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Ask Jackie headline

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

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Archive for January, 2012

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Canning pea soup, cleaning chicken eggs, and hamburger rocks

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Canning pea soup and cleaning chicken eggs

I have 2 questions:
#1. I just canned some green pea soup. I followed the directions on-line for canning dried beans. My beans ended up in the bottom of the quarts in a solid glob. Are they safe to eat? I know you talk about noodles/rice and dense food. They all sealed and I have been able to shake some of the solid mass.

#2. I read online that if your fresh eggs have chicken feces on them you should discard them. That it has already contaminated the egg and no amount of washing will clean it. Jackie just about all my eggs are like that. Is it safe to keep eating them?

Ramona Berry
Newberry, South Carolina

I wouldn’t be afraid to eat your pea soup. The peas remain in solution with the liquid during processing, but when they cool, they settle into a glob; they have sufficiently heated during processing first.

You can read about anything online! Wash your eggs and don’t worry. The only way the poop could possibly contaminate the egg would be if it were cracked. What do you think commercial egg factories do with eggs with chicken poop on them? To keep your own eggs cleaner, use shavings in the nest boxes and also on your coop floor so the hens feet don’t pick up poop when they hop into the boxes to lay. Clean feet make for cleaner eggs! — Jackie

Hamburger rocks

Have you ever made hamburger rocks? (Dehydrated hamburger) If so, how safe is it to store and use? I’ve never dehydrated meat before but am thinking of trying it.

Glo Diliberto
Insinger, SK Canada

I haven’t made hamburger rocks. But I have dehydrated a lot of other meat. Choose hamburger that is very low fat so the fat doesn’t get rancid and you’ll be fine. Give it a try and see how you like the results. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

The Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference was a great success

Monday, January 30th, 2012

I spoke three days on subjects such as backyard fruit growing, canning meat, meals in a jar, and herbs in small spaces. People were very interested and after each workshop, there were plenty of questions. In fact, I answered questions for nearly an hour after most classes! It was fun and we shared a lot of information. When I wasn’t speaking, I got to attend some other workshops and I learned a lot, too! Good food and good people made for a great time.

Now I’m all primed for our first on-homestead seminar here, in May! (There still are a few spots so e-mail if you’d like more information.)

Today I’m kind of whipped from all the hurrying at the airports, sitting and sitting…and sitting waiting for connections. But I’m sure I’ll have more energy tomorrow. It was sure good to get home to my family and my own beddie! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Brooding chicks off-grid and pickled okra

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Brooding chicks off-grid

Years ago I raised lots of day-old chicks using a heat lamp to brood them. I want to get back to poultry now that I am retired but my homestead is off grid. Any Ideas other than running the generator many hours and charging batteries to provide heat during the night. Solar is in the future but not in time for a May start on chicks. Would a low btu propane heater work.

Howard Brewi
Valdez, Alaska

We used a propane heater to brood our chicks in the house (in our sunroom/greenhouse). At first, we needed it on all day and night, but as the temperatures warmed up, we found that the chicks were comfortable with the heater off, as long as the house was reasonably warm (wood heat and sunshine through our big windows). We did keep a small CFL burning over the stock tank we used to prevent picking and also to prevent piling up after the heater was not used at night. I’m posting a photo of our setup to help give you more ideas. It CAN be done! — Jackie

Pickled okra

Asking for my sister…She has pickled okra that the seals are turning loose on. They have been stored in her pantry with no extreme temp changes and nothing stacked on top. They were canned this past summer, however, in the last two weeks the lids have started pinging and turning loose. Any ideas as to the possible cause and would the vinegar keep it safe to eat or should the contents be thrown out?

Becky in Alabama

I don’t know why your sister’s pickled okra jars are having seals that are failing, as I don’t know how she processed it, etc. But if the jars are having pinging lids that are releasing, something is wrong! No, I wouldn’t eat the okra. It’s the old saying “when in doubt, throw it out.” It hurts when it’s your home canned food, but take it as a learning experience and try to figure out what went wrong and follow tried recipes to can it next time. Don’t let one failure throw you! It happens to all beginners at one point or another. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Garden seeds and acorn bread

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Garden seeds

I have a question about your garden seeds. I’m trying to have almost everything heirloom, but it’s almost impossible isn’t it if you don’t want your squash, cucumbers and other plants to cross pollinate? Do you plant some hybrids for this reason? Also do hybrids store better in a root cellar than heirloom? One last question- can I save my potatoes from last summer to plant this coming summer if there are some left-they are heirloom.

