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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for June, 2010

Jackie Clay

Just so you don’t think everything works out well for us

Monday, June 28th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Will went with our carpenter friend, Tom, to look at an old bulldozer that Tom was interested in buying — a “fixer upper.” Well, Tom bought the bulldozer and Will bought an old dump truck cheap that was also a “fixer upper.” It hadn’t run in six years, it had a gas tank that gave me the shivers after one peek inside, and it had small trees growing in the dirt in the box. Will figured he could get it going as a 1963 truck is SO much easier to work on than a new one. Well, he was right (after we caught the carburetor on fire with a backfire!), and the truck started! The next day, Will and our friend, Jim, drove over to drive it home (15 miles or so). I said a few prayers, remembering the fire, and went to work weeding. With all the rain, our garden weeds are HORRIBLE this year. After about an hour I was shocked to hear a rumbling noise, and a rusty orange dump truck crested the hill. It got home. To make a long story short, Will cleaned the carburetor in carb dip, put a kit in it, and it runs. So he went off to our gravel, piled high from the spring basin project. The same rain that made all those weeds grow also made the driveway muddy. And that big dump truck, piled high with gravel, bogged down in the mud, BUT GOOD. Even our tractor wouldn’t pull it out. Old Yeller was laid up, getting its gas tank and new hood painted, so we had to call our neighbor. David took off on the four wheeler, because the truck was stuck in the middle of the driveway. In a few minutes, Jerry’s big blue four wheel drive tractor was hooking up and David hauled the orange truck out of the mud. I’m telling this, so you don’t think everything always runs smoothly for us. We have those yucky, crabby days, too. It’s the real world here in the backwoods.

Readers’ Questions:

Floating green beans

I have been lucky and have had a few green beans to can so far this year. I have been following the instructions in your canning book, and am confident they are tasty, but the green beans are floating to the top, with water at bottom, they are just not as pretty as some I have seen. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Cindy Adams
Florence, Alabama

Floating vegetables are usually ones that have been raw packed. They are perfectly good, but just float. If you would rather have non-floating beans, try heating them to boiling in water, then packing the hot beans and boiling water together in your hot jars. That should do the trick. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Back from the Energy Fair and back to work!

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

It finally quit raining, so when we got back from the Energy Fair and got over “jet lag,” we started in on weeding our garden (weeds grow very well in rainy weather!!!!) and putting the log siding on our addition. To make it match the logs, we used 10″ siding, with a 3″ profile, so you can’t tell it from the logs. Will also cut and fit upright logs for the corners, which match the one in the entryway and on down the front porch-to-be sometime in the future. We tacked on an extra inch of foamboard insulation on the outside of the OSB, to keep the cold Minnesota winters outside and us nice and toasty inside. It was tricky grinding the log ends to meet the upright log corners, but after a few tries, each piece of siding fit snugly into place. Will finished the long side wall tonight and I’ll begin staining in a day or two.

TOMORROW Ilene and Sam Duffy are driving up for a visit to our homestead, and we’re real excited. The staining will wait a day!

Jackie Clay

We DID get to attend the Energy Fair, and had a ball!

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

We were invited to go by our longtime friend, Tom Richardson, who is the carpenter who helped us build our house while I took care of my cancer along with Mom and Dad, five years ago. But Mom is failing badly and I was not sure if Will and I could go. But at the last minute, just about, we decided everything was just kind of “on hold”, so we took off with Tom, planning on driving down on Friday afternoon and leaving for home the next afternoon.

We totally enjoyed the drive through pretty wooded hills, Amish farms, and plenty of lakes and rivers. And we really had fun the next day, meeting Ilene, Jake, and Sam Duffy, who I talked to through the years but never met, face to face. Let me tell you, they’re all wonderful. I met a lot of folks, signed enough books to give me writer’s cramp, and totally enjoyed the day. Our Backwoods Home “family” of readers and subscribers is really special. Unless something strange happens, we’ll definitely plan on being at the Energy Fair next year for a couple of days….and give readers a lot more notice!

