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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 December, 2010

Jackie Clay

We had a merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

On Saturday, my sister, Sue, and nephew, Sean, came up for Christmas as Sean had to work Sunday. David and Sean got to target shoot in the gravel pit and we had a nice visit. Then on Sunday, my son, Bill, his wife, Kelly, and my grandson, Mason, came up to celebrate a late Christmas with us, complete with another Christmas dinner and goodies. We had such fun! It’s great watching youngsters at Christmas time.

We feed the deer during the winter, and we all enjoyed watching them down below our yard. We look on our deer as “wild livestock” and take care of them just like our goats, cattle, and horses. Only we don’t have to have a barn for them or shovel manure! We do get to eat one or two a year, though. Natural, organically-raised venison.

I hope all of you also had a great Christmas. Thank you all for your Christmas wishes for us.

Readers’ Questions:

Hens laying through winter

This is not a question but it seems that we have stumbled upon a way to keep hens laying through the winter. I recently read an article about Laura Ingalls Wilder that stated she was famous for having lots of eggs during the winter. She raised and fed her chickens mangel beets. Since it was too late to plant beets we looked into an alternative for our little flock of 8 hens and 10 pullets that had not started to lay but were due any time. They had only been giving 2 to 4 eggs a day and the 4 was a very good day. We mixed Purina Rabbit Chow about 1 small coffee can to a 5 gallon container of our egg layer mix. In 3 days the eggs numbered 15 and the pullet eggs were far larger than any pullet eggs we have ever seen. Next year we plan to try the beets. It is amazing what you can learn from the “old timers.” We did not use extra lighting or anything else.

Joyce in NW Missouri

Wow! I never thought about using rabbit pellets. Good idea. Grandpa used to save the fines from his alfalfa hay and gather up a bucket every day or two and take to the house. There, he poured boiling water over the alfalfa leaves and let them soak overnight. In the morning, he fed the chickens his “greens.” They also laid well all winter long. We are feeding squash “guts” to our girls, along with their 18% chicken mix and they are laying very well. We do keep a light on for a few hours in the evening. It’s a compact fluorescent and gives enough light for them to scratch around and eat. But it doesn’t take much electricity. When you live off grid, every watt counts. I will give the rabbit pellets a try. We also would like to try mangels; I raised a few last year for the goats and they did well (goats and mangels!). — Jackie

Rancid oils

Speaking of rancid oils, can these oils be used for oil lamps? Are there adjustments of any kind to be done when using olive oils or other cooking oils in the lamps?

Glenda Holcomb
Indiantown, Florida

You can burn oil for lighting, but don’t use it in kerosene lamps; it will quickly ruin your wick. Instead, use it in open lamps with a smaller wick. Better yet, try not to let oil Get rancid! I used to always buy my oil in large containers, as it was cheaper. But I found that I didn’t use enough oil so it went rancid before it was used up. So I switched to using mostly olive oil in smaller bottles and now I don’t have any rancid oil to contend with. And, by buying carefully, on sales, I also am saving just as much money as buying the larger sizes. — Jackie

Storage life of different foods

Out west here we are used to eating more rice and beans as Asian and Mexican food and not as much wheat flour based recipes. Can you give us more information on the storage life of different store bought and home grown and preserved foods?

Jim Van Sant
Valley Springs, California

We eat plenty of rice and bean Asian and Mexican food here at our house, too. Love the variety of flavors! And, luckily, rice and beans will store, right in the store bags, also stored in air/rodent/moisture proof containers (my popcorn tins or 5 gallon buckets or garbage cans), nearly forever! I’ve eaten beans that were 25 years old (oops, I wondered where those went…), and they were just fine. I also ate a few 1,500 year old beans (carbon dated from an ancient Indian ruin) and they were also fine. Admittedly, we didn’t eat many; we saved them for seed and grew out several crops from them!

Brown rice will not store long, as it is like whole wheat flour; it goes rancid after only a few months of storage.

Store-bought canned goods and home canned goods will stay perfectly good for years and years. Only the rusting out of the cans or lids seems to shorten their life. Do NOT be fooled by “use by” freshness dates! That’s only a marketing ploy to make uneducated (or over-educated) people throw away perfectly good food…and go out and buy more.

Dehydrated foods will also remain good, if protected from vermin and moisture, nearly forever.

If you can store your foods in a dark location, at cool temperatures, it will dramatically lengthen the time it remains good. Heat and light both work to shorten storage times in many foods. In home canned foods, it doesn’t spoil the foods, but it will change the color and texture of the food, making it less appetizing.

The main thing is to begin storing foods! It doesn’t have to be huge $1,000 plus units. It can be a few bags, cans, or boxes, stored regularly. Foods add up quickly and that’s very encouraging! — Jackie

Hens eating eggs

My Rhode Island Red hens (I have 4) recently started eating their eggs. They aren’t laying much this time of year, so every egg is precious! I don’t know which of the ladies is the culprit or if it is”gang crime”. What causes this activity and what can I do to stop it?

Spokane, Washington

Usually hens start eating eggs because they first crack one in the nest box and find them a tasty treat. It’s not long before they find out how to crack them on purpose! Who says chickens are dumb?

There are ways to stop this in most cases. First, make sure you have at least one box per 5 hens. Then keep plenty of shavings in the nest to make accidental breakage harder. Usually if you pick up your eggs several times a day for awhile, the egg eating stops (less time to get them cracked). Also, in some instances, putting ceramic nest eggs in the box(es) will stop it, as there IS no cracking/eating possible with these hard eggs. Some people have had luck by blowing out an egg (poke a small hole in both ends and blow out the egg), and filling the hollow egg with hot pepper and gluing or waxing over the holes. I’ve tried it with mixed results. Some of my hens actually LIKED the hot pepper sauce! If all else fails, change your nest boxes to roll-off boxes. That is when the floor slopes a little to the rear, letting the newly laid eggs gently roll out the back of the box, into a holding tray that is protected from chicken access. This is what commercial egg houses do…only they have no loose chickens, so the egg holding tray is in front of the caged layers for easy access for the workers gathering eggs.

