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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for January, 2016

Jackie Clay

Q and A: steam canning and drying cornmeal

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Steam canning

Have you heard the latest news from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP)? Last September, they announced that a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, in collaboration with the NCHFP, did a study on steam canners and found that they’re perfectly safe to use. You can read about it here:

I bought a dual-purpose canner last year; a Victorio water bath/steam canner. I knew there was a study being done on steam canning, but didn’t know when it was going to be done. I figured I could use the water bath method until I found out that steam canning was deemed safe. But I couldn’t help myself! I had to try the steam canning. Oh boy, that is so much easier, faster, and simpler than water bath canning! I highly recommend it to anyone canning high acid food! And I’m so glad to hear that the NCHFP finally did a study and says it’s safe!

Julie Daelhousen
Jamestown, New York

Yes, I did hear that. I know steam canners use much less water, but I can’t imagine “faster” or “simpler.” How about an explanation to help us better understand? — Jackie

Drying cornmeal

We have grown and ground our own cornmeal for years, but we have always kept it in the freezer. Can you dry can the cornmeal? Or is vacuum sealing in a canning jar sufficient? The variety we grow is called Thompson prolific. It was developed by my great great uncle in the 1920’s and was once widely grown across the South.

Clay Gresham
Rockwood, Tennessee

Vacuum sealing the cornmeal will certainly improve its storage ability but what we do is only grind enough for about a month. After that time, you risk the whole germ, which contains oil, getting rancid, just like whole wheat flour or brown rice. I just store the whole corn kernels in an airtight container and take out a few cups at a time to grind. Unground, the corn will stay good for decades with no special treatment. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: elderberry syrup, candied dill pickles, and growing sweet potatoes

Friday, January 29th, 2016

Elderberry syrup

I have a questions about elderberry syrup for the flu. All the recipes I have found on line start with either fresh or dried berries. I have a ton of juice I steamed and canned. Do you make syrup and if so, can you advise me about how to make it with juice? Sure hope all is well and you are staying warm. Loved the picture of Hondo on Will’s shoulder.

Sheryl Napier
Newport News, Virginia

Sure! Elderberry syrup is easy to make from your juice. Just pour the juice into a stainless steel pot and add cinnamon, cloves and ginger to taste, and as much raw honey as you wish.

You’ll just have to add some and then taste. If you use ginger root, whole cloves and cinnamon sticks, chop the ginger root and put the other whole spices in a spice bag then heat to simmering and hold for a few minutes, tasting as you go, adding honey to taste. Some folks like lots of spices and not so much honey; others the reverse.

Once you reach your desired flavor, remove the spice bag and pour boiling syrup into hot jars. I’d recommend half-pints or pints. Water bath for 10 minutes to ensure a seal. Now you’re good to go when you feel a cold or the flu coming on.

Yep, we’re nice and cozy warm. Our winter has been so good so far, unlike parts of the East Coast. — Jackie

Candied dill pickles

Do you have a recipe for Candied Dill Pickles?

Lois Lara
Boring, Oregon

This is my grandmother’s recipe for candied dill pickles. Nearly all candied dills are made from already processed dill pickles. If you add too much sugar right off to cucumber pickles they’ll shrivel badly.
Candied Dill Pickles

1 quart whole dill pickles
2¾ cups sugar
½ cup vinegar
2 Tbsp. pickling spice

Drain the pickles, cut them into ½-inch slices, and place them in a deep glass bowl or ceramic dish. Refrigerate. Mix sugar and vinegar in a bowl. Place the pickling spices in a spice bag and tie it closed with a string. Add the spices to the vinegar/sugar. Let the mixture stand covered at room temperature until sugar is dissolved, approximately 4 hours. Remove spice bag. Pour vinegar mixture over pickles, mixing gently but well. Place in a quart jar, cover and refrigerate. They will be ready to eat in about a week and will remain good in the fridge for a long time. — Jackie

Growing sweet potatoes

I live in Ohio. I read your articles all the time in Backwoods Home Magazine. My wife and I like to grow our food and can it. Every year I like to try something new. This year I would like to grow sweet potatoes and have done research online on how to start them from the potato. The question I have and could not find online is when should I start the potatoes in the water? I don’t want to start too early and then not be able to transplant them outside.