Readers’ Questions:

Wilting tomato plants

We planted 86 tomato plants this year. Better Boy and Plum. They are all doing really well except, all of a sudden, we have 3 Better Boy that look like they are wilting. Can you tell me what may be causing this and how to fix the problem?

Teresa Roh
New Freedom, Pennsylvania

The most common cause of wilting tomato plants is lack of sufficient water. In garden cases, sometimes pockets of sandy soil will cause wilting in a few tomatoes because the water that sustains the rest has quickly soaked down below the root level of certain plants. Check that one out by watering the wilting tomatoes in the evening, very well, and see if they perk up by morning. If not, pull out the worst plant to “autopsy.” First, rinse the plant off well in a bucket of water. Look at the roots and see if there are any strange knots or “bumps” on them. If so, this could be root knot nematodes. These microscopic “worms” infest tomato roots, weakening and making the tomato prone to other infections such as Verticillum wilt or Fusarium wilt.

While there are preventative measures, there are no real “cures” for any of these diseases. However, if you can figure out what the problem is, you may be able to go ahead and treat the soil with beneficial nematodes, as sold by many companies, such as GardensAlive! to protect the surviving tomatoes (root knot nematodes). If there is disease in your tomatoes, pull the affected ones and burn them. DO NOT put them in your compost pile or you may spread the disease. Google these diseases for much more information than I can give you here. It is also possible that your tomatoes suffer from attack from a stem borer. Carefully examine the lower stem of the affected tomatoes for a small hole. Gently cut into the stem and extract the borer or inject some Bt (often sold as Dipel or Thuricide) into the hole to kill the borer. Tomatoes often recover from this pest.

Another thought: Are these quite young plants? If so, do you have cutworms in your garden? These are greyish, fat “worms” that often curl into a circle when disturbed. They cut or otherwise damage the young plant’s stem, just at ground level if the stem is not protected by a collar of cardboard, stiff paper or other material, used to keep the worm away until the plant is too tough to be chewed on.

You might take an affected plant in to your county extension office, usually located in the county courthouse, for examination. An “in person” examination might result in a better diagnosis.
Good luck and tons of tomatoes! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We finally finished our new pasture fence

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Two days ago, we finished our new pasture fence and moved our very large steers from the goat pasture over to their new summer home. I was a little nervous, as cattle sometimes get overjoyed with freedom and will buck and run. I hoped Will, David, and I could herd them. Will walked ahead of “his” boys with a bucket of grain, which they totally ignored, in favor of the wonderful green grass all around, but luckily, they herded slowly and very well down the lane, across the new seeding, and through the gate to their pasture. They love it and there’s sure plenty for them to eat. Whew! Another job well done!

Readers’ Questions:


Do you have a recipe for scrapple and can it be canned?

Mildred I. King
Bandera, Texas

Prepare a hog’s head, as if you were making headcheese, cleaning it well, scald it, skin it if necessary, split it in half. Remove the eyes, nasal passages, bones, etc. Discard the fatty jowl. Slice the thicker meat so it will cook quicker. Put the meat in your large kettle and add water, covering the meat. Simmer until the meat is falling from the bones. Let the kettle cool and skim all the fat from the liquid. Remove meat from the broth and let cool enough to handle. Pick the meat from the bones. Put the meat through a meat grinder. Depending on your preference, add either oatmeal or cornmeal (or a combination of both) to the broth to make a thick mush. Add the meat and mix well. (You want about 1 pound dry cornmeal/oatmeal to 3 pints broth and 4 quarts of chopped meat.) Season to taste. You may like black pepper, sage, onions, and mace. Mix very well and put into a covered roasting pan and put into the oven to cook for 1/2 hour at 250 degrees. Pour into chilled cake pans and let cool. You can cut it into meal-sized pieces when cool and freeze it for later use. No, it cannot be canned as it is too dense a product and the scrapple may not heat thoroughly to the center during processing for safe canning. — Jackie

Canning pasta

I just want to know if it is possible to home can cooked pasta, with or without sauce. I can my own sauce but want to know if pasta can be canned. If so, it would sure save water in a water shortage situation. I can’t find any recipe except for sauce. If a food processing company can make canned pasta, can it be done at home?

