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Ask Jackie headline

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

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Archive for November, 2010

Jackie Clay

We had a happy Thanksgiving and a foot of snow

Monday, November 29th, 2010

As we were under a winter blizzard warning, we had no company for Thanksgiving. But I still cooked up a storm, anyway. And finally, after years of trial and error…mostly error…found out how to peel hard-boiled fresh eggs without having them look like you picked off the shells with a ragged fingernail. Before, all my fresh homestead eggs peeled horribly, no matter what I did. But this time, I added 1/4 cup of vinegar to my boiling water and proceeded as usual. I boiled them, then drained them, rinsed them in cold water a couple of times, then tossed them up and down lightly to crack the shells. I had always done this, and found it did help a lot. Then I soaked them for an hour in cold water and peeled them from the big end. The peels mostly came off in long strips! No gouged egg surfaces! No cursing under my breath. Nice smooth eggs! Hooray! And some of the eggs had been picked that very day, too. Whew! Nice deviled eggs are so much prettier than gouged up ones!

We got our Thanksgiving snow, but thankfully, no blizzard. So while I was cooking, Will and Spencer (the plow dog!) went out and plowed our driveway and yard. Lucky they did, too, as we then got another 8 inches that night! So we have plenty of snow on the ground. But that’s okay, as it’ll help keep the water line unfrozen and the septic tank happy.

I hope you and yours had a very happy Thanksgiving!

Readers’ Questions:

Can jerky be canned?

I dried beef for Jerky and would like to further put it in canner for longer preservation. Is this possible and can I do it without adding liquid?

Cynthia Fox
Des Moines, Iowa

I have canned jerky (without liquid), but didn’t really like it as well as the uncanned version. You can either freeze or refrigerate it for much longer storage…if you can keep it around that long; my jerky steps out pretty darned fast! — Jackie

Solar Panels for your generator shed?

On one of my sleepless nights I had an idea for myself and thought you may like it also. I see you are using solar panels so you don’t have to use your generator as much. Have you considered using them to keep your generator shed and water pump warm? How you say? Here is my plan. Get a thermostat, from a RV or old mobile home and hook it up to 12V DC solar panel system so that it will power a few 12V DC automobile light bulbs. Set the thermostat to 40 degrees or so in the winter and when the temps are below 40 the lights will come on and keep everything from freezing. The sun will re-charge the batteries via the solar panels the next morning and on you go each day. I am going to use deep cycle Marine batteries and 5 – 6 #1156 tail lights. You can get a 45 Watt solar panel set up at Harbor Freight on sale for $150.00.

Scott Shurley
San Antonio, Texas

That may work for you, Scott, but it wouldn’t work for us. Our winters are usually -35 or -40 degrees for quite a spell, and even an electric heater is not enough to keep things from freezing. Our well has a submersible pump, so it doesn’t freeze. Our pressure tank is in the house, in the basement, so that doesn’t freeze either. The generator is just given a winter oil, so you can pull the rope when it’s that cold. And if it gets really cold, we have a propane heater in there to preheat the generator shed before trying to start it.

We can’t afford a lot of solar options right now, so we put what we can towards charging our battery bank to save gas on a daily basis. Hopefully, come spring, we’ll add a couple more panels and put up a wind charger. — Jackie

Seed potatoes

How do you save potatoes to replant as seed potatoes for next year?

Dale Wendt
Rockford, Illinois

I save all of my potatoes in plastic tote bins, with covers or in large coolers I’ve found at the dump. Stored in our unheated, 40 degree basement, they store very well. Without light, they don’t sprout a bit. If you store potatoes where they are warmer or where there is light…even if it is only a light bulb, they will soften and sprout, come spring. But they are still fine to cut and use as seed potatoes. The cooler you keep them, above 38 degrees and the darker you store them, the longer they will last. We had good potatoes in the bins this fall, left over from the year before! They were crisp, juicy, and hardly sprouted. — Jackie

Stove black

I’ve been a subscriber to BHM for several years but do not recall this question ever having been asked. By any chance do you have instructions for making homemade stove black? I wondered if it couldn’t be made with carbon black and oil or grease. I use it to coat the outside of my cast iron woodstove.

Lori Johnson
King William, Virginia

Sorry, but I don’t. What I do with our stoves is to lightly rub vegetable oil or olive oil on the cast iron parts with an old wash cloth, rubbing it well into the pores of the steel. I do this when the stove is warm, but the fire is out. After an hour or so, I start the fire and burn it slowly until the oil is done smoking. Then burn as usual. Some folks use high-temp stove paint on their stoves, but I don’t like that. Obviously, many people do, though. I much prefer to black my stoves once a year or so, then use the oil in between times. Even our grandmothers used store-bought stove black or rubbed a piece of fat over the top, much the same as I rub the oil. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Gas went up again by 15 cents and we’re fighting back

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Not only did gas go up last week, but diesel fuel as well. As we have a generator to charge our battery bank and drive vehicles, we know we need to cut down our consumption until we can do even more by putting in a solar array and wind charger next year. We have already found an old 1990 Ford Festiva (42 mpg) that we’re buying from a shirt-tail relative. It’s a good, solid, well-maintained car. Yesterday Will built a temporary stand for our two small solar panels, driving concrete rebar into the ground to anchor it. He and David screwed the panels down and ran the wiring into the basement and small charge controller. Yes, they’re small, one is only 15 watts and the other 45 watts, but the needle on the controller says that even during a cloudy, snowy day, they’re charging our battery bank. And even if it lets us go a few hours more without running the generator, that’s a plus!

