning lids. Are these ok to use for canning, in either the water or pressure canning? The second is there are a ton of rings, some are kinds dark spotty, but not rusty, how do I tell which ones are ok to use for canning?

Los Alamos, New Mexico

I, personally, won’t use Klik-It lids on anything but jams, jellies and other preserves; they really aren’t approved for canning but when used to cover jams and jellies, a failed seal won’t kill you.

A ring is okay to use for canning as long as it is structurally sound and will hold a lid down securely on the jar during processing. The rings are removed after the jars are cooled and ready for storage. The reason for this is that in a damp storage area, as some basements are, the rings hold moisture against the lid and this causes rust. The rust will quickly worsen and sooner or later, the lid will rust through. Removing the rings after the jars have cooled from processing will lengthen the storage life of the jars by quite awhile. The rings do nothing to hold the jar seals, once they have cooled and are sealed. — Jackie

Pantry moths

I have been noticing for the first time in all my years in the kitchen these small moths that seem to be everywhere and especially I have found them dead in bagged foods in pantry. Just what are these, what causes them, and what can I do to get rid of them?

Barb Olson
Morristown, Tennessee

These are pantry moths, one of the most frustrating pests to invade the house. They get into minute openings in any grain or cereal based stored food, propagate, and do it all over again. To get rid of them, examine each and every bag, box, and tin of dry food in your kitchen and pantry. Look for “webs,” “bugs” (larvae), or dead moths in the foods. When in doubt, toss it out. REALLY out, as in out of the house, not just in the trash. Then clean out your shelves and wipe them down with plain warm, soapy water. Also check pet food, such as dry dog and cat food and bird food. Invest in pantry moth traps. These are often available in health food stores or in gardening/kitchen catalogs. Pinetree Garden Seeds and Gardens Alive! carry them. They are cheap and really work. You’ll have to watch it for quite awhile, so you don’t get a re-infestation.

When you buy flour, cornmeal, etc., watch for any “leaking” bags. These are open enough for pantry moths to gain entrance and is probably how you got yours. Some people in problem areas routinely freeze any new flour or cornmeal for a few days, just to be sure they have NO meal moth eggs possibly left viable to hatch later.

Be sure to store all your grains/cereals, etc. in airtight containers; anything left in the box or bag is a possible target for infestation. The good news is that once you get rid of them and become aware of them, you probably won’t have this trouble again. — Jackie

White mold on canned tomatoes

I jarred more than 250 jars of NJ tomatoes. After sitting in my (kind of hot) garage, upside down, I went to transfer them to my basement for the fall/winter. We notice there is white mold on the tomatoes (looking at it upside down. Of course, when we open a jar and pour it out, the substance is mixed in and we cannot see it anymore. what is it, how did it happen, what should we do with all these jars?

Jodi Drennan
Jersey City, New Jersey

Why were the jars sitting in your garage upside down? And how did you process them? It sounds like the method you used failed you. I never turn my jars of fruits, vegetables, or meats upside down; it’s asking the seals to fail. If, indeed, the substance on the tops of the jars IS mold, you have no choice but to throw the tomatoes away, wash the jars, and do it over again, using a good method. By doing that, you won’t have failures to deal with. I’m so very sorry you went to all that work and are now disappointed! — Jackie

Meat grinders

I’ve been experimenting some with homemade sausage. So far it’s delicious! I need to find an inexpensive grinder. I’ve used a small food processor but its not doing the job as well or as efficiently as I like. I wondered if you have any experience with the old manual non-electric meat grinders and if they are terribly hard to use, also if they grind nicely enough for sausage. I notice they are much less pricey.

Mary Thompson
Catawba, South Carolina

I have several manual, non-electric meat grinders. Two are smaller “kitchen” models, meant to grind a little roast beef for hash, some raisins for conserve, etc. While they certainly will grind meat, I have a larger one meant for heavy duty grinding, as when we grind meat from a deer or larger big game animal. Even the smaller ones will certainly grind enough meat for sausage. No, it isn’t hard at all. But if you want a larger grinder, and don’t want to spend much, check out the Northern Tool catalog; they have several, as well as a lot of meat handling equipment. — Jackie

Pole beans

We’re trying to get our garden organized so it’ll be ready for the spring. We were wondering if you could suggest a good variety of pole bean. The ones we grew this year are great but they are not pole beans. Also, do you have any recipes for corn flour (masa harina) other than tortillas?

Tracy & Bill
Kenmore, New York

One of the best old-timers is the tried and true Kentucky Wonder, which is a pole bean. It has true bean flavor and is very large and productive. Another of my favorites is Cherokee Trail of Tears. To my taste, this is the best tasting pole bean going. When “green” it is purple, but the purple changes to green on blanching, canning, or steaming. This bean was so valued by the Cherokee people that many women sewed the seeds of this bean into the hems of their skirts prior to making the long trek on the Trail of Tears.

One of the best uses for masa harina is for tamales. You will just mix up the masa a little “wetter” than if you were making tortillas, pat a rectangular shaped dough out on a dampened dry corn husk about 1/8″ thick, then spoon on a little tamale filling, gently roll it up, tie the ends then stand them up and steam until done. You’ll find lots of tamale recipes online or in cookbooks. (If you can’t find a good one, let me know.) I even can mine up; see prior blog for more information. — Jackie

Expiration dates of canned food

Regarding canned food that is purchased at the grocery store, how much faith do you put in the printed expiration dates? Is it dependent on the type of food? Should anything past the expiration date be automatically thrown away?

Tracy & Bill
Kenmore, New York

Regarding expiration dates on store bought canned foods; I put no faith in them whatsoever. The canned food is good nearly to infinity if properly stored (cool, dry location). I feel it’s a ploy to get folks to throw away perfectly good food and BUY more; i.e. more profits for them! Hogwash.

Of course, fresh foods, such as dairy products, meats, poultry, etc. will eventually spoil if kept over so many days, for them the freshness date IS truly relevant. — Jackie

2 Responses to “I’m finally canning corn”

  1. Ginger Says:

    Just got Jackie’s book, thanks so much! It is a wonderful resource, very comparable to Carla Emery’s Encylapedia(sp) of Country Living, and that is SAYING a huge compliment! Altho Carla did tell us how to give birth by ourselves, happy to say don’t need that info these days! lol!
    Long time subscriber and given many subscriptions for others to enjoy!

  2. Jackie Chivleatto Says:

    I just wanted you to know that I received your new book in the mail yesterday and I have really been enjoying it! I was especially excited to see your recipe for corn relish. I have been searching for a recipe that was not tomato-based. I will have fresh corn on Tuesday so I can’t wait to get started! My two elderly aunts sent me some money for my birthday and I ordered your book the very same day. What a wonderful birthday gift! Thank you so much.

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