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Archive for February, 2011

Jackie Clay

Our first turkey egg of the year!

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Yesterday when I was gathering chicken eggs, I came across a strange egg under the roosting area. Could it be? Yes…it was a little pointed on one end, kind of big. Speckled, too. A turkey egg! Wow. Were we excited. Our turkey project is underway…sort of. The turkeys aren’t mating yet, but that will soon be happening, as they are strutting now. Won’t be long. We plan on raising quite a few turkeys this year to eat, sell, and barter with, so this was a start. I think the egg was from our Bourbon Red hen or a young Narragansett hen. It was kind of small for a large turkey egg. As we have four toms, we’re hoping to trade a Narragansett tom for a Bourbon Red tom so we can raise some pure Bourbon Reds, too. We really like their beautiful red and white coloring. Heritage turkeys are the answer for homesteaders wishing to grow their own turkeys. I’m glad they’re finally getting some recognition.

Readers’ Questions:

Canning cheese

Last July I canned several different types of cheeses using the instructions in your canning book. All sealed just fine and I stored them away. Today (Feb) I pulled out a jar of Swiss and the seal had failed. After checking every jar, it turned out that only the Swiss had a problem (but all 4 jars did), and none of the others; cheddars, colby jack, pepper jack. Do you know if there is something about Swiss cheese that doesn’t like being canned? I just bought some mozzarella on good sale that I want to can, but I’m a little gun shy now.

Jackie Keselowsky
Lutz, Florida

I have not personally canned Swiss cheese. I have canned several different types of cheddar, colby, jack, and mozzarella, all with great results. Remember that canning cheese is still “experimental” and anyone who chooses to experiment needs to figure out what works for them and how and why there are failures. Did you water bath or pressure can your cheese? I’ve had best luck water bathing my cheeses and butter; others swear by pressure canning. I’d say that any cheese is prone to seal failure because it is highly greasy and grease can make a seal fail. Why just the Swiss? Not sure, but maybe the natural gas in the cheese that makes the bubbles had something to do with it? Again, when we “experiment” we are trying to see what works for us. — Jackie

Looking for land

Hello from a fellow Minnesotan. I live in West Central Minnesota. When you moved up north, how did you go about finding land that was affordable and what you wanted?

Evansville, Minnesota

I haunted real estate offices, both mail and internet, letting agents know exactly what I was looking for. Of course many of the places they said were “perfect” for me were NOT, but after weeding out a hundred or so, I developed a list of about 30 to look at in person. Scheduling a trip here, I went from property to property, checking out land. After two days’ looking, I found our current place, which was just right. It took a whole lot of phone calls, letters, and computer time, but it was worth it. The more you look, the better your chances are. — Jackie

Fruit trees in Minnesota

I would like to know of Jackie’s suggestions for fruit trees for my area. Also what should be done to protect them from the elements here.

Elizabeth Grages
Saginaw, Minnesota

Some of the apples we’ve had good luck with are: Haralred, Honeygold, Norland, Mantet, Sweet Sixteen, State Fair, Fireside, and Dutchess of Oldenberg. Check out St. Lawrence Nursery and Fedco Trees online. Their catalog lists tons of Zone 3 trees! Plenty of growing information, too, for cold areas. They even have Zone 3 pears. Cherries are limited to pie cherries now; we are growing Garfield Plantation, Meteor, Mesabi, and Bali, Bali being the most hardy. We also grow Hansen’s Bush Cherries, Joel and Joy Bush Cherries, and Nanking Bush Cherries. There are many plums that grow in Zone 3, including Toka, Alderman, La Crescent, Superior, Waneta, and Black Ice.
Be sure to protect the trunks from voles and rabbits during the winter, as they will girdle and kill young trees under the snow. And watch out for deer all year. Fencing is the only way to keep the beautiful pests out of your fruit trees!

Good luck. As you can see, fruit trees can be grown in northern Minnesota, and you do have a lot of choices. — Jackie

Macaroni and cheese using cheese blend powder

I’m searching everywhere, but can’t seem to find a basic mac & cheese recipe using the Cheese Blend powder from my dehydrated food storage. Everything I’ve tried comes out not-so-good tasting. I’m hoping you’ve got a standby recipe!

Tracey Roberts
Cave Junction, Oregon

What I do when I make plain mac & cheese is to mix about 1/2 cup of milk with a cup of the Cheese Blend powder, to make a paste. Pour into a saucepan and add 2 Tbsp butter. The gently heat and stir in enough milk to make a cheese sauce that is as thick as you wish. Pour over your cooked macaroni and stir well. I usually put my mac and cheese into a casserole and top with bread crumbs and drizzle with melted butter. Bake at 350° F for about 12 minutes until the top is golden.
Adding water to the cheese blend powder, as per directions, doesn’t taste too good to me. I usually add either milk and butter (or dehydrated equivalent) or sunflower or peanut oil. — Jackie

Growing horseradish in a container

I would like to grow horseradish this year. I think that I can grow in a container to keep it from spreading. Just wanted to find out if you know for sure.

Chris Reardon
Webster, New Hampshire

Sure you can. Just make sure that the container is plenty deep, as horseradish sometimes makes long roots. — Jackie

Which canning lids to use?

Having read your work for a few years I have taking my prepping to the next level. my problem is I am gone from home 6-8 months a year @ 2-3 months at a time (therefore gardening is out of the question for me) where I used to keep a lot of money in reserve and called it emergency funds I no longer have any confidence in our government supplied money so I have been building a store of dried and canned foods as well as keeping emergency cash.

I have decided that even if I can not garden I can in fact start to can foods from the food markets when I am home I am looking forward to this new endeavor. My question to you is after reading your article about reusable canning lids (and because I have the tendency to be quite frugal) should I start with the reusable lids or use the one time lids first to learn with? I know that you gave a very good report on the reusable lids, but have not heard you say that you have switch over yourself I understand the difficulty of your answer, what with Tattler being an advertiser of yours.

Captain Rick
Rockport, Washington

The Tattler reusable canning lids are the greatest! Absolutely no problems with them, at all. When I’m canning now I use some Tattlers and some old regular lids. I will use up my regular lids while I merge the Tattlers into my canning regime. While the process of screwing the lids on is a little different, between the Tattlers and the regular metal lids, which does take a little concentration to do it right, the end result is the same, and I LOVE the “forever” part of the reusable lids! As you know, I am the Queen of Thrifty! — Jackie

Canning bananas

I had brought about 30 bananas home from work to make banana muffins and bread, this was too much, so I canned it. I did 5 pints in the pressure cooker, after I took the jars out the bananas were pink, I had them in there for about 15 minutes, was this to long or can you not can bananas?

Carol Walton
Omaha, Nebraska

Sorry, but bananas are one thing (that I’m aware of) that really doesn’t can. Instead, you should have sliced them and dehydrated them. They dehydrate very well and quickly. Then you can either eat them like “chips” or rehydrate them to use in baking at a later date. — Jackie

Mice and dried beans

I find this disturbing but I’m not sure how big of a problem it really is. It is mice. Some small. Some big. Are they rats? I don’t know. I found one near my stored apples (outdoor small root cellar) but I have the apples in a hardware cloth container so I don’t think it got in. Late last summer after adding a lot tomato pulp to my compost pile I found one in there too. I don’t compost meat or dairy. Other than the fact that I don’t like them, how much of a problem is this? Is there anything non toxic that I can do?

