Top Navigation  
U.S. Flag waving
Office Hours Momday - Friday  8 am - 5 pm Pacific 1-800-835-2418
Facebook   YouTube   Twitter
Backwoods Home Magazine, self-reliance, homesteading, off-grid

 Home Page
 Current Issue
 Article Index
 Author Index
 Previous Issues
 Print Display Ads
 Print Classifieds
 Free Stuff
 Home Energy

General Store
 Ordering Info
 Kindle Subscriptions
 Kindle Publications
 Back Issues
 Help Yourself
 All Specials
 Classified Ad

 Web Site Ads
 Magazine Ads

BHM Blogs
 Ask Jackie Clay
 Massad Ayoob
 Claire Wolfe
 James Kash
 Where We Live
 Behind The Scenes
 Dave on Twitter
Retired Blogs
 Oliver Del Signore
 David Lee
 Energy Questions

Quick Links
 Home Energy Info
 Jackie Clay
 Ask Jackie Online
 Dave Duffy
 Massad Ayoob
 John Silveira
 Claire Wolfe

Forum / Chat
 Forum/Chat Info
 Enter Forum
 Lost Password

More Features
 Contact Us/
 Change of Address
 Write For BHM
 Meet The Staff
 Meet The Authors
 Disclaimer and
 Privacy Policy

Retired Features
 Country Moments
 Radio Show

Link to BHM

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.

Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.

Read the old Ask Jackie Online columns
Read Ask Jackie print columns

Click for print copy Click for Kindle copy Click to read the beginning

Archive for the ‘Food Preservation’ Category

Jackie Clay

Q and A: seal on a woodstove, planting peppers, and canning cheese

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Seal on woodstove

We have a woodstove in our small cabin which is 700 sq. ft. Each year the seal on the inside of the door of the wood burner comes off and causes my husband lots of consternation. It was not a cheap woodstove and we were wondering if this is normal or if we are doing something wrong. How do you re-apply the seal to your stove and are there any hints you can provide so that we do not have do this again next year?

Deborah Motylinski
Brecksville, Ohio

This is kind of common. However, there are some things you can do to keep it on for much longer than a year. The most important thing to do is to take a wire brush and hot, soapy water and scrub the tar out of the groove the gasket fits into. Of course, you’ll have to wait until the fire has been out a while so the door will cool enough to handle. Rinse and dry the groove. Cut the sealing gasket to fit. Then with a good stove gasket cement (a liquid), apply a decent amount to the groove.  Firmly press the seal into place. Keep the door open while the cement sets so you don’t end up cementing the door closed. (Been there/done that!) Let it cure for at least 24 hours. Then it’s ready for a fire. When it comes off during the coldest part of the winter, you do have to rush the process but when you do that the gasket does seem more prone to coming loose much faster. — Jackie

Planting peppers

Do you plant your peppers together or separate? I start two also to be sure to get one. Linda ordered the old German, Sweet Aperitif, and Bill Bean tomato. All coming up double. Will separate and plant. Should have enough for our canning.

Ron Stilabower
New Douglas, Illinois

I often plant two seeds together in case one doesn’t germinate or one plant doesn’t look strong. But I’ll confess I try to save the plant I “weed out” if it looks good; I hate to waste! But when I transplant them I only put one plant per container and only one plant in one spot in the garden. I’m tickled that your tomatoes are coming up well! We always love to hear that. — Jackie

Canning cheese

I am interested in preserving store bought cheese. I want to start putting up some can goods and other things too.

Thelma Thompson
Elberta, Mchigan

To can cheese, fill a saucepan about half full of hot water or about ¾ way up the side of a half-pint jar. Turn on the heat to low. Put an old jar lid on the bottom of the pan then set a clean, sterilized jar on it with a few cubes of cheese in it. As the cheese melts, stir it with a chopstick or some such tool and keep adding cubes of cheese. When the jar is full to about ½ inch from the top, remove the jar from the pan and go on to the next until you are finished with all the cheese. Then carefully wipe all the rims of the jars clean and place a hot, previously simmered lid on the jar and turn the ring down firmly tight. Water bath the cheese for 60 minutes. Some people only process for 40 minutes, but as there is no “safe, tested recommendation” by the USDA and other experts, this is just the way I do it and have canned cheese for more than 7 years now. Cheeses that are good canned include mozzarella, Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, and cream cheese. Bear in mind that some cheeses tend to get sharper with long storage so you might not want to can up a lot of extra sharp cheddar if you don’t care for pungent cheese. If you want to start canning in earnest, you might pick up my book Growing and Canning Your own Food right here, through the magazine. You’ll find it a great help and inspiration. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Tomato time!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