I am real concerned about the cost of diesel fuel, however. No, we don’t have tractors or other vehicles that use it, BUT nearly everything we buy is trucked and trucks do use diesel fuel…as do the tractors that big farms use to grow corn, wheat, sugar beets, etc. Even last week, I bought a bag of chicken feed and it was $22.95! This is mixed laying grains, not organic, not laying mash. Plain old chicken feed! Ouch! I’m still reeling. So not only are we cutting down on gas, but we’re also rethinking our animal feed. I like to feed my animals plenty of grain…whether they need it or not, just so I can see their enjoyment. That’s stopping. We’re evaluating their real needs and they’re getting just what they need, with carrots or other treats, not store-bought grain. The growing young animals will be getting high protein feed and the milkers and old horses will get more carbohydrates, but the grain-for-treats is stopping.

I’m stocking up on the real cheap baking/holiday store items right now. I know they’ll never be cheaper and will probably be a whole lot higher in the future.

But I know that we can heat our house primarily from wood from our land, we can eat a whole lot of what we grow and raise, and we’re far better off than many folks around the country. For this we are profoundly grateful.

Readers’ Questions:

Grinding wheat

I have used a wheat grinder recently for the first time. There was a lot of hull that would not regrind. What do you do with that? It seem like an awful lot to throw away. Also do you use the same amount of freshly ground flour as you would other flour? Do you have a ratio to how much wheat makes how much flour? Thanks for all you do to help make us self reliant.

Cindy Adams
Florence, Alabama

I’m not sure you mean by “hull,” as wheat should be threshed before you grind, then winnowed to remove any more chaff and hulls in the threshed wheat. Most grain mills will entirely grind all of the wheat into flour; many cheaper ones need to have the flour re-ground a couple of times as the first grind is quite coarse, but does not contain any hulls. Some better mills can be set to grind finer with a screw. If yours does, tighten up the burrs. If that doesn’t work, I’d call the manufacturer and ask about your problem. Sometimes a person-to-person conversation resolves an issue in short order.
Good luck. No, there really isn’t a ratio, but you should get just about as much flour as you had wheat — just in a different form. — Jackie

Grape seed extract

Please tell me how to make grape seed extract. Can not find a simple recipe anywhere! Perhaps you can help me!

Stephanie Hibdon
Barnett, Missouri

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to extract oil from grape seeds. Basically, you rinse the leftover seeds after making grape juice. These are briefly dried, then pressed to release the oil. You need a cold press, which you might be able to fashion using a bottle jack and two pieces of steel. The seeds are crushed and the oil released. I’d imagine you could then pour the crushed, pressed seeds into a clean container with enough water to cover. The oil would rise to the top, where you could skim it off. Even at this, you can see it is quite labor intensive and requires a LOT of grape seeds. — Jackie

Tomato soup recipe

While I was waiting for your chili recipe to come out of the canner, I was looking into the tomato soup recipe on page 196. It says “set aside 1 quart of the juice”. What happens to it? We really don’t much care for store bought soups and we eat a lot of tomato, so I’m anxious to try this. I hope your new book will have more Meals-in-a-jar recipes. They are so helpful. We hope this winter won’t give you too many problems. Thanks for all your help on questions your readers have.

Carol Bandy
Hightown, Virginia

Oops. You just mix that quart with the parsley leaves until they’re pretty re-hydrated. Then you pour it into your big batch of juice/puree and continue. Jackie

Building a food storage area

I live in a rancher. There is no basement except for a vented crawl space. I am 5’6″ tall and I can sit upright in the crawl space. The crawl space is block with a brick exterior. There is no insulation on the walls or in the floor joists. The earth is covered with 10mil + plastic barrier.

My garage will hold 3 cars with plenty of space on 3 sides. The floor is concrete, the walls, ceiling, (2) walk-in doors and (2) garage doors are all insulated. There is a 30K BTU propane heater for extreme emergencies. The lowest temperature in winter that I’ve seen is about 35-38* – in summer the temps can become as hot as it is out side.

Considering all of the above if I were to build a food storage area in this garage, what would you recommend I do to prevent the stored food from being damaged in the heat of the summer?

Also considering that in a black out or other emergency the electric grid would be down for days in summer weather? Also asking all this in regards to having no electricity during a black out for what ever length of time

Cave City, Kentucky

I think if I were going to build a food storage pantry in your garage, I’d heavily insulate one corner, preferably a north corner, as it would not get any sun exposure from outside. I would insulate all four walls, plus the ceiling. By installing a sliding vent, you can keep the enclosure from getting too humid. You don’t want a window in this room, as it not only lets in light, but also summer heat. In the winter, you can probably just keep the door open, using your heater, should the temps get severely dangerous (approaching freezing).

For the rest of your house, in case of a blackout, I’d invest in a good moderate-sized generator to run essentials that I would plug directly into the unit, via extension cords. This would eliminate any dangers to electrical company linemen, cost much less than the typical generator that is tied into the system, and would be quick and easy to operate. You want one that is large enough to power your furnace blower (winter), your well pump (all seasons), a few lights and a small television or radio so you can be kept in the loop, regarding other problems or possible repairs to the system. — Jackie

Cake in a jar

I’m a master canner. I only feel comfortable using Ball or USDA recipes. I’ve come across a recipe for cake in a jar. It says to bake it and then put the lid on and it will seal, no water bath or pressure canning required. What keeps this from spoiling and developing botulism when its an anaerobic, no oxygen, environment.

Joyce Forsmann
Grangeville, Idaho

I used to make these cakes and they were not only very good, but kept well in the pantry. However, there was research that indicated that it was possible for the development of botulism in these jars. What probably kept these cakes from spoiling was the amount of sugar involved. But, due to the possibility of a problem of contamination, I quit making these cakes in a jar and don’t recommend that other canners make them, either. — Jackie

Excess milk

With it being just the three of you, how many milking does do you have and what do you do with all the milk?