Jacqueline Wieser
Sidney, Nebraska

Growing nearly everything in the garden from open pollinated seeds IS possible with a little thought. For instance, only plant one variety of cucumber, bean, pepper, etc. Some crops, such as tomatoes and beans are pretty much self-pollinating, so you can just separate the varieties by several feet and still raise pure seeds. Pumpkins and squash have different varieties in each of the four common species. By choosing only one of each to save seeds from, you can still grow a big variety of them and still raise pure seed. I’d suggest you take a look at my article in BHM, Saving Seeds, which is in Issue 129 (May/June 2011) for more detailed information.

No, hybrids do not store better. My all-time totally best storing vegetable still remains my wonderful Hopi Pale Grey squash. I have one right now, sitting on the floor in our greenhouse, that was harvested in the fall of 2010 and it is still hard and plump! This is NOT unusual.

Yes, you can save your own seed potatoes as long as the potatoes showed no signs of disease when growing or upon harvesting. — Jackie

Acorn bread

I came across your wonderful article on acorn bread. I have a question. Do you have a recipe for making acorn bread without any other form of flour? If not, in your opinion do you think it would be possible to make bread with just acorn flour. I have about 3 cups ready to go and I’ve been looking around for this type of recipe.

Christy Adamucci
New Jersey

You really can’t make acorn bread without any flour. Native Americans would make acorn “cakes” with no flour by mixing a little fat and ash (tastes similar to salt) and patting them into fat tortilla-like cakes and baking them on hot stones. Without the flour, acorn bread will not rise and the “bread” will be VERY dense, indeed. I’d use a recipe that included flour and leavening, whether baking powder or yeast. Some Native Americans used a recipe that included both acorn flour and cornmeal, but again, that was patted into cakes and baked, making a very dense, yet tasty food. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Baking mixes, storing dry pasta, and root cellar

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Baking mixes

After looking at the Bisquick type recipes in your new book am wondering, other than shelf life, is there any difference in how these mixes work? Shortening compared to dehydrated shortening.

Betty Anderson
Berryville, Arkansas

No differences other than possibly having to add a bit more liquid in some recipes to create the most workable dough when you use the dehydrated shortening. I use both with equally good results. — Jackie

Storing dry pasta

What is the best way to store dry pasta? I really would like to store it in glass jars but I don’t know how. I guess the other way might be in the bags that I see in the survival write-up web sites.

Charles Hancock
Hazel Green, Alabama

Dry pasta stores very easily with no extra frills and supplies. You can simply pour it into glass jars and screw down the lid. I used to store mine in gallon glass jars for years. Now I store mine in used, clean popcorn tins, like you get around Christmas. I’ve never had any get rancid or in any way damaged. Works great! And it’s cheap. — Jackie

Root cellar

I have a question on root cellars. My wife and I have finally managed to buy a piece of land on which to build our retreat. It does not / will not have electricity but I would like to be able to store some foodstuffs and canned goods there but obviously they need to be kept from freezing. Unfortunately the home site is literally on the side of a mountain so digging a cellar is out of the question due to ledge rock. My thought was to build a small room from block and cover it with earth. Would this work and if so how deeply must it be covered?

Allen Foster
Northfield, New Hampshire

Yes, this will certainly work. If you would insulate the sides of your root cellar with dense insulation board (below grade quality), you can probably pile dirt over it about three feet deep in your location. You will have to play with this a little by keeping a thermometer in it for the first couple of years. You may have to add some more dirt later if your cellar gets down too close to freezing. Snow on the dirt will also help insulate your root cellar. Be sure to add a double door system with an air lock between to help protect your cellar when you enter and exit during the winter. And don’t forget to insulate your doors and add a vent through the roof that can be opened and closed as needed to keep the cellar cool, not freezing, and keep the condensation down. Pick up a copy of Bubel’s book, ROOT CELLARING. It is very good and a complete book on many different methods of construction. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Preserving juice, growing tomatoes, and preserving by confiting

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Preserving juice

What would be the best way to preserve juice in wine/sparkling cider bottles? I’ve been a winemaker for several years, and would like to be able to make non-alcoholic juices to share with my non-drinking friends. I’m assuming it would have to be processed in a water bath. Would pop bottle crown caps hold up, or would I need to use metal screw caps?

In making wine, it is common to use sulfite as a preservative. Could this alone be enough to preserve juice, if kept in the refrigerator?

Larry Curfman
Oakville, Washington

A long time ago, I used to bottle both fruit juice and ketchup in used beer bottles I’d picked up along the road. After washing and sterilizing them, I filled them with boiling juice/ketchup, then capped them with a press-on bottle capper (hand machine). This worked fine, but I didn’t water bath them and don’t know how you’d do that with press-on lids. Any readers with more information for us? — Jackie

Growing tomatoes

I know I read this in BHM but can’t find it. What kind of tomatoes do you grow that ripen pretty much at once for canning. I have all your books and garden every year, but never get enough tomatoes at once to can.

