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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, 2014

Jackie Clay

Q and A: nitrogen purged freezer storage, picking Hopi Pale Grey squash early, and canning salsa mix

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Nitrogen purged freezer storage

Do you know of any one doing nitrogen purged freezer storage?

John Alderman

No, I don’t. I do know of folks who use dry ice to remove the oxygen in long term storage containers but not for freezer storage. — Jackie

Picking Hopi Pale Grey squash early

Our Hopi Pale Grey Squash is growing like crazy, and it has at least a dozen nice big squash on it. This is my first time growing it, or any winter squash for that matter. Everything I read says wait until after the first light frost to pick them. Do I have to wait, or can I pick one now? It’s just I can’t wait to try it, they look so good.

Steve in Wyoming

Sure, Steve, go ahead and pick one. They are great tasting even when softball sized, used as a summer squash. Some of our friends just harvested and ate one of their immature Hopi Pale Greys and said it was the best squash they’d ever tasted! I’m tickled that yours are doing so well. — Jackie

Canning salsa mix

I purchased a salsa mix to add to my tomatoes (Mrs. Wage’s mild) and while the taste was great, I am questioning the processing instructions. The mix contains dehydrated vegetables and spices and for 10 cups of tomatoes, I added 1/2 cup vinegar. The instructions said it could be water bathed but that amount of vinegar didn’t seem to be enough to safely do that. What do you think?

Katherine Jordahl
Fergus Falls, Minnesota

That recipe is one that has been tested and found safe for canning. I don’t use it because I grow all of my own ingredients except for the lemon juice I use. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: goat milk soap and making apple relish with Asian pears

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Goat milk soap

You gave a recipe for Goat’s Milk Soap but for the life of me I can not find it. Would you please direct me?

Amanda Modin
Bend, Oregon

That recipe is on page 78 of the Sept/October 2014 issue of BHM (Issue #149). If you can’t find it, let me know and I’ll reprint it. — Jackie

Making apple relish with Asian pears

I make your Apple Relish every year. Have you ever, or do you think I could use Asian Pears in it instead of the Apples? As an aside, I bought the Punta Bunda Tomato seeds from you and I have NEVER had such high yields of sauce tomatoes! Yikes! Perhaps a warning, of “High…really high yield” should go onto the label! Yummmmm

Darla Reardon
Deming, Washington

Yep, that’s one reason we always grow Punta Bandas! I make tons of different sauces and it sure cuts down on the work as they’re so meaty.

Yes, you can substitute Asian pears for the apples in the Apple Relish recipe with no problems. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: larger canning jars and canning tomato sauce

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Larger canning jars

Have you/your readers noticed that the new canning jars are larger? I had to purchase new quart jars, Mason brand, and 7 jars would not fit in my pressure or water bath canner. I measured and they are almost 1/2 inch wider around than my older jars! YIKES! I need to go yard selling to get more jars.

Marcia Lambert
Clay City, Indiana

I haven’t bought new jars this year. Have any more of you folks out there noticed this? — Jackie

Canning tomato sauce

I canned your Tomato sauce recipe from your canning book page 83 with recommended spice which taste great. But in the process I forgot the lemon juice. Do I need to open the jars and reprocess or just use those up first? If it makes a difference with acidity I grow my own Amish paste.

Julie Marsh
Kingsville, Missouri

Well Julie, here we get into the gray area of canning. Experts regard pH levels of 4.6 or below to be high acid foods, including most tomatoes. A pH of 4.7 or above is considered low acid and you really need to add an acidifier such as citric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar to tomato recipes to be sure of safety. The “average” pH of Amish paste tomatoes is classified at 4.68, which should be safe for water bath processing. Then again, the pH of tomatoes can be affected by such things as growing conditions, weather, and ripeness (less ripe are lower in pH). Generations of folks have canned Amish paste tomatoes using the water bath method with no problems. BUT to be absolutely sure of safety, you can dump your jars into a kettle, reheat it to boiling, then ladle it into jars and add the lemon juice. Use new lids and re-process in a boiling water bath for the same time as if you were making fresh sauce (pints 35 min, quarts 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure). — Jackie

Jackie Clay

So far we’ve had a great fruit harvest

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Besides harvesting many wild pin cherries and chokecherries, the wild plums are coming on like mad. Not to mention our own tame fruit. We’ve been especially thrilled with our Hansen’s Bush Cherries. The fruit is large, almost the size of wild plums, meaty and tasty. And it makes the BEST jam and jelly ever! Yum. We’re planting several cherry pits in a tire full of dirt so they’ll chill and overwinter outside, to come up next spring. We’ve done that in the past and nearly every pit sprouted. We’d like a whole lot more of these bushes around our homestead. (We’ve been planting them in clearings here and there around the place, making “wild” bushes out of them.)


