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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for April, 2015

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning Chicken a la King and making your own potting soil

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Canning Chicken a la King

I made your Chicken a la King recipe yesterday and canned about 12 pints. I have a question though. The broth was about the consistency of milk prior to canning and after canning all the flour seemed to sink to the bottom. The flavor was good before canning. I used hard white wheat for the flour as who knows how many years my white flour has been around just in my pantry. Also, a couple of jars bubbled inside after they were cooled and washed. Do I need to watch those more closely? I may not have gotten it hot enough after adding the peppers prior to canning. I am starting tomatoes from seeds for the first time. Is it normal for the paste varieties to germinate more slowly than others?

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

Don’t worry about your canned Chicken a la King. When you heat it to use it, just stir it and the flour will again mix with the broth. Also don’t worry about the jars having bubbles. You just had a few air bubbles you missed releasing before canning them. As always, check the seals on the lids before using all jars to make sure they’ve stayed sealed during storage.

It’s not “normal” for paste tomatoes to germinate slower than others but it is normal for some varieties to germinate slower than others, regardless as to whether they’re paste tomatoes or not. Hang in there; they’ll probably pop up soon. — Jackie

Potting soil

Should “store bought” potting products become unavailable or just too darned expensive, could I mix compost, moo poo, and just plain dirt (sandy in Fl.) to fill starter pots? Should this mixture be heat sterilized before use? I can find “recipes” for mixing bags of this and that, but not for using on-hand “dirt.”

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Long before “potting soil” and “seed starting soil” became commercially available, Mom and Grandma made their own and they had very green thumbs. Skip the moo poo. You don’t want too much nitrogen either in seed starter or potting soil. You can always fertilize later on if that’s necessary with manure tea. Mix half and half compost and plain garden soil. Then put in large pans like turkey roasters and bake in the oven at 250 degrees or so for half an hour. Warning: this stinks! I used to call it baking worms. Yuck. But it sterilizes the soil so you won’t end up with such problems as damping off, mold, or fungal diseases. Right now, I opt for not “baking worms” but I buy PRO-MIX bagged soils. But if it becomes unavailable or too expensive, you bet I’ll be back to the old way. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

I’ve got the spring cold — Yuck!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

I guess it’s going around; everyone I talk to either has it or just got over it — the spring cold. Nose runs like a firehose and cough, cough, cough. I finally went to the clinic yesterday and got a chest x-ray, just to make sure my pneumonia wasn’t coming back. They put me on antibiotics, just in case. But I am feeling better this morning, so I hope that’s that. I’ve got more to do right now that’s a lot more fun than sitting around with a Kleenex in my hand.

Will has the Kawasaki Mule running so that both of us can sit on it while it goes. He still has some clutch adjustments to make and has to hook up the throttle and choke. (Right now he has to turn around and hold the throttle cable to make it go.) But it’s definitely on the upswing. I can hardly wait to finish getting my raised beds and flower beds ready for planting and growing. And I have a ton of mulch to haul around here and there. I want less weeds this year!

You should see Hondo. He carried firewood in all winter and now he’s always dragging up some branch or small tree, as happy as a lark. I guess he figures that’s “firewood” too.

I’ve finished the painting for the cover of my next Western novel, Autumn of the Loons, and I’ll be mailing it to the publisher tomorrow as Will has made another handy-dandy safe box in which to mail it. Only an elephant can damage the painting in that wooden box! A pretty angry elephant, too. We’re getting excited about the coming release as the first book, Summer of the Eagles, has gotten great reviews. (Thank each and every one of you!) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Snow, snow, and more snow

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

We nearly always get an April blizzard so when we passed through much of April with warm temperatures, we figured it missed us this year. Well… kind of. We didn’t get a blizzard but for the last several days we’ve been having wet, nasty snow.

I’ve been getting a lot done inside because of it. All of our tomatoes are now transplanted and I’m working on our peppers. I should finish them today and start the petunias which will hang off our front porch in hanging baskets, tomorrow.

Will’s off to a farm auction today with truck and trailer so I’m wondering what new equipment will come wandering home. Well, not new equipment — rusty old equipment actually. But usable… sometimes with a little work (or a lot). But that’s how we manage to equip our homestead and still be able to afford it. Ah, homesteading! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: preserving eggs and canning cherry pie filling

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Preserving eggs

What do you think about scrambling eggs with sausage, mushrooms and green and red peppers and canning them. Trying to get away from freezer and when I get my chickens and quit selling almonds then I will have lots of eggs and don’t like them pickled.

