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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 August, 2012

Jackie Clay

Q and A: spoiled sweet potatoes, canning baked beans, and food strainer

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Spoiled sweet potatoes

What would cause sweet potatoes to spoil after about 2 weeks? The lids were sealed after pressure canning. But still spoiled.

Stan French
Bandy, Virginia

Because I didn’t see how you canned them, I can only guess. This happened to me, ONCE. I had been canning a truckload of sweet corn all day and night for three days. When I had the very last batch in, I was exhausted and turned the heat off when the canner was finished processing. I went to bed. The next morning I took the lid off my pressure canner. All quarts had sealed. I put them on my pantry shelves. Two weeks later there was a horrible smell in my pantry. All of the jars had come unsealed and the corn spoiled. When your canner is finished timing, always let the pressure return to zero, wait a couple minutes then take off the weight or flip up the petcock and take off the lid. Immediately take the jars out of the canner and place them on a folded, dry towel on your counter. The jars need this hot-cool situation to seal firmly and completely. Leaving them in a hot canner to cool off so slowly often results in seemingly sealed lids that later come unsealed in storage. I hope this was the case with you and that your next batch will be perfect. — Jackie

Canning baked beans

I canned up your recipe for Boston Baked Beans from your “Growing and Canning Your Own Food” book. When They were finished and cooled, the jars looked like the food was over dry. But, they sealed properly. Is it possible to still use these beans? How would I fix them when I opened the jars to cook heat them for dinner?

Latricia Self
Dallas, Texas

I’d say your beans are fine. Perhaps there was a fluctuation in your pressure during canning that resulted in liquid being blown out between the lid and jar. When you heat them, just add a little water to get the right consistency. As always, when opening a jar of canned food, look at it, sniff it, then heat it if it seems fine. — Jackie

Food strainer

Help! I just used my Victorio Food Strainer for the first time. I went to wash it up but can’t get the red plastic screw out of the metal screen. Any suggestions on removing it?

Helper, Utah

Try soaking it in very hot, soapy water. Then plunge it into ice cold water. Usually that’ll do the trick. If not, try re-assembling it and pouring cooking oil into the chamber (with a pan under it). Turn the handle a few times, then let it sit. The screw should slide out fairly easy when you take it apart. If that doesn’t work, I’d suggest calling the company. This is NOT a common occurrence. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We hosted a local homeschooling group last Saturday

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

A homeschooling friend asked if their group could come out and tour our homestead on Saturday. Always happy to encourage new homesteaders, especially kids, we said YES!

Boy, was that fun! We had a yard full of thrilled kids, the oldest being about ten. They petted and fed the goats, calves, and baby pigs. They ran, laughed, squealed, and learned a lot about our homestead. One little girl came into our house and said, “This is my dream house!”

We also took them into the garden where they ran through the corn, picked ears and ate it raw. They really thought that was a treat. Of course, they got to eat ripe tomatoes too and learned how carrots grow. I think a lot of the families will be back with their kids for a more personal tour. Most parents were very interested in learning more about homesteading and some already had acreage where others were planning on moving to some homestead land.

What a fun afternoon!

Jackie Clay

Q and A: making hominy, hen kicking out bedding, and processing pickles

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Making hominy

What kind of lye or lime to you use to make hominy. I tried the soda method and it didn’t work for me. I used 2 tablespoon soda to a quart of dried corn. It didn’t slip the skin or the tip. I have found some Sodium Hydroxide but while I was researching the page said to use lime.

Sandy Tobler
Spiro, Oklahoma

I have used both sodium hydroxide and pickling lime to make my hominy. Both work well. Check out my corn article in BHM’s Issue #136 (July/August 2012). There are complete instructions in the article so you can make your own great hominy. — Jackie

Hen kicking out bedding

My question is this: How do we get a hen to stop kicking her bedding out of her box. She kicks it all out and lays the egg on the wood bottom and when it hits of course it cracks, not bad, but it does crack. She is 4 months old and she has laid 3 eggs like this. We have tried shredded paper, pine straw and leaves. If you can help it sure would be appreciated.