Also, provide your hens with plenty of table scraps, hay chaff, and other goodies, such as squash or pumpkins to pick at. This helps occupy their time and seems to satisfy their need to peck. — Jackie

Making stock

I have a question regarding making stock. Is it possible to dehydrate it once you have reduced it?

I have searched online and the BHM website under multiple search terms (dehydrating stock, dehydrating chicken stock etc) and can’t find an answer.

Peculiar, Missouri

Sorry, but there are a few things that are not recommended for home dehydrating and stock is one of them. Instead, can up all you can! It’s wonderful and oh-so-useful. — Jackie

Growing and canning your own food book

I have noticed you mention a few errors in your book…measurements and such. Could you make a note in your column of what the corrections are so we can make corrections on the recipes? Thanks and keep up the great work.

Lee Galloway
Redding, California

Except for the alphabetized index and yields of each recipe readers want, the errors are:

Tomato soup recipe on page 196 says set aside 1 quart of the juice, what do you do with the juice? — mix it with the parsley leaves until they’re pretty rehydrated, then pour into your big batch of juice/puree and continue.

How long do 1/2 pints of chicken need to process? — half pints are processed the same length of time as pints.

The Amish Relish recipe needs 3 pts. of vinegar.

The salt listed for the mustard bean pickles is only the salt added to the water in which the beans are simmered to become tender. It is drained off with the water prior to pickling.

Also on pg. 150, you might like to add “pour boiling water over peppers, leaving 1 inch of headspace.” Other than these, I can’t think of any boo-boos. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

A very merry Christmas to all of our Backwoods Home family

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010
David, Jackie, Will, and Spencer
Jackie Clay

We’re already getting ready for next winter

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

While I was busy inside wrapping Christmas packages, writing Christmas cards, baking goodies, and making Holiday fudge, Will was busy down in the woods. We had a lot of blow-down of fir and birch due to the beavers enlarging their pond years ago. The trees had slowly died from too much moisture, fallen down and were creating a huge pile of jack-straws. Before they rotted, and for easier access for our new, yet unfenced pasture, Will decided to get in there with the dozer and clear trails to cut the dead wood out. As the weather was sunny and mild — despite two feet of snow on the ground — he set about doing just that. Working all morning and afternoon he returned home after hauling at least a cord of good firewood out, as well as many future posts for our house front porch and the decorative uprights in each corner of the octagon in the new addition. Yes, some of the wood is starting to rot. But we can still burn it for heat; it’s free and it does get rid of it in a beneficial way. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead burning that wood, but we feel it is a very good way of disposing of it. It cleans out our woods, making way for new growth, heats our house, and the ashes fertilize our garden. Around here, we try to use everything we can that the land provides us. Our horses, donkeys, and mule were happy for entertainment and played up and down the fence while Will drove by with Old Yeller and the long logs. Snow was kicked up, feet flew, and they tore around having great fun.

Readers’ Questions:

Storing foods, canning, and canned recipes

First let me say Merry Christmas to you and yours and bless you for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us newbies! You are an inspiration!

My first question is about vinegars, oil, and shortening storage. Do they go bad? I have heard people say something about oil being rancid, what does that mean? Does it smell funny? How would I tell?

Second question is along the same line on brown and white rice. I know they say it will keep for a long time, but how do you tell when it is bad? Are there signs to look for?

Third question is I guess more of a request. Do you think that you might be able to do a video on canning that chicken? I have never processed meat before and sure would like to see it done before I give it a try. Yep I am chicken.

Fourth question is, I have the Ball book and yours that has all kinds of recipes but I guess I am not imaginative enough to figure out what to do with it afterward. Example, Chow chow. What is this used for or served with? How do I figure this out, just trial and error?

Jennifer Joyner
Huntsville, Alabama

Vinegar that is unopened never seems to go bad. Vegetable and olive oils the same, although I have had opened vegetable oil go rancid after lengthy stays on the shelf. When you open the container, it just plain smells bad. Dip your finger into it and taste it (it won’t harm you). If you go “YUCK!” it’s rancid, no saving it. Unopened shortening stays fine for years, I’ve never had a can go bad. But an opened can, after months on the room-temperature shelf, can get rancid. Again smell it. You can definitely smell the rancidity of it.

White rice will stay fine for years and years. But brown rice — being whole grain like whole wheat flour — will go rancid after several months in an unopened bag, quicker in an opened bag. Again, smell it. You can smell the rancidity. Smell fresh brown rice, then an opened bag of old brown rice. You can definitely smell the difference.

Right now, I can’t do a video on canning chicken or anything else because the wonderful guy, Jay, who used to do it, has moved on. If you have my book, just follow the directions. It is VERY easy and after the first time, you won’t be chicken!

Chow chow is a relish that is used as a side dish to any meal, just like cranberry sauce, corn relish, or chutneys. My advice is to make a small batch of a new recipe, let it store a few weeks to improve the flavor, then open a jar and taste it. Your taste buds will help you figure out how you want to serve it — on a sandwich, as a side dish, or right out of the jar. Cooking and canning are like twins, both of them develop a creative bent in most people. Relax and go with it!


Shelf life of homemade bread

I like to bake my own bread but it doesn’t have the shelf life that the store bought does. What can I add to my recipes to keep it from molding?

Kate Nichols
Yuma, Arizona

Sorry, but that’s the benefit of making your own bread — no preservatives to make you sick. To keep your homemade bread from molding, keep it in the refrigerator or freeze the extra loaf in a plastic bag, then take it out to thaw a day before using. — Jackie

Peeling hard-boiled eggs

I was reading about you having a hard time peeling your boiled eggs. My husband taught me this trick: after you crack the shells, use a teaspoon and run underneath it and they’ll come right off.

