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Q&A: Potato water as leavening, Canning honey, Smelly canned beets

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Potato water as leavening

Is it possible to use potatoes or the water they’re cooked in as the sole leavening agent in a basic bread recipe? If so, how, and can the leavening be made from instant potatoes as well as fresh-cooked? Will the bread rise as high as a loaf made from regular yeast? I’ve searched the net and can’t find an answer. Thanks for your great column and all your help over the years.

Kay Yount

Yes you can, but when you use potatoes or potato water, you are trying to capture wild yeast from the air. Many times you can, but sometimes the yeast you catch isn’t a nice tasting yeast for your bread. Usually most people opt for using a little “tame” yeast with the potato water to grow it in. This is more dependable. What is done is to use the potato water as the main liquid ingredient in a bread. Enough flour and the sugar in the recipe is mixed with the water to make a batter. This is left uncovered overnight, or up to 3 days, hopefully to catch wild yeast. You can help it by adding a little dry yeast. Add more dry yeast and you will have to wait a shorter period of time. The “sponge” should be nice and bubbly and smell yeasty, not stinky.

Just adding potato water as the main liquid in any recipe of bread results in a very nice quality bread with a rich taste. (And it doesn’t require “luck” as in catching wild yeast!)


Canning honey

I make a lot of herbal medicines, I have a lot this year and was wondering if you can can honey in a pressure cooker and if so the best way to do it?

Marie Howe

I have never canned honey at all. If it is just strained and poured into sterile jars and capped, it will remain pristine for years. Should it crystallize, I just set it in a sink full of hot water or in the warming oven of my wood range and it soon re-liquifies. The less processing our food requires, the better, I truly believe.


Smelly canned beets

I canned many jars of beets last year from our garden in Warren, Oregon. The beets were wonderful when fresh, but my beautiful jars full of beets have an awful smell when you first unseal them. We have eaten them and have survived…but the smell is awful and is almost like a gas. You can smell it throughout the room when a jar is unsealed. I used the recipe in the Ball canning book.



Your beets should not have an awful smell when they are opened. You do not say if these are canned or pickled beets, but my guess is that they are plain canned beets. It sounds like they are trying to go bad. Are they firmly sealed? If not, throw them out. I’m not sure what went wrong, but something obviously did. Beets are among the easiest of vegetables to pressure can, which I assume you did, following the instructions in the Ball canning book.

The old standby for eating home canned food is: Does it LOOK good? (as in normal) Does the seal require prying to remove the lid? Does it SMELL good (as in normal) and finally, does it TASTE good after being heated for 10 minutes at boiling temperatures? I hate to tell you but your beets fail the SMELL part of this test. I would not want to eat them. Go over your process, reading the book again. Most times we can find something we did wrong. We did not exhaust the canner enough before closing off the steam and building up pressure. We did not hold the pressure even during the entire processing time or we read the processing time wrong (for instance we looked at pickled beets’ time, which are not pressure canned) or we “hurried” the pressure back to zero by fooling around with the petcock to let steam escape or by removing the weight too soon.

Better luck next crop.


One Response to “Q&A: Potato water as leavening, Canning honey, Smelly canned beets”

  1. Desiree Says:

    In regards to canning honey: We’ve been commercial beekeepers for 20+ years. There’s no need to can honey other than to put it in clean jars and seal it well as Jackie stated. There’s good information to be found on this at the National Honey Board (NHB) website (, specifically the section on shelf-life and stability (

    I’m not sure what making herbal medicine has to do with canning honey though, so was Marie Howe was referring to putting something in the honey? If that’s the case, it would affect the shelf life of the honey. Moisture of any kind, like double dipping your spoon after stirring your coffee or getting water/condensation in the honey will cause it to go bad if it’s not properly processed. Since she mentioned she makes “herbal” medicines, I’m going to assume she intends to infuse the honey with herbs.

    If this is the case, she needs to heat it in a double boiler to keep the honey from scorching. The NHB has recipes regarding that also. For instance, I found this one for Mint-infused Honey by typing the word “infused” (without the quotation marks) in the search box on their site:

    * 1 cup honey
    * 1 cup mint leaves, loosely packed or 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

    Place honey and mint in a double boiler with water in bottom. Bring water to a boil, and bring honey to 185°F and keep at 185°F for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Strain while still warm. Place in sterilized jars and cap.

    Hope this helps.


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