Also, I bought Cherokee Trail of Tears beans for the first time this year. Do they germinate easily? Should I soak them overnight? How tall do they get? I’ve read some people say they grew to their second story window! I plan on harvesting as green beans and also dried beans. When do I harvest for the dried beans? Do I just leave them on the vine till our first frost?

Susan Bates
Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Mature rats are quite large, with a body about as long as your hand. Mice (deer mice and house mice) are quite a bit smaller, with a body about half to a third that size. Voles are sometimes called field mice and are quite a bit larger but have shorter tails and are “fat” bodied and dark.
Other than being “not nice” they usually don’t cause too much trouble unless there gets to be lots of them. Non-toxic ways to rid yourself of these rodents include a good hunting cat (most are!), traps (live and snap), and reducing food-hiding areas. A combination of these will quickly get rid of your not-so-friends.

Cherokee Trail of Tear beans are great. They germinate as easily as any other garden bean. No, you don’t need to pre-soak them before planting. Generally, they will climb about 5-6 feet. I’ve never had any that climbed as high as a second story window yet.

Harvest your green beans when the pods are just getting round, before the seeds get fat and make the pods lumpy. To save seed, I’d recommend just leaving the pods on a few of the vines to mature. The vines you leave the pods on will pretty much stop producing after the pods get lumpy and mature. This is a great bean and I hope you have good luck. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Spring is here; I’m starting my first seeds!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Well, spring is officially here on our homestead, even though it was 6° F this morning. Because peppers and petunias take quite a while to grow to decent size, I start both of them in February. That way I can set out sturdy peppers in Wallo’ Waters or this year in the hoop house Will is going to build. By doing that, I can start my peppers in the garden in April when the last spring frosts aren’t until June, usually.

I planted 17 different peppers this year, but with restraint; I only planted from 3-12 seeds of each one. We definitely had too many tomatoes and peppers last year. The tomatoes were great…the peppers not so much. They were just starting to “make” peppers heavily when freezing weather came. Thus, the new hoop house. It’s going to be 12×16 feet and high enough to walk into. Actually, there are rumors that we may get two hoop houses — one for peppers and one for melons, but I’ll keep you posted on that, later!

It’s so exciting, starting those little seeds, with such great hopes wrapped up in each one of them! I plant my peppers and tomatoes now in Jiffy extra-sized peat pellets, then transplant the whole thing into Styrofoam cups or four-inch pots for more root growth. That way, I’m setting out strong plants that are not root bound. I plant two seeds into each hydrated pellet, then pack six of them into my old ugly blue surgical kit boxes. The I slide the whole thing into a plastic bag. With the bag shut, I put them up on a bookshelf near the wood stove where the temperature ranges from 70 to 80° F — perfect germination temperatures. With this method, I’ve got to keep a close watch on the trays every morning, because I’ve had peppers germinate after only three days! The “normal” germination time for peppers is about 12-14 days.

This method gets them up and growing very quickly. Once they are popping through the pellets, I move them into the greenhouse, where they are not only warm, but also have plenty of natural and supplemental light during the evening.

I’ll keep you all posted on the progress.

Readers’ Questions:

Using oxygen absorbers in grain storage

I would like to store wheat for future use. I have plastic buckets, Mylar liner bags and oxygen absorbers. Do I put the oxygen absorbers inside the grain or just inside the bucket? Do I need to freeze the grain to kill insect eggs before storing? I would like to store corn. Do I use the same method?

Judy Shadwick
Soddy Daisy, Tennessee

You put the wheat into the bags, in the buckets, then put the oxygen absorbers on top of the grain. I would suggest freezing the wheat before storage…just in case you have insects or eggs in the grain. This storage method also works for corn or any other grains. I have not used Mylar bags or oxygen absorbers in my grains and so far, have had absolutely no problems storing my grain for lengthy times. The flours from it bake just like freshly-stored grain flour. Keeping it dry and rodent/insect free are the essential keys. — Jackie

Making potato soup and storing popcorn

I am looking for a recipe to make my dehydrated potatoes into potato soup. I was also wondering if you heat canning jars up in the oven pour unpopped popcorn in them and let them cool if they would seal air tight? I was recently given a big bag (50#) and have nowhere to put it to keep away from mice, but I do have plenty of canning jars. Do you think the canning jars would survive in an outbuilding?

Becky Boitnott
New Castle, Virginia

Heat a quart of milk to just scalding (skin and bubbles just begin to form on surface). Add 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, then add enough dehydrated potatoes to make a medium thin soup. Lower the heat and stir until the potatoes have absorbed milk. Keep stirring. If you wish, add any of the following: dehydrated onion, chives, parsley flakes, bacon bits, or dehydrated (or fresh) grated carrot. Stir well, adding more potato for a thicker soup, more milk if it’s too thick for your taste. You can also add drained canned corn or grated cheddar cheese, if you wish.

As for the popcorn, you don’t have to seal the jars; you can just put the popcorn in the jars and turn down the lid; you can even use good, used lids that are not dented from opening. The popcorn would be okay in an outbuilding if it doesn’t get too hot in there; the heat will reduce the storage time. I keep my popcorn in a new garbage can in the basement. The mice can’t get in that! I also buy my popcorn in 50# bags. The popcorn I popped last night was 2 years old and it popped just fine. It also makes great homemade cornmeal. — Jackie

Canning orange juice

How can I can fresh or frozen orange juice? I don’t have a freezer.

Barbara Jacobson
Salt Lake City, Utah

Heat your orange juice to simmering, then pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. Process pints and quarts for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Remember to count your time from the time the water returns to a full rolling boil. — Jackie

Iron content in water supply

I now have well water with a high iron content. Sometimes the water in the jars will have a red color. Will this hurt anything?

Michael Mcintosh
Rudy, Arkansas

Not usually. Our water, too, has some iron. This causes a little discoloration in pickles and fruits, but is definitely not a problem. No taste difference and no really ugly color. If your water causes either, you can either borrow water from someone with a low iron well or use bottled water for recipes you can where the color is severely affected or the taste is poor using your own water. — Jackie

Too old to homestead?

I’m 60-years-old and too old to try homesteading, but what ways can I live the dream in my little ranch house on two acres. I don’t think I have the energy for goats!

Deborah Sutorius
Elyria, Ohio

Sixty is definitely NOT too old to homestead! After all, I am 64 (oops! I told!). Homesteading is as much in the mind as in the body. Everyone can practice homesteading skills and love their life. It doesn’t take living in the mountains, living off grid, or growing a two-acre garden. With two acres, you can do a whole lot! You can grow a small garden to start with. After eating as much fresh food as you wish, you can start home canning a bit. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself; just do some pickles, jam, or tomatoes. As you become more excited about it, you can expand to other foods such as tomato sauce, salsa, and fruits. All of these only need a water bath canner and are very easy to prepare.

