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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 November, 2014

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Scarlet Runner beans and canning cranberries

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Scarlet Runner beans

Two years ago I ordered some beans (edible), red flowers, climbers, only got 5 beans in packet. Saved all the beans for this year. Planted them, had lots, ate some (delicious) kind of sweet. Saved lots for next year. Ended up in hospital, they froze. Brought them in opened them up and let them dry, can I plant them next year? Or are they too far gone? if you think they’re OK, would you like a few to start your patch? Don’t remember where I got them. Are you in need of more hostas?

Marlene Kevelin
Circle Pines, Minnesota

Your beans sound like Scarlet Runner beans. If your beans were mature when they froze they’ll be okay. Check for mold. They should be hard, shiny, and full. I do have Scarlet Runners, thanks. Pass them on to other friends. I’ve run out of room for hostas right now. Maybe in the future? Will is going to convert our spring basin pond into a garden spot sometime in the future, making the pond look natural and pretty instead of a hole in the ground. Thanks for the offer! — Jackie

Canning cranberries

I have some nice bags of frozen cranberries that I want to pressure can. I know this has come up in the past but the answers were not very clear. If left to my own devises, I would use little or no sugar since my hubby is diabetic. I would process with 10 lbs. for as long as it took to bring up to pressure after a 7 minute vent time of the pot. Do you think this is too much or too far from safe procedures? I would love trying to cold pack them raw. I would appreciate knowing what variables you have tried. They were bought fresh and I froze them.

Jeannie Livezey
Richardson, Texas

It’s really easy to can cranberries. Just thaw, rinse, and sort. Then pack cranberries into jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Gently shake the jar to settle the berries. Pour either boiling syrup (light for your husband) or plain boiling water over them leaving ½ inch of headspace. Wipe rim of jar, place hot, previously-simmered lid on jar, and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints and half-pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Cranberries can up very nicely and are great for baking. Since they are a high-acid fruit, they do not require pressure canning. Enjoy! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’m sure you’ve had “one of those days”

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Last Thursday was one for me. My adopted son, Javid, is still getting his ducks in a row after we moved him here from Montana. To get his Social Security Disability, he had to have a photo identification card. To get that he had to have a certified copy of his birth certificate, which the “helpful” Social Services in Helena had lost. So I tore off to Virginia (the city, not the state, thank God!) and got one for him. $27. Then we reserved a handicap bus to pick him up at the nursing home. That was $77 for a round trip of 10 miles. (OMG, how could they charge that much?) We were on the bus five minutes. We got to the driver’s license bureau and the bus left. Inside, we filled out the form and took it to the window, where the nice lady informed us that the computers in the whole state (motor vehicles/drivers license) were “down.” Couldn’t do a thing, sorry. So I called the bus back. It took half an hour to get it back, in which time the lady tried again to get the computer to work. No go.

So back to the nursing home we went. Of course there was no refund for the $77 for the bus. There was no way I was going to spend another $77 for another bus the next day, so, thank God, David didn’t have school Friday and he came back with me and lifted Javid into the car seat and back out again at the Driver’s License Bureau. (Yes, I did call them Friday morning to make sure the computers were back “up”!) We got that done and Javid will get his card in about 6 weeks.

Then David and I tore off to Hibbing, 23 miles west, so he could apply for a replacement Social Security card after losing his wallet this summer. Got that done for free with no glitches. By then I was more than ready to get HOME!

And back to homesteading. As we had great warmer temps, into the mid thirties, Will and I butchered six big fat meat chickens. With his handy-dandy Tornado Clucker Plucker, it went fast and easy. Today I’ll wrap and freeze the birds to can up after Thanksgiving. (They do need to chill for at least 12 hours in refrigeration before eating, freezing, or canning so they’ll be tender.)