Nancy Foster
Dallas City, Illinois

Sorry, Nancy, but there’s just NO research that’s been done on canning eggs, other than pickling them and that’s minimal! Keep those hens producing. You can add a light during the fall and winter to keep ’em laying even, during darker days. Having a warmer coop also helps — no drafts and plenty of shavings for bedding. — Jackie

Canning cherry pie filling

I purchased several jars of tart cherries a couple years ago. I didn’t want them to spoil and the jars were still sealed and looked like when I purchased them. So I made cherry pie filling and recanned them in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes. After doing it, I wondered if that was the right thing to do?

Lorraine Sturgis
Standish, Maine

Personally, I would have left them in the original jars. But if you used an approved recipe for your pie filling, you should be just fine. I say “an approved” recipe as some folks try to thicken their pie filling to can with flour or cornstarch, which aren’t approved anymore. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We knew a cold spell was heading for us

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

So we got busy! Last fall Will plowed a six-acre spot between our new small hayfield and the pumpkin/corn patch. It was a soggy spot, covered with alder, willow brush, and a few small popple trees — a very unusable spot. Even grass didn’t want to grow on it. We were surprised that it even plowed!

We’ve been having a warm, dry spring. And with temperatures in the low seventies we knew it wouldn’t last. After all, this is northern Minnesota and it’s April. So when the weather radio forecasted a week of rain mixed with snow, Will quickly decided he’d try to plant some oats on that new spot. So off he went, with a spin-seeder on the back of the tractor and a harrow behind it. Hondo went with him but finally got tired of following the tractor around and around. I went out with the ATV and watched for a while. And when I went home, so did Hondo.

I’ve been transplanting tomatoes like mad and still have half of another flat to go. Then there are the peppers and the petunias … I’m running out of south-facing windows! But the plants look so happy after being transplanted into their Styrofoam cups!

Will’s been working on “my” new Mule RTV. He’d found a motor for it for $300 but true to his Scotch blood, he also found a Briggs motor on an old generator of ours (with an electric start) that would fit. He’s spent the better part of two afternoons on it and he thinks it’ll be ready to run this afternoon. Wow, that’ll be so nice. With the dump box, I can pick rocks out of the garden and pumpkin patch, and haul mulch and compost around (instead of a trailer or wheelbarrow) so easily. I can hardly wait! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning beans, meat and soup, planting sprouted potatoes, and Nanking cherries

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Canning beans, meat, and soup

I have a question about canning beans. How do you know when the beans are ready for canning and wouldn’t swell in the jar anymore? I canned kidney beans and pork and beans for the 1st time. The beans swelled. Should I soak them overnight? Then when I put them in the jar maybe stop at the shoulder of the jar with the beans then add fluid?

I also like to can meat. What does it mean to lightly brown? Do you not have any pink showing or is there a little pink showing and it will finish cooking while in the canner?

Also when you can soup such as beef vegetable, will it turn to mush while canning for 75 minutes? This is soup we ate a few meals of then want to save the rest. But you time the canner for the food item that has the longest canning time right? Even if it is cooked already?

Cindy Hills
Wild Rose, Wisconsin

Either rinse and hold beans overnight in a large pot of plenty of water or else add beans and water to large pot, bring to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, then let sit, covered, for two hours. This lets the beans swell to nearly full size. I never pack the beans up to 1 inch headspace but add about 2-3 inches of liquid over them to allow for more swelling during canning.

Lightly browning meat means to brown the outside lightly. There is still pink showing in the center and, yes, the meat fully cooks during the processing.

No, your vegetables don’t turn to mush. Campbell’s soup has veggies and beef, right? And it’s also processed. But if you fully cook the soup before canning, the vegetables do tend to get soft. So what I do is mix up the recipe, heat it to boiling, and then pack the jars without fully cooking the soup/stew. You can certainly can up leftover soup or stew but you could end up with softer veggies. They sure taste great though. And, yes, you do process the food for the length of time required for the food needing the longest processing time — usually meat.

Chili is one of our favorite meals in a jar. Like the soup, though, I soak my beans then add the sauce, meat, and spices, tasting as it heats and adding more spices, as needed. (The beans are still pretty firm so don’t eat them!).

Good luck stocking your pantry shelves with easy-to-fix meals! — Jackie

Planting sprouted potatoes

I have potatoes from my last year’s garden that I want to plant. Over the winter these potatoes have grown long sprouts, up to 12-18 inches long. Should I remove these sprouts before cutting the potato and planting?

