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Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning apple cider syrup and starlings and blackbirds

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Canning apple cider syrup

You provided information about canning apple molasses today. Does the apple cider need to be fresh, or can I use apple juice from the store? I have never heard of apple cider syrup — sounds awfully good!

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

You should really use fresh apple cider (never brought to a boil which would make it juice, not cider). Apple cider syrup is not new but it is a newly-discovered treat for many folks. You don’t harvest a lot of syrup from a gallon of cider, less than 1/7th of a gallon, which is why many modern folks don’t do it. But when you have lots of fresh apple cider, boy, is it good! — Jackie

Starlings and blackbirds

Job losses now totaling two, involving wife and me (52nd year anniversary on June 15th) and one of our sons. Anticipating hard, hard time just ahead, and in spite of limited gardening again this year being done in restricted space (front yard here in town) and as health problems intermittently allow … and the resulting ability to provide food, we are seeking any suggestions as to palatable recipes for wild bird. We have an abundance at the moment of Starlings and Black Birds and pellet rifles to harvest them when that becomes nearly our only meat source. Your advice will therefore be very much appreciated. (Wife is a stroke victim with brain/memory damage — but I have always cooked.) When “push comes to shove,” we have a small wood stove/heater and firewood, having anticipated the loss of being able to afford the luxury of natural gas and electricity.

James & Frances Wyatt,
Cleveland, Tennessee

Barring the legality of shooting “song” birds (starlings and blackbirds are not usually protected but I’d check first), I do know that blackbirds are very tasty. I’m not so sure about starlings as I’ve never eaten them. A long time ago, on my first homestead, an elderly Russian couple had a weekend cabin across the road from me. They had a beautiful garden. In the fall, I’d hunt pheasants nearly every day after work as I wasn’t making big wages as a vet tech back then. The woman stopped me at my mailbox one afternoon and asked me to please come shoot those birds as they were eating her garden up. I grabbed a handful of shells and my shotgun and walked across the road. There were hundreds of blackbirds in the trees all around her garden. I used up my shells with blackbirds raining out of the trees. The rest left. She hurried around, gathering up blackbirds in her apron front. “You come for dinner, ya?” she asked. And I did. Proudly, she brought out a roasting pan full of little, golden brown birds, looking like mini-chickens. Yep, the blackbirds! Well, I was too polite to refuse and ate two of them and went back for seconds. They were really pretty good!
So I’d say that any way you’d cook chicken would sure work for their little cousins.

Don’t forget about harvesting wild greens too. Lamb’s quarter, red-rooted pig weed and young nettles are all very good substitutes for spinach and young, tender cattail stalks, pulled from the plant (eat the white bottom), tastes just like cucumbers.

And go fishing real often! I used to every evening and it sure helped feed me.

All the best of luck. If you have anything I can help you out with, please ask (questions, garden seeds). — Jackie

6 Responses to “Q and A: canning apple cider syrup and starlings and blackbirds”

  1. Steve Jones Says:

    James and Frances
    Starlings are not protected federally, and I don’t know of any states where they are. Blackbirds however are protected federally, but can be harvested in depredation situation. The laws regarding depredation harvest are kind of mirky. Another one you might consider, if they are around, are feral pigeons. They are not protected anywhere that I know of, and are quite tasty. A lot of meat on them compared to a starling to.

  2. Nancy Says:

    I wish the Tenn, couple lived closer to western Ill. I would invite them to live here in our great big house that we rattle around in and he could help me in my garden and I have lots of canned food and meat to be canned yet. I would love that.

  3. Karen Says:

    According to the Migratory Bird Treat Act (see https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/RegulationsPolicies/mbta/mbtintro.html) it would be illegal to shoot the blackbirds. You can see a list of species covered by the act at https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/RegulationsPolicies/mbta/MBTANDX.HTML. Starlings and English House Sparrows are not native to North America.

  4. gen Says:

    The “CAT TAIL” part of the plant, while it is yellowish in color, and young, can be bent over a bucket, and using your hand, just wipe it off into the bucket. This can be used 1/2 and 1/2 or 1/3 – 2/3 with AP flour to make muffins and pancakes. But remember to only select plants from areas where there isn’t heavy traffic, and also be watchful of any possibly poisonous water snakes.
    Dandelion greens can be cooked like turnip greens, or mixed with turnip or beet greens. But don’t pick in areas where dogs and cats might be doing their business. Poke Salat/Salad greens. YUM! The birds around my area have made my yard poke salat alley. Please remember the seeds and stems are poisonous, even if the leaves aren’t. The smaller leaves are more tender. I forgot on dandelions, pick the new yellow blossoms, rinse well and remove any green, dip in a thin batter and fry. I like them. Also the wine we used to make from the blossoms, when I was younger.
    If TN has those nice big blue crawdads, like I used to catch in AR, whole boiled, fried tails, gumbo, just to mention a few ideas to use them.
    I wish you and your family the very best.

  5. Linda Says:

    Go to food banks. I got 20 lbs of leg-thigh quarters and a hen at one last month. I get about 45 meals from that amount of meat. Even if you eat more than I would, you can still get a month’s worth of meat from that one trip to the food bank. Some times, they give a turkey. Today, I received a package of six chicken legs, a package of ham for sandwiches, and a gallon of frozen blueberries, a package of hamburger buns, 20 cans of food, one pound of dried beans, a box of cereal, and three packages of cookies. The cookies I will give away. Since there are 11 food banks that I can go to, there is plenty of meat and beans, canned food, and sweets. Fresh fruit and vegetables when I only purchase what is on sale. Good luck.

  6. gen Says:

    James you piqued my interest with your question on the birds. I read what I could find. It seems you can eat starlings, but the concensus was that you should cool them down quickly, and to wear gloves when defeathering (I forget the correct term) because they are not ‘clean’ birds. Then they said the breast meat was the only thing large enough to save, and you can cut it into smaller pieces and grill like on a kabob, or you can stew the meat with vegies and thicken the sauce, then bake in a pie like the old nursery rhyme. They said starlings are dark like goose meat, with a bit of a wild taste, but that they are considered a delicacy in Europe. I hope this helps. In my state starlings are considered nussiance(sic) critters, but that isn’t the case in all states. Need to call fish and game to find out in your area.
    best of luck,

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