Marty Rapisarda
Huntington, Massachusetts

I’ll give it a try. But since I started using the 1/4 cup of vinegar in my boiling water, my eggs peel easily and cleanly. Hooray! — Jackie

Storing flour and rice

I’ve been given some new 5-gallon pails that seal and since it gets pretty hot here in summer I’m trying to figure out if after putting my flour and rice in freezer for few days if I could heat flour and rice in oven in open pans till hot and place in hot jars and pressure can, water only in bottom of canner to seal and then place in buckets for long time storage in order to keep out any bugs. Do you think this would work? If the jars seal seems like it would keep even in our 90 degree summers.

Betty Downs
Covington, Georgia

If you freeze your flours before putting into your pails, you should have no trouble with bugs in your flour later on after storage. These bugs (weevils) usually get into flour via eggs that are already in the flour when you buy it. Sometimes the moths find their way into storage containers, such as crocks with not-so-tightly fitting lids. I’ve never had weevils get into any of my storage buckets, even in New Mexico, where I did have trouble with pantry moths in my kitchen. Canning the flour is not necessary, and would only be a lot of extra work for you. — Jackie

Canning bacon

I’ve been interested in canning bacon for quite some time now and saw the article in the latest issue of the magazine (Jan/Feb 2011). We are on a venture for whole and natural foods, and this week, natural bacon is on sale. My concern with canning bacon of this sort is whether canning bacon necessitates the use of of nitrite/ate laden bacon. If I use a natural bacon that does not have the nitrate/ite added, will the canning be sufficient in preserving it?

Michaela Leeper
Rawlins, Wyoming

Yes. The nitrates only preserve the reddish color of meat. Your canned natural bacon will process just fine and keep just as well as bacon with nitrate in it. — Jackie

Canning chicken noodle soup

I’m just double checking to make sure it is ok to put noodles in the chicken soup and then proceed to pressure can. Many websites out there state that it should not be done because the processing time can not be determined with noodles. I went ahead and did it anyway. What do you think?

Sidney, Nebraska

The reason you shouldn’t put a lot of noodles in chicken or other noodle soup is that they swell and pack together during processing, creating a dense food that may not heat thoroughly in the center for safe canning. However, you can add a few noodles to the chicken soup, as long as you don’t overdo it. You don’t want a product that ends up the texture of condensed soup from a can — one big blob. I’ve canned noodle and rice soups for years…but I also don’t put a lot of pasta or rice in the jars, either. — Jackie

Canning baked beans

Can you can you own homemade baked beans? Can you cook the baked beans, have them for a meal, and then pressure can or waterbath can the rest?

Penny Paskerta
Charlestown, New Hampshire

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER water bath beans or any other vegetable. It is dangerous because you are not processing the food in high enough temperatures to kill potentially lethal bacteria, their spores, and the toxins they produce.

When you can baked beans, it’s best to mix up your soaked beans and seasonings, then can up the larger portion without baking first, then bake up a smaller amount to eat. When you can leftover baked beans, which you CAN do, the beans tend to be quite soft after processing. Most people like canned baked beans that are a little firmer. In any case, pack the beans hot into hot jars and pressure can them at 10 pounds for 65 minutes (pints) or 75 minutes (quarts). If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on adjusting your pressure to suit your altitude if necessary. — Jackie

Coleman lamp mantels

I read somewhere there is a solution to soak Coleman lamp mantels in to increase there durability. Any idea?

Yuma, Arizona

I seem to remember that one, too. I think it was ammonia. I do remember that I tried it and it didn’t work. To preserve the life of Coleman mantles, handle lanterns gently. Bumping them while carrying or hanging can shatter fragile mantles. So can moths and other flying insects, flying into the lantern globe. With care, your mantles should last for many months before needing to be replaced. I always keep at least two bags of replacement mantles in a kitchen drawer…just in case. — Jackie

Ducks in the garden

I am thinking about fencing in the back 1/4 of our backyard, and growing blackberries and grapes on the fence. Inside the fence would be our garden and fruit trees, (which are already in place). We thought it would be really great to have a couple of ducks back there. Maybe the Pekind ducks we read about in BHM July/Aug 2010, pg. 76. But then I wonder if they would just fly over the fence and fly away. If so, could I just trim the wing feathers, to keep them grounded? And then I thought while they were laying eggs and eating the bugs, and looking cute, would they also eat the sprouts from the seeds in the garden in the spring?

John and Mason Zimmermann
Winder, Georgia

Your plan sounds good to me. You and Mason will have tons of fun with your garden/orchard and the ducks. Pekins are heavy ducks and really don’t usually fly out of a fence. If they should, yes, you can simply catch them some evening and trim the flight feathers on their wings to ground them. But, yes, they WILL also eat your sprouting crops. So it’s necessary to provide temporary fencing to keep them out of the garden from spring planting time until harvest. (They will also often eat your ripe tomatoes!) Ducks are great eaters of garden bugs, so I’d let them in the garden after the seeds have all sprouted and gotten some height on them. Supervise them initially, to make sure your young plants are past “duck salad” stage.

Be sure to provide your ducks with a shelter and make sure your fence is pretty much dog/predator proof. I like to have my poultry inside at night, just for safety’s sake. Owls like to pick off poultry and white ducks are especially vulnerable. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

At 25° below, you find things to do inside

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

For two nights now, we’ve had -25, with daytime temperatures fighting hard to make zero. So as you might imagine, we quickly do chores, bring in firewood, and don’t do much else outside!

I decided to clean house for Christmas (not that it needed it!). The day before Will found some cracks in the bathroom wall, where the logs had settled. He sealed those up, then chinked between all the logs to give the bathroom a finished look. Unfortunately (or fortunately), he then checked my office and found the same situation. So today, he stuffed insulation in the biggest cracks and I ran to Hibbing to buy more chinking. This afternoon, he finished off the whole two outside walls of the office, and not only is the room a whole lot warmer, but it looks gorgeous, too!

Every little drafty crack we find and cure, we are becoming more comfortable, and saving wood and propane, to boot. That’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever seen one.