Margie Buchwalter
Palmer, Alaska

Right now, we are breeding seven does of our own. Of these, we’ll be letting our best kids nurse on their moms. The rest, we’ll be selling so as the kids are sold, we will milk the does. This milk gives us plenty of dairy products: milk, yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, and cheese. It also lets us raise a couple of bottle calves “free” by not having to buy powdered calf milk replacer that is now almost $60 a bag. — Jackie

Preserving persimmons

Can I safely home can persimmons? They are the Fuyu type persimmons. The recipes that I have found make me think that they are not safe for home canning. I found a web site that said their pH is between 4.4 and 4.7. Even at that, I would think that they could be pressure canned. I was thinking about cutting them up in to 1″ pieces and canning them in a simple syrup. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Brenda Pence
Jasper, Texas

As far as I know, persimmons do not can well. But you can put up persimmon nectar or persimmon butter. There are many recipes on the internet. Freezing is a much better option for persimmons than canning. You also might dehydrate some. Peel and slice them into 1/4″ slices and dehydrate until quite dry. I haven’t done this, but I remember that my elderly Virginia aunt told about drying persimmons, so you might give it a try and see how they turn out. Any readers have any more information for Brenda? — Jackie

Rhubarb and canning super-sweet corn

A couple things your followers might need to know:
It is possible for rhubarb stalks to be poisonous. When rhubarb freezes in the garden, oxalic acid goes from the leaves into the stalks. Check out:

Sweet corn growers need to chose the variety of seed carefully. When canning supersweet sweet corn, it caramelizes in the jar and becomes brown and tastes burned. I had to throw out an entire canner load because of this. What a complete waste! See this article, page 3. .

Bonnie Rieder
Lone Rock, Wisconsin

That’s interesting about the rhubarb; I’ve used it my whole life, as did my Mom and grandmas. Evidently we never used any that had been frozen by late spring freezes. Mine doesn’t come up until most severe freezing weather is done and it does take quite a bit of freezing without damage. Freezing damage is indicated by watery looking, droopy leaves with an abnormal color. After reading about this, I sure wouldn’t harvest any rhubarb stalks when the leaves exhibited these symptoms following a period of low freezing temperatures.

As for the super sweet corn — yes, it can do this. But I’ve canned quite a bit of it in the past without having it do this. It’s best to use pints and half-pints and not make creamed corn from super sweets. Better yet, freeze and eat the super sweets fresh and choose other sweet corns to can. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve got it — winter before Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Due to a projected heavy snow/winter storm warning, Will and I worked our butts off for two days, getting ready for what was going to be about 8-10 inches of wet, heavy snow. Will had been building temporary 2″x4″ and building tarp coverings and doors for the four bays of our storage barn and closing off the last of the openings here and there in it. But we switched to fast forward when we heard the weather forecast!

We also had a huge pile of split firewood in front of the wood shed, so while I hurried up and canned up the buck deer that David got down at his brother, Bill’s, place, Will made wood racks and hurriedly stacked up wood. As I finished one cutting/canning session, I’d go out and help him stack and haul wood into our enclosed porch to stack there, as well. We’ve got about 2 cords of wood there now for “emergency” wood; for when we get home late, or when we’re sick and don’t want to haul wood, etc.

We’ve also got all of our haying equipment hauled to the little storage lot, up in the woods by the mobile home. Will picked up a lot of old wood mess and hauled that off into the woods to decompose, picked up this and that to put under cover so we can find it in the winter, put the lawnmower and tiller away in the storage barn, and generally got ready for the storm.

Yes, it DID hit. We got snow, but only about 6 inches total, for two days and a night. Most of the storm went south of us, and I can’t say that I’m too sad! Now I’m working on the new recipe book, as I was in the evenings when we were getting ready for the storm. I just sent in the fourth installment, so I’m getting there! I get hungry just writing down all those good recipes!

Readers’ Questions:

Salt for canning

I was wondering if you could use regular salt for canning or do you have to use the salt that is labeled “canning salt”? Also I bought some buckets from a restaurant that had pickles in them, I can’t get the vinegar smell out. I was wondering if the things I want to store in them (flour, corn, salt, sugar) would absorb the smell or not, or how do I get the smell of the vinegar out of the buckets?

Auburn, Alabama

I use plain salt for canning. But I do use pickling salt when I make pickles because the iodine in iodized salt can discolor some pickles.

To get the vinegar smell out of your buckets, fill them up with boiling water with 1/2 cup of baking soda in it. Leave the water in one bucket until cool. You can usually reheat and reuse the water a couple of times. — Jackie

Different types of flour

I have the backwoods cook book. When it calls for flour which flour do you use? Plain, all purpose,self rising?

Carol Apple
Greensboro, North Carolina

Unless a recipe specifies self-rising, use plain or all-purpose flour. — Jackie

Grinding corn

My husband and I just purchased “Our Best Grain Mill” from Lehman’s. We were wondering what you suggest for corn to make masa harina. We tried using regular yellow corn we got from our local co-op but it comes out very coarse. Is there a different kind we should try? And also, is there anything we should do to the corn before grinding?

Tracy Land
Kenmore, New York

Congratulations on your new mill! Masa harina is made from dried hominy, not from mature corn, as is cornmeal. Hominy is mature corn that has been soaked in lime and water to loosen the outer shell. After this has been removed by pounding or rubbing, it is rinsed many times and the corn is drained. It is then either dried and ground or ground while still in the hominy state. Masa harina is much softer and finer than cornmeal and it also has more available niacin and calcium than does cornmeal because of the soaking in lime. — Jackie

Kefir grains

I have another question on kefir grains. I also read about water kefir. What I read is, kefir was first produced several hundred years ago, by accident, by shepherds. Today they say you MUST acquire grains as a starter. But yet those old shepherds that first started it, didn’t have a place to go to get ready grains! Why can you not start your own from scratch? And if you can, how would you? Both dairy and water? Being frugal, self sufficient, we shouldn’t have to buy, trade, or barter correct?


