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Ask Jackie headline

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Archive for the ‘Food Preservation’ Category

Jackie Clay

Q and A: making cheese, introducing new chickens to the flock, and canning sausage

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Making cheese

Upon moving to the country and starting up our farmstead, I went ahead and purchased some cheese making equipment and a book. Problem is, the book is a big manual, and it gets very technical. I finally have goat milk, but I am too intimidated by the manual, and many of the recipes call for many gallons of milk. Can you recommend a good book for me that has simple recipes to follow for making cheeses with goats’ milk (small quantities – 1-2 gallons at most, easy to follow, not too many fancy utensils)?

Carrie Timlin
Scott Township, Pennsylvania

Cheese making is very easy and fun to learn. Two very beginner-friendly books I’ve used for years are Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheesemaking, which is available through Backwoods Home Magazine and Goats Produce Too by Mary Jane Toth which is also available through Backwoods Home Magazine). I have both and use them often. — Jackie

Introducing new chicken to the flock

I sprayed my fruit trees with Surround today and hope it helps. Thank you for your advice. I intend to spray again after flowering.

I have another question regarding my chickens. I have 4 one-year-old hens and 26 two-week-old chicks. How and when do I introduce the 26 chicks to the hens? Right now the four hens are in the 10 x 14 coop and the chicks are in the basement. There is a 16 x16 fenced-in area adjacent to the coop that the four hens use during the day.

Deborah Motylinski
Cadiz, Ohio

I’d shut the hens in their run during the day and pen the chicks in a smaller portable run next to them all day so they get used to each other. Then in the evening, bring the hens in and then introduce the chicks in the coop with them. There should be a little squawking and pecking but nothing serious. Monitor them for awhile, just to be sure. Usually, come morning, everything is fine. — Jackie

Canning sausage

Would I be able to can the small pre-cooked breakfast sausages from the store? They are my husband’s favorites.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Yes, you can. But I’d advise doing a small batch then trying them to see if you and your husband like the result. That’s a good idea with any new recipe you try to can. Some folks love them; others not so much. — Jackie

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: fruit tree with thorns and canned rhubarb

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Fruit tree with thorns

I was not good about labeling or keeping track of the fruit trees that I planted in my orchard. I have one that has thorns — do you have any idea what it might be? It also might be one that the birds planted.

I would love to come to one of your seminars. I am retiring in 2 months so if there is one in the fall or next year maybe I’ll attend.

Joline Fleming
Rossiter, Pennsylvania

Chances are that your mystery fruit tree is either a plum or pear that has died above the graft and regenerated from below the graft, giving you a “wild” tree from the rootstock. You won’t know for sure until it fruits but no domestic common fruit has thorns. All is not lost because you can always graft more wanted domestic scion wood onto the wildling.

We’d love to have you come to a seminar. We’re planning one in June (see box at top of blog) and another in early September. I’m sure we’ll have at least one seminar next year, as well. (God willing and the creek don’t rise…) — Jackie

Canned rhubarb

Last year I canned some nice red rhubarb. However, the canned rhubarb is brown. What can I use to keep the nice red color? Would Fruit Fresh work? I really like the convenience of canned rhubarb!

Jean Ann Wenger
Fairbury, Illinois

Unfortunately, many older varieties of rhubarb, such as Victoria, do end up losing their color when canned. The newer varieties such as Canada Red and Valentine hold their color much better. To keep your rhubarb red about the only thing I can suggest is adding a few drops of red food coloring to each jar. I don’t do that because I don’t like to use food coloring because of possible health concerns. We’ve learned that it’s the taste that matters, not the color. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning cheese and canning label tip

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Canning cheese

I was reading Julia Crow’s question about canning cheese and your answer made me think of something I recently learned about but have not tried yet. I’ve always wanted to make melted cheese for mac and cheese or nachos from ‘fancier’ and oily cheeses, but they never melt right. They always separate and never get melty.
Then I found information about sodium citrate. It sounds like I’ll be able to use most if not all cheeses for my fancy mac ‘n’ cheese. It makes me wonder if it would aid in canning oilier and fancier cheeses. You can find it on Amazon and many other places. Here’s a link to an article about it: <a href=””>Modernist Cusine</a>
Here’s a video about it too: <a href=””>Youtube</a> .
Just an idea I thought might be looking into. I don’t have the space to put up cheese right now, but would certainly send you some sodium citrate in the name of science if you wanted to give it a try.