Readers’ Questions:

Seed sources

This is not a question. I would just like to share some information. I recently ordered the Whole Shebang so I’ve been doing a lot of reading now that everything is covered in snow. I have discovered that there appears to be a lot of people out there looking for certain kinds of seeds. One of those was Hopi Pale Grey Squash. There is a farm in Decorah, Iowa that is in the business of preserving heirloom seeds. is a marvelous resource for seeds. Also, in regards to log building. Great Lakes School of Log Building in Isabella, Minnesota is a great place to go and take a class. My husband and I spent 10 days living in a rustic cabin while learning how to build a cabin. Ron is a great instructor. We have also taken stone building courses from him and learned a lot that we have been able to use in our current situation.

Brenda Baldwin
Blue Earth, Minnesota

I’m sure the readers will appreciate your tips. This year, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is selling Hopi Pale Grey Squash (for the second year!). — Jackie

Heating with wood

I know that you have wood stoves to heat. My family just had a wood stove put in back in October. We don’t have central air, and are finding it hard to move the heat around. How do Will and you get the heat moving through out the house?

Wilmington, Delaware

We have a small fan behind our stove in the living room and also a ceiling fan above it, which we run occasionally. We also have a wood burning kitchen range in the kitchen, which is in the other end of the house. Between the two, our house keeps pretty cozy. — Jackie

Watering chickens in freezing weather

This is my first year raising chickens and I love the eggs. It has just started getting cold, cold, some nights into the 20’s and I was wondering would it be safe to add a little table salt to the chickens water to avoid it from freezing? Today I had to break the ice 4 times and refilled once. The other option I considered is running a light above the water.

Dennis Santoro
Butler, Georgia

Don’t add the salt. If you add enough salt to keep the water from freezing, you’ll poison your chickens! Either get a heated water pan or just offer your chickens fresh water twice a day. They’ll do fine. — Jackie

Checking jar seals after canning

My canning instructions say to remove the jars from the canner; let them cool for 24 hours…do not touch them during that time. After 24 hours, check the seals. If any did not seal, put them in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible. I recently made turkey soup and had one jar that did not seal. Is it actually safe to eat that soup that had poultry in it and sat out for 24 hours?

Deborah McEnulty
Priest River, Idaho

Most books do say to check the seals after 12 to 24 hours. Personally, I prefer to just check the jars after they have cooled entirely. If they are not sealed after this time (usually less than 6 hours or overnight), they won’t be after several more hours. Even the Ball Blue Book says 12-24 hours, but I prefer to check my seals right after the jars are cooled. — Jackie

Head space

I have been canning for years and recently discovered and subscribed to Backwoods Home. Having seen innumerable canning instructions I am left wondering what determines correct amount of head space and what impact does too much or too little head space have. Perhaps you could shed some light on this.

Carl Brandl-Salutz
Rochester, Minnesota

Experience and studies determine the correct head space for foods. Usually the head space is increased for high-starch foods or other foods that tend to swell during processing, such as peas, corn and some meats. Other foods, such as pickles, need a little more head space than, say jams, as the vinegar tends to discolor where the pickle touches the bottom of the jar lids. If you leave too much head space, nothing much happens, at least in my experience. But if you don’t leave enough, sometimes the liquid blows out of the jar during processing or forces bits of food between the lid and the jar rim. If you are canning a food that expands, such as dry beans or corn, leaving insufficient head space can even push the food against the lid, causing it to not seal. — Jackie

Canning questions

I am still canning too, and I have a couple of questions.

When a batch is done processing in the pressure canner do I have to take the jars out of the canner as soon as the pressure drops, or can I just go to bed and take them out in the morning? I get working late some nights and it sure would be nice to not have to wait up.

I am canning venison and would like to make some more stew. Earlier this fall I canned some using the recipe from your great book. I left out the carrots and celery and added ripe bell peppers and stewed tomatoes. It turned out great. I’ve got plenty of potatoes and onions still, but I don’t have any more fresh peppers or tomatoes. I do have a bunch that I canned earlier this fall, can I use those? They were pressure canned with the stewed tomatoes and peppers in the same jar. Would they taste good, or would they turn to mush after being processed a second time?

Steve in Northern Wyoming

Sorry, Steve, but you’ve got to take your jars out of the canner right after the pressure drops to zero. One time I was exhausted from doing corn for 36 hours straight (long story!) and left the last batch in the canner after processing so I could go to bed. The jars seemed sealed in the morning and I put them in the pantry. A few weeks later, I smelled this horrible stench in the basement. Yep. The corn. All of the jars had come unsealed and were spoiled. All 9 quarts and 14 pints worth! All that work wasted. I learned my lesson.

Yes, you can mix your previously canned tomatoes and peppers with your venison. Potatoes don’t take to re-canning, but tomatoes and peppers aren’t too fussy that way. Enjoy your stew! — Jackie

Dry ice for storing grains

At one time in your column you told how dry ice could be used in storing grains and other things by placing it in the bottom of the container and sealing the container after it had completely dissolved. If the container is solid how do you know if the dry ice is gone if you can’t see it?

Lynda Buchholz
Manhattan, Montana

You would put about 1/3 of a cup of dry ice (2 oz) in the bottom of a clean, food-grade pail. Lay a paper towel over it if you wish to keep the dry ice away from the grain. Then fill the pail nearly full with grain. Don’t seal the bucket; you need an escape for the oxygen the dry ice evaporating will drive out. You can tell the dry ice is gone by feeling the bottom of the bucket. If it’s icy cold, it’s not; sometimes it takes a few hours to dissolve. When it has, seal the bucket. — Jackie

Rabbits have ear mites

I bought two new rabbits today and after I got home i saw that they have ear mites. I have never had mites in my rabbits before, I have them separated on the other side of the yard. Is there a safe effective means of treating the mites so that I can use them as breeders or do I have to get rid of them? Also is there a chance that they might still spread just because I have them in the yard?

Brian Davis
Jesup, Georgia

Ear mites aren’t that bad to treat in rabbits if you keep at it. Pick up an ear mite remedy from your vet or even WalMart (use one for cats). Clean each ear out well with alcohol and a cotton ball until the ear is clean.

