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Ask Jackie headline

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post. Please note that Jackie does not respond to questions posted as Comments. Click Below to ask Jackie a question.

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for the ‘Cooking/Recipes’ Category

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

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning ham and dehydrated tomatoes for spaghetti sauce

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Canning ham

I recently got a deal on canned ham; can I re-can this into glass jars? If so, how? Also, have you ever made carrot kraut? How?

Sandy Rowland
Linconton, North Carolina

You bet you can re-can canned hams. You’ll just can the ham up as if it were fresh ham with the processing time (75 minutes for pints or half-pints; 90 minutes for quarts). The broth can be either boiling water or ham-flavored dry soup base in water, according to directions.

No, I haven’t made carrot kraut. But I did find this recipe for you on

4 cups grated carrots
1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger root
1 Tbsp. sea salt (or 2 if not using whey)
4 Tbsp. whey (optional)

1. Grate carrots using the larger hole setting on either a box grater or your food processor.
2. In a medium-size bowl mix grated carrots, grated ginger, sea salt, and whey (if using). Once all ingredients are evenly distributed move them to a quart-size canning jar or other non-reactive fermenting vessel.
3. Press mixture down tightly into vessel with either a wooden utensil or your fist. Be sure to pack them down tightly enough that the liquid (brine) covers the shredded carrots.
4. Seal with a lid and allow to ferment at a cool room temperature (60° to 75°F degrees being optimal) for 5 to 10 days or until bubbly and tangy to your liking.
5. Move jar to cold storage.

Carrots are often added to regular sauerkraut making a different tasting and appearing kraut, as are caraway seeds and ginger. Variety is so nice! — Jackie

Dehydrated tomatoes for spaghetti sauce

I have seen lately on blogs and facebook that folks are using dehydrated tomato skins to thicken up their spaghetti sauce to cut down on the amount of time it takes to cook down. Have you ever tried this method? How did it taste? If you wanted to use this method and can the sauce, would it be safe to can if you did not thicken it too much? Would you use the same times and methods as canning regular spaghetti sauce?

Gwen Koskinen
Gainesville, Texas

I’ve added sliced dehydrated whole tomatoes to spaghetti sauce but I really can’t say I like the result as well or better than reducing the puree by either cooking it (I use a turkey roaster in my oven at its lowest setting overnight; some folks use a crock pot on their counter) or by simmering on the stovetop. Last year, I reduced the liquid first by putting my whole and quartered tomatoes in my Mehu Liisa steam juicer first, draining off the tomato broth (it’s watery looking but makes great soup base) then running the tomatoes through my Victorio tomato strainer. The puree was MUCH thicker. And of course, if you use meaty, paste-type tomatoes to start with, there is always much less cooking down time.

If you did want to use the method you discovered, it would be safe. Just don’t thicken it down to tomato paste consistency. If it should get too thick, just add a bit of tomato juice to thin it a bit. Times and methods would be the same as if you were canning “regular” spaghetti sauce. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: cooking on a wood burner and butchering older roosters

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Cooking on a wood burner

I always thought I’d be able to cook on my wood burner, but I decided to give it a try and the top of the stove only gets about 130 to 150 degrees. I have the damper full open yet this is as hot as it gets. I read that food isn’t safe at this temperature for more than two hours, so even if the food eventually cooked, it would be full of bacteria. Is there anything you can suggest to help me? I’d be so grateful!

Deborah Sutorius
Elyria, Ohio

Does your wood burner have a cabinet around it? Some do, for instance the Ashley cabinet model that was very popular in the ’70s and ’80s. These never do get as hot as a wood stove that is simply an enclosed “box” of cast iron or sheet steel. The top of any wood burner is hottest when the damper is nearly closed, not open, as the majority of heat goes right up the stovepipe when the damper is open. Also, the type of wood has to do with how hot the stove top gets. Dry, seasoned hardwood or pine will burn hottest with green or unseasoned wood burning sometimes barely at all. I’ve cooked on several wood stoves from my ever-present kitchen ranges to the living room wood burner. But all of ours have been cabinet-free.

Temperatures from 140 to 150 degrees are the recommended internal temperatures for medium rare steaks and other slow cooked foods done in slow cookers such as crock pots. So I don’t think bacteria would be a big issue. But, personally, I would like to see you simmering your foods at about 180 to 205 degrees F, just to be safest.

If you do have a cabinet-type wood burner, many have a lift off top so you can more easily use it to cook on. Or there is a hinged door on top for this purpose. When the pot of food is on the iron stovetop, there should not be a problem getting the food plenty hot. I do it all the time. — Jackie

Butchering older roosters

We have numerous chickens, along with now, 4 roosters. One came from a friend, the others came from a batch of 9 chickens we bought — there were FOUR in there! Anyway, the newest 3 are Buff-Orpingtons — and big and beautiful. But, they’re starting to realize they’re bigger, and are beginning to fight with the original rooster. I don’t want them to kill each other, but I also don’t want to just give them away. They’re over a year old, so are they too old to butcher? Will they be too tough? They are fed very little feed each day, and for the most part, are free-range. What would you do with them?
Toni McDonald
Jasper, Texas

No, your roosters aren’t too old to butcher; I’ve butchered roosters that were quite a bit older than that. However, if you just cook them, they’ll probably be a bit tough. So, instead, why not can the meat? You can make broth and then can both the broth and broth with meat. Out of each rooster, you’ll get many jars of tasty, tender meat. That’s a pretty much win-win solution. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: oven canning and canning nuts

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Oven canning

Is this recipe safe to “oven bake” to seal? Would this be good for storage?

