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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 October, 2011

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Cleaning the wood stove, grain mills, and re-canning peanut butter

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Cleaning the wood stove

Was wondering if there is a way to clean out a wood-stove and limit the amount of ash that floats all over my living room? We don’t have an outside clean-out. During the winter months we usually have a light layer of ash all over our living room. This year, was wondering if I could sprinkle anything on the ash or wet it, to limit the amount that floats around?

Donna G.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sprinkling doesn’t work because when you shovel it out, the ash flies anyway. You can soak it down, but that isn’t really a good idea for your stove’s durability. What I do is turn on the vacuum and lay the hose outlet over the door. Be sure to open the damper as that helps draw some of the flying ash up the stovepipe/chimney. Unfortunately, this is one of the problems with wood stoves and we all have to live with it to some degree. The vacuum does help a lot, though. Also, when you shovel out your ash, move very slowly and dump each shovelful very gently. Hurrying just puffs the ash all over the place. — Jackie

Grain mills

I have a question about grain mills. What type/brand do you feel is the best? Lehman’s offers mills at all different prices, with the most expensive at around $1200. This one is cast iron.

Paulding, Ohio

There is no “best.” It depends on your situation. For daily family use, I like the Country Living mill. It is a larger hand mill. But it is relatively expensive. I have an old, small, but efficient hand mill, the Back to Basics (now Victorio) mill. I bought mine on sale for less than $50 at Emergency Essentials. I’m also thinking about a decent electric mill, with my old mill and a Country Living mill for back-up if TSHTF. My wrists are getting bad, and although my small mill and the Country Living mill with a handle extension both grind quite easily, I may go electric on this one. Generally, you get what you pay for…within reason! If you only grind a bit of flour every few weeks, I sure wouldn’t advise paying $1,200 for a mill. — Jackie

Re-canning peanut butter

My apologies if this has been discussed before, but is there any way to safely “re-can” a large container (commercial size) of peanut butter? I know making your own peanut butter is not very difficult, but I see the question brought from time to time. I seem to recall seeing that it could be waterbath canned for 60 minutes in some much older canning books…but I’m very leery of doing that.

James Jackson
Knoxville, Tennessee

I’m sorry, but as peanut butter is such a dense product, it isn’t advisable to can it, whether canning freshly made or store-bought. Dense foods create a problem in that it is possible that the interior of the jars don’t heat up thoroughly for long enough during processing for safety. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Pectin and fruit questions and ground meat jerky

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Pectin and fruit questions

I read your posts this morning on the Pectin and the Cider and had a question. After we can that Pectin following that Cider recipe, how long will the pectin be good for?

Got a couple of fruit questions too, we were blessed enough to get several fruit trees at some unbelievable prices. 4 Elberta Peach, 1 gala Apple, 1 Jonathan Apple, 1 Santa Rosa Plum, 2 Kiefer Pears, 16 Blueberry Bushes (2 different varieties), 14 thornless Blackberry Bushes (2 different varieties). The Berry Bushes, believe it or not were $1.00 each and are in gallon pots. All were 1 to 1 1/2 foot tall (not counting the pots). We have hard clay for soil. After we dug our holes, we added some potting mix and peat moss to each and then put a good 3 inch layer of cypress mulch around the base of each plant/tree. My questions are, is there anything else we need to do, to prepare these new plants for winter. We live in Central Alabama. Also, what should I feed them in the spring? We have access to horse manure right now and just started a compost bin.

From Alabama

Jenny, your pectin, once canned, is good for years and years. You got a real steal on your fruit! Good for you. Be sure to water your trees and berries until freezing weather hits. (If it doesn’t freeze tight in your area, give them a drink once in a while all winter.) In the spring, mulch them out to the drip line (trees) and around your berry bushes with rotted compost and manure. Do be sure your manure doesn’t contain hay that comes from a field that was sprayed with herbicides to kill weeds in the hayfield. Those chemicals can kill your garden plants and trees, too. Fortunately, this practice is not yet widespread. — Jackie

Ground meat jerky

I want to make some ground meat jerky. I have conflicting recipes, however. Some say to bake in the oven first, then put in the dehydrator and dehydrate, while some say to simply use the dehydrator. Do you have a preferred way of doing it? I’d love to get your recipe.

Sarah Axsom
Natchitoches, Louisiana

I just use the dehydrator or my oven with the heat turned down as low as it goes. Mine goes down to about 160 degrees. I do several different flavors and really don’t have one recipe I use exclusively. Here’s a start for you, though. Remember that the marinade is just that; it has nothing to do with the keeping ability of the jerky.