Sharon Kiesel
Adrian, Missouri

I’m sure it can, Sharon. In fact, I can chicken and noodles all the time. Macaroni and spaghetti also can up fine in sauce. Just don’t add too much pasta or you’ll get too dense a product that may possibly not heat thoroughly during processing. Just “cook” your pasta enough to get it mixed into the sauce and “limp”; macaroni doesn’t need cooking, as it will cook during canning. — Jackie

Canning pepperoni

I found some pepperoni that is 3″ across and I can put it in wide mouth 1/2 pint jars for canning. There is NO room left in the jar, except for the 1/2″ at the top. Will that be a problem?

Also, how do I keep these jars from “floating” in the pressure canner? They won’t be heavy enough to stay put. I have thought of using my jar racks (I have 2) from my boiling water bath canner to help corral them in the pressure canner. Could I “stack” them in the canner?  I have a round cookie rack I can separate the canning racks with. HELP here, any thoughts?

I have one canning lid that was left in water too long….it got a rusted place on the inside (white part) of the lid…can I re-heat it and use it? Or will the rust affect what I have canned in the jar?

J from Missouri

No, I don’t think so; as the pepperoni heats, the fat in it melts and the meat shrinks, so all of a sudden you have plenty of room for heat to penetrate. After all, half-pint jars are NOT very large!
I’ve never had pepperoni float, but if your canner needs more water than mine, or the rack lets the water float the jars, simply put a rack of some kind over the rack (muffin tin, cake pan, anything to raise the jars a bit). I do think your pepperoni will weigh enough to keep the jars down. Remember to leave 1″ of headspace at the top of the jars.

For your rusted lid, I think I’d wash it, scrub the rust off, then use it to seal a jar of dry or dehydrated food; moisture in canned food might cause the rust to get bad inside your jar. — Jackie

Dry beans

How “old” do you consider dry beans as being too old? I have some that have been vacuum packed for a couple of years.

Betty Anderson
Berryville, Arkansas

Well, I am canning dry pintos and kidney beans that are 15 years old, and they are turning out very well. And they were just stored in tins and gallon glass jars. Beans are really great! In fact, I’ve eaten some beans that were carbon dated back 1,500 years that were from an old Indian ruin, in New Mexico, sealed in a pottery jar with a wooden lid and pine pitch. They tasted fine, although we didn’t eat many of them, in order to save seed! — Jackie

Prefab fiberglass root cellar

Read an old article on line…regarding a prefab fiberglass root cellar made by the Homestead Company in Missouri. It seems you dig a small hole put the unit in and cover with dirt. Our land is mostly ledge and we thought we could dig down a little and the cover the unit with dirt. The problem is have been unable to locate the company or find a comparable item. Any suggestions.

Brad Barrie
Strong, Maine

Some folks have used large plastic septic tanks, with a little “retrofitting” for an entrance door. You can also use a large concrete septic tank, partially above ground, as you talk about. Another option, although more expensive, is a prefab emergency shelter. Of course, do it yourselfers can use block and cement and make their own root cellar, insulated with above-ground dirt. — Jackie


Two questions about rhubarb:
1. Can rhubarb that has “gone to seed” be eaten, or is it too late in the season?
2. This past spring the rhubarb in my garden came up and was doing well. The weather turned cold and the rhubarb froze. I was told that I can’t use the rhubarb because the oxalic acid in the leaves has gone into the stalk so now the stalks are now poisonous. Do you know anything about this?