2 cups instant mashed potatoes
1¾ cups powdered milk
2 Tbsp. instant chicken or veg bouillon granules
1½ tsp. seasoning salt
2 tsp. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. dried parsley
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. dried thyme

In a medium bowl mix dry ingredients well and pour into a 1 quart jar. Seal and attach ring. Place ½ cup of soup mix in a bowl. To prepare add 1 cup boiling water and stir to smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Boy, Judith, I’d wonder about the bouillon granules becoming rancid after a time. Otherwise, it should “oven can” pretty well. You might try a couple of pint jars to see how it does. — Jackie

Canning nuts

I was gifted 8 pounds of pecans and walnuts and decided to can them per your instructions. For some mindless reason I used quart jars instead of the pint jars recommended. I pressured them for the 10 minutes called for at 5 pounds of pressure. Will they be okay and how long can I expect them to last? And why is it that you want to only use pint or half-pint jars? Also what should the head space be? In your canning book you recommend leaving 1 inch of head space while in some of your back articles I see 1/2 inch head space. Thanks so very much for taking time to answer these questions. I am learning so very much from you and being retired … it is really helping out a lot!

Lettie Cain
Inkster, Michigan

I’m so glad to be of help, Lettie. Your nuts will be fine and can be expected to stay good for years. I’m still using the pecans I canned while living in New Mexico 15 years ago. The reason you use pint and half-pint jars is that once you open a quart, it is then prone to getting rancid, just like fresh nutmeats. With a pint or half-pint, you usually use the nuts up soon enough before they go bad.

The headspace really doesn’t matter although I use 1 inch to make absolutely sure none are touching the underside of the lids which could possibly cause a chemical reaction, darkening the lids. (The nuts would still be okay.) At the price of nuts today, getting 8 pounds gifted to you is really great! Enjoy them. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: bread bucket and transporting canned goods

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Bread bucket

I have an old bread making bucket that I found at a yard sale. It’s has some rust but is in good shape. Can you share with me how to clean it so it would be safe to use?

Lori Moore
Lebanon, New Hampshire

I’d just wash it out well with hot, soapy water and scrub the rust spots with a steel wool pad. Rinse well and you’re all set to go. You got quite a find! — Jackie

Transporting canned goods

I am moving from 2500 ft. in the Sierra Nevada mountains to Idaho via interstate 80 over a pass of 8000 feet. I have many canned jars of food to transport. Will the high elevation blow the lids? Many do not have the rings on them. Would the rings protect the seals more?

Foresthill, California

I’ve moved several times from low altitude to high and the other way around and have had no problems with my canning jars losing their seals. No, adding rings won’t do anything to prevent jars from coming unsealed but it would keep the mess contained if this would possibly happen. I would make sure to pack the jars well so they don’t jiggle or bounce around as this could cause seals to fail. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: buttermilk cheese, turkey gravy, and discouragement in homesteading

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Buttermilk cheese

I made butter and had a lot of rich buttermilk leftover. I poured very hot water into the churn and the solids separated from the rest which was clear water. I collected the solids in cheesecloth and hung it on the back porch for a month. It grew a mold but was very good cheese. What kind of cheese did I make?

Robert Bumpus
Newcastle, California

Boy you’ve got me, Bob. I’ve made a lot of different cheeses but never have I made cheese out of fresh, uncultured buttermilk. Any readers out there have an answer for us? — Jackie

Turkey gravy

How do you can turkey gravy?

Karl Creekmore
Chesapeake, Virginia

Sorry, but gravy is one thing you shouldn’t home can as it can get too thick to be safe for home processing. How about canning turkey broth then making your gravy from that? If you add some of the pan scrapings from the bottom of your roaster to the broth, you’ll have a rich-tasting broth for gravy making. — Jackie