Then put several drops in each ear and massage it down into the ear canal. Repeat the cleaning and treatment every day for a week. The ears should be clean and healing. Check the rabbits in another week, including a cleaning. If the ears are clean, you should be home free. If so-so, repeat the cleaning and treatment for another week’s course. That should do the trick. — Jackie

Canning smoked sausage

I would like to can my own smoked sausage links that fit in pint jars. Would it be possible to do so without broth do you think? Since they will be smoked, seems like there wouldn’t be much grease to leak out of them in the jars to hinder the seal.

Betty Downs
Covington, Georgia

Yes, you can. I would suggest partially cooking the sausages first. When I’ve canned cased sausages without pre-cooking, they tend to swell a lot during processing. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

What do we do when it’s cold outside?

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Last night it was -22.6 degrees. But today it warmed up to -9. That’s NINE BELOW to you warm climate people! I cleaned house, put wood into the stoves, and baked cookies and a pie. Will was bored, so he went out and nailed 8 sheets of insulation board onto the un-sided part of our new addition. We were going to do that and finish the log siding, which we’d stopped doing for lack of money. But Will figured (rightly so!) that we might as well put the insulation on, then do the log siding in the spring. That way we’d have a little warmer winter and less to do come spring — busy spring.

So with a few trips to warm up and eat cookies still warm from the oven, Will got the job done and didn’t fall off the slippery ladder steps. Thank God. I couldn’t watch! I did hold the ladder when it got high and dicey, though. At least there was two feet of fluffy snow…just in case.

We also found a few cracks where the logs in the house had settled and left small gaps. Small, but enough that a cold breeze was blowing through them, right into the linen closet in the bathroom. I wondered why the bathroom was always so cold…Now they’re stuffed with insulation and caulked with a stretchy caulk. So that problem is cured. Now I don’t have to run for the wood stove after a shower anymore to keep from freezing! Ah, life in the backwoods…

Readers’ Questions:

Canning cheese sauce

You shared an Amish recipe for canning Velveeta cheese. In it you said 3 1/4 cups cream. Did you mean 3/4 cup cream? You mentioned “packing” it into jars, but mine is very runny, much like milk texture. Also not sure if it will be worth keeping if it should indeed have been 3/4 instead of 3 1/4 cups.

Karen Branson
Fenton, Michigan

This recipe was for canning Cheez Whiz, not Velveeta. It is more a cheese sauce than a cheese. To can Velveeta, just cut the block into cubes, the place the jar in a pan of hot water on your stove on low heat. A little at a time, the cubes will melt and you can add more. If you want a Cheez Whiz copy, and don’t want it as thin as yours was (mine was never milk-like…did you use 2 boxes of Velveeta?) next time just add less cream. If you process this cheese, it will make good cheese sauce. — Jackie

Storing dehydrated foods

A question about dehydration. Sue and I dehydrated sweet corn (Howling Mob – a fine open pollinated sweet corn), Cobbler potatoes and onions this year. As a precaution against insect damage, I stored the dehydrated foods in the freezer for a time to kill any eggs or larvae present. Now, I am wondering how I need to transition those foods from the freezer to room temp. storage. I am concerned that if I take them directly from the freezer and go into sealed glass jars the foods will sweat and cause a spoilage problem. I realize there should be no appreciable moisture in the foods, but…Your thoughts please.

Jamestown, Tennessee

Take your jars out and observe them for a few hours, from time to time. You’re right, there should be no condensation. If there is, just dump the jars out, one by one onto a cookie sheet. By just putting it in your oven at its lowest setting (mine keeps 99 degrees with just the pilot light on)…140 would be the warmest you’d want, you can quickly and efficiently dry out any high-moisture food. But you’re right, there should be no condensation if the food was sufficiently dehydrated. — Jackie

Storing molasses

I purchased a bucket of molasses a couple of years ago. I’d like to can it in quart jars so it will be more manageable to use it. How should I do that?

Houston, Texas

Molasses usually stays fine without any processing. I’d just pour yours into sterilized quart jars and put a new lid and ring on it. Simmer the lid first, just to make sure there are no “spoilers” on it. Molasses usually keeps well for years stored in a cool, dark place. — Jackie

Canning bacon, pepperoni, hamburger, and chicken broth

1. Is it possible to can bacon already cooked or will it burn in the process? I canned pepperoni and some of the top pieces were burnt. Not sure what happened there.
2. Is it possible to can hamburger in roast drippings (juice) if it is thinned with water so it isn’t as strong? Thought it might taste better that way.
3. When you can chicken broth, do you process it the same as you do when there is meat in it?
4. Are the orange berries on asparagus ferns, seeds for the plant, and if so can we plant those to make new plants? Are they still viable after several hard frosts? The ferns are still upright but brown. Do I cut them off or should I leave them till Spring?

J from Missouri

The only way to can cooked bacon is to dice it and put it into recipes, such as baked beans, bean soup, canned pintos, etc. Otherwise, it will burn.
Yes, you can home can hamburger using broth from a roast or other meat.
Chicken (and turkey) broth (without meat or vegetables) is canned at 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts. Remember to consult your canning book for changes in pressure if you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet.
Yes, the orange-red berries are seeds. If the asparagus is an old-fashioned asparagus, you can plant the seeds to make new plants, even after a few freezes. It’s easiest just to lightly bury the seeds in their new area. But you’ll get better results by planting them in a designated spot, such as in a tire or in a corner of the garden where you can find the tiny new plants and weed them well, as they don’t compete well with grass and weeds until they get large.
It’s best to leave the dried stalks on the asparagus to hold snow on the asparagus rows until spring. Then mow them down and mulch to keep spring weeds from germinating in the bed. — Jackie

Seeds, onion sets, and early planting

I’m sure you’re thinking about garden seeds for next year. I got my 1st seed catalog the day after Halloween! Would you mind sharing the names of the seeds you order? I remember Copra onions, because they keep the best, a few tomato names and Cherokee trail of tears beans….would you help with the rest? Also, I need to ask how to keep potatoes that are harvested in August. It’s hard to keep them cool then. Pinetree had onion sets…if they send them early, how do I keep them from sprouting? Frig? I have a solar greenhouse..unattached to anything… how early can I start tomato seeds if it is freezing at night out there?