Lone Rock, Wisconsin

If the stalks are firm and healthy looking, they didn’t freeze enough to do them damage. No, they aren’t poisonous. And you can use rhubarb after it has sent up seed stalks. First, pull the seed stalks. Then use the stalks that are smaller, as the large ones could be getting tougher, but usually aren’t so tough that you can’t can them. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We may be in northern Minnesota, but we’ve already got tomatoes on the vine!

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Okay, okay, so the plants are in containers. I cannot tell a lie. When it was time to transplant the tomatoes and peppers this spring I planted a dozen in large pots. So while the ones out in the garden are just starting to think about blooming, the potted plants already have tomatoes and peppers set on them! It is so exciting for us to see those stocky plants with baby fruit hanging happily from the vines. Garden planting continues; I’ve got more rutabagas, sweet corn, green beans, Swiss chard, all the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, dill, cucumbers, melons, and kale in the ground now. Tomorrow, God willing, I’ll be starting in on potatoes. As our potatoes kept so very well, it’ll actually be fun picking out the ones to set out. I’ll be sorting out the different varieties, cutting those that are large potatoes, being sure there are at least two eyes per set, then putting them in a shallow box in the greenhouse for a few days to help the sprouts develop color and get sturdier from the sun. This treatment does take a few days, but those potato sets seem to jump up and do so well.

I just love spring, but oh how busy we are!

Readers’ Questions:

Garden flooded

First time garden… it flooded what do I do? HELP! flooded and in fear!

Stephanie Kresin
Port Huron, Michigan

Don’t be fearful; plant again. And again, if necessary. Last year we had a real crappy spring, and I had to plant our potatoes and corn several times. In fact, our potatoes finally got planted for good on JULY 1st!!! And guess what? We ended up with 550 pounds worth of great ones! Just plant varieties that are quick producers like 65-day corn, 55-day beans, etc. You’ve still got a lot of time; we made it last year and you can this year. Whatever you do, DON’T give up! — Jackie

Freezing strawberries

My strawberries (June bearing) are coming in and I was wondering if I should wash them before freezing to get enough for jam or put in freezer without washing.

Catherine Miller
Livonia, Michigan

Rinse your strawberries to rid them of dirt and any debris. After you freeze them, it’ll be harder to rinse them off before making your jam, as they’ll start to “mush up” as they thaw and the dirt will cling to them. — Jackie

Crisp pickles

I have recently started to can and am really enjoying it. I have a question about the use of a crisper in pickles. I made a batch of kosher dills. I wanted to make sure they were crisp so I packed them in ice before canning and also used a crisper powder when packing them into the jars. The pickles came out great but with a little after taste of some sort. Its not bad but I think I might have put to much of the crisper in. Any idea how to make this better.

Colgan Wilson
Hampton, Virginia

The crisper powder you used was probably alum. It has an astringent, bitter taste and you might notice it in your pickles if you did use too much. What you could do is when you open a new jar of pickles, pour off the old vinegar brine and fill the jar with new brine, with a little dill added (fresh or dill seed). Then let the pickles sit in the fridge a day or so. I think this will lessen the alum flavor. — Jackie

Bread loaves splitting

I have been using a sourdough bread starter which I made using a recent recipe in Backwoods Home. The bread is excellent, but I have problems with the loaves splitting along the edge of the bread pan on one side only when they bake. I follow the directions, let it rise properly before baking etc. It almost looks like it explodes apart on one side while it bakes. What causes this to happen?

Donna Clements
Hoquiam, Washington

It may be your oven. Try turning the loaves halfway around about halfway through baking and see if that helps. Some ovens have a hot spot. My wood range does and I have to rotate nearly all my baking. — Jackie

Burying deer guts

Last November, I buried a pile of deer guts in my garden (I had to; long story). The pile was packed really tightly and covered with cinder blocks to keep dogs from rooting in it. This May, I took a shovelful of soil from the top of the pile and discovered that it smells kind of like…sewage? Almost compost? It doesn’t smell good, at any rate. What should I do? Aerate the area? I’m really scared about what I might find down there. It seems like the kind of location that zombies come from.