Lorraine Dingman
Fulton, New York

Some of the varieties that we grow that tend to ripen heavily, more or less at one time are: Oregon Spring, Punta Banda (Native Seeds/SEARCH), and Silvery Fir Tree. You might consider using a hoop house for your tomatoes. We had your problem with peppers, so last year Will built a cheap, easy hoop house out of PVC pipes and plastic. We harvested bushels of huge peppers! No heat, no special treatment! Wonderful. I’d also suggest starting your tomatoes out in Wallo’ Water plant protectors. This not only lets you plant earlier, but it also develops a very strong, vigorous root system and the plants consistently bear heavily and ripen much sooner so you can get to canning. — Jackie

Preserving by confiting

Long time since I have written but I read your blogs like clockwork every week. I am writing to tell you that I recently discovered making my own bacon (smoked and non-smoked and other charcuterie like terrines/pates and confit) – I have a quick question – have you been confiting at all – (preserving in fat) and if so have you tried preserving in pork fat? (If you wrote about it before sorry as I guess I missed it). By the way hope weather has been treating you better this year as it has up here in Ontario Canada – we’ve had a glorious (non cold) December and picture perfect Christmas when it finally showed on Christmas Eve/Day

farmgirlwanabe from Ottawa Ontario

No I haven’t been confiting. My husband, Will, fights high cholesterol, and I’m getting pretty high, so I really watch the fat in my cooking and preserving. I do know about it, and have for years. My grandmother used to preserve pork chops (lightly cooked) in lard, and they kept that way all winter and into the spring months. They had no refrigeration.

We’ve also had a strange winter; January temps varying from -30 to 45 above! Up until yesterday, you could do chores in tennies! But today, we’re getting clobbered and it really looks like winter out there! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’m packing for the NPSA Conference…with a little help

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Tomorrow, I’m flying to Aberdeen, South Dakota, for the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture conference so today I’m madly packing ( Click on the conference schedule button on the right of the page to see when I’m speaking). Will brought his wheeled travel bag downstairs for me to use to carry the books I’m bringing to (hopefully) sell. Mittens, our teen-kitten, thought it made a terrific playhouse. He spent more than an hour in and out of that bag, popping the flap open to ambush Spencer, then hiding back in the bag. What fun! I let him play until he was bored, then started loading it up, keeping the 50-pound checked baggage limit firmly in mind. I don’t mind flying a bit, but all the security and the fees for baggage DO make me cringe!

Hope to meet some of you at the conference! Please come over and say hi!

Oh, just an update: Several readers questioned our building a pig pen from used pallets, thinking the pigs would dig under, lift them up, or jump over them. Here’s a photo I took yesterday in the snow storm of our pigs IN the pallet pen.

We have yet to have an escapee. Pallets make great fences! And they’re free. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Compost freezing, Tattler lids, and dirty windows

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Compost freezing

We are in Colorado near the mountains. We have many bags of excess compost/steer manure from when we purchased and had trees planted this summer. If we leave the bags outside (where it freezes), will that affect the compost – killing off any live organisms? The next planting projects won’t start until late Spring again where we can get the compost in the ground to do its magic.


Freezing will not affect the compost. It will be just as good as it was in the fall, before freezing. — Jackie

Tattler lids

I have a question about the Tattler lids. I have an unusually high number of lid failures. I am following the directions on the box to slightly loosen the lid before canning and then to tighten it after processing. I bought hundreds of these lids and would like to use them more.

Dana Stine
Singer, Louisiana

I love my Tattlers. And I haven’t found I had any more failures with them than I do with single use lids. Two thoughts: maybe you’re either loosening the lids too much (or not enough) before processing or not tightening the rings soon enough after processing? I’d suggest calling the Tattler people; they’re very nice and helpful. You get instant one-on-one conversation to resolve your problem. They want you to succeed just as much as I do! — Jackie

Dirty windows

I heat with wood. Now the windows are covered with a dirty film. I tried the fancy store cleaners; vinegar, ammonia, and finally lye soap. Now they are worse than ever. Come spring I will try again. Do you have any suggestions for cleaning or any fail proof recipes for cleaner.

Shirley Adkins
McArthur, Ohio

I wash my windows first with dish soap/hot water, then use vinegar and crumpled up newspapers as a “finish.” They come out clean and streak-free. — Jackie


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