Russell Hall
Austin, Texas

It’s sure worth a try. Anyone who uses it, will you let us know how it worked for you? — Jackie

Canning labels

Not a question today but a little canning idea I use. When I receive junk mail I cut off the response envelope’s glued flap. I can then cut this into 4 or 5 “lick & stick” canning labels for my jars. They come off in water and are free! I see them for sale in the stores — they aren’t as pretty, but sure serve the purpose as well as save money. Just wanted to pass this along.

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Great idea, Judi! Aren’t we homesteaders a creative, penny-pinching bunch? I love it. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: spray schedule for fruit trees and ground cherries

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Spray schedule for fruit trees

Please help me figure out a spray schedule for my apple and peach trees. I remember you saying you never have to spray, lucky you. I try hard not to use chemicals but I am inundated with bugs and apple problems each year. My trees are showing buds but not yet open. Last year I placed those red spheres that you coat with a sticky substance in the trees and they sure had a lot of bugs stuck to them but I still had apples and peaches that you could not bite into. Instead I had to heavily peel and then cut out the bad spots just to make pies and applesauce. Can you suggest what there is still time to do so my harvest will be better this year. Last year I used kaolin clay and I have heard Neem oil is good. I have read several books on the subject but I am still a bit confused and could use your common sense approach.

Deb Motylinski
Cadiz, Ohio

I sympathize with your problem. Bugs should NOT be eating our food! We’re really lucky in that we don’t (yet?) have insect problems, probably because we live so very far from any fruit producers. Here are a few suggestions instead of resorting to chemicals: Try Surround sprayed on your trees just after most of the petals have fallen from your trees. Surround is a kaolin clay that you mix with water and spray on your trees. It doesn’t kill insects but does severely disrupt their breeding and egg laying. But you must hit each tree just as the petals fall; even a day or two late will make it less effective. Then spray the trees after any heavy rains and weekly until at least July. (If residue is still on fruit on harvest, simply wash it off; it is not toxic, just a gray film.) If you are having apple maggot trouble (worms and dark tracks through the fruit), begin spraying Surround in mid-July. Using red spheres coated with Tanglefoot traps a lot of adult flies but they only help with an infestation of apple maggots. You can hang several on each tree (one doesn’t help) and closely monitor the flies stuck on them. When there are suddenly more, begin your spraying immediately or by mid-July, whichever is first. Then continue until August. Picking up all dropped fruit will help keep future fruit clean of insects and larvae. (That’s one reason we have our poultry in our orchard; they take care of that chore for us happily!) If you must resort to chemicals, I’d contact your County Extension Office and follow their recommendations for your particular area. The best of luck! Here’s to clean, tasty fruit this summer! — Jackie

Ground cherries

I noticed the question you recently answered about planting ground cherries. They are not common here in Idaho — I grew up eating them in Minnesota. I’ve found only one individual who sold starts in the spring one year, and silly me didn’t keep seeds. Do you know where I can order seeds? Blueberry & Ground Cherry Crisp is SO good and looks pretty, too!

Susan Bittick
Meridian, Idaho

Luckily, many companies carry ground cherry seeds (also called husk cherries). Some of them are: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Jung Seed, Territorial Seed, and Southern Exposure. Good luck growing some this year! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: raising meat rabbits and canning chicken

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Raising meat rabbits

Do you have recommendation(s) for meat rabbit raising books/resources?

Shellie Gades
Evansville, Minnesota

My favorite rabbit book is Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, available through Backwoods Home Magazine. And Bass Equipment has lots of good rabbitry supplies/equipment. Their website is: — Jackie

Canning chicken

I canned chicken according to your instructions last week (2 and 4 days ago) but just realized today that I used instructions for bone-in chicken (65 minutes) instead of boneless (75 minutes). I usually go a minute or 2 longer than specified. Do you think my chicken is ok? Is it too late to re-can? I hate to throw out 16 pints of chicken.