Kathy Kinn
Findlay, Ohio

While it’s better to have shorter sprouts on your potatoes, you certainly can plant those with long sprouts. Plant the sprouts down as deep as you do the “mother” potato, running lengthwise in the row so you can hill the plants later on. Leave space between the end of one sprout and the start of the next one so your potatoes will be further apart than the “recommended” 12 inches or so. If you remove the long sprouts it takes time and energy for the potato to make new ones which often results in a smaller crop, come fall, unless you have a long growing season. — Jackie

Nanking cherries

At your recommendation, 3 years ago I planted several Nanking Cherry bushes on our new TN farmstead. This year looks like I am going to have a bumper crop! I want to process them but they look like they could be a little tedious. Could I use my Victorio strainer and if so, what size sieve should I use? I was thinking maybe the one designed for grapes. Also any tips for hand pitting them?

Cindy Baugh
Dandridge, Tennessee

I’ve never used my Victorio for this, so if you do, please let us know how that works. I make jam with them by heating the cherries until soft then cooling and hand-pressing them through a sieve, grating off the meat from the cherries. They do not pit well, either by hand or with a pitter as the cherries are fairly small and the pits fairly large. They are advertised as a pie cherry, but I wouldn’t want to be the pitter! I’m glad your Nankings are doing so well. You’ll love them! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

We’ve had a few busy days

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

On Monday, we traveled five hours to pick up a big load of used foam board insulation that our friend Mike found for us in a roofer’s “trash.” We had a great road trip with Old Blue, our ’85 Chev pickup and stock trailer. Old Blue hadn’t been driven on the road for a few years so we were hoping all would go well. It did and we were even home before dark, tired but happy.

Then yesterday we drove to Superior, Wisconsin,  to pick up a Kawasaki Mule (a UTV) that Will had found on Craiglist. We got it cheap ($200) but it has no motor so we’re looking. Anyone know of one around anywhere? I’m confident somewhere, sometime, we’ll get the Mule up and running and it’ll be a big help to me traveling from one place to another, hauling garden stuff, mulch, rocks, dirt, etc. — and letting my bad knee rest up. On our way back, Will also picked up a very-used grain gravity box (wagon) so we can eventually haul and store bulk grain. We got it from our friend, Wally, down near Cloquet. (We did have a flat tire with Old Blue but luckily, had a spare, good floor jack, etc. and got it changed in a few minutes.)

I’m real happy with the reviews on my new book, Summer of the Eagles, on Amazon. Take a look at a few:

• “The author keeps you voraciously tearing through the pages and at the end, you find yourself calculating the months and impatiently waiting for the release of “Autumn of the Loons.”  
• “I don’t usually read Westerns. I started the book as I was heading to sleep on a Saturday night around 9:30pm. Next thing I knew it was 2am and I was wishing the second book was already available. It is well-written, fast-moving, and very engaging. I loved the characters, the setting, and the imagery. I was totally drawn back in time to the wilderness of Wyoming.”
• “I must give credit to Jackie Clay for writing Summer of Eagles. This is a story I can share with my mom and feel comfortable discussing the story line with her due to the fact that it does not have, nor does it need the graphic sex found in most modern day writings. I love the way Jackie builds up each person in the book. When I read a story I can usually figure out where the plot is going well in advance of the ending but Jackie tossed in a twist that caught me off guard. I am looking forward to the next book to see if she can do it again. Bring it on Jackie.”

Needless to say, I’m happy to hear those reviews!

I’ve got the cover for the next book finished and it’ll be mailed to the publisher soon so we can get Autumn of the Loons released.


In the meantime, I’ve been busy transplanting tomatoes and peppers. Boy, did we plant a lot of tomatoes this year! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Ah, Spring!

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Today it’s 65 degrees and sunny without much wind so it sure feels great. Will’s working on the barn, getting ready to put up our home-cut siding. Yesterday he worked on the sawmill all day, cutting ONE log. But that log was a huge spruce log that had to be cut down with a chainsaw to even fit on the sawmill! He’s putting first a layer of our free plywood up over the 2×6 studs, then adding furring strips on which to nail the vertical board and batten siding. The plywood is to prevent any slight drafts from getting through the barn. Inside, we’re going to add some insulation board that a friend found for us. It was a wonderful “deal.” We’ll be off to pick that up soon — a whole trailer load! Thank you, Mike!

I canned up bean soup last night after putting away 17 pints of baked beans first. Wow, that sure looks great in the pantry!

This morning we went to our friends’ house to disbud our new Nubian/Boer buckling.


He is simply stunning and so gorgeously marked; like a pinto-appaloosa horse. His mother and father were out of a buck and doe we used to have so we know his potential as a producer of great milkers on down the line. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s beautifully marked too! (No, he doesn’t have a roached back. Dara is just holding him still on the stump!) — Jackie


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