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Ask Jackie headline

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Archive for the ‘Meat’ 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: 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: 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

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: learning to can, soil preparation, and processing pigs

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Learning to can and soil preparation

I have been reading your blog for some time now, and just getting the nerve to do canning. I put up some peach jam with water bath canning last season, and purchased a pressure canner in anticipation of pressure canning this season. Being a visual learner, have you ever considered doing some DVDs on pressure canning? I know I would feel more comfortable with this method. I do have all your books.
Secondly, I live in the woods of Maine, and the surface soil is sparse and full of pine needles, any suggestions on how to beef up the soil inexpensively? I do have a small series of raised beds. I live on the edge of a pond, so watershed safety is necessary as well.
South Berwick, Maine

Yes, we have thought of doing DVDs, as Dave Duffy my boss at the magazine suggested. We actually have shot some video at our last seminar and will let you know when it gets put together.

As for your garden soil, rotted manure will fix it right up. You probably have acidic soil (you might want to do a simple pH test) and adding lime would probably help, too. Our soil here on our homestead used to be a layer of pine needles, an inch of topsoil, and 18 inches of rocky, sandy gravel. Now we have about a foot of nice, black, sandy loam. But it did take a few years of both adding rotted manure and picking rocks! — Jackie

Processing pigs

We have a new homestead and we are currently raising our first 2 pigs (Duroc-Hampshire crosses) that we hope to process in a few months at the 220-240 lb range. We will put some of the meat in the freezer and give some to friends, but what do you recommend for other longer term storage options — curing, canning, smoking, etc.? What and how many materials do we need? How long will it take? What special instructions should I tell the butcher? Are there any lower carb recipes — can we replace brown sugar with splenda for canned pulled pork?

Los Gatos, California

Wow, your first two pigs on your new homestead — how exciting! For a first-time home meat experience, I’d probably have your butcher smoke the bacon and ham; you’ve got enough on your plate to worry about the smoking. Let that go until the next time you butcher. Meanwhile, read up on the process and gather your basic supplies (brining and smoking supplies are available at most farm and ranch stores and even big box stores as this is getting very popular). Maybe you could butcher one hog first then do the second later when you’ve felt more comfortable with the smoking process.

Smoking meat is very easy, requiring brining first then hanging in an enclosed container that will hold smoke. You won’t be “cooking” the meat, just using a cool smoke made up of sweet wood chips such as apple, hickory, or mesquite. My first smoker was an old dryer body. Other “smokers” have included a clean barrel and even a hollow log. You can also buy either a propane or electric smoker which is much easier and less work. You smoke for the length of time required for the thickness of the meat. Sides of bacon only require several hours where full hams, about three times that, or more, depending on how smoky you like your meat. With the hams, you will be injecting brine in, next to the bones, before smoking to ensure complete curing. This is done with a special brining syringe.

Even with smoked meat, I’d recommend freezing or canning as most modern smoking does not cure the meat enough to store at room temperature as did the old ways. Why not smoke your meat that way then? Smoked meat done as they did in the past was dry and very smoky flavored, much more than we modern folks like.

I can up a lot of our pork, including ham, bacon, pork chops, ribs, and sausage patties. I’d have your butcher grind all scraps and include any not-so-good roasts so you can make sausage. You can either make breakfast sausage patties or use this ground pork to mix with beef or venison to make summer sausage or Italian sausage. This can either just be mixed and seasoned (again, there are seasoning packets available locally, I’m sure, in many sporting sections of even big box stores) for patties or if you have a sausage stuffer available, in casings to make links.

I know it all sounds daunting but once you try, you’ll be SO glad you took the trouble. It really is so easy and tasty! Yes, you can replace brown sugar with Splenda but the results are not as good, in my opinion. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Our winter continues — cold and snowy

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

For us, winter is kind of a rest-up for spring because of the intense cold. Will and I do our daily outside chores but find time for inside stuff that doesn’t happen when we can be outdoors working.

I just baked three loaves of honey whole wheat bread (recipe in my cookbook) and boy was that yummy! What great toast it makes too. Since it’s cooler in the kitchen now than in the summer, the bread doesn’t mold before it gets eaten up. Store-bought bread is so awful and getting so expensive. I figured that my bread cost about 50 cents a loaf to bake. Not bad, huh? And it’s real wheat, real honey, real food.


I just took out my bucket of sauerkraut and skimmed off the yuck on top. Then I tasted it — just right! Tomorrow I’ll be canning it up. I was planning on doing that today but we took two more steers in to butcher and wow, were the roads bad! It was snowing hard, five degrees and the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. Ice built up on them in a heartbeat and we could hardly see to drive. The plows hadn’t been out so there were nearly whiteout conditions. And we had to drive about 22 miles, pulling a 16-foot stock trailer. If we had known it would be that bad, we would have called and taken them later. But we didn’t know it until we were five miles away from home and there was NO turning around. Will drove about 30 miles an hour, finding the road by mailboxes along it and by plow berms. Every so often we would have to stop right in the road (when there was nobody behind us!), let the defrosters heat the wipers and windshield, jump out and pick the ice off the wipers. Whew, were we glad to get to Al’s place with the steers and us in one piece.

We’ve got 3½ steers’ meat sold already and if we don’t sell the other half, we’ll split it between my son, Bill, and ourselves.

Meanwhile, Hondo and Spencer have been having fun playing. Did you ever know dogs that had a toybox? Well they do, full of “babies” (stuffed animals from the thrift store), balls, and chew toys. Every day we pick them up and then they go stand there and pick through their toys to figure out what they want to play with next … until they have a dozen toys out of the box.


Will’s been working on transforming an antique cherry dresser into a bathroom vanity. He first had to glue the laminate back into place, then cut the legs off a few inches to vanity height. Now he’s got the hole marked where the sink will drop in. Next he has to cut down the drawers so the sink and plumbing will fit. Boy, will it be nice not to have to wash our hands in the bathtub! I haven’t said much but it has been nine years without a sink in the bathroom. But, hey, there have always been more pressing places to put money. That’s homesteading! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

-30! Brrrr! Time for work inside

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

We’re under an Arctic blast with HIGHS in the below zero readings and lows … well, we really don’t want to go there. So we do chores in steps, warming up between, then do things inside that have been let slide for awhile. Will’s again working on the rock wall behind our wood stove in the living room. It’s slow work getting it just right, but he’s definitely making progress. I’m excited to see the way it’s turning out. And impatient to see how it looks finished with the rustic wood shelves in it, too! My grandfather collected Indian relics from his fields where he farmed and I have a couple of old wooden crates with ax heads, spear points, and arrowheads in them and we’d love to display them on those shelves. The last time some were displayed was back in the forties in a Canadian museum! And with our family’s Native heritage, those pieces speak volumes to us.



I’m getting ready to can up the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and rearranging things in the house to get rid of the clutter that happens on a busy homestead.

Brrr. I just looked at the thermometer. It’s noon and -8 degrees. I guess those beavers sure knew what was coming! — Jackie



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