Today Will finished hauling rotted goat manure out onto our garden and buried a bunch of old rotten stumps, logs, and branches, shoved into a dip, with more rotted manure. No, we’re not doing hugelkultur gardening, just getting rid of ugly wood and flattening out a big low spot. One more job well done! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning pear butter, storing brown rice, and wood usage

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Canning pear butter

I made some pear butter this past summer and it is really thick. If it is too thick can it fall in the same category as pureed squash?

Sheryl Napier
Newport News, Virginia

No, because pears are a high acid food and because you add sugar, a thick product is perfectly safe to can and eat. (Pumpkin or squash puree is a low acid food and thick low acid foods are now considered at risk to can.) Eat and enjoy! — Jackie

Storing brown rice

I would like to know if you have any good information on storing brown rice.

Joshua Viens
Kenai, Alaska

Because brown rice is a whole grain, which does contain some oil, it does not store the best long-term. It will become rancid after a few months — or even sometimes a few weeks — once the bag is opened. It’s best stored in either a refrigerator or freezer. In case of emergencies, when the freezer or refrigerator no longer operates, you can then take the brown rice out and it will still remain good for quite awhile. Keeping it either in the original bag or container or in an airtight package, such as vacuum packing, will keep it even longer. Even though we prefer brown rice, we store a lot of long grain white rice as it will store for decades without any problems if you keep it in an airtight container. — Jackie

Wood usage

Approximately how many cords of wood do you use during a winter?

Suzanne Paquette Richards

We use about 8 cords a winter but remember that we burn our wood stove in the living room and our wood kitchen range as well. (And not all of this wood is prime hardwood; we burn any dead wood that we harvest in our woods, including balsam, pine, and poplar, as well as black ash, a hardwood. In burning “lesser” woods, we not only are given heat but it also lets us clean up our woods as well. We even burn a lot of small-diameter poplar. Right now we are cutting up a whole lot of this that Will stacked two years ago, from clearing a good chunk of our new forty acres. Much of this small wood is two to four inches in diameter, wood which most people would shove into a pile and burn. But it’s great in the kitchen range and heats the house very nicely during the daytime. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

David is now a movie star

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Well, sort of. This summer, our son, David, was in town and was stopped in a parking lot by a couple that he didn’t recognize. They told him they were part of a movie crew that was getting ready to film on nearby Lake Vermiilion. And his truck was the exact truck the main character drove. Could they rent his truck?

To make a long story shorter, they did rent the truck and he not only got to visit the set but landed a part in the movie. The movie is THE BLOOD STRIPE, telling the story of a female Marine Corps veteran who returns from overseas with PTSD. David portrayed a local whom she thought was “out to get her.” David was having a ball and the money he was paid for his acting and truck rental helped him out when he started college again this fall.

Now the movie is being put together and will soon be headed for film festivals. If you’d like to take a peek, check out the link, ( It’s pretty cool for a homesteader boy!

Meanwhile, Will and I have been sticking to winterizing the homestead. He blew a brake line on our pickup and today, as it was nearly 30 degrees above zero and sunny, he replaced it. He’s been using the truck without much brakes to haul our small poplar wood up from down by the barn where he’s been cutting it on his “mini-cordwood saw,” the table saw he added a Briggs engine to, making it much more portable on the homestead.

We’ve been stacking our “small wood” in the wood shed as well as using it in the house for nice hot fires in both the living room and kitchen range. We try to not waste much around here. We’re burning “waste” wood that was cut on a throw-away table saw with a motor from the scrap pile. I love it!

By the way, we’re sure glad we ducked that six feet of snow in Buffalo! Anyone who got caught by that storm, know that I’m praying for you. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: sweet potatoes and chicken feed

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Sweet potatoes

I left some sweet potatoes in the garden, thinking since they were under ground, I could just harvest them as I needed them, regardless of freezing. Wrong! I didn’t put any straw on them, so the top 2 inches or so froze, but anything lower than that is fine. What should I do with them now? The part that froze gets mushy when I bring them in and wash them. Are they ok to eat?