Also, what do I do with all of the golf ball-sized rocks I pick out of the garden? They’re big enough to get caught in a rake and big enough to make a carrot grow sideways. Can I frame the garden with them, or will I unwittingly make a home for chipmunks or other critters? Any other suggestions? Any reader suggestions? (We grow lots of rocks in New England.)

Kristina Dickinson
Montague, Massachusetts

It’s really not a great idea to bury any meat by-product in your garden, as it takes a LONG time to rot away. Guts don’t make “compost,” they simply rot away and that’s not nice. I would NOT work up the area, but keep it under cover and leave it alone this summer. In the fall, take another “peek”/ “sniff” and see how things are coming. When it finally stops smelling bad, you’re over the worst. It should be okay to till lightly next spring. Of course, DON’T plant root crops over THE SPOT. (Zombies just may be lurking down there!!!)

As for the rocks — we haul most of ours to a low spot in our driveway, dump ’em in, and pile dirt over them. We, too, are “blessed” with tons of rocks. But after 5 years now, there aren’t so many. You have to walk a few steps to pick one up now. Before, you could pick a wheelbarrow load from one spot! Lining the garden or beds with small rocks isn’t a great idea. What happens is that you’ll end up with lots of weeds between the rocks that are hard to get rid of. Big rocks, with a layer of cardboard or plastic under them, are great — no weeds. — Jackie

Canning tomato soup

Comment on tomato soup, April issue.

Here is a recipe that I use. I just canned it and so far it looks good. Sealed good.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 carrots, chopped or grated fine
1 large onion chopped fine
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups canned milk
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to garnish

Cook carrots onions and garlic in olive oil until softened, then puree in a blender. may need to add a little liquid to it. Puree tomatoes in blender and add all to a large stock pot. Bring to a simmer. Put into jars and hot water bath pints 50 minutes. When ready to eat garnish with Parmesan cheese. First time I have canned this but we eat this soup a lot. It is one of our favorites.

Basic recipe came from the prudent

Rose Cafin
Robinson, Illinois

It does sound good, however I am a little concerned about using a boiling water bath canner to can a recipe that not only contains meat broth but also carrots. I’d feel happier about it if it were pressure canned, not knowing for sure if the acidity from the tomatoes would cover the low acid foods in the recipe. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It’s amazing what a little manure will do!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

A year ago, my friend, Jeri, gave me two rhubarb roots. They started nicely, but did not get very large during the summer. I hauled a trailer load of rotted manure down to the garden and put a foot of it over and around each plant after they had frozen and gone dormant for winter. This spring, they bolted out of the ground and shot upward. As you can see, the leaves are gigantic and the stalks are huge. Two stalks, cut up, fill a quart jar! Wow. I’m so happy with those plants. Now we have five rhubarb plants and have tons for rhubarb pies, cakes, canned sauce, and rhubarb conserve. I just love this quick-to-get-productive plant.

Readers’ Questions:

Mold in root cellar

We have a 40 foot container we insulated with R 40 and buried and so far it stays cool in the summer and does not freeze in the winter. The other day I went in to put some stuff away and found some fuzzy mold growing on several canning jars. The jars are still sealed tight.There are no leaks in the container; it appears to be dry. My husband thinks it because I did not rinse the jars after they cooled and it’s stuff left on the outside of the jar. He is also the one who wants to clean the mold off and use the food, not me. I have canned for years and have never had this happen. So what’s your best guess? Some of the same batch of jars that are in boxes not out on a shelf are fine.