You’d get a whole lot of enjoyment out of having a few chickens. Not only can you have fresh eggs, but you’ll get a tremendous amount of entertainment watching and caring for these fun “livestock.”
Goats? They are also a whole lot of fun and really don’t take much energy. It takes me 10 minutes, morning and afternoon, to feed two pens of seven goats each, including watering. If I’m milking a doe for milk for the house, that takes another fifteen minutes, from getting her on the milk stand to straining the milk to refrigerate. With a well-behaved doe, it doesn’t take much energy at all. And with the milk, you can also make great tasting ice cream, yogurt, and easy cheeses.

Of course all of this and more depends on just how much you really are up to doing, both mentally and physically. Start small and grow as you feel confidence growing. It’s fun and fulfilling to homestead…but you don’t have to live like a pioneer. — Jackie

Canning applesauce

The apples I was able to save last year I made into applesauce. I used Fruit Fresh in my water after peeling and slicing. However, my jars of waterbathed sauce have about an inch of darkened product on top. I’m sure it is okay to eat but is not appealing to look at. I usually scoop off the top and discard it. What should I do differently next year?

Adell Struble
Aledo, Illinois

Did you add cinnamon to your applesauce? If you did, that’s probably what darkened the top of your sauce; I had that happen a couple of times. But I still add the cinnamon, but just stir up the sauce before serving it. Otherwise, it could possibly be that you didn’t expel air bubbles by running a knife down through your sauce or that too much headspace was allowed. Processing food for too short a time can also cause darkening of the top of a processed food. I’m sure your next batch will turn out fine. — Jackie

Growing potatoes

Do you grow potatoes? Everything I read says to only use certified seed potatoes, but they are so much more expensive! Is it worth the extra cost?

Rena Erickson
Easley, South Carolina

You bet we grow potatoes — at least three varieties every year. They are the king of our garden! Yes, using certified seed potatoes is best. I start out with them, then carefully save my own seed from clean, disease-free potatoes each year. I only buy new certified seed potatoes if mine were possibly suffering from disease that year. We do rotate our potato area of the garden each year to keep down the possibility of disease. — Jackie

Using whole ground wheat

How can I separate the germ from my wheat berries in small batches? Can I get “all-purpose” flour results with the whole ground wheat? My mill was a Christmas present, and I’ve been a little hesitant to get it cranking, because my whole wheat breads from store-bought flour always seem to come out dense and tough. I’ve had great success with white and sourdough breads, thanks to some of your recipes!

Heidi Collier
Bent Mountain, Virginia

You really can’t separate out wheat germ with home methods. To get lighter results with whole wheat flour, try mixing a portion of white flour with it. You can also lighten up whole wheat breads by adding dough enhancer to it (gluten). This natural product helps lighten whole grain breads. Also, the more times you knead bread, the lighter it will become. So if you want lighter whole wheat bread, knead it at least twice; three times will make even lighter, more airy bread. The TASTE of home-ground whole wheat flour is so good, I don’t mind my bread a little more dense. Good baking! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’re really enjoying warmer weather

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Will’s been out twice more, cutting and hauling that great dead black ash firewood from the edge of our big beaver pond. The snow’s so deep that he has to doze a path to each bunch of trees so he can walk and maneuver around to cut and haul the logs out. Right now it’s more than 3 feet deep in most spots! But the days are getting warmer, with temps in the high 30’s and even 40’s, so cutting over the creek will all too soon be over for the year. (Make hay while the sun shines!)

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy writing and canning. I did two more batches of ground beef and another load of on-sale pepperoni. Boy, are the pantry shelves ever stocking up nicely! In the ground beef, I added diced onions from the pantry, trying to use up some more of them before they start to soften in the spring. So far, I’ve only lost one onion to rot! That’s fantastic. And the potatoes and rutabagas still look as good as the day they were put in their bins. We’re pretty thrilled with that.

Tomorrow I get to start planting my peppers and petunias, so spring is officially here on our homestead. How exciting!

Readers’ Questions:

Canning venison

I had canned some venison that was leftover from a big family dinner. Yummo stuff! Anyway, I recently used some of it in some soup thinking I’d have wonderful, tender meat. Well, that wasn’t the case. It was extremely chewy. Gave the soup great flavor but even the smallest piece you chew all day and not break it down enough to swallow! I ended up fishing out the meat and my dog was one happy camper let me tell you. Seems to be a waste but as I said, the flavor of the soup was fantastic. Was the chewiness due to the fact that the meat ended up being cooked twice – once for our family dinner (It melted in our mouths!) and then again from the canning process (I followed the Ball Blue Canning Book instructions for pressure canning as I always do)? Will this happen with any meat or is it just wild game? I guess I never thought about it being over done as I’ve always only partially cooked or raw packed the meat and never have had a problem with it. Thank you for any help!

By the way, thank goodness for food storage! Things are tight in my house (as are in many I’m sure) to the point that I really only buy milk or eggs at the store (Our town doesn’t allow any farm animals in the city limits!) and have been depending on my canned and dehydrated fruits and vegetables and other food storage to get me by. Thank you for your many articles and suggestions for without reading one of your articles way back when and taking your advice, I’d be one hurting unit right now!

Michele Gerdes
Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Yes, cooking the meat, whether turkey or venison, will make it stringy after canning it in some cases. To use this meat, heat it up, then try a piece; if it’s tough to chew, run it through a meat grinder. You’ll still get the flavor but be able to easily chew it! That’s why we only “brown” meats or simmer them only enough to “shrink” them down. When they’re totally cooked, and then canned, they can become stringy.

I’m very happy that I’ve been able to help you out. It’s why I do what I do. Thank you for your kind words. — Jackie

Home-rendered fat and drilling an irrigation well

I noticed in one of your online questions that you answered, a reader was asking about whether home rendered fat is healthier than shortening. I would have to say that yes, it is. Shortening, no matter what brand, and lard from the store is hydrogenized, and EXTREMELY unhealthy. I make my own from our home raised pigs and beef, even render chicken fat. Good fat is not the villain that the health “experts” have made it out to be, though I am not saying that you should consume it unchecked.

One question I have is how to go about getting the approval to drill an irrigation well? We live in very dry western Wyoming, and we need to put in a well for watering the crops we would like to grow on our small 10.5 acre farm. I have looked up some stuff online, and know that I need to fill out an application with the state engineer for water rights etc…, but it still is a bit confusing. Any suggestions?

Sharon Moreno
Big Piney, Wyoming

I’d check with the county planning board. If they don’t handle permitting, they can tell you who to contact. You can also call your County Extension office for information. — Jackie

Canning cheese

I have tried canning cheese and everything went well just like you said…But we thought we would try it and opened a bottle some of the cheese was hard and some of it had separated in the middle. I don’t know what I did wrong or if it is still any good…Also have you tried just to melt cheese and then pour it in the jars?

Rex Kelson
Jeffrey City, Utah

Did you pressure can your cheese? I quit doing that, as some types of cheese, mozzarella mostly, got hard and “overcooked,” becoming darker. The separating is usually from the cheese cubes not being stirred as they melt and air pockets forming. I’ve melted cheese and poured it into the jars but you do lose a lot of cheese in the process as it clings to the pan. — Jackie

Storing baking powder

In June 2008 I stored up some aluminum free baking powder. The can was never opened and as an added measure of protection, I vacuum sealed it. The other day as I went through my supplies I found one can that still looks sealed itself, but the plastic vacuum bag has swollen up hard like a balloon. I don’t see any mold or other bacteria, is it still good or should I throw it out?