J from Missouri

Some of the varieties we grow (and each year we try some new ones…who knows when I’ll find new favorites!) are:
Corn: Seneca Dancer, True Gold, Kandy King
Squash: Hopi Pale Grey, American Tonda, Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato, Early Butternut, Carnival
Pepper: Giant Marconi, Gypsy, Carmen, New Ace, Fooled You
Tomato: Oregon Spring, Juliet, Gold Medal, Polish Linguisa, Punta Banda, Early Goliath, Bush Beefsteak, Sun Sugar and our version of the discontinued Early Cascade, Early Firefall
Watermelons: Blacktail mountain, Orangeglo, Yellow Doll, Pueblo Mixed
Muskmelons, etc: Canoe Creek Colossal, Fastbreak, Pueblo Mixed,
Bush beans: Provider, Kentucky Wonder Bush, Maxibel, Dragon Tongue
Pole beans: Cherokee Trail of Tears, Rattlesnake
Potatoes: Yukon Gold, Kennebec, German Butterball

I’m sure I’m forgetting some; these are just off the top of my head.

It’s hard to have potatoes that ripen in August last through winter unless you have a cool place to keep them. I don’t plant my potatoes until a little late in our area (we planted the second time on July 1st two years ago and had a terrific crop…550 pounds!). If your springs warm up too quickly for that, you might consider growing a long-season variety instead of early potatoes. Or grow a few early ones for new potatoes and a main crop for storage that would ripen just before or after fall frosts.

When you order your onion sets ask them to send them just before you need to plant them; they’ll easily keep at cool room temperature for a couple of weeks. Store them in the dark or they’ll start to sprout prematurely. If you need to store them longer, you can store them in your fridge, but be aware that onions can cause off flavors in other foods such as lettuce, apples, and dairy products.

In an unheated greenhouse, you can’t start seeds until frost-free days are here. Instead, I start mine in the house, in a sunny window, a few weeks before it becomes frost free. I then transplant them into larger containers, still waiting for warmer outside temperatures. If you must, use shop type fluorescent lights to provide light, a couple of inches above the plants. Then, when it isn’t freezing at night, but still cool, you can move them outside into your greenhouse. In the daytime, the temps will climb so the plants will love it and grow like crazy. At night, the temperatures will still be cool, but not damaging. Be very aware of the weather forecasts and either heat the greenhouse (propane or electric heater) for an occasional “possible frost or freezing” night or be prepared to bring your plants into the house. — Jackie

Canning butterbeans

I had written a while back that I had pressure canned fresh butterbeans; well I just opened a jar & it smells & taste like I put vinegar in them. I did everything by the book as far as following the directions in canning book. Do you think they’re ok or should I throw them out?

Betty D.
Covington, Georgia

Canned butter beans should not smell like they had vinegar in them. I’m not sure what went wrong; possibly you missed a step in the processing, even though you thought you did everything by the book. It can happen, even to those of us who can a lot. I’d toss them, then try again next year. In the meantime, why don’t you read through your canning book again, and see if you can figure out where you went wrong. — Jackie

Canning with a pressure canner

I was rereading your canning book and I am thinking of getting a pressure canner. You have pressure canning times for the recipes in the low acid section but the front of the book only lists the water bath timing. Do you use the same timing for pressure and water bath on high acid items like fruit or tomatoes? I live at a high altitude and had to up my processing time by 5 minutes with a pressure canner, I keep the same timing but I up the pressure, correct?

Erica Kardelis
Helper, Utah

When you live at a high altitude, you must raise your pressure to suit your altitude. In water bath canning, you increase your processing time to suit your altitude. Look at the chart in my canning book for altitude directions.

The reason that the fruits and tomatoes section (high acid foods) only lists water bath times, not pressure canner pressures is that high acid foods are nearly always processed in a boiling water bath canner, not a pressure canner. They are safely canned using this method and pressure canning these delicate foods can cause them to soften and break down. — Jackie

Processing chevon

Someone gave us two male pygmy goats who weren’t successfully castrated (each had one undescended testicle), as well as some small rabbits that she needed to cull. I read up on processing goats in your canning book to get an idea of what we needed to do. We pretty much treated them as you advised, getting the skins off right away. The carcasses are now wrapped and hanging in our garage and we will be cutting them up this week.

I’m not planning to can the meat but to freeze it instead. Should we treat it much as you would a deer in terms of cuts of meat? I’ve never cooked or even eaten chevon/mutton, so I’m a little unsure of what I’m doing. Would you cook it like you cook venison? Can we make steaks and roasts and hamburger out of it, or should we be doing something completely different?

Carmen Griggs
Bovey, Minnesota

You can use chevon just like you would venison or beef, for that matter. I prefer to bone all of my chevon, as I don’t like the taste of the fat in the marrow in bone-in cuts. That’s just a personal preference; many people say they can’t tell any difference, and cut their steaks and roasts with the bone in. If you make hamburger out of chevon, consider mixing beef fat with the lean meat as when you use goat fat with the lean meat, you often get a “tallow” taste to the meat, similar to venison. Cook it just like you would if it were beef. You’ll love it! — Jackie

Cattle water trough freezing

This is the first winter we have had animals and I have a question about their care. We just had an extreme cold snap and the water in our cattle water troughs was one giant ice cube — we ended up having to haul water in buckets. How do you keep the water in your troughs from freezing?

Brenda Palmer
Marblemount, Washington

We don’t. Without electricity to run stock tank heaters (and they’re expensive to run), or the money to buy a propane heater for each tank, we opt to also carry buckets for the coldest part of the winter. Besides the buckets, we also haul a 55-gallon plastic barrel to our horse and donkey pastures, watering them from a rubber tub, which we empty when they are finished drinking. If your pasture or corral is close to your water faucet or hydrant, you can use a hose, which is drained after every watering. Our animals are too far away to do that.