I totally agree with you. Everything we do is leading us toward being more self sufficient. Kefir grains are sort of like sourdough starter. Yes, those ancients DID discover kefir by “accident,” much the same as old time pioneers discovered sourdough, which was then flour/water (often with potato or potato water) which at room temperature “caught” wild yeast plants from the air. Yes, it worked — sometimes — sometimes they caught a terrible tasting yeast, bacteria, or mold instead. The same goes for kefir. Yes, you might “catch” the right start for your kefir beverages, but you also might catch something that won’t work or taste as good. It’s best to start with bartered, or even purchased, kefir grains. Then you can certainly keep your own starter going for years and years, even getting enough to trade off or sell to others in the future. So, in essence, once you get your kefir going, you ARE becoming self sufficient. — Jackie

Using chicken manure in the garden

I’m wondering if its safe to use year-old chicken poop in your garden from chickens that are raised commercially for egg production. Just wondering if the commercial feed has hormones in it and if that would affect the soil and my corn and vegetables and harm us.

Betty Downs
Covington, Georgia

As far as I know, commercial egg mash does not contain hormones. I believe that year-old egg house manure would be fine to use on your garden and from past experience, I know it’ll kick up your soil fertility right away, as it is very high in nitrogen. Don’t put it on thickly in areas where you’ll be raising potatoes, as the high nitrogen in any manure will cause a higher incidence of scab. High nitrogen manure will sometimes cause tomatoes and peppers to make huge plants with little fruit. My own peppers this year suffered from that, but in our quest to rapidly improve our soil, I have no complaints; I got enough for canning and pickles — but not enough for stuffed peppers and dehydrating. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It’s November, and we’re getting ready to breed our goats for spring babies

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Now that we’ve gotten our mule, Domino, moved down to our newly finished training ring (a process that went very well, by the way) we’re re-doing our pens and cleaning out the indoor stalls before we bring our does up from the pasture to breed to our three bucks. Rocky, our Boer buck, will have some; Aspen, our new Nubian buckling will have his share; and Tank (the buck we saved from our beautiful Boer that we lost to a bowel impaction from a plastic sack he ingested) will also share the does. Each buck and his harem will have their own indoor and outdoor pen and it’s so nice to have roomy pens for each of them!

Some of our high percentage Boer does will be bred to Aspen, the Nubian, where others who have heavier dairy breeding will be bred to Rocky or Tank. As some of our doelings are sired by Rocky, we’ll be using Tank, instead. By the way, that buck IS built like a tank in every way! Wow! For only being seven months old he’s huge! But you do have to laugh, because he’s got this little bitty baaaaaa and a cute little fluff of curls on top of his head!

Hopefully this spring we’ll have tons of real gorgeous babies!

Readers’ Questions:

Water blowing out of jars

I was wondering when pressure canning what causes the water to come out of the Jars. I have had two batches of Jars that I pressure canned that the Jars have ended up with almost an inch less water in them.

I’m guessing the few potatoes or squash sticking out won’t be hurt if they’re not all covered. I haven’t had a problem with that. It just sucks to pressure can potatoes and then have some of the water blow out into the pot.

Chris Deere
Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Quebec Canada

The usual reasons for water boiling out of the jars are: the jars are filled too full, the pressure has fluctuated during processing (say went to 15 pounds, you turn down the heat and it drops to 11 pounds, then went back to 14 pounds, etc.), the pressure relief valve or petcock was opened before the canner’s pressure dropped fully to zero after processing, or the pressure during processing was too high. I agree, losing liquid out of canning jars stinks, but at least the food is sealed and is good to eat. We can always work on beauty later, as we go. — Jackie

Making acorns edible

I found your article and recipe on the web after my 6 year old collected about 8 cups of acorns from our yard and I told him I thought I’d seen a recipe back in the Y2K days of making bread from acorn meal. Yours was a much newer article of course, and I loved all the details and instructions.

I followed them pretty closely, but I’m wondering if we have the wrong kind of acorns and I’m afraid to proceed any further and make my family sick. Ours are really small (marble-sized) and must be really bitter, because after shelling and then 2 hours of vigorous boiling (changing the water 5 times at least) there was still some brown-ness to the water. I figured that HAD to be enough leaching and I dried them in a low oven. But I tasted one and it was TERRIBLE! I am concerned about grinding them into meal and making bread — do you think it will be too bitter and make my family sick? What should I do? Is it too late to leach them some more? This has already taken so much time (shelling and boiling, etc.) that I’m about ready to give up, but my son is so curious about acorn bread.

LeighAnne Wilson
Memphis, Tennessee

Did you grind your acorns before boiling them? That really helps relieve the acorns of their tannin. Soaking is often more effective than boiling them, too. Native Americans most often used a clear running stream to soak away the tannin in acorn meal. But by putting the meal (now a mush!) in a jelly bag, in a large kettle and pouring boiling water over it, then letting it soak, pouring off the brownish water, then repeating, you will sooner or later get rid of the tannin. Your acorns are probably from a black oak family tree, which have the most tannin. White oaks have a whole lot less tannin; and less bitterness. It sounds like your acorns needed a whole lot more boiling; up to 7 hours is common with a lot of black oak acorns…especially if they haven’t been ground first. Yes, it IS a lot of work, which is why most people process a lot of acorn meal at once. — Jackie

Making kefir

Read a little about KEFIR. Says you need starter seed to get going. I see grocery store is selling a KEFIR liquid drink all organic. Could that be used as a starter, if so how? Also how to make it thick like yogurt? any more info?