Iris Jones
Chickamauga, Georgia

You can try screwing a piece of wood across the opening, leaving enough of a “door” that she can get in but will have a very hard time kicking out the nesting material. That’s worked for me. — Jackie

Processing pickles

I made my usual refrigerator pickle recipe last night. It’s 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 2 Tbsp. salt, 1/2 cup sugar, pickling spice, hot pepper flakes, dill weed, coriander seed, and peppercorns. I cut the pickles into 4th’s — spear shaped. I decided to try processing them in a boiling water bath canner, to save room in my small fridge. I also added 1/8 rounded tsp. Pickle Crisp (Calcium Chloride granules) to each pint jar. I only processed them 5 minutes, as the pickle mix I used to use (Mrs. Wages) called for processing the larger Qt jars only 5. Is this OK? Now I see many recipes calling for 10 or 15 minutes processing time. I know that pickles are pretty forgiving, just wanted to see what you thought. The jars were filled piping hot and bands and lids applied immediately and then right into the canner, lid on for a full 5 min at a nice boil.

Cathy Ostrowski
Amherst, New York

Your pickles will be fine. Many of our grandmothers never water bath processed pickles at all. But along the line, experts feared spoilage and introduced processing them in a water bath canner — just to be sure. That works fine but does cause some pickles to get soft. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve been haying for a week straight; only two more fields to go and the hay loft is stuffed

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

It’s been sunny and hot. Perfect haying weather … although it was hot when I was on the tractor, baling yesterday and the temp hit 92 degrees.

I’ve also been trying to put up beans and sweet corn — they’re really producing. Thankfully, the heat has slowed down our tomato ripening, although we sure have tons. I’m especially happy with some heirloom Italian beefsteak-type tomatoes we planted this year. There are a lot of them and they are huge! (Photos next blog) We’re also happy with the Fortex and Lazy Housewife beans I planted this spring. They are very long and can up very nicely.

A lot of folks have been asking if we plant our corn/beans/squash in the Three Sisters method where you plant corn then plant pole beans at the base of the corn plants and squash in the corn rows. It’s the ancient Native American method of planting to get more food from a smaller plot. (If you’ve ever worked ground using a planting stick instead of a rototiller, you sure know why that is!)

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well for us modern homesteaders. We like our pole beans green for snap beans. We like our fresh sweet corn on the cob. And the squash runs all through the corn patch, leaving it inaccessible for picking with huge squash vines twined across rows and all through the corn. I didn’t plant squash in the corn patch, but it’s found its way in there. I went to pick some corn for dinner and couldn’t walk down the rows! I sure hate to break squash vines by stepping on them. But I’ll have to get at that corn to can it up this week. We’ve got a huge amount of nice, fat corn ears just waiting for me to pick. Guess what I’m doing today?

Jackie Clay

Q and A: whiteflies and filling the canner

Friday, August 24th, 2012


I have just started gardening with my grandson. He has 5 pumpkin plants and I planted 6 Hopi squash. Each group are in their own 100 sq ft growbox. Our summer has been brutal with temperatures well over the 100 degree mark. I water early AM and later in the evening. We are in the low desert.

I have teeny white pests. They seem to be spiders, but the smallest ones fly out when I disturb them. I’ve used Sevin on tops and under leaves and stems for several applications. The pests are winning the battle. The internet info. is so conflicting, I can’t even get a solid answer on what these bugs are. Also, researching your archives, it looks like you don’t use Sevin — I thought I was using a natural, harmless method. YIKES. How can I get rid of these pests? What can I do to help prevent pests in the future? I have 5 more growboxes and it’s time to plant for our fall harvest.

Pam Peterson
Nelson, Nevada

My guess is that you have whiteflies. They are very small and cause a lot of damage to garden plants, especially squash and pumpkins. No, I don’t use Sevin. Ever. Usually neem oil, pyrethrins, or rotenone will quickly take care of whitefly invasions. These products are available at most garden stores. You can also buy them online from such companies specializing in natural pest control as Arbico and Gardens Alive! Should I be wrong in my long-distance diagnosis, these products will also kill many other insect pests, too. Be sure to gather up all garden debris from affected plants in the late fall and burn them to prevent them from over-wintering in the dead vines. — Jackie

Filling the canner

I have a question on pressure canning. Sometimes when canning things that require a 90 minute time, I have room left in the canner, is it possible to can broth in there even though it would be in there longer than normal, would the broth be boiled out or overcooked?

Dracut, Massachusetts

Yes, I’ve often filled my canner with jars of broth while I’m canning meat. It works out fine. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: grafting pears and food-grade bags

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Grafting pears

Have you used rootstock from Bradford pear? They are considered a pest in north Georgia. I have them coming all around my property. Two years ago I grafted an Orient pear into a three inch diameter Bradford seedling one year after it grew six feet and it grew eleven big pears. The second year it was eight feet and produced two bushels.