Burgess sells them very inexpensively but they call them Western Sand Cherries. Other catalogs call them different things. But look for Prunus besseyi, the scientific name, if unsure.

Our grapes really took off this summer. We have ten different varieties and some are bearing this year. Our Valiant is leading the pack with ripe, tasty bunches of beautiful grapes. I wanted to make a grape arbor for them out of stock panels this spring but that never got done. Oh well, maybe next spring?


The orchard really took a hit with last winter’s record-breaking cold spell; 90 days of subzero weather for a high, in a row! We had a lot of branches that winter-killed and even a tree or two. But amazingly, our Frostbite survived untouched (hey, it’s the name!) and has a good crop of tasty apples. Also, our Prairie Magic and Trailman crab (which tastes wonderful) are heavily loaded. Other trees vary from one or two apples to none. But if they live it’s a miracle. We’ve heavily pruned the dead wood and the extra young branches off the trees in order to put more strength into the roots and help re-shape the trees. Hopefully, they’ll recover and go on to grow nicely next spring. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hey everyone, there was a mistake in the photo in the recent nut article

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

We made a mistake in the current issue, Issue No. 149, September/October 2014. In the article titled “Nut trees on your homestead,” we inadvertently put in the wrong photo over the caption that reads “Chestnuts grow inside groups of prickly burrs which split open, revealing shiny, flattish nuts when they become ripe.” We put a photo of a horse chestnut, which is poisonous. Horse chestnuts are so bitter that it would be hard to accidentally eat them, but they are poisonous. We should have put a photo of an edible American chestnut. We apologize for the error. Please share this with any BHM subscribers that you know.


Because we were concerned, we contacted some folks who know about poisons and such.

According to an Oregon Health Services University toxicologist, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea are the most common symptoms of eating the seed. But, it is so bitter that it is intolerable to eat so it is very rare for someone to ingest a large amount.

Also, the person we spoke to at Oregon Poison Control said the seed is very bitter; it is highly unlikely that someone would swallow it. Minimal cases are reported, as it is a well-known plant. On the off-chance that someone did eat it, the seed will not kill them. One or two seeds may only cause gastroenteritis, and larger amounts cause mouth irritation. Ingestion of large quantities (or repeated ingestion of small quantities) can cause bigger systemic problems, particularly in children.


But the Bill Bean tomato in this photo is no mistake! We have several that will weigh in at three pounds or more. WOW! One plant has more than 20 tomatoes on it that weigh at least a pound or more each. Now that’s productive. And for such a huge tomato, it is very meaty and makes Brandywine cringe in shame.

Yesterday we hosted a gathering of the combined Chisholm and Hibbing garden clubs. We toured our gardens, orchard, and berry patch and spent more than 3 hours showing people what we grow and varieties that do well for us here, and explaining how our homestead works. It was fun and very well attended. The interest in heirloom, open pollinated crops was exciting.

Today while Will is hauling round bales of hay home from the fields I’m starting to harvest seeds from some of our earliest maturing tomatoes. Bill Bean, which we had previously figured was a 100 day tomato, came in at just over 75 days this year! We always save seeds from the earliest maturing fruits to “encourage” the varieties to become earlier producing. So I have several bowls lined up on the counter ready to receive tons of tomato seeds from many different varieties of tomatoes. Some are old favorites such as Punta Banda, Early Firefall, and Cherokee Purple but a lot are new to us. We’re especially excited about Alpine, a smaller “regular” tomato that is hugely productive and early; Indigo Beauty, a mid-sized gorgeous tomato with a purple top and orange lower half; Glacier, another very productive smaller tomato; and Mule Team, which is a red, round quite early flavorful addition to our garden. What fun!

Just a note: We still have many slots left for our Sept 12-14th Homestead Seminar. I’m not sure what’s happened, but there hasn’t been a lot of response to this potentially great harvest seminar. If you’re interested in coming, let us know. (We may have to quit offering seminars due to lack of response.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: flu tonic and storing dehydrated foods

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Flu tonic

I have a recipe that I call my “flu/cold tonic.” I am wondering if it can be canned for longer storage.
Juice of 6 fresh lemons
1 bulb garlic
2 tsp. ginger powder
2 Tbsp. honey
3 cups pineapple juice
¼ tsp cayenne powder
Blend all ingredients thoroughly and store in a glass jar. Take 1 cup 4 times a day until the symptoms are resolved.