Sandy Robinson
Pioche, Nevada

I’d tend to agree with your husband; the mold probably formed where something boiled out of jars and went unnoticed before storage. If the jars are sealed and the food looks and smells okay, I would wash the mold off and use the food. — Jackie

Trouble growing a garden

I live on a lot in a subdivision in North Alabama, so I have tried to expand my garden space by making raised beds. I am having all kinds of failures. I put spinach, onions and carrots in one and they just don’t seem to be producing any fruit. I finally pulled the spinach up; they went to seed before they got large enough to eat. The onion’s stalks seem to be growing but the bulb is not much bigger than when I planted it. I thinned a carrot the other day and it appeared to be no carrot formed at the root. I also put pole lima beans in two beds and they are turning yellow and some rust. The plants seem to be healthy other than that, however they have not grown much lately. We have a little garden spot and have a few summer squash starting to come. I was so excited thinking I may have squash by the end of the week, but they have started molding and rottening on the ends. I probably have thrown a dozen away. I also had to throw a zucchini away. It was just rottening, no mold.

Another subject is my cast iron skillet. It has started peeling black stuff off it when I cook, any suggestions in how to solve this problem?

Cindy Adams
Florence, Alabama

Spinach is a cold-lover and it probably got too warm for it to thrive. It also doesn’t like to be crowded, so always be sure to thin your spinach as it grows. I’d have patience with your carrots and onions; they’ll probably come along with thinning and watering.

The usual reason for summer squash for getting black ends is lack of water, causing blossom end rot. Again, water faithfully and pick any affected fruit and throw them away. You’ll probably have luck a little later on in the season. Don’t give up!

If your cast iron pans are flaking, your pans probably need a good cleaning and re-seasoning. I take mine outside when I have a fire going in our fire pit and “roast” them on both sides until all the “gunk” has been burned off. Then wash them well, scouring off any soot and debris. Rinse and dry. Then put some grease or oil in the pan and rub it around. Put that in your very slow oven for several hours. I do mine in my wood burning kitchen range’s oven with the door open. Take the pan out and rub it well with an old cotton cloth. The first time you use it again, use it to fry something easy — hamburgers, pork chops, etc. Use plenty of oil to ensure the food doesn’t stick. You should then be good to go. — Jackie

Dehydrating onions

Can you dehydrate Vidalia onions? And can they be used in canning relish etc.? Thank you so much. My pantry is expanding because of what I have learned from your articles.

Robin Putman
Coolville, Ohio

Yes, you can use Vidalia onions in pickles, relish, and for dehydrating. I do this with other sweet onions, as they don’t keep very long in storage. I’m tickled that your pantry is getting fat! Isn’t it a great feeling to look at all those jars? — Jackie

Hens eating eggs

What’s making my hens eat their eggs?

Joe Owens
Section, Alabama

Hens eat their eggs after the chicks hatch for protective action against possible predators. Unfortunately, some hens are premature here and develop a taste for eggs. To prevent this, you can sometimes use ceramic nest eggs, build a roll out egg nest where the eggs roll out to the rear after being laid, or gather the eggs several times a day. Be sure the egg shells are hard by providing adequate oyster shell for calcium. Sometimes when the shells are thin, the eggs break quite easily, making egg-eating easier for the hens. — Jackie

Wall o’ waters

I am using Wall-o-Waters for the first time this year and they are great! Here in Washington state, we had a frost just a few weeks ago. Squash plants and eggplant made it through no problem. Thanks for recommending them. My question is this – have you had any problem with them getting slimy and smelly? Would it be ok to put a couple of drops of bleach in each cell to kill the slime?

Carol White
Stanwood, Washington

No, I haven’t. They sometimes get algae in them, but I’ve never noticed a smell from them. I can’t see why a couple of drops of bleach in each cell would hurt anything and it may cure the problem. — Jackie

Wild berries

The birds were good to me and provided me with wild raspberry plants. They are really doing great. But, I wonder what is the difference between wild black raspberries and blackberries.

St. Paris, Ohio

Black raspberries have round, domed caps and the caps slip off the bush, leaving the core. Blackberries come off the bush with the core inside. To look at the bushes, black raspberries are usually arched and tall when young, where blackberries are often either upright or prostrate, depending on the variety. Be sure to thank your birds! — Jackie


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