With all of our peppers up, it’s time for tomatoes. This year I planted more than 288 tomatoes. Of that number, there are 50 new varieties and 20 of our old standbys that we are selling seeds from this year at our business — Seed Treasures. Some of the 50 new ones won’t make the cut, of course. If they don’t produce very well, don’t taste great, or don’t seem quite hardy, out they go! (We do give some a second chance if they make two of our goals, just to see if we did something wrong or the weather affected them.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been canning up a storm. I just did 14 quarts of chili, 7 pints of leftover kidney beans, 3 quarts and 3 pints of boneless pork loin, and a little plain crumbled hamburger. Now I’ve got to get out more meat to thaw. Time to get another big batch done ahead of Easter dinner cooking and baking. I’m SO glad to be feeling better!

Will is lots better too. He cut up a big load of small wood, loading it into the pickup. I just looked out and he was unloading it with his radio earphones on and he was dancing to old-time rock’n roll!
Go Will! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: storing sweet potatoes and stacking jars in the canner

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Storing sweet potatoes

Great article in the most recent issue about vegetables and storage. My wife and I are going to adjust the content of the garden based on this. I do have a question about the longevity of sweet potatoes. In New Hampshire we are limited to growing the Beauregard variety. Last year, I stored the harvest in a room maintaining the temperature at 80 with moderate humidity. Then according to sources I read online, wrapped each potato in a newspaper and stored them in wooden baskets in our concrete cold cellar. The cellar never went below 32 degrees during the fall and winter. The humidity is fairly high and the cellar is well vented. The potatoes rotted within weeks. Did I do something wrong or should I just stick with growing and storing white potatoes in our cold New Hampshire environment?

Wilton, New Hampshire

Your sweet potatoes just got too cold, and chilling causes them to rot in storage. You shouldn’t even keep them in the refrigerator as that’s usually 40 degrees F and even that’s too cold. Sweet potatoes, once cured at 80 degrees and high humidity for a week or so, should be stored where it’s dark, airy, and between 55 and 60 degrees F. In most homes, that’s in a back closet, unheated bedroom, attic, or minimally-heated basement. Even Irish potatoes don’t like 32 degrees. I’ve had many of them develop black spots inside the skin after having been exposed to the low thirties for extended periods of time. To raise the temp in your cellar, you might consider adding some insulation board around your potato bin and also adding a heater on a thermostat so that when the temps in the cellar dip in the low thirties, it will come on to add just a little more heat. Your potatoes will store much better that way. But for the sweet potatoes, keep ‘em warmer and they’ll store most of the winter. — Jackie

Stacking jars in the canner

I recently discovered that jars can be double-stacked in a canner, using a rack between layers. (Who knew?) But I’m wondering — doesn’t the weight of the jars in the top layer have the potential to affect the quality of the seal on the jars in the bottom layer?

Lynda King
Bolton, Massachusetts

Nope. I’ve double-decked for decades now and have not had any issues with the lower level having sealing failures. As you’ve said, it IS important to put a rack between layers. My first rack was a wire grill that had been on an old dart board! Then I graduated to a circular barbecue grill rack from the Dollar Store. Now that I’m using a new All American pressure canner, it came with two factory racks so I use these. Double-decking is a great way to get more bang for the buck when canning a batch: same time, same pressure, many more jars of food put up! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Busy, busy, busy

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Now that we’re feeling better, I’ve been zooming around playing catch-up. I’ve got 132 tomato seeds started (I only have another 132 to go! After all, we’re trialing more than 50 new varieties this year. That’s in addition to the 18 varieties we like and are growing again. All are open pollinated so we’ll be offering seeds again next year ( see box above). And since our “business” is growing greatly, we’ll need a whole lot more seeds next year for folks to choose from. So far we haven’t run out of a single variety, but are getting a bit low on a couple of the favorites.