Marcus Howell

Although I have certainly started sweet potatoes in water by inserting four toothpicks into the “waist” of the potato and letting the bottom hang in the water with the toothpicks holding the whole potato from falling down into the water, I’ve begun starting my sweet potato slips by filling ice cream buckets 2/3 full with good potting soil or rotted compost, laying a pair of sweet potatoes on the soil, then covering by an inch or little bit more of soil. Water well (punch a few holes in the bottom of the bucket for drainage). Water well and place in a very warm, sunny window location. The sprouts seem stronger via the soil method. When they are nicely grown, cut the bunch of sprouts free, separate them and plant out into warm soil, after all possible danger of frost is past. We have to use hoop houses and black plastic to keep sweet potatoes growing. You can usually start your sweet potatoes about 7 weeks before you plan on setting them out. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

More snow!

Thursday, January 28th, 2016


The dogs love it. They get to ride in the snowplow truck with Will. They can’t wait. Spencer got disgusted because Bill’s dog, Buddy, who we are dogsitting, got to ride, taking up all of his seat. So he turned around and came back into the house and got up in Will’s chair. Humph! You could just see him grouch. (I’m sure we’ll have more snow so he WILL get his turn in the truck.) Luckily, we haven’t had bad snow storms (yet) like you guys on the East Coast. I hope you’re all warm, prepared and safe.


I’m starting to sort out my seed-starting trays and peat pellets as well as bags of Pro-Mix seed-starting medium. It won’t be long before I start petunias. (Sure, I’m getting the itch!) We’ve received several varieties of folks’ heirloom seeds in the mail and sure do get excited about trying all of them. (We’re especially interested in Native American heirlooms so if any of you have one or two, we’d really like to try them. Just click on the Seed Treasures website and you’ll find our address. Thanks in advance!)

We’ve been enjoying feeding the birds this winter as always, although we’ve only seen woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches so far. We do all we can to encourage birds and insect pollinators by planting for them. We can’t raise bees because Will is allergic to bee stings so we try to get all the wild pollinators we can by planting clovers in the nearby pastures, nectar-producing flowers in the flower beds, and even some flowers that bees love in the garden. For the birds, we feed year-around, keep water available in the yard in a birdbath and our little fish pond, provide birdhouses and nesting material, and plant seed-producing flowers they love such as purple coneflowers, sunflowers, poppies, etc. We also keep oriole and hummingbird feeders going all season.

Besides helping to pollinate flowers, even the orioles and hummingbirds eat some insects; we’ve seen them.

We don’t have many nesting bluebirds yet but we do have some swallows and it’s sure cool to watch them swoop down through the garden and snatch cabbage moths right out of the air!

Our bird-and-insect friendly homestead is another demonstration of the full circle way we try to live. We feed and plant for the birds and pollinators (and beneficial insects such as ladybugs), provide good habitat for them year around. They make our lives more cheerful while eating weed seeds, “bad” bugs, and pollinating our crops. We grow stronger and more crops with their help, then we feed them in the winter. This makes a complete circle which we strive for in all things. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning broth, cloudy broth, canning potatoes, and canning nopales

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Canning broth

When canning with chicken or beef stock would I consider this meat and use the higher canning time required?

Judith Almand
Lithia, Florida

No. If you are canning just broth with no meat, you would only process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes for both chicken and beef broths. Of course, if you add pieces of meat, you’d then process for the higher “meat” required time of 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts, all at 10 pounds pressure unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet. — Jackie

Cloudy broth

I’ve also been doing some catch up canning. Mostly broth. My beef broth and ham broth both turned out cloudy. I’ve never had that happen before. They smell and taste great, and canned up fine. I’ll do the sniff test, but am wondering what may have caused this. I used the same pot, and added carrots, onions, and celery. Cooked on the woodstove overnight. 3 batches of each, and 2 of the beef and 2 of the ham look more like gravy, though not thick like gravy. The other batches turned out nice and clear. Do you have any ideas?

Liz Wheeler
Miles City, Montana

It may just be that because you cooked the broths on the wood stove overnight, there may have been more tiny pieces of meat/veggies broken down by long cooking. If the broths were processed correctly and are sealed, along with smelling fine on opening, I wouldn’t worry a bit. — Jackie

Canning potatoes

I’m new to canning and canned some Yukon Potatoes a few months ago. I used a small amount of ascorbic acid with some of the batches but not all. Now I notice that some of the jars have a grayish color to the water. It looks like it might be a sediment, maybe starch? I used Tattler lids and had good results. The seals are intact. Any thoughts on this?