Kevin F. Johnson
Waxhaw, North Carolina

I’d open the bag, then open the can. The inflated bag is probably not due to the baking powder “going bad.” Take a peek and sniff at the baking powder. If it looks fine and smells normal, chances are good that it is. If in doubt, throw it out. — Jackie

Canning bacon

I have just read a blog that had a guest writer that was a “Master Canner,” going through the extension office to get her knowledge and certificate. She maintained that the people who were putting out info about canning things such as butter, bacon, cake, etc. were doing the public a great dis-service by putting out info contrary to government advice and were putting people’s lives in danger by doing so. I don’t necessarily believe everything my govt. tells me so I have to ask this question. It concerns the article found on a homesteading blog and also published by BHM on how to can bacon. If the bacon did have the botulism spore in it after being canned, wouldn’t it be destroyed when the bacon was fried up?

Teresa Hoke-House
Tekoa, Washington

Probably, but by canning the bacon at the “meat” approved pressure and time, I very seriously doubt that botulism spores or toxins could possibly survive. Yes, I know the experts frown on so-called experimental canning, such as bacon and other things that the government has no testing on. I also believe in common sense, which many of the government trained experts seem to lack. I feel that too many people are working way too hard to keep us safe from ourselves! I’ve had food poisoning twice — both times from restaurant foods! I’ve asked for government incidences of botulism in the U.S. from eating home canned foods. A whole lot of hem-hawing around and not many facts. How many people in the U.S. have been sick from eating commercial foods? It’s in the headlines all the time…and how many behind the headlines that are never reported? How many people are suffering from cancer and have died from it, due to the preservatives and other chemicals put into our commercially canned foods you buy every day at the store? If you’re uncomfortable about “experimental canning,” please don’t do it. Many folks are comfortable, and have been doing this for years and have suffered no ill effects. I may be crucified for this stand, but it’s how I truly feel. — Jackie

Canning at higher altitude

You recently stated “at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your altitude.” I’m confused. In a sealed pressure vessel, canner/pressure cooker, won’t 10 pounds of pressure in the canner give the same cooking temperature regardless of altitude?

DePere, Wisconsin

No. At higher altitudes, you must raise your pressure to suit your altitude to maintain a safe temperature in the canner. — Jackie

Water bath canner

I inherited my grandma’s bath canner, and I need to find a good book that will let me know everything I can can with this canner. She used to hot water bath just about everything and never owned a pressure-cooker. But there was no canning book with the bath canner.

In reading your blog, it sounds like you can just about everything in a bath canner. I have printed out your apple butter recipe, but would like to know if there is a good book of everything you can? And where I can find it?

Linda Baxter

Lucky you! You’re off to a great start with canning. While you can home can a vast array of foods in a water bath canner, you can’t safely can vegetables and meat products. Fruits, tomatoes, pickles, jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit juices are all high in acid, which makes them safe to can in a water bath canner. I know our grandmothers canned vegetables and meat in a water bath canner. But since that time, it’s been found that they don’t process at high enough temperature to kill certain deadly bacteria and their spores and toxins. Therefore, to be safe, we must raise that temperature by using a pressure canner. This processes our low acid foods safely.

You can learn more about this, plus find a ton of recipes for using that water bath canner…and, of course, a pressure canner when you are ready, in my book GROWING AND CANNING YOUR OWN FOOD. This is available online, at the Backwoods Home Magazine website and on my Ask Jackie Blog. Or you can just order it from the magazine. I’m sure you’ll find it a great help and easy to use, too. — Jackie

Raising turkeys

I am trying to find a type of turkey that will lay and hatch its own babies…or at least lay the eggs so I can incubate them. Is there a type that you would suggest for home raising and butchering?

Jamie Paul
Hermiston, Oregon

Any of the heritage breeds will do just that. Among the larger of the heritage breeds are Bourbon Reds, Slates, Black Spanish, and Narragansetts. We have Narragansetts and one Bourbon Red hen (looking for a tom!). Very late last spring, our Narragansett hen sat on a clutch of eggs and hatched out 9 and raised them all through one of the wettest summers we’ve ever had…all outdoors in our orchard. We were very impressed. I, too, got sick of artificial turkeys that couldn’t reproduce by themselves or even live a reasonable life. Sort of like Cornish Rock meat birds! Ugh! Tasty, but unnatural. — Jackie

Recanning vegetables

I have some grocery store canned beans and veggies that stayed in the barn too long while we built the house. Some of the cans are starting to rust, but not through to the inside. Can I re-pressure can them?

Megan Patrick
Savannah, Tennessee

Yes, you can, if you must. Baked bean-type beans will re-can just fine; vegetables may become soft, yet edible and useful in casseroles, soups and stews. Just empty the cans into a large kettle, heat to simmering, then pack hot and proceed as if they were fresh vegetables as far as processing time, etc. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

When it’s windy and below zero outside, we work inside!

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

This last few days it’s been below zero with a 25 mph wind, bringing the wind chill down so miserably that we couldn’t do much outside. So, because we’ve built as we could afford around the homestead, there are plenty of jobs yet to do, both outside and in.

This week we’ve been working on the entryway — the log wall that was cut out to make the grand arch into the dining area. For months, we’d been puzzling out how to fix the cut out notch in the top log, where the old entry door frame was placed. We couldn’t cut it further, into an arch, as it’s the top log on the wall and it needed structural strength. But how do we hide the cut-out nicely? Finally, Will figured out an idea.

First he sanded the old uneven stain off the log wall so when we stain the whole thing, it’ll match. What a nasty job! We hung old sheets on both sides, making kind of a booth. He donned a doubled bandanna and started sanding away with the angle grinder, equipped with sanding flaps. It sure worked, but boy did the sawdust fly! I’ll sure have a cleaning job once it’s finished! The sheets did help, though.

Once the walls and log ends were sanded, he cut and fit a 1×8-inch board on the undersides of the top log, filling the gap where the door frame was with scrap lumber. Then he added molding on both sides, neatly hiding the gap! Wow. It was gone! How cool.

Now, we’re finishing out the log trim on the very top of the log wall, under the decorative log beams over the sheetrocked ceiling of the addition. Once that’s done, I get to stain the whole thing and I can’t wait. I feel so good because we’re using very little boughten material, instead we are using a lot of what we had on hand from leftovers from other jobs.

Readers’ Questions:

Snow peas

I have been told to plant snow peas now and every 10 days. We are having a lot of snow, is that too early? Can they be canned or put up in the freezer?

Linda Walker
Ft. Towson, Oklahoma

Wait until your snow is finished. Peas like cool weather, but really don’t love being buried in snow, despite snow peas’ name! Wait a few days/weeks until this unseasonable weather moderates and you can work the soil easily. Snow peas freeze very well, but don’t can up worth a darn. — Jackie

Rendering goat fat

I know that you can render pig and beef fat but what about goat? I have a very fat wether that needs to go to freezer camp and I hate to waste anything when I take a life. Even if it is only fit for the birds and as seasoning for the dogs.

Patti Hall
Oneonta, Alabama

Yes, you can. But goat and venison fat does not taste nice. So you can certainly use it to feed the birds and dogs, but you can also use it to make soap. Any lye soap recipe will work and you’ll be SO glad you used everything! — Jackie

Buying a generator

We are in the process of buying a generator. Between the gas, diesel, and propane which do you think would be the best and how do you use your generator? Some people put it thru their fuse box and some have it fed back thru a 220 outlet.