The days are getting warmer and I’m busy canning meat as we’ll be emptying our freezer on the back porch. When it’s warm, that “energy star” rated freezer sucks our battery bank dry very quickly, so we need to empty it before too long. Right now it’s pretty full of beef, pork, and chicken.

Yesterday I canned up a big batch of taco meat and some pepperoni. Today I’ve got hamburger thawing and also a big boneless pork loin. I’m going to make chili with some of the burger as we’re getting low on that. I’ll use some of my quarts of home-canned tomato sauce and tomatoes in the chili. I can up tons of tomato products when we’re in a tomato flood in the fall. Then I mix it up with things like chili, baked beans, soups, etc. when I have the time. Yum. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: wood heating, dehydrated foods, and jars leaking in pressure canner

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Wood heating

We need to find a more efficient way of heating our home. We have a fire place and use it, but when the electricity goes off, as it does frequently, we need more heat. What is the most efficient wood heater for heating and maybe cooking on top if needed?


There are many good wood stoves out there today. Before buying I would check with your insurance company. We did and found that we had to buy one that was UL listed and the installation had to be approved by the insurance company. We love the old Fisher Grandpa Bear stoves; I had one at our homestead in Sturgeon Lake for years. But, unfortunately, they went out of business when the EPA began regulating wood stoves and they are not UL listed. We bought a Vogelzang Mountaineer several years back for about $500, which is what they are now, from Northern Tool. Our house is now about 3,500 square feet and it heats it well (not hot, mind you, but certainly adequate and our winter temps are a lot lower than yours are). Of course, the more expensive wood stoves will probably last longer but we’re happy with our Vogelzang.

We installed it with a stainless steel Metalbestos stovepipe and our insurance agent came out to inspect the installation. Done deal. But we’ve heard tales of insurance companies getting tougher on wood burning families. However, as you already have a fireplace, I’m hoping that’s not the case for you. — Jackie

Dehydrated foods

I have tried my hand at dehydrating squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato this year. I did all the blanching, cooking, and cut them up as directed. Put them in my Nesco dehydrator and checked on them and rearranged the pieces and the trays a few times. Afterward I went to powder them up in the blender (Hamilton Beach) and they were so hard they wouldn’t grind up. I tried my food processor and they stopped the blade. I’ve rehydrated some pieces and they taste okay. What do I need to change so I can make a powder out of my veggies? Is my dehydrator or blender too cheap? Or is method to blame? I’ve also read some articles about top/bottom motor dehydrators not circulating the air well. Also want to know if there is any hope for the jars of veggies I have that are hard chunks?

Pomeroy, Iowa

All I ever do when dehydrating pumpkin and squash is to slice and peel the pieces, then cut slices about ¼” thick and put them on the dehydrator trays. I have an old Oster blender (from the dump) and it powders them fine. But most of the time, I rehydrate the pieces and use them in stews, casseroles, or other dishes. They rehydrate fine and absorb flavors so if you want, rehydrate them in chicken or beef broth instead of water. As I’m a Northern homesteader, I haven’t dehydrated sweet potatoes so I can’t speak about them. Your dehydrator is fine; I have one just like it. One thing you might try is grinding the pieces with an old-fashioned hand cranked meat grinder before putting them in the blender. Or else just put a couple pieces in at a time while the blender is already turned on. This has worked for me with several things that seemed to stop the blender if I just filled it up and turned it on. My son, Bill, and his wife gave us a Ninja blender for Christmas this year and looking down into its container at all the knives, I can’t imagine anything stopping it! — Jackie

Jars leaking in pressure canner

I pressure canned some tomato sauce with meat today, it appears 2 of the jars leaked in processing, the water was a bit red, and there were dried dribbles on the rims and down the jars, but they sealed, the top is concave and when turned upside down they do not leak. My question is since it is a meat sauce are they still safe?