3 lbs. ground, lean meat
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder or one clover garlic, crushed
1 tsp. liquid smoke
1 tsp. salt

Mix this well and either use a jerky gun (very cheap and really makes a nice product) or form meat into jerky-sized strips about 1/2-inch thick. Briefly lay the strips on a paper towel to absorb extra marinade, then lay another on top of the meat to absorb any extra from the top. Place in your dehydrator at 145 degrees. When your jerky is nearing doneness, raise the temperature of your dehydrator to 160 degrees and finish it at that temperature. Dry until it is leather-like. Store in the refrigerator or freezer. (In the “old days” people dried their jerky to stick-like dryness, which took real effort to chew. But it kept without refrigeration. Modern, flexible jerky won’t keep long at room temperature without getting moldy.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

First hard frost and then snow

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Winter’s quickly approaching! First we had a terrific freeze (down to 20 degrees) with a hard frost. The frost was pretty, as it made beautiful patterns on our truck and lawn. But right on its heels, was SNOW. I’m talking about an inch here, not a few flakes! Boy, does that shove us into “getting ready for winter” mode!

Yesterday, before the snow, I spent the day pulling tomato cages, piling spent vines, and stacking tomato stakes. I did three rows of 14 cages/stakes each. I still have another row and a half to go, but I’m getting there. I’m piling the plants to burn. Burning spent tomato vines helps reduce the possibility of blights or insects wintering over in the dead vines. And the resulting ash is good for our acidic soil.

Meanwhile, Will has been busily working on the barn and also picking up various “messes” around the yard. Some of these included some old lumber and logs, which we sawed up for firewood. I helped split them and we ran them into the house in the wheelbarrow just before rain came. Now our back porch is piled high with emergency wood and the woodshed is getting really, really full. What a great feeling. Especially when we woke up to that inch of snow this morning! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Allergic to nightshade vegetables and Canning cabbage soup

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Allergic to nightshade vegetables

I am looking at my food storage. Lots of canned veggies and pasta meals. I recently found out that I am allergic to all the nightshades, that’s right, tomato, potato, eggplant (not a big loss there!) all peppers red and green. I cannot tell you the difference it has made in my arthritis pain.

These nightshades are most of what stored food is about. And I can’t eat concentrated carbs like bread, pasta, and cake. So, I am stuck with spinach and spam? Can I make beefy veg meals to can? I sat with the Ball canning book recently to see if I could come up with meals to store. Any ideas would be appreciated. I probably need a greenhouse.

Mary Lou
Gray, Maine

No, you are definitely not stuck with Spam and spinach! At the risk of seeming commercial, please pick up a copy of my book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food. There is a complete section on canning meals-in-a-jar which should get you going. Remember that you can leave green and red peppers out of nearly every recipe. Tomatoes are harder to leave out, of course, but my husband, Will, prefers his chili and stews with a brown gravy, where I always used a tomato sauce. I like the brown gravy sauce too, so the change didn’t kill me! I’m sure with a little thought, you can come up with tons of foods to can up that you’ll love. — Jackie

Canning Cabbage Soup

We have had a very good year for cabbages. Is it possible to can cabbage soup in a chicken stock base with some pork chop pieces in it for flavor? How long to pressure can and at how many pounds?

Brad Barrie
Strong, Maine

Yes, you can. As you’ll be adding meat (pork chop) to your soup, you’ll be processing your soup for 75 minutes (pints) or 90 minutes (quarts) 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. You can also can cabbage in chunks (don’t listen to those who say it isn’t good; we do it every year), pickle cabbage, and make canned cabbage rolls. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Storing egg noodles, Making pectin and cider, and Canning pear sauce and pear juice

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Storing egg noodles

Here’s a poser for you: I have a ton of dry egg noodles. Would it extend their quality/shelf life if I broke them off to fit in jars and pressure canned them? Wouldn’t the vacuum extend their useful life? That way I could keep the noodle jars next to the chicken soup jars. Or am I wasting my time?

Dan Norgard
Prescott valley, Arizona

I’ve never had noodles go bad or rancid during long-term storage. But as with all long-term storage foods, do rotate and use some of them in your daily cooking. One tends to “save” their long term storage foods and buy “new” foods to use daily. This is counterproductive. Be sure to store your noodles and other dry foods in airtight containers that are insect and moisture proof. I store many of my “store” bought foods in their original bags, in another airtight container. — Jackie

Making pectin and cider

We were given lots of apples; want to make apple pectin and apple cider maybe some hard cider. How do we proceed?