Fresno, Ohio

They all have pros and cons. Gas and diesel fuel doesn’t store well for extended periods. It’s harder to store enough of these fuels for an extended period of time. If you already have propane for heating or other use, that’s an advantage; there’s no hauling of other fuels on a regular basis. If you plan on using your generator for emergency situations while you are living on grid, the gas stations will probably be closed and you can’t buy extra gasoline or diesel fuel for your generator.
Cost; gas generators are cheapest but don’t last as long. Propane and diesel are more expensive but will last longer with regular use. Don’t oversize your generator; cost and fuel use increases with wattage. With energy conservation, you can get by with a lot smaller generator than you’d think. Do get one large enough to run your most important well, furnace, and appliances, if necessary. We are off grid, permanently, and run our power directly from the generator to our fuse box. I’m assuming that you are on grid now. BE SURE THAT YOU HAVE AN APPROVED TRANSFER SWITCH SO THAT WHEN YOU ARE RUNNING YOUR GENERATOR IT DOES NOT FEED BACK ONTO THE POWER LINE AND KILL WORKERS who are trying to fix a line during an outage! — Jackie and Will

Freezing flour and oats

I have been told that if I put my fifty pound bags of flour and oats into the freezer for a week I will not have a bug problem with them. Is this true?

Mary Lou

Yes. That is the recommended treatment for any cereal grain products to avoid “bugs”. — Jackie

Kerosene for heating

We’re considering purchasing a kerosene heater for back bedroom at night to keep chill out. I’m just wondering if there would be too much fumes to be safe. Do you know much about the use of these heaters?

Betty D.
Covington, Georgia

I wouldn’t recommend a kerosene heater. First off, there is a smell involved and second, kerosene is getting VERY expensive! I’d use a small propane heater, instead. There are several that would work well in bedrooms, both vented and unvented (but approved in nearly all states for safety). — Jackie

Pressure canning without a stove top

Now, I am needing an electric pressure canner. I have seen “pressure canners”, “pressure cookers”, “electric pressure cookers”, even an “electric canner”, but no electric PRESSURE canner. Does such an animal exist? I hope so because I’m unable to can on a stove top. Are they as safe to can meat and veggies as a stove top pressure canner? I hope you can help.

Mrs. Steve Carton
Birch Tree, Missouri

No. As far as I know there are no electric pressure canners. You don’t say why you can’t can on a stovetop, but I’m thinking you have a glass top? You can buy a propane countertop stove very inexpensively through Northern Tool and other places that can be hooked up to a 20-pound propane tank. You can use this in your kitchen, shop, garage, or summer kitchen. They are safe and work very well for canning. My grandmother and Mom used one in the basement for years; it didn’t heat up the kitchen in the hot summer. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Only in Minnesota!

Monday, February 7th, 2011

No, we aren’t so tough here that we take baths outside in a snowdrift. David and Will just carried our VERY heavy, old, cast iron bathtub down 14 stairs and set it outside in preparation to carrying our new-used two-person hot tub, which is even heavier (and hard to hold onto) upstairs.

Both Will and I had bad backs before falling off the barn roof last summer and we really, really missed sitting in deep, hot water this winter! So when I found this inexpensive two-person used hot tub on Craigslist, we quickly took a drive 75 miles north, to International Falls.

It was a hard job, carrying that tub upstairs, on its side (only way it would fit up the stairs), but it’s up there and today Will is plumbing it into the drain and water line. Oh, my back can hardly wait for deep hot water!

It may not be hard-core homesteading, but it will sure keep these old homesteaders going.

Readers’ Questions:

Old dried beans

It seemed like a good idea at the time (I stored up about 400 pounds of pinto beans (50lb bags) about 5 or 6 years ago. Now I decided to start using them, and rotating my stock. Batch one, soaked for 5 days, changing water often, crock pot for 48 hours — beans still hard, smell bad, and taste bitter. Batch two, soaked over night, pressure cooked for 3 hours — beans still hard, and taste bitter. I am assuming my “investment” has gone bad. Is there any thing I can do with these old beans? Can they go into the garden whole or soaked first and whole or composted? I think I will be buying less and canning them immediately in the future.

Nanci Larkin
Westcliffe, Colorado

I sure wouldn’t compost my old beans! I routinely rotate my “old” pintos (which are up to 12 years old!) by canning them up for refried beans. They always come out tender and good tasting. One possibility though, with yours: is there any chance that they got musty or absorbed odors from storage?

Otherwise, what I do is to pick through my beans, discarding any bad ones or very dark beans as well as debris and rocks. Then I bring them to a boil in plenty of hot water, boil 2 minutes, then set them aside on the stove to soak without heat for 2 hours. (If you have city water, you might consider using filtered or bottled water as some city water has chemicals in it that DO make dry beans bitter.) Drain and discard the water. Again cover with fresh water, bring to a boil, adding any spices (garlic, onion, chile powder if you wish). Drain, reserving liquid. Pack beans 3/4 full into pint canning jars. Add small pieces of fried lean bacon or ham, if desired. Fill with hot cooking liquid, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Wipe rim of jar clean; place hot, previously-simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints for 65 minutes and quarts for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure in a pressure canner.

You also may consider adding a generous pinch of baking soda to your initial boiling water, as you have already had bitter beans. This reduces any bitterness and also gas later on in most cases. — Jackie


I would like to plant more asparagus. I have an area of garden that isn’t fenced in. I let my chickens free range. They do NOT bother the other asparagus patch I have when the stalks are tall. Will the chickens pick at the asparagus as it comes out of the ground? I would like to avoid fencing if I can.

What did you sow in your orchard for “grass?” I have several areas that I would like to strengthen the soil and provide extra greens for the chickens. I would like to cut the “greens” too and dry it and save for winter.

I am glad you had a picture of your chickens and the turkeys. I was going to ask one of these times what happened to that family of turkeys that you had fenced in last summer. Why do you think that your turkeys don’t get sick living with the chickens?

I am most grateful for your advice and for all the canned goods and meat that we have. My husband had a high fasting blood at his last doctor’s appointment and mine is above what it should be too. We have cut down on sweets but eat more of our canned veggies, fruits and meats and the sugar counts are down. Thank God. I would also add how much better we are feeling too. So home grown food does improve your health! Yes, it’s work in the spring, summer, and fall but that’s worth the trouble for good food and the additional exercise gardening provides!

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Yes, unfortunately, chickens will pick baby asparagus spears as it’s often one of the first, tender green things available. Often you can just run a 2-foot-high piece of chicken wire around your asparagus bed so you don’t have permanent fencing to deal with. You can step over it to harvest and remove it later on when you are through harvesting for the year.

We planted clover in our orchard. It keeps down the weeds, is easy to mow when it gets too tall (we do cut lots for the goats!) and the chickens and turkeys sure love to eat it! The clover also attracts bees so that helps pollinate our fruit trees.