Sam Allen
Bessemer City, North Carolina

I would open each jar, and if it looks and smells fine then I’d dump the jars into a large pot and bring to a boil. Then pack back into washed jars and re-can the chicken for the correct time. Your chicken will then be fine. I, too, would sure hate to throw away 16 pints of chicken but I’d rather re-can it instead of just hoping it’ll be okay. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: weather damage to raised beds and canning apple cider syrup

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Weather damage to raised beds

A few days ago I noticed the boards of many of my raised beds have lifted off the ground. The boards lifted in some cases six inches off the ground. Guess the weather (snow, freeze, heavy snow, melt, snow again, refreeze, melt, refreeze yet again) caused this but this is the first year it happened. What advice would you give to make sure I don’t break/damage anything when (finally) the warm weather comes.

Jon Gallo

Often the boards will settle back (at least mostly), when the frost finally goes away. If not, you can usually use a board between the bed edges and a sledge hammer and pound the bed edges back into place, a little at a time. This is not common but does happen, as you’ve found out. To keep it from happening next winter, stop watering your beds after freezing and hope it doesn’t rain a lot after that. It’s usually the water that draws frost below the bed to heave it up. — Jackie

Canning apple cider syrup

Can apple cider syrup (apple molasses) be preserved by canning? And if so by which method?

Kenneth Winningham
Killeen, Texas

Yes, you can can your own apple cider syrup (apple molasses), which is made by boiling down cider until it reaches a pancake syrup consistency. While still simmering hot, ladle into hot, sterilized jars (pints will work best). Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim of jar clean and place hot, previously simmered lid on jar and tighten ring down firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remember to start your timing when the canner comes back to a full rolling boil. And if you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your processing time to suit your altitude. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning sweet potatoes, dehydrating hamburger meat, and saving tomato seeds

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Canning sweet potatoes

I have question concerning sweet potatoes. Last year I canned about 2 bushels part in water and part in a light syrup, for the first time I added a tsp of of citric acid to each quart just to help with darkening of the potatoes. They look good in the jars and don’t have any “off” odors but have an unpleasant green almost bitter taste, was it the citric acid? The potatoes were fresh and I let them cure 2 weeks or so before canning. I hate to pitch the whole batch any ideas?

Laura Wilson
Chandler, Texas

My guess is that it is the citric acid. To can sweet potatoes, boil a minute or so to slip off the skins. Then cut into pieces and cover with water in a large pot. Boil 10 minutes. Drain and pack hot sweet potatoes into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. You may either ladle hot cooking water or a medium syrup, brought to boiling over the sweet potatoes, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process pints for 65 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

You might drain your canning liquid from the jars then add fresh water to a pan and dump in a jar of sweet potatoes to heat. Or else make up a heavy syrup and heat your sweet potatoes in that, perhaps making them taste much better. Other than that, about all you could try is to use them as a casserole, topped with seasoned sausage or other seasoned ingredients to cover up the unpleasant bitterness. Hopefully, just simmering them in fresh water will help. You also might try adding 1 tsp baking soda to the fresh water and see if that does it. — Jackie

Dehydrating hamburger meat

What are your thoughts on dehydrating cooked, low-fat hamburger meat for long-term storage in jars? If one can do this, do you have any pointers on the safest way to do this?

Rhonda Jordan
Kingston, Tennessee

Not a real good idea for long-term storage. Often home-dehydrated hamburger is not low fat enough and the dehydrated burger gets rancid or moldy. It’s a much better idea to can it up. That way it’ll be good for decades with no flavor change. Even jerky that has been dehydrated way harder than most modern folks like it (or will even eat it) sometimes will go moldy after time in an airtight jar; it just isn’t dry enough to store in an airtight container. — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

In growing so many varieties of tomatoes, how do you keep seed pure to save?

Betty Anderson
Berryville, Arkansas

Luckily, tomatoes are self-pollinating for the most part. We keep the plants separate so the vines don’t mingle and they do well. Other garden plants such as beans require a much greater separation. Corn requires a mile or more and peppers need 1/2 mile. They need to either grow alone, be greatly separated or hand-pollinated in insect-proof cages. — Jackie



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