Walter Brown
Crescent City, California

I’d guess that your off color is, as you suspected, just potato starch which has settled out after canning. As always, if you followed correct canning directions and the jars are sealed, I wouldn’t worry at all. As with everything we can, on opening, check the appearance of the food in the jar, open it, noting that it is indeed sealed well, then sniff the contents. If everything is well, as it usually is, go ahead and heat and eat! Glad to hear you’ve started canning. You’ll quickly find how much fun it is! — Jackie

Canning nopales

There was a post where people wanted to know how to can nopales (cactus). I would love to know how to. Do you have a recipe? Preferably not pickled; I love the plain wonderful taste. Please direct me where I can find a recipe.

Amelia Dials
San Diego, California

Unfortunately, there is no approved method for home canning nopales. Some folks can them as you would green beans but this is, again, NOT an approved method. Instead, you might like them frozen. It is easy and the taste is great when thawed. Simply clean the fresh, young cactus pads of their spines, rinse, then cut into strips. Boil for one minute to blanch, then drain and pack into freezer containers.

Pickling nopales is pretty easy. Here’s one recipe:

12 oz. cactus pad
4 oz. onion
1 jalapeño
1 cup water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. peppercorn

Remove the spines from young, tender nopales (cactus leaves), then rinse well. Slice onion into thin strips. Trim the stem end off the jalapeño, halve, and cut into thin strips. Remove the seeds and membranes to reduce the heat if desired.

In a stainless steel pot, combine the vinegar, salt, and peppercorn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pack the cactus strips, onion, and jalapeño into clean jars. Pour the vinegar brine into the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Apply lids and rings, and process in the water bath canner for 10 minutes.

I hope you enjoy your nopales. Not only are they good, but they’re good for you too! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Finally, I got a box of books

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Hey, I’ll admit the wait was my fault. After the holidays we had a cash flow crunch. But we were excited when I could finally order and receive the first box of books, the third in the Jess Hazzard series, Winter of the Wolves, which readers have been long awaiting. (Just a reminder to those of you who have already ordered on Amazon and read the book, please take time to add a review; it helps our advertising and (hopefully) sales. Thank you very much!)


We’ve been refining our planting list and when you plant as much as we do, believe me, this takes lots of time and study. It looks like we’ll be adding about 20 new tomato varieties to the garden. Of course, all will be open pollinated and most heirlooms as well. (If any of you have an old family favorite, especially rare ones, we’d love to have a few seeds!)

This spring we’re going to save seeds from about six varieties of peppers. This means that each variety will have to have its own screened-in cage in the hoop house. Peppers are chiefly self-pollinating but often insects will carry pollen from one type to another. So if you’re going to raise several varieties to save seeds from, they need to be caged so insects can not get to the blossoms.

Likewise, squash and pumpkins are insect-pollinated (chiefly) and must be separated by long distances, up to a mile in some instances where there are no natural barriers such as thick woods, steep hills, etc. Luckily, we have several friends who will be helping us out by raising different varieties which we don’t have enough isolation space/distance to raise. (There are three common species of squash/pumpkins and two or more of the same species will cross.)

I’m going to cut up a couple of Hopi Pale Grey squash to dehydrate. It’s so easy. I just cut 1-inch rings, rind and all, then cut those in half and peel off the rind. Then I cut ¼-inch slices across each piece, giving nice small, thin pieces which dehydrate very quickly. These are so handy to toss into soups and stews! I also grab a handful and throw it in the blender to reduce to a powder. I add it to many of my breads (including cornbread), soups for thickening, and even quick breads such as banana bread. What a versatile food! And tasty too. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: pickled beets, enchilada sauce, and rabbits

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Pickled beets

I bought and froze 25lb of red beets last year and I pickled another 25 lb. I am now out of the pickled beets, can I make pickled beets with the already frozen beets?

Maida Marksheffel
Ketchikan, Alaska

Usually you can get away with pickling pre-frozen beets but I would do a smaller batch first to make sure your variety will hold up without getting soft. Thaw them slowly in the fridge, then pickle as soon as they thaw. — Jackie

Enchilada sauce

Jackie, you mentioned that you make enchilada sauce. I would love to have your recipe since I make them a lot at our homestead. I hate using the store bought but have so far have not found a recipe that we like.

Merrie Knightly
LaGrange, Maine

Here’s the enchilada sauce recipe I use most often:

2 gallons tomato puree
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup minced onion
4 minced chipotle peppers (if you can’t find them, add 1 Tbsp. or more to taste of chipotle barbecue sauce)
2 Tbsp. (or more to suit your taste) chili powder, as hot or mild as you wish
1 Tbsp. salt

Mix all ingredients well in stock pot and slowly bring to a simmer. Ladle hot into warm pint canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes. — Jackie


My question is about rabbits. If I’m right, you don’t raise rabbits but maybe some knowledgeable person can help me. I want to know what protein level to give them. One hardware store says 16% and another says 18%, I have 2 bucks, 4 does, and always babies at some level of growth. They are mostly for meat. They are Flemish crossed with Californians and/or satin and/or other mixed breed, but all big for meat.