Cecil Richmond
Resaca, Georgia

Unfortunately Bradford pears are not hardy in our Zone 3. We have to use Siberian Ure pears. Good tip for southern homesteaders, though. Grafting is definitely a useful homesteading skill. — Jackie

Food-grade bags

I am going to do freezer corn again this year. Where I work I can get quart-size bags very cheap. Not food grade. I do not cook in the bags they are just for freezing. Do you think this may be a problem because they don’t say food bags?

Forest Grove, Oregon

I’d stick with food-grade plastic. Some plastics are toxic and leach fumes into food during storage. Others just leach odors. I try to save every nickel I can, but I try to be safe too. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning in tainted water and canning corn

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Canning in tainted water

I’m new to canning. I’ve been at it for about two years starting with jellies and have been slowly trying new things. The problem is that I have small children so I find myself canning at night while I’m tired. Most recently I didn’t prepare enough jars for my relish and pickles and had to add jars that weren’t warm enough to finish canning. The jars on two different occasions were not heated enough because they broke in the water bath. I didn’t know if I could still use the tainted bath or had to empty out the canner and re-heat the water. Will my jars still seal correctly if bathed in relish tainted water?

Frances Meny-Plunkett
Weare, New Hampshire

What I did when I had small children was to find something “special” to keep their interest while I canned. It might be some special toys that got put away after canning so they remained “special”, a movie (didn’t have TV so a VHS movie was a huge treat), or making things with Playdough or clay in the next room. After they were about 5, I slowly let them begin to help me in the canning process, keeping them away from the hot pots, of course. Shucking corn, washing cukes, sliding skins off tomatoes and peaches all fascinate young kids and they begin enjoying “helping”. If you set them up on a far-away kitchen table while you do the dangerous work, they feel like they are a part of the process and still stay safe.

If you don’t have hot jars ready, just run cool jars under the hot water tap in the sink. This heats them enough so they won’t break when you put them into the water bath canner. If you have a breakage, go ahead and use the yucky water. The jars will still seal and it sure saves time. — Jackie

Canning corn

I used my pressure canner for the first time to put up eight pints of creamed corn. We waited for over an hour for steam to come out of the vent. The canner made a ton of noise and you could put your hand over the vent to feel the hot air coming out but it was not steam. We finally gave up and put the weight on. It came right up to the correct pressure and we processed following your recipe. There was plenty of water in the canner when it was finished but, I don’t understand what happened. I thought we would see a strong stream of steam, let it blow for ten minutes, then put the weight on. It shouldn’t have taken that long to produce steam, right? Is the corn safe to eat? All but one sealed.

Frazier Park, California

How much water did you put in the canner? I hope you put a couple of inches in, because that makes the required steam that processes the food when heated. With a mid-sized canner that holds 7 pints or quarts on the bottom layer, this happens in about 10-15 minutes. You should see a strong column of steam; you wouldn’t want to put your hand over the vent! Did you can on an electric stove? Some don’t get hot enough for canning. Or maybe you used a smaller coil?

I would refrigerate that corn and use it relatively soon or heat it to boiling temperature and try to re-process it with new lids and washed out jars, providing it smells and looks okay. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: more peppers and planting saved seeds

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

More peppers

I was reading in your blog this morning about the problem you are having with your peppers having too much plant and not enough fruit. I have found if you put three matches (I use plain book matches) in the hole before I set the plant in, it keeps the plant from taking up to much nitrogen. It won’t help this year, but it sure works for me.

Siberia, Indiana

We’ll sure try your tip, Sandie. Our plants look like palm trees but there sure aren’t many peppers. Certainly not like last year. Bummer. Luckily, I canned up a trillion last fall. — Jackie

Planting saved seeds

I have saved this years seeds from beets, dill, chard, and carrots. Can I plant them right away for a fall harvest or do they have to hibernate till spring? Do any of these need to be frozen to germinate? By the way, our turkey is still laying an egg almost every day.

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

No, these crops do not need to have their seed frozen or chilled to germinate. I don’t get a fall crop but I just harvest and dry the mature seeds and put them in containers until next spring. If you have time, go ahead and plant them if you want. News flash! Our one remaining hen sat on 10 eggs and came off the nest with eight poults! Hooray! — Jackie


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