Chuck and Judy Criswell
Chiloquin, Oregon

To make apple pectin, chop whole slightly unripe apples into quarters or smaller pieces, with the skins left on. (If you use ripe apples, they sometimes do not have sufficient pectin.) Put them in a large pot and add barely enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until the apples are very soft. Strain through an old pillow case or other lightweight fabric. The resulting slimy, slightly thick liquid is your pectin. This pectin is not the same as SureJel. You’ll first need to test it for pectin content.

To test the strength of the pectin, pour a little bit of rubbing alcohol into a glass and then drop in a spoonful of cooled pectin. The pectin will coagulate into a jelly-like mass. If this mass can be pulled out with a fork and it forms a heaping gob on the tines, it is concentrated enough to jell perfectly. If it can be picked up by the fork, but mostly hangs from it, then it will jell loosely. If it cannot be picked up by the fork in mostly one mass, then the concentration is too weak for it to jell. In this latter case, you just have to boil it down to increase the concentration of the pectin. (The alcohol test doesn’t work right if the pectin is hot. Let it cool first.) When your pectin level has tested adequate, you may freeze or can your pectin using the cider canning method, below.

When you want to make jam or jelly, mix nearly half apple pectin with juice, then boil well. You can use the alcohol test to check the jelling ability of your juice after it has cooled. If it seems adequate, add 5 cups pectin/juice to 7 cups sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Keep at a rolling boil until it reaches the jel stage.

To make apple cider, you need to grind your whole apples, then press the pulp with a cider press. There are several available at a fairly reasonable price. Strain the juice to remove bits of pulp and skin, then bottle and refrigerate. Canning the cider can be easily done, but fresh cider tastes orchard-fresh; canned cider tastes more like apple juice. To can it, heat the cider to simmering; don’t boil. Pour hot into hot, sterilized quart jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your processing time to suit your altitude, if necessary.

We don’t use alcoholic products, but you can find hard cider instructions by typing “making hard cider” into your browser. Cornell University has a very good site that is easy to read. — Jackie

Canning pear sauce and pear juice

Just canned up some pear sauce and used the time listed in your book for apple sauce, 20 minutes. I actually did them for 30 minutes because I am at a high altitude. Is that the correct time for pear sauce?

Years ago you said I could can pear juice. I can’t find the print out of the information. How long to process that in quarts.

Helper, Utah

You can pear and apple sauce for the same length of time: 20 minutes. You’re fine. Pear juice, though, should be processed for 25 minutes, for quarts. As you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, increase your processing time to suit your altitude. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Mean rooster, sick chickens, and poor garden area

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Mean rooster

You do not know how much help you have been as I try to tackle some of my dreams. But I have a question about our chickens. We have six hens and one rooster. The rooster was just hatched this past spring. He is picking on one of our hens who was hatched last year. He just goes after her to pick on her/attack her. It’s not the typical mating stuff. We’ve been able to keep them apart for the last month or so. (But we put The Boss in with all the hens at night and remove him first thing in the morning.) He used to get along with this particular hen. Could her molting have caused him to think she’s weak, and thus prompted his attacks? She’s done molting as far as I can tell, and he’s still attacking her. Is there anything I can do to help these two get along? She’s a good layer, and we were hoping to hatch a batch of our own chicks next spring.

Allendale, Michigan

Sometimes one chicken just becomes aggressive with another. The molting may have started it, or not. His maturing hormones may have just gotten overstimulated. You can try trimming his upper beak off with a pair of dog toenail clippers, removing about 1/3. If it bleeds you’ll need to be prepared to cauterize it with a red hot screwdriver blade. This sometimes stops the picking. If not, I’d advise trading the rooster for another one or butchering him to save the hen. Or you could trade the hen to someone if the rooster is only picking on her. Good luck. — Jackie

Sick chickens

We have chickens; one is dying every week or two weeks. Bleeding out their vent. We have 3 ducks in with them and have not had any problems with the ducks. Any idea what is wrong?