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

While we don’t currently raise rabbits, I have done so for many years in the past. A 16% pellet is all your rabbits require at all life stages. We also feed a good quality hay, fed free choice in wire feeders hung at the side of the cages and assorted “treats” from the garden such as carrots, sunflower seeds, cobs of dried corn, etc. (Never feed greens to young rabbits as it can kill them!) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hondo is a sitter!

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

I suppose I started it all by letting Hondo sit on my lap when he was a puppy. I did that with Spencer too. The trouble is that when I “explained” to Spencer that I still loved him but he was too big to sit on my lap, he understood. Not Hondo! He sits on everyone; Spencer, me, our visiting Lab, Buddy, and Will. Last night it was -12 when Will came in from chores. He sat down to warm up before he took off his chore clothes. Hondo was feeling needy and probably his feet were cold. So he popped right up and sat on Will’s shoulder. I couldn’t resist a picture!


Like all of you, I’ve been paging through all my seed catalogs like mad. Sure, I’ve decided on some new open pollinated and heirloom varieties to try this year. But I’ve also noticed that a whole lot of plants and seeds are now Plant Variety Protection and trademarked! Not just a few as in the past but a whole lot — pages of them! What this means is that you can buy the seeds or plants, but without “permission” (and paying a fee), you can’t propagate, distribute, or sell the seeds/plants you have grown. For decades, I’ve grown and given away billions of seeds. Now we have our little seed business so we can afford to help keep dozens of open pollinated and heirloom varieties alive and well. But now companies and commercial plant breeders are now “protecting” varieties, creating a monopoly on them. We’re tickled to have folks grow our varieties. And if they want to share them or even sell the seeds, great! (But then, we aren’t trying to get rich on our “own” special varieties!)

I’ve been pulling seeds out of our squash and pumpkins daily now. Most of the pumpkins are done; they don’t last much past the first of the year. Luckily, our squash are better storage candidates. We’ve eaten a lot of two year old Hopi Pale Grey squash that were still awesome. They’re still our very favorite squash. When I open one, we eat part for a meal, then I either can up the rest or make pumpkin pies. We quit growing acorn squash because it is basically bland and doesn’t store well at all. This year we grew both Canada Crookneck and Waltham Butternut as well as a new-to-us squash, Geraumon Martinique. This spotted dark green squash is wonderful! We’ve had raves from friends who we shared with and we’ve sure eaten our share. Very sweet and a wonderful aroma!


Our goats are also squash addicts. When they see me coming with an armful, they start yelling so much I’m afraid the neighbors two miles away will call the Humane Society on us! They eat everything: the guts, seeds (immature ones), meat, and skin. With their orange mouths, they bleat for more. And it’s good for them too.

Our weather’s turned real cold. Last night it was -22 with a high yesterday of -6. I’ll sure be glad when the next few days have passed and it warms up to the 20s. Above zero! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Waste not, want not

Friday, January 15th, 2016

This was one of Dad’s favorite sayings, one we use often today. I made a tasty baked chicken with wild rice stuffing along with a big stir fry. We ate and ate, but there was still some meat left over, of course. So I took out all the leftover stuffing and tossed the chicken in a stock pot with water and set it on the old wood stove to simmer. Yesterday afternoon, I strained off the broth, let the carcass cool down on a cookie sheet, then picked off and cut up the meat. (I found a lot!) I then dumped the meat back in the stock pot with the broth, added herbs, diced onions, shallots, and spices along with a pint of drained carrots and a half-pint of mixed corn and peas. I let that simmer for about half an hour then tossed in a couple of handfuls of thick noodles. When they were very tender, we started in eating. Sigh. Wonderful. And I have enough left over for lunch today.


Will and I are busy writing down all the new varieties we will plant and trial this year. A few folks have sent us some of their old family heirloom seeds and we are especially anxious to try these. How exciting! We’ve found some very rare, wonderful new-to-us vegetables and flowers. (By the way, if any of you do have family heirloom seeds we’d just love to give them a try and see if we can pass them on to others if they do well for us. We simply hate to have so many great varieties go extinct every day.) — Jackie


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