Crystal Misiak
Millboro, Virginia

Yep, they’re safe. This is quite common and usually happens when you either fill the jars too full or there is a fluctuation in the pressure during the processing period. As long as they sealed, you’re fine. Just take the rings off and wash the jars (and the inside of your canner!) with hot, soapy water then rinse and dry. Good to go. Happens to me from time to time so don’t worry. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: storing vacuum sealed food, dents in lids, and canning spaghetti squash

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Storing vacuum sealed food

If an item is vacuum sealed with a vacuum sealer machine how long will the food keep? If sealed in vacuum sealed jars how long will they last? Can an oxygen absorber be used in a jar and the food item keep and for how long. I have several half gallon jars and would like to use them to keep food for storage. Will they work for that purpose?

Claudine Norwood
Wagoner, Oklahoma

Yes, your half gallon jars will work for dry food storage. I use many of mine to store home-dehydrated foods, dry foods such as beans, lentils, peas, etc. As oxygen is the enemy of food storage, excluding it from your foods will make it last longer. (However, don’t run out and buy a vacuum sealer if you don’t already have one). If you fill your jars full and just use a clean, solid lid (not necessarily a new lid) and ring, your dry foods will last for decades without vacuum sealing or using an oxygen absorber. I have dehydrated banana chips I did in 1985 and they are perfectly good, as one example.

Storing foods that contain whole germ such as brown rice, whole wheat flour, and home-ground cornmeal is always a short-term thing unless you freeze it. Vacuum sealing or adding an oxygen absorber in these cases will help but only extend the storage time for a year or so. Better to store whole grains such as popcorn for grinding and wheat berries to grind into flour at a later date as whole grains will store indefinitely without extra treatment. Just store in airtight, insect- and rodent-proof containers that will exclude both oxygen and dampness. — Jackie

Dents in lids and storing food

Yesterday, as I was scrounging for half pint jars, my box of pints fell 6 inches or so resulting in 2 of the jars falling into each other and denting the lids significantly. Are these seals going to fail? They are presently in the refrigerator just to be safe. I will cook them Sunday (corn and ham juice with a little ham for green beans).

Where do you store all your canned goods when you are out of room? We only have a small home with no basement. I have added 7 more cases filled with half pints since Sunday, should can the hams I bought before Christmas but haven’t had time yet or space.

Hopefully sold another cookbook for you to the lady in line ahead of me when I bought four more cases of half pints so I could finish the bacon.

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

Thanks, Julia! Every book helps our homestead endeavors! Luckily, we now have a basement so there’s always room to store more food. But back in Montana and New Mexico, we had small houses and with no basement. I made a pantry out of our New Mexico back porch, which was heated and made a pantry out of the long hall into our bathroom in Montana. I’ve also stored canned foods in stacks in closets, against walls (with insulation board behind so they wouldn’t freeze in the winter), and, of course, under our beds. Dry foods that freezing won’t hurt were stored in crawl spaces under the house and in outbuildings. Hey, we homestead canners can always find room to stuff a few more jars!

I wouldn’t trust the lids with serious dents as they could fail at some time in the future. You’re wise to refrigerate and use them up relatively quickly. — Jackie

Canning spaghetti squash

Can I can spaghetti squash after I bake it and remove it from the shell? If so, how?

Ann Hazelett
Litchfield Park, Arizona 

Yes, you can. It may get soft after being cooked first then canned. However it will still be fine in a wide variety of recipes. To can it, just spoon it out into the jars. Do NOT pack it down tightly. Leave 1 inch of headspace. Pour boiling water over squash, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 25 minutes (pints) or 30 minutes (quarts). — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: rendering pig fat, canning mulberries, and source for weed-free hay

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Rendering pig fat

Could you give me a rough idea of how many pounds of pig fat I will need to render down in order to end up with a dozen pint jars of lard? I check your blog each morning to see what’s going on in your part of the country; and to see what advice to others I may be able to use.

Vala Johnson
Harlem, Montana

You’re going to need roughly 14 pounds of fat to render down to a dozen pints of lard. I’m glad to hear you visit the blog often and I hope you’ve gleaned a lot of information from others. — Jackie

Canning mulberries

This coming year I am wanting to can mulberries for making pies at a later date but I have not been able to find any info on doing this, if it can be canned, what pressure and for how long?