Mike McIntosh
Rudy, Arkansas

Watch your chickens carefully. Are one or more of the chickens picking on the others? Often when there is bleeding from the vent it comes from having been picked by other birds. Hens can take very little of this before dying. If this is not the case, I’d advise taking a recently dead (or live bird with symptoms) to your local vet and asking his opinion. — Jackie

Poor garden area

What a wealth of info you are. Since you’ve worked with all kinds of soils, I’m hoping you can direct me a bit. For 5 years I’ve planted a 25′ x 50′ area beside my house. The soil had been covered with a mobile home for over 10 years and I had it removed. Everything I’ve planted has been hit or miss. I’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, cukes and melons + other stuff. I’ve got a mostly clay/sand composition and had been adding a bit of peat moss ( about one bale of it across the entire plot.

This past year I contacted an old high school friend who raises horses and went and got enough manure to sprinkle over the entire surface last Jan. Then I tilled it in twice three weeks apart. Cukes went crazy, fantastic. Peppers, tomatoes and melons set a lot of fruit, but lost 95% to blossom-end rot. Our summer was very dry so I used soaker hoses, but several times we got torrential rains of several inches at a time. String beans did really well too, but okra didn’t get as tall even though it produced well. My wife is fed up and doesn’t want me to plant a garden anymore because of my poor luck. I also specifically ordered Heirloom seeds this year and started cukes and tomatoes from seed in the house, another thing she hates. Any suggestions ? I just want a garden that works.

Larry D. Petersime
Moncks Corner, South Carolina

Sorry to hear your wife isn’t supportive of your gardening efforts. But I think when your garden begins to produce well, she’ll come around. Nobody can resist all those garden fresh vegetables! Your biggest problem is your clay soil. You just need more organic material worked into the soil to make your garden work well. Many new gardeners experience partial (or total) failures with a new garden plot and give up. So sad! Hardly any new garden is really productive; it just doesn’t happen. Gardens require a few years of care before the soil gets into good condition and you gain experience. Here on our new raw homestead in the woods, we started out with pure gravel and rocks. But slowly, as we added more rotted manure through the years and worked the soil, picking tons of rocks, our soil improved into a rich black loam. And it’s terrifically productive now! Yours will be too. It takes rotted manure, hard work, and patience. See if your friend can give you a lot more manure this fall and winter. Pile it on at least eight inches deep (or what your tiller will till under), leave it to “cook” for a few weeks, then add another layer and till that in. Go a little light on the area you will be planting tomatoes and peppers — too much manure will result in lots of plants but few tomatoes. As your soil improves, it will retain moisture and blossom end rot will gradually be a thing of the past. Hang in there!

Do be aware that in some areas of the country, farmers and ranchers are spraying their hay fields with a herbicide to improve the quality of their hay (no weeds!). Unfortunately, this has seriously affected a few homesteaders who have used this composted hay/manure on their gardens. It has residual affects on all plant life, including your garden vegetables. This practice is fairly uncommon in most areas, thank God, but I thought I’d better mention it, FYI. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We spend another day helping Bill

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

We went down another day to help out my oldest son, Bill, frame in his new garage addition. The old garage is a two-car garage he built on a heated slab, several years ago. He used one half for a workshop and lived in the other half, built into an efficiency apartment. When he started building his log home, he was a single man. Then he met Kelly Jo and later they were married. They shared that little apartment as well as the work finishing up the new house. Now the house is gorgeous, inside and out, and they are expecting their newest child in February. My, how time flies!

Sunday was a gorgeous day, unlike last Saturday when it was cold and a 40 mile wind was blowing. We had fun and worked hard, getting both gable ends framed in and extensions on the rafter tails to allow for a good 2 feet of overhang on the roof. There’s still lots to do, but it’s getting there. And Bill is not going into debt for this big addition.

When finished, he can repair smaller motor homes, travel trailers, tractors, and other things he buys, fixes up, and re-sells to make a little extra cash to supplement his job as a technician at Oak Lake RV and Campground. Bill is like us; he designates a certain profit for a chosen purchase. For instance, he bought, repaired and sold a large RV and used the profit to buy new appliances for their new home when they moved into it. No debt and they have nice things. Way to go, Bill and Kelly! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Potatoes and onions sprouting, Easter Egg chickens, How many jars, and Homemade crackers

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Potatoes and onions sprouting

Potatoes and onions harvested in July are sprouting now, they are in total darkness, at a constant temp of 54 F, with very low humidity. They were sun cured and brushed off, not washed, what am I doing wrong?

ps, You don’t happen to have a single twin sister?