Experts tell us that you’re not supposed to have chickens and turkeys together because the turkeys can get blackhead from the chickens. To tell the truth, I’ve never even seen a case of blackhead in either, and I was a veterinary technician for more than 25 years…along with always having plenty of poultry. Maybe in tight, commercial conditions this is a problem…or maybe just in some areas it is. I don’t know. All I do know is that our birds have plenty of free roaming space, plenty of good food, and remain totally healthy. We are looking forward to hatching our own chicken and turkey eggs this spring (we ended up with 3 hen turkeys from our babies last summer, plus we still have the two adult hens, so we should get plenty of eggs!). — Jackie

Storing cereal and granola bars

I’m just starting out with my food storage journey and was wondering if I can vacuum pack (with a Food Saver) things like cereals and granola bars. Will they stay fresh for a longer time? Or is it a waste of time?

Lothian, Maryland

I don’t think you’d be saving that much, as long as you keep your cereals and bars in the original bags/boxes. Granola bars, because they have oil in them, tend to get rancid faster than any cereals do. Better to store granola-bar ingredients separately and make up new ones as you need them. — Jackie

Hens eating their eggs and not laying as much

We have a small 5 hen flock of chickens that we dearly love. Recently, two issues have come up.

First, several months ago they started to eat their eggs. The oldest hens are two years old, and when we added a few new chicks (4 turned out to be roosters and we gave them away) the newbies began eating the eggs. Now all the hens will eat the eggs.

Second, egg production was stable at 3 eggs per day total (even with the occasional egg being eaten). Now it has dropped to 1 per day. I don’t see pieces of egg shell or yolk on the eggs we are collecting like I used to, so I don’t think the hens have started eating more of the eggs. Do you have any suggestions for us?

Carl and Evelyn
Columbus, North Carolina

I wouldn’t be too concerned. First of all, chickens molt twice a year and after that, it’s some time before they start laying eggs again. As spring approaches, you’ll suddenly see a surge of eggs again. To stop the egg eating, make sure your nest boxes are thickly bedded with shavings of straw to avoid accidental breakage. Pick the eggs often during the daytime. Try ceramic nest eggs. Not only do they encourage laying, but they also discourage egg eating. If these fail, build roll-out nests with floors sloping to the back and a shallow, out-of-the-way tray. Use minimal bedding so the eggs will roll and cushion the tray with shavings. Also, it helps to give your girls leafy hay and food scraps from the house to occupy their time. — Jackie

Chicken plucker

I was wondering if you have any plans or information for a chicken plucker?

Nicole Clark
Canton, North Carolina

We’ve been talking about making one soon. Meanwhile, check out the site for a simple, drill mounted CHEAP plucker that works. For more chickens you might want to make a whizbang chicken plucker (tub style). Photos are seen on — Jackie

Cooking soup bones for stock

How do you use your soup bones for stock? I just had a beef slaughtered as well, but I am unsure what I need to do.

Rachel Murphy
Goddard, Kansas

Fill a large stock pot 2/3 full with water. Add about 8 pounds of meaty bones or more with less meat. Cut any rib bones into pieces about four inches long. Add two or three chopped onions, 2 bay leaves and 2 Tbsp. celery seed (optional). I also add black pepper and salt to taste after the stock has simmered 3 hours or more. If not “beefy” enough in flavor after this time, you may add beef bouillon cubes or granules, as well as the salt and pepper to taste.

Remove bones, then strain the broth into another pot. I cool my broth, then remove the excess fat, which hardens. Put the broth back on the stove to bring to simmering. It is now ready to can up — pints 20 minutes and quarts 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. — Jackie

Determining which hens are laying

How can I determine which hens are laying and which aren’t without separating them one by one? Someone told me there is a way to check them.

Dale Mellott
Martinsburg, Pennsylvania

Generally, the hens that are laying are wide between the legs, have a moist, shiny vent, and have red, healthy looking combs and wattles. The non-egg layers are usually narrow between the legs, have a dry vent, and pale combs and wattles. Remember, though, that there are no absolutes in this! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

While Will stacks up more firewood, I’m doing photo shoots for the recipe book

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Will went out again today and brought home another load of magnificent, dead, solid ash firewood. This stuff is large, with some butts being about 18 inches in diameter, full tree length! He had to load it with the bulldozer. We already have about 10 cords of firewood hauled out for next year’s wood, and there’s still a lot of winter yet. As our woodland is mostly low ground, the best time to haul firewood is in the winter. But this winter has had PLENTY of snow and cold. It’s getting harder and harder to work in the woods. I’m sure Will’s going to be glad when some of that deep snow melts away!

Meanwhile, I spent two days baking and making candy for photo shoots for the new recipe book. I abused Will by not letting him sample anything until after the shoot! (But gee, now he can eat it ALL!) There’s a fancy white cake, hummingbird cake, glazed doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts, blueberry muffins, chocolate-walnut fudge, caramels, chocolate-covered nuts, and peanut clusters. It all looks SO pretty! Just like the holidays again. Maybe I’ll help Will check them out…just to make sure they pass quality control, of course.

Readers’ Questions:

Using beef bones and rendering fat

I noticed you kept the beef bones from your butchering to make stock, I am guessing you had to request that as we never get anything but the meat back. We have a cow that will be butchered and it never occurred to me to have the bones saved. Excellent info Jackie, what else do you have kept other than the meat, what about the fat? Do you use it for anything? I know people have kept the fat from their pigs and rendered it down. Is it true that pork lard is healthier than shortening, that our body utilizes it better since it is a natural product? I am skeptical, but would love if that were true.

Jo Riddle
Vienna, West Virginia

Yes, I did ask for the bones because I know that most people only want a couple of packages of soup bones. Because my bones were a lot of rib bones with not much meat, I added a few larger soup bones with meat on them for flavor. Ask for the “ox tail”, as that makes real good broth. I also ask for the fat. Not only do I feed the birds the suet, but I make soap out of the rendered fat. No, sorry to say that lard is no better for you than any other fat. Moderation in everything is the key.
Will likes liver (I don’t.) and beef tongue, so I cooked up the tongue. It tastes like beef and is tender. You have to ask for that, as well. We try not to waste a whole lot and use up what we have. — Jackie

Storing food in tins

I’m wondering if I need to store food in Mylar bags before dumping in the popcorn tins. I did not do this. Another question: do you ever use the oxygen absorbers when you store food-if you do, what foods or grains do you use them with?

Sidney, Nebraska

No, you don’t have to use Mylar bags inside the popcorn tins. I’ve used mine for 25 years or more and have never had a problem. No, I don’t use oxygen absorbers. They would be a good idea to put in your sugar tins if you live in a damp climate. I’ve had sugar get hard, still in the bag from the store, if left on the shelf. Then I have to put it on a cookie sheet and whack it with a hammer to break it into smaller pieces, then use a rolling pin to get it back to usable sugar again. I leave brown sugar, which is notorious for getting hard, in a gallon glass jar, inside a tin (for looks) because THAT would get hard. Even in the jar, I keep a piece of damp paper toweling to keep the brown sugar soft. — Jackie

Starting vegetables indoors

We are starting to plan our garden for this year, and am getting conflicting information regarding when to plant indoors, and what. We are located a little north of you, just outside of Thunder Bay Ontario, and were hoping that there would be similarities in the growing season and any advice you could give. Typically our last frost is in late May/early June but last year it was late April, and we have had snow in June before.