Chrissy Mullender
Luray, Kansas

It depends. Did they freeze and stay frozen? If so, just wash them and cook them. But if they froze, thawed, froze, etc. I’d add them to your compost pile and chalk it up to a lesson learned. Sweet potatoes can’t take any freezing so next time, dig them earlier and be safe. — Jackie

Chicken feed

In your recent article “Saving money on the homestead” you mentioned not buying packaged chicken feed. You buy grain in bulk. What homemade chicken feed recipe do you use? I’ve looked at many, but they have SOOO much hard to find and expensive things in them. You seem like a down to earth kinda girl, so I’m guessing your recipe is simple and to the point. I have noticed a lot of recipes have fish emulsion in them. Its very expensive, but the amount used is so small, I don’t think it would add up to being expensive in the long run. Anyways, I would like to know your recipe for happy healthy chickens! This year we hatched 100 chicks, and are going broke feeding them to butcher size. I need a cheaper route for next year!

Roxann Bagley
Williston, North Dakota

You’re right; I don’t buy packaged chicken feed — the kind that comes in nice paper sacks, made by name brand feed companies either in 50 pounds or 25 pounds. Our local grain elevator, Homestead Mills, carries their own mix which is sold under the generic name of 18% poultry and 14% feed. What I usually do is use the 18% poultry for our egg layers and as a general growing mix for young birds. Then I switch our meat birds to the cheaper 14% ground feed at about five weeks. If we keep them longer than eight weeks, they get plain corn screenings. The 18% poultry grain is half the cost as those cute paper bags; I can buy 100 pounds for the same money as the 50 pound sacks bought elsewhere. You often buy the name brand and pretty picture instead of the feed.
Mixing your own poultry feed is pretty easy but it is extra work. Here’s a sample for a grower feed:

50 pounds cracked corn, barley, or wheat (or a mix of any of these)
18 pounds rough mill feed or screenings
16.5 pounds soybean, meat, or fish meal
5 pounds alfalfa meal — when the birds are not on pasture
vitamin supplement added as per package directions
1/2 pound trace mineral salt
Mix well and store in a tight container

We substitute our own homegrown pumpkins and squash in the winter, fed daily, for the alfalfa meal. The chickens love it and we cut down on feed costs. I hope this helps. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: rendering bear fat and canning pepper sauce

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Rendering bear fat

I have been looking for bear fat for three years and have finally acquired 20# this last week. Early 1900’s recipes indicate that it makes the lightest and fluffiest pastries. I intend to render it like hog lard, cooking low and slow for about 4-5 hours using 1/8 cup water to initially keep it from sticking to the stainless cooker, after cooking and pouring thru a double layer of #9 cheesecloth. I want to water bath or pressure can 1/2 pint jars to eliminate keeping it in the freezer. Can you offer any suggestions of which process should be utilized and for how long?

Joe Tubb
Wartburg, Tennessee
I’ve never rendered bear fat but I’ve put a lot of beef and pork lard in our pantry and can’t say that bear fat would be handled differently. What I do successfully is once it’s rendered and strained off, I immediately put it into hot, sterilized wide mouth pints or quarts (you could use half-pints but I use enough to like pints better). Wipe the rim of the jar off very well with a hot, damp cloth and immediately put a hot lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight. I do not processing of these jars and they will keep, sealed for a long time in a cool, dark location. Some folks do process their lard in a pressure canner. You would use 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure to do this. (If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure to suit your elevation.) — Jackie

Canning pepper sauce

I’ve looked through numerous pepper recipes and they all call for pickling, roasting, leaving whole or in pieces and then canned with water or vinegar. We have an abundance of peppers and one of our favorite (and quick and easy) ways to use them is to cut up and cook slightly in a small amount of water. Then put in blender with a bit of salt. Good on meats, eggs, and as a dip. For really hot peppers, I cut in half and remove seeds first. Red peppers are the best — sweet with a bit of heat. I was wondering if I could pressure can this. It’s about the consistency of ketchup (it will coat a spoon). I was thinking 35 min. for pints would work but I would hate to find a few months down the road all the bounty and work was for naught.