You might be able to use the kefir drink from the store, IF it also contains living kefir grains. This cottage cheese-like mass is sort of the “mother” of kefir; it contains the necessary culture (bacteria) to ferment a new batch of kefir. It’s best to start with a new batch of kefir grains and after that you can continue culturing kefir indefinitely, straining out the kefir grains from each new batch. Kefir does not get thick like yogurt; it’s a drink. You can get thicker kefir by letting it ferment for 48 hours instead of 12, but it is also much more acidic than most people like. — Jackie

Peach cobbler in a jar

I found this really cool recipe from Grit magazine online for Peach Cobbler in a Jar. I was wondering how long to process it since it doesn’t give precise times.

Here’s the recipe:
16 cups peaches
3 cups sugar
2 packets (6 ounces total) liquid pectin
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
4 pie crusts, homemade or purchased
1/4 pound butter, melted
Mixture of an additional 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon to dust pie crusts.

Slice peaches with skins on to make 16 firmly packed cups. In large slow cooker, place peaches, sugar, pectin, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice and flour; stir to mix. Cook on medium for 8 hours. Stir occasionally.

Roll out pie crusts. Brush with butter. Dust with mixture of sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Cut into 3/4-inch-wide strips with pizza cutter. Arrange strips on cookie sheets. Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees F or until crisp.

When peach mixture has thickened, fill clean, 16-ounce wide-mouth jars to 2/3 full. Insert crust strips against glass on inside of jar and in middle. Top off with filling to within 1/2-inch of top.

Wipe rims of jars with clean, wet cloth. Seal. Process in hot water bath or pressure cooker according to manufacturer’s directions. Yields 12 wide-mouth 16-ounce jars.

Knoxville, Tennessee

I agree that that recipe does sound interesting. But with so many variables, such as the added butter, flour and baked pie crusts, I don’t have an answer for you, I’m sorry to say. Perhaps if you e-mail Grit, the author of the recipe can enlighten you….and me too! Let me know, okay? — Jackie

Storing potatoes and onions

Info on internet regarding storage of potatoes and onions after harvest is less than accurate, how do you do it, or better if you were in hot, dry central Texas how would you?

Pat D.
Lometa, Texas

Both potatoes and onions like cool, fairly humid storage conditions with NO light. If you have a root cellar or basement, store them in a large cooler or if you don’t have coolers, try plastic storage totes with snap down lids, in dark colors. If you don’t have such a cool spot, pick the coolest storage place you do have and store your onions and potatoes there. Again, an insulated cooler or two will help keep your root crops both more humid and cool. You DON’T want so much humidity, though, that it causes condensation to form on the undersides of the lids. If this happens, prop the lids open a little for a day to let the container dry out just a bit. — Jackie

Canning buttermilk

Is it possible to can buttermilk? I can’t find anything about trying this.

Smith Robert
Lenora, Kansas

Although I have never done this, I’m sure you could, using the processing times for regular milk. You’ll have to experiment as I’m not sure how the end product would work out. Let us know if you do it. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our mule learns to load in a trailer…the easy way

Monday, November 8th, 2010

When I bought our weanling mule, Domino, she was as wild as a deer. She’d never been touched by human hands. Thus, she was pretty skittery. I worked with her all last winter and this summer, gaining her confidence. First all I could do was to touch her, then scratch her, working all over her body. Then came trying to get a halter on her…without frightening her. It took weeks, but it was finally accomplished. Tying came next. I fastened a rope to a post in her stall, then while I was feeding her in there, I quietly snapped the tie rope to her halter. Because it’s a small stall, she couldn’t fight the rope much…and she didn’t really even try. Soon she accepted being tied and cross-tied with no fuss. Plenty of neck scratching and a few horse treats and she was fine. Then came leading. Because she was so big by then, I couldn’t do the old butt rope trick I use on foals; she was too strong and would break away from me. I don’t ever like a horse (or mule) to learn they can yank away from me; it’s a bad habit that can cause trouble later on. So, again, very slowly, I’d just take her halter in my hand and urge her forward. She’d been tied regularly and knew not to fight. If she got frightened, I’d just let her go and not try to hold the halter; she’d come right back and we’d get back to lessons. First it was only a step forward, then two. Finally, she was leading several steps easily and learning what “Come here,” meant. Then I snapped her lead rope on and we started doing laps around the corral. No problems. One time, a turkey flew up over the barn and she spooked. Luckily, I could hold her and she settled right down. I felt pretty good about that!

We want to move her down to the horse pasture, about 700 feet from the barn. Yes, she leads. But she’d have to pass our husky pen, a travel trailer, and the training ring. And I don’t know if I could hold her if she REALLY spooked. So instead of a fight, we decided to teach her to load in the trailer and drive her down to the pasture. Will backed the trailer into her corral and unhooked it. We then let Domino out of her stall and I got some hay and put it in the front of the trailer. Was she frightened? Not much! In fact, when I called to her from in the trailer, she took a step up and walked right in. Wow, was I impressed! A lot of older horses that have loaded still wince and spook when the trailer bangs under their feet. Our yearling mule didn’t bat an eye! I’m convinced slow, patient training pays big dividends in the long run.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning bamboo shoots

Picked up some gallon cans of bamboo shoots and want to know if you or anyone else has recanned them in smaller jars,1/2 pints?

Pat Kaufman
Seymour, Missouri

No I haven’t, nor could I find a processing time for them anywhere. Any readers out there who HAVE found a safe processing time for bamboo shoots? — Jackie

Rhubarb pie filling

Just read your recipe for rhubarb pie filling and I’ve got a couple of questions…Is the stated processing time for pint or quart jars? And then how do you use the filling for pies? Just pour a jar in the shell and bake? A pint jar or a quart jar? Oh, and a guesstimate on how many pints or quarts this recipe makes, so I can have something like enough jars and lids ready! ‘Cause I am definitely making some of this up next spring!