I remember reading that you start your peppers in the beginning of February, and tomatoes in March, but what about the other veggies? What do you start indoors, and what can be direct sown outdoors? Can anything be planted outdoors before the threat of light frost has passed?

I have so many questions and truly appreciate the time that you take to answer them. You are an inspiration to me who is just starting out, and I often find myself wondering how Jackie would do it?

Nolalu, Ontario

There are a lot of variables in when to start plants, especially tomatoes and peppers. I start my peppers in early February because we set them out with frost protection (Wallo’ Water or hoop houses) in April. The same with our tomatoes. I plant them in March because we set them out in late April or very early May, also with Wallo’ Waters. We usually have our last frost date around June 14th, although a few years it’s been earlier.

I start my melons and squash in peat pellets or Styrofoam cups about May 12th, as you only want about 4 weeks from planting to setting out your plants. Root-bound melons and squash don’t produce well.

Cabbage family crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage should be started about the same time. You don’t want them to get too big or root bound before setting out. While these crops can take considerable frost and even freezing when large, they really can’t take a hit when little.
I direct seed my kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips right about the first week in June; better too late than too early. Like the cabbage family, they take plenty of freezing when big, but can kill back when tiny and receive a frost.

Onions are planted first, usually as soon as the soil can be nicely worked; they love cool weather and frost doesn’t bother them too much. Soon after, the peas can be direct seeded, then about the time your rutabagas go in, so can the carrots.

I plant my potatoes about the first week in June. I don’t rush with them, as we want to have them just mature before freezing in the fall so they will store well. (Two years ago, I planted them twice because of cold, wet weather that killed the first batch, and the second batch was planted on JULY 1st! And we had 550 pounds of nice potatoes to show for it. Some were kind of small, but we were thrilled! — Jackie

Five-gallon bucket nesting boxes

I was wondering if you had an old article or pictures on using 5-gallon buckets for nesting boxes?

Shannon Wilson
Amity, Oregon

Although I know some folks are happy with homemade nesting boxes made out of plastic 5-gallon pails, I’ve tried them and really didn’t like them all that much. Because of the smooth and slick rounded bottom, when the hens scratched out the shavings, they slipped and slid around, cracking and breaking eggs. Also, in hot weather, those nest boxes get pretty warm; the hens sit in there and pant with their mouths open. I much prefer wooden ones made out of scrap lumber. On one of my old blogs, there’s a picture of the one I made for my chickens a couple of years back. It’s still in great shape, didn’t cost a dime, and the hens really like it. — Jackie

Using a pressure cooker and hot peppers

I have a question about pressure canning in my new Cuisinart electric pressure cooker. There is nothing in the directions to indicate the pounds of pressure – only “Low” or “High.” I live at 7400 feet and am wondering if I can use this to pressure can things (I know it will only fit a few jars at a time; that is ok as I have a small garden and only have enough for three pints or so at a time) Any ideas?

One more question: my peppers last year were HOT — even the Hungarian wax ones — do you know what could cause this?

Northern New Mexico

This unit was made for pressure cooking meals, not canning. Sorry, but you need to pick up a real pressure canner.

Usually hot peppers get much hotter when they are stressed by heat and dry growing conditions. Be sure your hot peppers get plenty of water while they are growing and they should be less hot this year. — Jackie

Canning milk and honey mustard

I canned raw milk and I was wondering if it was normal for it to turn greyish looking and for it to have some thicker clumps in it? Also how long is it safe to keep canned?

I also have a couple of jars of honey mustard in the refrigerator and I was wondering if I could mix them together and can it so it would last longer and if so, how long to can it for?

Colleen Lebo
Jonestown, Pennsylvania

It is common for canned milk to have some separation in it. I’m not sure about the grayish color; it’s usually a bit beige. If the jars are sealed and processed according to directions, and the milk smells okay after opening, just whisk it before using it in your baking. Canned milk does NOT make real good drinking milk; it’s more like condensed milk and is used for baking.

You can combine your containers of honey mustard, but I wouldn’t can it. It keeps in the fridge just fine for months. — Jackie

Cooking a roast in a Dutch oven

I have three cast iron Dutch ovens. Each one gives roasts a metallic cast iron taste. No matter if pork, ham, or beef. Usually bake at about 300 degrees. Can you tell me how to prevent this?

Jim Johnson
Myrtle Point, Oregon

Do you use tomatoes or a vinegar marinade in your roasts? I like beef stew in a Dutch oven, but I also like beef stew with tomato sauce gravy. I, also, got metallic taste until I found out that acid (tomato, tomato juice, sauce or vinegar…usually used in a marinade) causes that taste in Dutch ovens made of uncoated cast iron. So now I don’t roast these things in my Dutch oven. Also, be sure to sear your meat in hot grease before you begin slow cooking it with the lid on. Your Dutch oven should be hot before you put your meat in it. Once both sides have been seared, you may add water or broth and then continue cook at a lower temperature with the lid on. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We are finally reaping rewards of our work

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Friday, we had our meat back from the packing plant and Saturday, I thawed out two T-bone STEAKS! I baked some homegrown potatoes, then set our steaks on to fry. Would they be tender? Would they be flavorful? They sure smelled good cooking! Standing in a pool of drool, I carefully monitored the steaks as they fried. When they were done, I put them on a platter and then in the oven to keep warm while I made gravy. The moment of truth…

Will sat down to his dinner and I grabbed the camera. The look on his face in the picture tells it all. “Oh my Godddd! Oh this is so GOOOODDDDD!” Nuff said; I grabbed my fork and dug in. The meat was so tender we could easily cut it with a fork and the taste was beyond description. (How do stores remove the taste of meat?) We stuffed ourselves and enjoyed every moment.

Sunday, I set about boiling down bones for soup stock. I had two of my big stock pots going on the wood range all day. When all was canned up, I ended up with 29 quarts and 6 pints of really great soup stock. And I still have more frozen bones to boil up! We don’t like to waste a thing around here. It does happen, but we sure don’t like it!

I’m just so happy with our little beef-raising project. With luck and the Lord’s help, we should never have to buy meat again!

Readers’ Questions:

A few questions and comments

1. Can you can frozen soup? I purchase Angel Food and so far each month I have frozen soup; trying to get away from freezer usage

2. You had a lady ask about canning squash soup. I have a recipe, but do not know the copyright laws. Can I send it to you, as long as I reference the author and book?

3. I canned 2 gallons of milk last year, and now it looks like a thick chunk of something — does it not keep long when canned? Does this mean it has gone bad? Can I use it? if so, how or in what? This batch was water bathed; I have also done a batch I did pressure can and it has a beige tint and has separated — “water” is on top and the other stuff is below; do I throw out, give to chickens?

Mary Helwig
Red Lion, Pennsylvania

You can home can frozen soup, but be aware that any soft vegetables in it, such as potatoes or carrots will soften more after processing. After all, you’re cooking them again. Other than that, heat the soup to simmering, then can as if it were fresh soup.

I think you can give the recipe you found for squash soup, as long as you give credit to the person/place you found it.