William Fisher
Grinnell, Iowa

You don’t need to pressure can any berries, including mulberries since they are acidic enough to process in a water bath canner. You can just water bath them under the directions used for blackberries and raspberries, which is 10 minutes for pints or 15 minutes for quarts. I’d suggest using a medium syrup, poured over the raw berries in the jar, near boiling. Be sure to count your water bath time from the time the kettle comes back to a full boil after putting your filled jars in. — Jackie

Source for weed-free hay

Do you have any advice about finding a local source for weed-free hay?

Jonathan F.
Somerville, Tennessee

If you don’t know any local farmers, why not put an ad in your nearest Craigslist like “wanted to buy, weed-free, chemical-free hay for my garden.” Or put up some cards at feed mills or livestock yards. I’m sure you can find some pretty easily that way.

If you are using it for mulch in your garden, also be sure it is immature hay with no hay seeds present. I once “planted” a great crop of timothy in my garden by using hay for mulch that had already gone to seed. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: canning on a ceramic top stove and testing a used canner

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Canning on a ceramic top stove

I have been canning for a couple years now and I keep coming up with a few questions that I can’t find answers to. First, I can on a ceramic, flat top stove. One of the burners is supposedly designed to be extra large for canning. I have used it without much problem for canning, although I know that it is not the ideal stove. Because of the cycling on and off of the stove, I am constantly adjusting the temperature. I have a difficult time keeping my pressure at 11 pounds (dial gauge canner and less than 1000 feet above sea level). My canner always wants to easily go up to 15 pounds pressure and seems to be able to maintain 15 pounds pressure without any problem. I have seen an old recipe for canning green beans that gives a time for canning at 15 pounds pressure. That time is less than the recommended time for canning green beans at 10 lbs pressure. Can I pressure can at 15lbs pressure for less time? If so, do you have a resource to recommend for times for various items? If I can’t reduce the time, is there anything wrong with canning items at 15 pounds pressure when the recommendation is 10?

Secondly, after I finished canning chicken broth this morning, I realized that one of the jars didn’t seal (I do seem to have a difficult time with that). So, I wanted to reprocess it. I know I can’t use the same lid again, but is it necessary to heat the broth up again or can I just leave the broth in the same jar, wipe rim off, replace the lid, stick the cool jar in a cool canner and process?

Rebecca Whisonant
Chester, South Carolina

Have you tried other burners to see if one of them might give you the 11 pounds you need? If so and that didn’t help, I think I’d just go ahead and can at 15 pounds pressure but for the entire required time, as there really isn’t much reliable information on canning at higher than required pressure for shorter times. But I really would try to find a sweet burner so you can process at 11 pounds as 15 pounds may tend to overcook some foods such as carrots or potatoes.

Sorry, but you should bring your broth up to boiling, then pack the chicken and broth back in the jar and process as if it were the first trip through the canner. — Jackie

Testing a used canner

I recently purchased a beautiful vintage Windsor A Montgomery Ward Canner #8. The problem is it only fits 3½ quarts instead of the recommended 4. I did a trial run and it works great! It took about 23 minutes on high to start to vent (I usually don’t vent on high but I wanted see how long it would take at that temp). I tested it for 15 minutes and the pressure maintained with the gauge and the weight I had put on (I added an all American vent and weight like I’ve done to my 2 larger gasketless canners). The weight jiggled like normal 3-4x/min at 10lbs. Once I turned off the heat it took about 23 minutes to reach zero. Apparently the recommendations are because a smaller canner would come up to pressure too fast for heat to penetrate, but this canner appears to come up and cool down like a larger canner. I only tested canning water for 15 minutes and it didn’t seem fast. Would like to use this one when I just want to can small amounts. Let me know what you think.

Michelle Neal
Buffalo, New York

Although I can not, obviously, say for sure, but I think you’ve got the canner all set to go. My All American takes about 25 minutes to exhaust and about that long to cool down, depending on how full it is and if it’s a cooler raw-packed load instead of a hot-packed load of jars.

You do know, don’t you, that you can process as little as one half-pint in a larger canner? It isn’t as economical, but it sure can be done. I often do not fill my canner but just process what is ready to go at the time. — Jackie



Copyright © 1998 - Present by Backwoods Home Magazine. All Rights Reserved.