In the future, we will be running underground water lines (8 feet deep) to our main pastures so we can more easily water with less work. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’m canning again… Still?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

For some folks, canning comes in the fall, then they’re done for the year. I can all year long. With the huge jump in the price of grain, it was time we butchered our three extra White Rock roosters. We bought some straight run White Rock dual-purpose chicks this spring, ending up with four roosters and six hens. The hens are just starting to lay nice brown eggs and we’ll be keeping one rooster to use. But yesterday, Will and I butchered the three extra roosters.

No, I still can’t cut the heads off. Will did the deed. Then I helped pluck the unlucky birds while Will eviscerated them. It was only 13 degrees out, so we did the work quickly while ice was forming on our little table. I brought them in to the kitchen to finish cleaning them up, picking pin feathers and cutting off the feet. I cooled them in a sinkful of ice water, then put them into a cooler on our back porch.

They are very cold, but not freezing. Perfect.

I cut one up today and put it into a stock pot full of water and seasonings. It simmered most of the day. Then I cooled it, deboned the meat, and packed it hot into canning jars. With the fragrant broth, the full jars went into the canner. I was so happy to get one quart full of nice big breast pieces, 5 quarts of broth (two with chicken meat in them), and 5 pints and one half-pint of mixed broth and diced meat. That’s a lot of meals from one 10-pound rooster!

Tomorrow, I’ll do the next one and we’ll roast the last bird Wednesday. I’m so glad we have our own chickens! All that canned meat and broth, plus dozens of beautiful brown eggs! And I know exactly what went into both the chickens themselves AND the processing.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning beef stew

Somewhere in the last few months I received a recipe for canning stew in a jar. I wanted to try this but I can not find the recipe. Do you have a really great but simple recipe? I believe you canned it for 10# pressure about 20 minutes. It may have used beef boullion. This will be my first attempt since being confined to a wheelchair at canning due to a rare degenerative disease.

Steven Stuckey
Sheridan, Indiana

Here’s a recipe from my new canning book. You can also substitute a light gravy for the tomato sauce if you prefer gravy instead of a tomato sauce in your stew. I love the tomato sauce; Will loves the gravy. Both versions work and taste great! Can the gravy version just like the tomato version. Just don’t thicken your gravy very much, for safety reasons.

Beef (or venison) Stew
5 pounds stew meat
1 Tbsp cooking oil
3 quarts cubed potatoes
2 quarts sliced or cut carrots
3 cups chopped celery
3 cups chopped onions
1 quart or more tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes (optional; may use water)
1½ Tbsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
Cut meat into 1-inch cubes; brown in oil. Combine meat, vegetables, and seasonings in large stockpot and cover with tomato sauce, tomatoes, or water and bring to a boil. Do not cook. Ladle hot stew into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headroom. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar rim clean, put hot, previously simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary. Good canning! — Jackie

Water in jars still boiling after being removed from the canner

I have just started using my pressure canner this year so I’ve never seen this before. I’ve already canned 20 jars of chicken and turkey stock uneventfully. However, I just finished canning some ham and bean soup that I had already fully cooked in the crockpot. After the pressure cooking time was up and the pressure was at 0, the soup in the jars was still “boiling.” I removed the jars to a towel, all of the lids have sealed, yet the food in the jars is still churning. Is this something to be concerned about?

Cheryl Spencer
Douglass, Kansas

Not in the least. In fact, tonight I just finished canning chicken in broth and MY jars boiled for 45 minutes after removing them from the canner. It’s perfectly normal. — Jackie

Canning lentils

I love the convenience of canning foods for easy preparation when hunting and camping (besides stocking my pantry) and would love to incorporate canning lentils. But I can’t find any recipes to do so? Is it possible and if so could you tell me how to do it?

Teague O’Meara
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lentils can be canned just like dry beans. But as they cook quicker, you can skip the soaking part. Just cover well with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes to thoroughly heat them up. Then ladle them into pint (or quart) jars, filling the jars about 2/3 full to allow for expansion of the lentils during processing. Fill the jars with hot cooking liquid, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Add spices, a tsp. salt, and a little chopped ham or bacon if you wish before filling with water. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 65 minutes (quarts 75 minutes). If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude if necessary. — Jackie

Internet service in a remote area

My wife and I live in a rural community in southeast Tennessee we access the internet by dial-up connection which is very slow and frustrating. No hope of DSL coming out here to the sticks any time soon. We were wondering how you access the internet way out there where you are. Is it expensive and are you happy with it?

Decatur, Tennessee

I have Hughes Net satellite access. There’s a small dish on top of our south-facing roof. Dave Duffy, my boss, pays the monthly fee for it, but I understand it’s a little above $50 per month. The service is very good and we are really out in the sticks so I am pleased with the speed and reception. — Jackie

Making summer sausage

My family is making summer sausage for the first time. The kit we are using calls for the finished product to be placed in the fridge. My knowledge of food storing in the fridge is only good for 7 days. How can we keep the summer sausage longer, so we can enjoy all winter? Our sausage is made with venison and pork and slow cooked in the oven.

Allen Brown
Argyle, Florida

Summer sausage is usually able to be refrigerated for extended periods of time without spoilage. However I don’t know the method you are using, or recipe, so if I were you, I would freeze my excess summer sausage and just take out what you plan on using in a few days and refrigerating that. — Jackie

Jars breaking in canner

We’ve experienced broken canning jars while pressure canning chicken with the 10# weight. They are older jars (square style mason)…maybe as old at 40 years? Do you know if the glass in older jars was weaker than glass made today? Could it be just that pressure canning is hard on the glass? If a jar breaks, it’s always the bottom that breaks out.