Shellie Gades
Evansville, Minnesota

Sorry, but as it’s a mixed recipe (citrus and garlic), I really can’t say for sure. What you might do is to can up all of the juices together then add the spices, garlic, and honey at a later date. Sounds like a good cold remedy to me! — Jackie

Storing freeze dried and dehydrated foods

I recently ordered the Meals in a Jar book by Stephanie Petersen and the stated shelf life for some of the recipes are as little as 5 years… I was hoping they would last longer. How long do you think meals in a jar made up with freeze dried ingredients prepared properly with a oxygen absorber should last? Thank you so much for any thoughts!

Crystal Misiak
Millboro, Virginia

Most freeze dried and dehydrated foods will last for decades if stored properly — out of direct light, sealed well in airtight containers, and kept relatively cool (the cooler, the longer they’ll last). Mixed recipes should last equally long unless they contain ingredients such as nuts or whole grain flours that go rancid fairly rapidly. I would expect the mixes to last much longer than five years but not having seen the recipes I can’t say with absolute certainty. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: tomato sprouting and homesteader savings

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Tomato sprouting

I was wondering if you ever saw a tomato that had a plant of some kind growing out of the fruit itself. I’ve had two of them from the garden now and am wondering if you’ve ever seen this and how it happens? Looks like an alien coming out of the tomato! There are several “stems” pushing out of it with many more just under the skin. I’ve searched the internet and can’t find anything on this.

Gail Panzitta
Cream Ridge, New Jersey

Actually, I have seen this. It’s tomato seeds from inside the “mother” tomato that are germinating prematurely. Usually, the gel that surrounds the seeds prevents this. But sometimes something goes “wrong” and the seeds start germinating early. I’ve seen apples that have been in long-term storage do this too although the sprouting seeds haven’t penetrated the apple flesh or skin yet. — Jackie

Homesteader savings

I am new to homesteading. I follow most all your advice on keeping a homestead. We live in NJ on a small lot where I grow all our vegetables. Our neighbors have chickens and we all share our veggies and eggs together. We are not completely independent financially so my husband works outside the home while I tend to all the living in the home. We have a question regarding savings. How and where do homesteaders store their spare cash? I feel funny about keeping a jar of cash in the house. But I don’t have enough to put it in a savings account without fees. What do you recommend?
Suzanne Paquette Richards

Savings? Yeah sure — we’re homesteaders! Seriously, we put most of our “savings” into our homestead as we figure that’s where it’ll do us the most good without such things as bank failures or the stock market crashing. When we saved up for a down payment on our new forty acres, we did open a savings account just for that purpose. The bank fees were tiny, as were our first deposits. You might check with other banks. Sometimes credit unions are a better bet. Other than that, we do keep a small amount of ready cash (just in case) where it’s safe from theft. Much of our own “savings” is in cattle and other livestock that we have a ready market for, both immediate at the auction barn and planned sales of meat which nets us a much greater income. The rest is in improvements in our homestead that let us easily accomplish more later on. Another of our “savings” is trying to stay out of debt, paying off any loans (tractor, car, etc.) before they are due by making extra payments, etc. No credit cards to suck down our minimal income. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: cover cropping and making soap

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Cover cropping

Most of my vegetables are growing in 4×10 foot raised beds. I have been reading about the benefits of cover cropping after harvest and over winter and would like to know if this can be done in raised beds. If so, please explain how to do it and the best plants for my area which is the southwest.
Christi Newhall
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cover cropping not only reduces the weed population in your garden or raised beds but it also adds green manure which can be tilled under or dug in to enrich the soil. It also holds snow in the area. A whole lot of old-time farmers call snow “white manure” as the minerals it contains enrich the soil. A real easy cover crop is oats. You can plant them now in Santa Fe and they’ll still be several inches tall when the snows/freeze hits. Oats will take a few frosts but will kill out over winter. In the spring, simply dig them into your beds and they will have choked out a lot of tiny germinating weeds from the fall but will add tilth and green manure to your beds.

Making soap

Thank you for giving us your basic goat milk and honey soap recipe in the current issue. There is one concern I’ve had that has kept me from making my own goat milk soap. I know you have a conure in your house too and I am worried about toxic fumes around my pet bird (sun conure.) If I mix the lye and water outdoors and wait for it to come to the proper temperature will there be any problem with toxic fumes upon bringing it back indoors to add to the other ingredients? Or would I have to complete the entire process outdoors? Thank you for your wonderful advice.

Mary Hartsock
Lancaster, Kentucky

While I wouldn’t make soap in the same room with our birds, there isn’t much of a problem if the birds are in another room, far from the soap-making. Put the bird in a bedroom and close the door or locate its cage in a room far from the kitchen where most of us make soap. I’ve never had a problem using these simple precautions. I’d go ahead and make your soap inside. It’s a lot easier! — Jackie


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