Discouragement in homesteading

I was wondering if you or someone else at Backwoods Home Magazine could do an article or even a regular column where homesteaders share some of their discouraging moments and how they managed to triumph or simply push their way through them?
A quick background on me and my reason for asking…
My family is from the deep South, I grew up in the corn belt Southeast of Chicago, and now live in Pitt, MN (between Baudette & Warroad). I married a 3rd generation + local. It is a second marriage for both us. We’ve been homesteading on his 160 acres (referred to as the Old Paxon Place) for 8 years. I have often referred to your articles for advice.
I’m also learning much from the locals about the culture and fortitude of the Norwegians, Swedes, Germans , etc. that settled in these parts. It’s fertile ground for potential homesteading knowledge, but often it is mockery, discouragement, disdain, & disgust shown to those of us who desire this way of life now.
Perhaps the locals have struggled too much, too long, too recently in history? Perhaps they remember all too well only the pain & negatives of a homesteading lifestyle… They say they “simply” want “better & more” for their kids. It even seems the pervasive “throw it away”, materialism, and “money is everything” attitudes are as strong or stronger here than in any big city. Hence, as a persistent homesteader, I get “hungry” not for good, wholesome food- but rather, encouragement, homesteading knowledge, & mentor-type friendships. Again, I’m grateful for your articles and blog.
When I look out my kitchen window at the remains of the “Old Paxon Place”, I have often wondered about the obstacles that the Paxon family faced: the extreme cold, the mosquitoes and biting flies, the brief gardening season, the wildlife predators, the remote location… We have faced those, too. And after 8 years of work & pondering, I now feel qualified to answer when asked, “What’s the biggest obstacle for a modern day homesteader”? It’s Discouragement. And while I will never know for sure, I will always wonder what part Discouragement played in the Paxons abandoning this homestead here and moving to Washington.
Thanks Jackie for your part in encouraging modern homesteaders!
Shae Grund
Baudette, Minnesota

This constant facing of nay-sayers can be discouraging to homesteaders. It’s a thing that homesteaders from small towns to remote locations face constantly. After all, most modern people just don’t “get” homesteading and equate “success” with money. It’s too bad. Maybe that’s why today we talk about self-reliant living. When your mood depends on how others around you regard your lifestyle, you’re not being self-reliant no matter how much of your own food you grow, etc. We need to feel our joy in our day-to-day accomplishments, the nature around us, and in ourselves and families. It does help to find some like-minded folks in your area. (There ARE some!) We host a few potlucks at our place for local homesteaders to come talk, and share tips and seeds. Each time it grows larger and we all become networked. You might try it yourself. One thing I’ve learned is not to talk homesteding to neighbors who are not interested. You always end up shot down.

Of COURSE discouragement killed many homesteader’s dreams in the old days. Simple starving out was a huge factor. No money, no food, no market for crops produced. It was a tough time. Very few today really understand what our ancestors faced. It makes us, today, seem like wimps!

What about it readers? How about answering Shae’s question from your own experience? — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: dilled green beans and canning butter

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Dilled green beans

I have canned dilled green beans for many years. I use the right vinegar, and good quality spices. They look and taste good, but the beans are shriveled and soft. I also can them the correct length of time. What can I do to get crisper beans? (Type of beans, canning process, when picked.)

Linda Bartholomew
Caldwell, Idaho

First off, pickle only very fresh beans. I pick them and pickle them the same day. Always use slightly immature beans, ones with the seeds small and not bumpy. Trim both ends then place into jars. Make brine and bring it to a boil. Ladle hot brine over beans leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, adjust your processing time to suit your altitude if necessary. They will be crispy and tasty. — Jackie

Canning butter

So I gave canning butter a shot… I followed the instructions in your book but after about an hour of shaking every five minutes I fell asleep. Well, it set up, still slightly separated maybe half inch of liquid on the bottom. I don’t care how it looks, but would you still use it? I love the canning book and bought your new recipe book for my own Christmas present; the lasagna was excellent.

Challis Moffitt
Ramseur, North Carolina

The butter is still fine, Challis. It is just the buttermilk left in the butter after being churned. Your butter will still taste and keep like normal. I’m real glad you like the canning and cookbook. It always makes me feel good when I hear that! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

It’s -35 but spring’s just around the corner. Sort of…

Monday, December 30th, 2013

One thing about cold weather is that you get caught up on a lot of stuff in the house (not that our house could use some cleaning and straightening up). And in between times, I’ve been making extra bread, rolls, and other baked goods. It seems that when it gets cold our primal instincts force us to make lots of food! Or it’s just a good excuse…

I picked up a couple of on-sale 5-pound bags of flour before Christmas and opened one to make some bread. Did you know that nearly all commercial flour now contains malted barley flour? I’ve become a label reader because it seems like every company is getting sneaky about what they put into our food. The first bag I noticed was Gold Medal unbleached. Then it was the whole wheat. Even Dakota Maid was guilty! Talk about depressing. I guess it’s because barley is cheaper than wheat.

Then there’s the seed catalogs. Did any of you notice the price of seeds and plants in a lot of catalogs this year? The worst were Burpee and Henry Field, who offered a seedless grape vine for an “on sale” price of $97.99. One Vine! Wow, I guess I won’t be buying! Luckily, many others like Baker Creek, Pinetree, and Fedco are still fair on their pricing.

With it being so cold, Spencer doesn’t go out and help with chores and Hondo jumps up on the hay bales in between pens to keep his bum and paws warm. Smart dogs!


Will and I also want to wish each and every one of you Happy New Year!– Jackie



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