Sometimes canned milk does do that, but usually if you just whisk it after pouring it into a bowl, it will again look like milk…usually condensed milk. If it is sealed and was processed correctly, and it smells fine, it is perfectly good to use in cooking and baking. Canned milk does not make good drinking milk, however. Pressure canned milk does take on the beige tint as the sugars have slightly caramelized during processing. — Jackie


What varieties of asparagus have you purchased from Nourse Nurseries? I have very sandy soil and here in eastern Colorado our climate is hot and very dry in summer. I’ve been picking wild asparagus for many years along ditches in the neighborhood. As new people have moved in, they don’t use their asparagus but yet they forbid people from picking it. What a waste of good food. So I’m going to need to plant my own! Any secrets to planting it? Location? Depth? Water amounts?

Carol Elkins
Pueblo, Colorado

We planted and are buying 50 more Jersey Supreme asparagus roots from Nourse. They have a very good planting guide that will come to you, with complete details. Plant your asparagus bed on one side of your garden or in a different location, as it will be there forever, once planted, and you don’t want to have it in the way of annual garden work. Plant it in trenches, about a food deep or more, and spread the roots out like a spider. Although the Nourse planting guide advises not to put compost in the trenches, I did, as I’ve done it all my life. But I did use well-rotted compost, not high-nitrogen fresh compost, which would make the plants grow too fast or possibly even burn. Cover the roots with a few inches of soil, then leave the trench untouched; don’t fill it in. As the plants grow, cover a little more dirt at a time, until the trench is full. Asparagus does like water while it is getting established, although once doing well (as in a couple of years), it is more drought tolerant. But the more water you do give it, the fatter the spears will be…within reason (asparagus does not like wet feet/damp, swampy ground). Enjoy your asparagus; we sure do! I could eat it for three meals every day. — Jackie

Stacking jars

I don’t have a lot of room to store my canned glass jars. Can I stack the pints on top of each other? I only have them stacked 2 high right now. I have been checking and I don’t think any of the seals have been broken.

Linda Terefenko
Lamar, Oklahoma

What I’ve done in the past, when we have had a cabin with no storage is to keep the jars in boxes, with dividers, then stack the boxes. That works well when you need to go higher than two jars. While you’re not supposed to stack one jar on top of another, I’ve done it for years without a problem. I do try to put half-pints on pints and use a board between layers of quarts or pints, leaving the rings on the bottom layer for extra support. — Jackie

Fruit tree grafts

I was wondering how your fruit tree grafts did last year. I tried several and none of them took. I don’t think I secured them well enough.

Jim Bruce
Petersburg, Michigan

One out of four made it. It was kind of late in the season, and I’m a beginner. But this spring we plan on grafting a bunch of trees, do it earlier, and see how it goes. I know it does work, but like anything, it takes practice to get good at a new skill. — Jackie

Mice in basement

I’ve had tubs of “stuff” in our finished basement ever since we took them out of a storage unit 6 years ago. I’m home right now on medical leave and have had my sons bring several tubs up to the living room at a time for me to sort. Well…last weekend we found a deceased mouse in a half used bag of birdseed. Last night, my boy cats caught and killed one in my bedroom (NOOOOOOOOO) he was dispatched in about 1 minute as the hunter was a stray who had lived outdoors for 2 years until I brought him in to live. All the rest wouldn’t know what to do with a mouse. HOW am I going to get rid of these guys. There are still plenty of tubs in the basement to go through. My concern is that there is some type of disease (besides Rabies) that the cats can get by killing these guys. I have NO problem with letting the cats down in the basement to hunt, but I’m not sure they are going to get them all. Even though the one in my bedroom (NOOOOOOOOO) is the first live one I’ve seen. I love animals – yes, even mouses – I can’t bear to use snap mouse traps or the sticky traps (I think those are horrid).

Wanda Towles
Laurel, Maryland

I think glue traps are horrible, too; what a way to die. While I don’t like snap traps, I do use them when I have a mouse invasion. (I like mice too, but there comes a time…) You have good mousers, so my advice is to let the cats roam the basement; they will get them. Meanwhile, try to go through your boxes and eliminate any mouse-hiding places. I’ve found that large plastic storage totes work well to keep mouse-prone storage items in, such as clothes, blankets, foods, etc. They also keep stuff from dampness, too. Your cats won’t catch any diseases from the mice they catch. — Jackie

Meat goats

I know you raise goats for milk as well as meat. Do you disbud the meat goats?
I’m considering goats myself, a few dairy goats to be bred to a boer buck. Then sell the kids for meat (keep one for our freezer.)Seems the best of both worlds. But I cannot have horned goats on the property for safety reasons.

Also, your chickens and turkeys look great! My turkeys mingle with my chickens too, with no problems.

Mary Hartsock
Lancaster, Kentucky

We disbud every single kid born on the homestead; horns have no place on one, in my opinion. (I’ve seen a hornless doe run a coyote all the way across a five-acre pasture and boy was he traveling! Goats have attitude. And horns — any horns — are a source of danger for both the animal and the owner. — Jackie

Storing pet food

I was wondering about food storage for pets. We have 2 dogs and I’d like to have some items stored for them as well for a “just in case we need it” comes into play. Is there a storage time for dog food left in it’s original bag and what other alternatives could we use to create pet-friendly meals that can be canned and stored like a soup or something. I try to stock up on items an necessities for emergency situations and we have to think of our pets as well. On another note, I absolutely love BHM and have purchased issues for many years via subscription as well as newsstand. It is very informative and read it from cover to cover and multiple times. It has become my reference library for many things. Keep up the good work!

Vanessa DeGroat

There really isn’t a storage time limit on dry dog and cat food, provided that it’s left in its original bag and kept in a rodent/dampness-free spot. I, personally, stock up on dry food for our two big dogs and don’t can up food for them. If necessary, “later on”, we would simply cook more “people food” and feed them that, perhaps extended with rice, oatmeal, or cheaper baked goods (homemade). In hard times, we would plan ahead and make use of every single chicken carcass (boiled for doggie soup base, WITHOUT giving them any bones, just the excess meat, organs, and fat), every single beef, goat, and deer bone. We would also be planting extra carrots and potatoes for additions to our dogs’ food, as well. A wonderful old lady I knew shot and canned woodchucks for dog food for her beloved fox terrier during the height of the depression. You do whatever works. Thanks for thinking of your pets; some folks never do…even in good times! — Jackie

Excess berries and grapes

I was hoping you could help me out. Every year my hubby and I try to collect every berry and grape we have access to. There are probably a dozen different kinds of berries and a couple different kinds of grapes. The question I have is what to do with it all. After reorganizing our canning room I have realized we DO NOT need any more jams or jellies for a couple of years. Do you have any suggestions that would help? We have a juicer we uses for grapes and pears but it would be a waste I think to use it for the berries.

Jaime H.
Sturtevant, Wisconsin

What a wonderful “problem!” But there are uses for all those berries, other than jams and jellies. First of all, if you are on grid, freeze some of the best berries to use later for pies and other baking/ desserts. Don’t be afraid to juice them, either. Mixed juices (pear/berry, for instance) make terrific beverages as opposed to sodas. And don’t forget fruit leathers, made from seedless fruit purees. Not only are they great, healthy snacks, but you can also blend them with yogurt or homemade ice cream for terrific smoothies! And, of course, you can simply can up many berries to use later on. Most can up easily and taste great during the winter or years to come. — Jackie


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