Jane Jasper
Sapello, New Mexico

I couldn’t find a recipe in my canning book for rhubarb pie filling. Did you mean the rhubarb pie recipe on page 222? This makes one pie. It takes a quart of canned, drained rhubarb. — Jackie

Storage potatoes

Thank you for your advice on the best storage onions; it is very helpful. I bought some copra seeds, which sprouted beautifully and have been transplanted into my winter garden and are loving being there. I hope they do well here, even though they are more for northern (long-day) climates. It seems like you have talked about the best storage potatoes before as well, but I’ve searched your blog and the magazine’s website for this information and have not been able to find any recommendations. What are your recommended or preferred storage potatoes for longer-term keeping? Are most brown potatoes better keepers than red, yellow or purple potatoes?

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

While reds will store a long time, I have had better luck with Russets and Yukon Gold. If you have good storage facilities, nearly all potatoes will store well into the following spring. We used to store in a heated — although not warm — basement; now we store in an unheated basement, kept around 40 degrees all winter. Our potatoes LOVE that. We were still eating old potatoes that were crisp and hardly sprouted when we were bringing in our NEW fall crop in September! — Jackie

Storing beans

I’ve been growing beans in my garden. I planted them next to the corn and they grew up the corn stalks “Squanto Style.” I’ve now been harvesting the beans and putting them in a plastic bag. Yesterday I realized that there was mold on the beans and I’ve lost about half the crop. What can I do to better store harvested beans?

Carl Robinson
Chesterfield, Virginia

I would either can or freeze your beans. You can store them in a bowl, in the refrigerator, for a few days, but like anything else, the fresher your beans are — to can, to freeze, or to eat — the better they’ll taste. Sorry you lost those beans. I really hate when something like that happens to me! — Jackie

Canning tomatoes

I have just finished canning my first batch of tomatoes and I don’t feel confident about some jars. I did a water bath for 40 minutes, and added lemon juice but one of my jars was over full,leaking juice after the boil so I took the lid off, took some juice out, put the lid back on with the intent to reboil the jar but it soon sealed any way! Is this a for sure sign it is safe? I also have some jars that have air bubbles, is this normal?

Kenneth Daugherty
Craig, Alaska

I wouldn’t count on the seal on the jar that you took the juice out of; refrigerate that one and use it fairly soon. If a jar is blowing liquid out, just leave it alone. It will probably seal unless bits of food have gotten under the lid rim. Don’t worry about the air bubbles; this IS normal. After you get a little more canning under your belt, you’ll relax a lot more and get the hang of things. Keep at it! You’ll be an “old pro” real soon. — Jackie

Shower cleaning spray

I’m wondering if you know of a recipe to make a Shower Cleaning Spray. Like the ones you can buy and spray after showers to keep the spots down.

I’m thinking that maybe something simple could work like using a little bit of a Dishwasher Rinse Agent in some distilled water…then spray it after the shower? Any ideas? My goal is to be able to live here comfortably without more than a few trips to town a month.

Joe Hindman
St. Johns, Arizona

You might try plain old white vinegar. It works quite well on scum and doesn’t leave spots. I sure understand your reluctance to go to town. I really hate shopping! — Jackie

Stew in a jar

I want to try this but would like your thoughts.

Take a quart jar fill the bottom 2/3’s with potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnip, then put boiling water, next finish filling with deer meat.

This would all be raw pack and then into the pressure cooker for 90 min’s.

Stew in a jar quick and easy.

Shawnigan Lk, BC Canada

I can’t see why this wouldn’t work, Dan. And it should be tasty, too. — Jackie

Scab on potatoes

We really love our Yukon Gold potatoes, but have a lot of trouble with scab. We grow them the usual way, just buried in the dirt. Do you have any suggestions that might help, or do I need to grow a different type of spud ? Also, with your experience living in the mountains, can you recommend the best seed varieties for short growing seasons?

Robin Balczewski
Colville, Washington

You usually get scab from using plenty of manure to fertilize your garden; we are bothered by scab too. To lessen this problem in our Yukon Golds, which seem prone to scab, at least in our garden (Russets hardly have it at all), we plant our potatoes where either we have not used manure or where it has been a few years since we put it down heavily. Another way to get rid of scab problems is to till your row, then just put the potatoes on the ground and cover them with straw. As the potato plants grow, heap on more straw, just as you would hill your potatoes in soil. The potatoes develop on top of the soil and don’t seem affected by scab. You might give it a try.

As for early season seeds, we’ve had good luck with; Oregon Spring tomatoes, Quickie sweet corn, Provider green beans, Gypsy and Giant Marconi sweet peppers, and Blacktail Mountain watermelon (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). — Jackie

Canning milk

I was looking at the canning milk section in your canning book and you only have quart size. Can I can pint size and how many minutes to be safe?

Cindy Divorne
Addy, Washington

I can my pints of milk in a water bath canner for 40 minutes, which would be 35 minutes if you live at an altitude of 1,000 feet or less. I live at 1,400 feet and increased my processing time 5 minutes to compensate. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve had snow, but the firewood is nearly in

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Last week, we had an unexpected, early snow. Twig, south of us, got over 8″ of snow and it’s still partly on the ground! Luckily, we didn’t get much, so we kept splitting and stacking wood. Unfortunately, we had to pull our old stack of wood apart in the storage building, as it slid sideways, pushing out the OSB on the walls, near the corner. So as Will pulled it out and hauled the old, very dry wood into the house, I stacked it on the back porch to use for our “emergency” wood (for when we’re sick or when it’s blizzarding out and we don’t want to go to the wood shed!). We’ve got about 2 1/2 cords in there now, and the new, dry wood we are splitting is being stacked again, in the wood shed so it can’t push against the walls, no matter what.