Pat Dorman
Lometa, Texas

It may be the variety of potatoes and onions you’re storing; some store very well but others do not. Potatoes do like a bit more humidity during storage, though. And a lower temp for both of them would also help, although that’s not always possible. I’ve found that storing potatoes in coolers or other covered containers helps lower storage temps, too. Are they are in total darkness or do you have a light bulb that comes on occasionally? I found that one year my onions and potatoes were sprouting way early and looked up where my basement light was burning brightly above me. Due to other basement uses such as washing clothes and retrieving canned goods, that light was on a lot. The next year, I moved my vegetables to a totally dark corner of the basement; no window, no light (only when I retrieved potatoes, carrots, onions or other veggies). They did much better. Here in Minnesota, I’ve quit planting potatoes so early. We’re so into “must get it in” during the early spring, due to our short season, that I was ending up harvesting my root crops in early August. Now we plant so we’re harvesting in early September. That month makes a huge difference in our potato sprouting in storage! They do better in the ground than in my pantry.

No, Pat, sorry. No twin and my unmarried sister doesn’t care to live like I do. But I’m sure there are a whole lot of great single women out there dying to meet a homesteader guy! — Jackie

Easter Egg chickens

A couple of years ago our neighbors bought several “Ameraucana” (probably more generic Easter Eggers) chicks from the local feed store. They came from a fairly well-known hatchery in the western US. One of their chicks turned out to be a rooster, and their hens have laid nice blue and green eggs faithfully. In April of this year I hatched three of their blue eggs in my incubator and got two pullets from the bunch. Now they have started laying–brown eggs! I’m a bit stumped. As the mothers are Easter Eggers and the father also an Easter Egger (they only have one rooster in a completely enclosed coop), I was expecting to get blue or green eggs. I don’t know the genetics behind the Easter Eggers, but I’m assuming because they’re probably not necessarily pure Araucanas or Ameraucanas, the brown eggs are a result of cross-breeding somewhere in their genealogy. Have you heard of this situation before? Shouldn’t they be producing green eggs? I’m glad the little girls are finally laying but was looking forward to the blue/green eggs both of their parents came from.

Dallen Timothy
Gilbert, Arizona

Some “Easter Egg” chickens produce pinkish, tan, and even brown eggs; all don’t produce pretty blue or green eggs. It’s too bad you got brown egg layers when you wanted ones that laid pretty eggs. Probably the genetics behind the eggs you chose to hatch resulted in the brown eggs and you’ve no way of knowing that. — Jackie

How many jars?

I am a brand new canner, my first recipe I want to try is your ham and beans recipe you posted on your Ask Jackie column, as we are getting fresh pork this weekend. Being a new canner, maybe this is a no brainer, but how do you know about how many jars you need for a recipe? I don’t have an excess of jars yet, so need to figure out how many to have on hand before I start the canning! I will be using a pressure cooker to make them and probably putting them into quart jars. Is there a good rule of thumb for knowing how many jars are needed for different recipes?

Lisa Cunningham
Mechanicsville, Maryland

Congratulations on your beginning canning adventure! You’ll find it a great hobby and money saver when you begin canning all that great-tasting food. I would recommend having two dozen pints on hand for the beans and ham. You won’t need all of them — probably about 14. There’s no rule of thumb as there are always variables in canning foods. What I do is always have a few too many jars ready and on hand. If you need only nine, it doesn’t hurt to have a dozen ready. I just kind of “eyeball” it, seeing how much food my recipe seems to have made and go from there. As you can more, you’ll also develop a pretty accurate “eyeball.”

Keep us posted on your journey and let me know if I can help along the way. — Jackie

Homemade crackers

Do you have a recipe for homemade crackers, or do you think its cheaper to purchase them? (white saltine type)

Bev Giroux
Oxford, Maine

I have several recipes for homemade crackers in my newest book, Jackie Clay’s Pantry Cookbook. They are not hard to make, but as many people are too busy, buying inexpensive crackers, on sale of course, is often a better choice. Here’s a basic cracker recipe; there are several available:

½ cup lard or shortening
7 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder

Mix dry ingredients well; cut in lard or shortening. Add enough water to make a stiff dough, a little at a time so you don’t get a sticky dough. Knead lightly on a floured board, then roll thin. Cut into squares and prick with a fork. Place on lightly-greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. You may use a pasta machine or noodle maker to roll your cracker dough out thinly. You may also brush unbaked dough with butter and sprinkle on salt for baked salted crackers. — Jackie


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