LaNell Storbeck
Victoria, Texas

You could pressure can pureed peppers at 10 pounds pressure for 35 minutes if you don’t make a too-thick sauce, which would make it unsafe for canning. Remember to adjust your pressure to suit your altitude if you live above 1,000 feet. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Austrian Winter Peas and canning corn chowder

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Austrian Winter Peas

I just read an article in Mother Earth about Austrian Winter Peas. They sound like a great thing. The article says the shoots make a great salad, make great fodder, and are beneficial to the soil. I don’t know that you could grow them in your climate, though they are hardy. But I thought others might like to try them. I know I’m going to.

Barb Mundorff
Youngstown, Ohio

Nope. Austrian Winter Peas won’t over-winter here. Instead, we grow Field Peas, which are just plain old peas that we plant to improve the soil, use as fodder, and even pick to use as “people peas” to can, dehydrate, or dry for soup. We plant them early in the spring, harvest some pods for us, cut some fodder for the critters, then mow and turn under the rest as green manure. It’s one of the top legumes for many homesteaders, especially those of us in the north. — Jackie

Canning corn chowder

I have made several batches of corn chowder and canned the excess for use this winter. I processed in my pressure canner for 100 minutes at 13 psi (I am at 4,255 feet) and most of the jars were pints, 6 were quarts. Now here is where I messed up. I use bacon, milk, and flour in my chowder. Things I never once thought I shouldn’t can. Is it safe to eat? I have 7 pints in the canner now!

James Mc Ginnis
La Pine, Oregon

Your chowder is safe to eat, assuming your chowder isn’t REAL thick — which most isn’t. However, at 100 minutes at 13 psi, you’ve over-processed your batches. The bacon (the meat ingredient) is processed for 75 minutes (pints) or 90 minutes (quarts) and milk for only 10 minutes for quarts. Corn is processed for 55 minutes (pints) and 85 minutes for quarts. I’m not sure how badly that will affect your chowder. The milk may separate or become dark because the sugars in the milk turn brown. I guess you’ll just have to open a jar and see. Sometimes if you just heat a separated product and stir it well, it’ll still be okay to eat. You can use a little flour to thicken some canned foods but never so much that the food becomes quite thick as then it may be too thick to can up safely. I can up chowders without milk, using a broth instead. Then when I want to eat it I’ll make a white sauce and slowly stir in the jar of canned chowder. Done deal. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Keeping busy even when it’s cold

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

We haven’t had a break from the Arctic cold and wind we’ve been having lately, with the lows in single digits and the highs in the low teens. Brrr. But we’ve still got lots to do. I’ve been saving seeds from lots of pumpkins (Howden and Winter Luxury) and squash (Hopi Pale Grey, Canada Crookneck, etc.) and shelling Painted Mountain and Glass Gem popcorn. While we save seeds, we’re planning what to plant next spring. And just where we’ll put it to keep our seed pure. Will jokes that he’d better fire up Old Yeller and get out and clear some more land!


Meanwhile, Will’s been out in the woods hauling in dead logs he stockpiled this fall. Yesterday, he brought in about a cord of some big ash and some mixed logs. The weather this weekend is supposed to be mild, so I hope we can get it cut up and split.


Because it’s been so cold, I’ve started using the kitchen range. It’s sure nice to have it fired up again and it really helps keep the house toasty. Since it’s below the upstairs bedrooms, the floor gets nice and warm.

We were having trouble getting our cows AI’d; they kept returning in heat. So Will talked to our neighbor who happened to have a young bull he needed to move out of a pen. We ended up moving him to our pasture for the winter. He was only here a few hours before he bred our Jersey cross heifer. — Jackie


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