I’m working, daily, on the new recipe book, which promises to be a good one. I plan on giving one to my son, David, as next year he’ll be off to college. He plans on becoming a heavy equipment operator, and the only school is in Staples, about 4 hours southwest of us. So he’ll have to learn to really cook. And he’s not used to frozen TV dinners, either.

Readers’ Questions:

Freezing french fries

How do I go about making french fries from my potatoes, but still freeze them?

Meredith Wendt
Rockford, Illinois

To do this, cut your potatoes, then soak them in ice water for a couple of hours, covered. Dry them by tossing them lightly in a thick towel. Heat a deep fryer to 360 degrees and fry a few at a time, just for a few minutes. Then remove from the oil and drain well. Repeat until your batch is done. Then freeze on a cookie sheet until frozen and repack in airtight freezer containers. — Jackie

Bitter orange marmalade

I am on vacation and at a historic mansion I found and gathered what I learned to be about a peck of trifolate oranges. (With the permission of the docent.) I understand that these fruit are very bitter, but that they make good marmalade. Do you have a recipe? And also, do you have any thoughts on growing these trees indoors?

Celeste Reese
Sarver, Pennsylvania

3 lbs. of bitter oranges (about 12 oranges)
4 cups water
2 lemons
4 to 5 cups sugar
Cut the oranges in half and juice them, one by one, until you have 2 cups of juice. Set aside the juice. As you juice the oranges, also save the seeds and the membranes – put them in a separate bowl and set them aside. The seeds and membranes will be used for making pectin.

Taking a clean juiced orange half rind, use a spoon to dig out as much of the white pith as you can. The pith is bitter, so the more you can get out the better.

Use a sharp chef’s knife to thinly slice the peel. Once you slice all of the oranges that you juiced to make 2 cups of juice, you should have about 4 cups of peel. Set these sliced peels aside.

Juice the lemons and add this juice to the orange juice. Save the seeds for making pectin. Remove the seeds and as much of the inner membranes as you can easily remove. Cut the lemon segments crosswise into triangular pieces. Add the lemon seeds and membranes to the orange seeds and membranes.

Put all of the citrus seeds and membranes into 4 layers of cheesecloth, tied up tightly with string, or into a muslin jelly bag.

Place the orange and lemon juices into a large thick-bottomed pot. Add the sliced orange peels and lemon pieces and the water.

Place the cheesecloth or muslin bag containing the citrus seeds and pulp into the pot and secure the string at the other end to the pot handle. As the mixture cooks, the pectin from the seeds and membranes will be extracted into the mixture.

Bring mixture to a boil. Let boil, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the peels are soft and cooked through. Remove from heat. Remove the pectin bag and place it in a bowl to let cool until it is comfortable to touch.

Pour out the mixture from the pot into a large measuring cup. Measure how much of the mixture you have. Add to the mixture 7/8 cup of sugar for every cup of mixture. So, if you measured 4 cups of mixture, add in 3 1/2 cups of sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, taste the mixture. Add more sugar depending on how sweet you want your marmalade to be.

Once your pectin bag has cooled to the point you can handle it, squeeze it like to extract extra pectin. Squeeze the pectin until you have released anywhere from 2 Tbsp to 4 Tbsp of pectin. The pectin has the consistency of sour cream. Add it to the orange mixture.

Heat the jelly mixture on medium high and bring it to a rapid boil. The marmalade may take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes or so to jel. After about 10 minutes, start checking it frequently. When it is jelling, a spoonful, turned sideways will start sliding off the spoon in a sheet instead of drops.

When it reaches the jelling point, quickly ladle it into hot, sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw the ring down firmly tight. Process jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

You can sure try growing bitter oranges indoors; I’m always trying something different. (Who’d think you can grow lemons indoors in Minnesota? I have a ripening one right now!) Good luck. — Jackie

Killing red wasps

I am purchasing land and building a home. Our first shot at homesteading and looking forward to it. Deer stands on property all have red wasp nests. Here in Texas it may not get cold enough to kill them before deer season. Plus I am allergic to bee stings. How can I kill wasps without poisoning wildlife, and preferably (if possible) without leaving too much odd scent to scare off the deer? How can we kill the fire ants near the house without killing/poisoning wildlife? We plan to get guineas soon, but need a way to deal with at least the wasps before then. I heard corn starch would kill ants, but wouldn’t it also kill birds and other small wildlife? Or maybe it was cornmeal? I don’t remember which now.

Donald Branch
Fort Worth, Texas

Two of the best organic ways to kill fire ants are dumping several gallons of boiling water down the center of each hill and mixing boric acid with sugar and sprinkling it around the mound. The ants eat it and the boric acid kills them without harming the surrounding area. Fire ants are tenacious and it takes a while to get rid of them, so be sure to keep at it.

I wish I knew an organic “magic bullet” for your wasp nests. But I don’t. If it were me, I’d get a long-distance Raid wasp spray, wait until late in the evening, just before dark, and spray the nests well from a distance. Move on to your next nest, etc. The next night, do the same. Then check for activity in the nest. There should be none. With a long pole and wearing long sleeves and a scarf, poke the nest down, armed with your spray, just in case. No activity? Poke the nest into a plastic bag and tie it tightly shut. Repeat with the other nests. Then burn the whole works. It may smell for awhile, but it’s surprising what deer consider a threat smell and just a peeweee smell. — Jackie

Winter squash not ripening

This year, we didn’t have a lot of luck with our winter squash so many of them are green and look like little tiny “mini-squash”. We have a bunch. So my question is, are they edible?