Todd Overbeek
Kingsport, Tennessee

I don’t think there was anything wrong with your jars. Instead it was probably one of the following causes (all of which will break the bottoms out of jars):
1. You put hot jars full of liquid on a cold counter before filling the canner. In canning, hot + cold often results in breakage.
2. Like the above reason, you might have loaded hot jars into a cool canner. I had jar bottoms break out from time to time until I figured it out. Now I load hot jars into a canner that has been warmed up as I fill the jars. That way you put hot jars into a hot canner. I haven’t had jar bottoms break out for years now.
3. You might not have put your rack in the canner and set the jars right on the bottom of the canner. The rack must be used as the jars can’t take the direct heat from sitting on the bottom of the canner, directly over the heat.
4. You might have put hot broth/meat into cold jars. It helps to keep your jars hot, even in a sink full of hot water so they are hot when you put hot food in them.
The glass in the old jars is just as strong as it is in modern jars…often stronger as it is thicker!

I’m hoping that one or more of these was the cause of your misfortune and that you won’t have this trouble again. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It looks like a long, snowy winter

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

On Sunday, we took a trip down to my son, Bill’s, place for grandson, Mason’s third birthday party. Luckily, it was a warm, gorgeous day, sandwiched in between two major snow storms. We had a great time helping Mason celebrate. It was such fun watching him playing with his friends and enjoying his new presents. Will got the job of fixing the “some assembly required” presents. Luckily, Mason was distracted by other things and wasn’t impatient with lack of progress.

We picked up our “new” old 1990 Ford Festiva that afternoon and my youngest son, David and his girlfriend, Hannah, drove it home while we followed. It drove like a champ and it only took 2 1/2 gallons of gas to come home (102 miles!). We already have Old Blue (my 1985 Chev pickup) and Old Yeller (the 1010 bulldozer), so now we have Old Red to go with them. I only hope it is as trusty as they are!

Monday, it started to snow. And it just stopped this morning. We really got clobbered…again. It’s totally gorgeous, but I wonder how much we’ll end up with, come spring? Here it doesn’t snow and melt all winter — it snows and snows and snows, until it melts in the spring.

This fall I told everyone I expected quite a winter as the beaver really built up a big house and stockpiled a ton of brush, anchored in the muck, for winter food. I think the beavers were right.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning cream cheese

Can you can cream cheese? And if so, can it be done in a water bath?

Donna G.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

I’ve tried it and have not liked the results; it doesn’t look pretty and smooth. I’d skip canning the cream cheese. — Jackie

Canning tomatoes

I’m looking at Yellow Stuffer tomatoes from Totally Tomatoes catalog page 27. It is possible to can this and later use as a stuffer? I’d bake them one or two at a time. I’m the only one here, so canning is a needed option to take care of over production. I’m becoming a self sustained man with his garden.

Philip McRae
Middleboro, Massachusetts

Good for you! I’m proud of you. No, I’m sorry, but if you can the Yellow Stuffers, which are good tomatoes for fresh use, they get too soft to stuff later. Peppers work for canning stuffed peppers, but they have a sort of tough skin and “stiffer” meat so the canning process doesn’t turn them to mush so easily. Enjoy the Stuffers fresh while they last and can up a bunch of other tomato products. — Jackie

Gas stoves and wringer washers

We are wanting to put gas appliances in an old house we are remodeling. After research we have found that effective 2011 gas stoves will no longer be available that allow the oven to be lit with a match. We have found one company here in Montana that, until the end of the year, is selling gas stoves with an electronic ignition that allows the oven to be lit with a match when there is no electricity – which can happen quite frequently here in North Central Montana.
Would you have any thoughts about gas stoves, as well as gas refrigerators, such as sources and desirable features?

Also, because we are on a cistern – no well – I have 2 old Maytag wringer washers set up in our shop. (Love my wringers, and such a blessing when compared to a laundromat!) Both washers are leaking oil down the back leg that is under the wringer control -my husband says they are leaking from a gear box possibly. I hate to lose my washers. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
One washer was bought from an elderly lady who said to take the agitator off occasionally and oil the spine collar that it fits on. Have yet to do that as it seems the oil would get on the clothes. What I need is a ‘Wringer Washer 101’ lesson.

Vala Johnson
Harlem, Montana

I would make sure that the stove that has electronic ignition, which lets you light the oven with a match if the power is off, will actually BAKE without power. Mom and Dad bought me a new, economy gas range when we moved to New Mexico, for a house warming gift. It was nice to have a new stove, but during power outages, it would not bake as the oven’s electric ignition cut the flame on and off to regulate the temperature of the oven. It would light with a match but it would not hold a baking temperature without power. I prefer a standing pilot in a gas range, which is harder to find now. Yes, the pilot does use a little more gas. But it is dependable, no matter what the power does…or if you are off grid, as we have been for years.

Those old Maytags often leak. Two of mine did…for years. I just used them outside in the summer and put an old cookie sheet under them in the house, in the winter. You can add more gear lube through the filler plug, if you need to. I’ve never oiled the spindle of the agitator, although I take the agitator off after every washing session and thoroughly clean under and around it. It’s amazing how much dirt and crud gets under there after only one washing! That’s why the little drain hole gets plugged up so easily, especially if your machine doesn’t have a pump, like mine. I recently finished an article on using wringer washers for Backwoods Home, so be watching for it. — Jackie

Boston baked beans

I have your Growing and Canning food book and love it. I have tried a few things and my family has liked them all so far. Thank you for your effort and time in making homesteading a little easier for the rest of us. My question is about the Boston Baked Beans recipe. I made and canned them. My husband said they are good but missing something (as he put it a kick). He mentioned maybe a bit of liquid smoke. Do you think this would work especially when canned and how much should I use to not overpower the beans? He couldn’t really put a finger on what he wanted in them so any other suggestions would be appreciated too.


Yes, you can add Liquid Smoke to your Boston Baked Beans. When you make up your beans, just add a little at a time, tasting as you go. Go just a little light, as the Liquid Smoke tends to get  stronger during storage in food. I use it in my barbecue sauce and also some of my own bean recipes for canning. — Jackie


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