Judy Sloan
Spokane, Washington

Certainly, they’re edible! Just treat them like summer squash and cook ’em up. Native Americans used those green squash, as well as squash blossoms and, of course, the mature winter squash, getting three different crops from each vine. — Jackie

Canning stuffed cabbage

I wonder if there is a certain cabbage that I can get that will hold up better in my canning stuffed cabbage? I used to have no problem but lately the cabbage leaves seem to get transparent in canning and fall apart when I take them out of the jar. I never use to have this problem can you suggest a cabbage with thicker leaves?

I love your canning book and use it all the time for everything! It is wonderful.

Judy Mimranek
Live Oak, Florida

I use Late Flat Dutch cabbage for canned stuffed cabbage. It does have larger, thicker leaves than does Danish Ballhead, the common commercial cabbage. I’m tickled you like the canning book. I’m working hard right now (which is why I’m having a hard time blogging more regularly!) on my new recipe book using all those home canned, storage pantry, and homegrown foods. I think it’ll be a great book, too. — Jackie

Chicken a la King recipe in Jackie’s canning book

I tried this last evening and after cooking the chicken (6 lbs in 3 quarts of water); I had 3 quarts of broth; your recipe states I am only to use 1 quart of the broth to the 4 tablespoons of flour & 1 tablespoon of salt; what do you do with the extra broth? I put all the broth in and doubled the flour, but not the salt and followed the rest of the steps in the recipe. It tasted delicious (had to sample it!) and got 5 quarts

Mary Helwig
Red Lion, Pennsylvania

That’s great. I usually just can up the extra broth separately, but at the same time I can the chicken a la king. I can always use extra broth! But by doing it your way, you got more end product, although a little less chicken in it. — Jackie

Green potatoes

My potatoes did well this year, but I have a question — after I pulled them all up, I put them out in the house to dry for a couple days before putting them up, and they are all turning green! Do you know what causes this and how to prevent it? I grew Russian bananas in grow bags and russets in the garden. They all looked fine when we dug them. Also what is the easiest way to dig them out of the ground?

Natalie Dimitruck
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Potatoes turn green from being exposed to the light. Even light in the house will do it. You prevent it by drying them quickly outdoors in the wind, then bringing them inside to store in enclosed containers out of the light. I store mine on the floor of my unheated pantry in plastic tote bins with covers. I only remove the covers to retrieve potatoes, then the covers go right back on.

The easiest way to dig potatoes is either a shovel or spading fork, held out about a foot from the plant. Dig deeply, straight down, then pry upward and pull the vine with your other hand. Then go through the hill by hand because you probably missed a few potatoes along the way, usually the big guys! — Jackie

Tattler lids

I have gone to your blog to try and find the (I think they are called the forever rings and flats) but have been unsuccessful. Can you give me the name of them and where I can find them? Thank you! I love looking at your gardens and harvest. Maybe this coming year I will have some of the success that you have had.

Lynne White
Lacombe, Louisiana

The brand is “TATTLER” and the company advertises in Backwoods Home Magazine and also on my blog. I’m using them and am real satisfied with the product. — Jackie

Canning eggs

I have just started to can eggs and as I peel the egg some of the whites come off with the shell and you can see the yolk. So I am wondering is it okay that the yolk is sticking out when I can it with your recipe?

Christopher Bekkering
Allegan, Michigan

No, that won’t hurt anything but appearances. — Jackie

Water in pressure canner

I just bought a great old Burpee pressure canner which has 2 racks with 2 pans. I am wondering if you or some of your readers have instructions on where to put the water. I just tried it out and put about a pint of water in bottom of pot and water in each of the pans, which are about 3 inches deep. My beans came out well, but I’m just not sure about the water in the pans.

Betty Downs
Covington, Georgia

Generally you put 2″ of water in the bottom of the canner; putting some in the pans won’t hurt anything. Good canning! — Jackie

Growing vegetables in Minnesota

We’ve been growing some of our own food for about a decade, and this past year we decided to take it up a notch. We have a 21′ square community garden plot, upon which we built raised beds, and we have three small raised beds at home (where shade is a problem). Our primary goals were to grow all of our own onions and to can enough tomatoes that we’d be able to eat at least one tomato-based meal per week throughout the upcoming year. Early blight and indeterminate heirlooms wreaked havoc on the tomato plan, and our two pounds of onion sets produced roughly five pounds of onions. Now we’re planning for next year.

Since we live in Minnesota — and you live in Minnesota — we were hoping to tap into your regional expertise. What are your favorite determinate romas? (in terms of flavor, reliability, and productivity). Other sauce tomatoes? I already noticed that you concentrated your onion efforts on Copras and Stuttgarters. Did you start them from seed? Did you buy sets? And where did you get your initial seed for the onions and the tomatoes?

Melinda Harris & Sarah Marquardt
Minneapolis, Minnesota

My favorite paste determinates are Principe Borghese and San Marzano. But don’t discount indeterminates. I grow several on very sturdy 8′ steel T posts, caged with concrete reinforcing wire cages that take little more space…and produce much more than do determinates. Some of my favorite indeterminate varieties are Rocky, Polish Linguisa, and Punta Banda (a wild Mexican tomato I bought seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH). You can find a lot of widely different tomato varieties in the Totally Tomatoes and Tomato Growers Supply catalogs. It gives us plenty to discuss during the winter!

I raised my Copra onions from seeds, as I don’t know of a source of commercial sets. The Yellow Stuttgarters are the common yellow sets available nearly everywhere, including WalMart. I got mine at L&M Fleet Supply early in the onion-planting season. — Jackie


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