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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.

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

Archive for the ‘Self-sufficiency’ Category

Jackie Clay

The harvest continues; this time it’s wild plums

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

This time of year, we’re constantly busy harvesting and putting up not only the garden produce but our wild crops as well. Luckily we have many on our homestead and this year we’ve been happy to see that our wild plum crop is outstanding. As wild plums bloom quite early, we only get a good crop about one year out of three. This year the trees are loaded! And finally, most are ripe. Once they are ripe, they easily fall off the tree and the critters such as wolves, fox, and bears, not to mention squirrels, gobble them up. (We can’t take Spencer on our wild fruit expeditions as he also loves fruit!)

We used both a ladder and the back of our pickup to stand higher to pick. Then we gently shook the trees to free any high-up fruit. Thud, thud, thud, it rained plums! We picked those up off of the ground. How good they smell — sort of like plum mixed with vanilla. Mmmm.

Will crawled through our fence to harvest some inside the pasture. But as crawling is very hard on my poor sore knees, I told Will I’d walk down to a spot where the lower wire had been broken to cross the fence there. I knew there was a seasonal drainage to cross but it’s been pretty dry so I figured it’d be easy to cross. Yeah, right… There were still water puddles in it so I tried to step across on the high spots. Bad idea. I sunk to my knees and my left shoe pulled off in the clay; then I was stuck! Will came to help, giving me something solid to pull against. I ended up losing my right shoe too! But I got out. Yuck was I a mess! Will dug out my shoes by hand and I got back through the fence to the drive in my stocking feet encased in clay mud. But we ended the day with three big pails of plums.

I juiced the first batch last night in the Mehu Liisa steam juicer and got a gallon and a quart of beautiful juice. Today I’ll do another batch and make jelly from some of the juice. The rest I’ll can up to make jelly when things aren’t so hectic. Will is saving some pits to plant for our own baby trees.

Just a reminder guys: when you ask questions try to use the email link provided at the top of the blog not the comments section. It’s too easy for your questions to get lost in the comments and not get answered. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: Ball canning lids, pruning apple trees with fire blight, wine yeast, and canning butter

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Ball canning lids

I was reading on the internet where Ball has changed their procedures on their new canning lids. It seems that you no longer simmer the lids. To do so, now often causes a poor seal as the rubber thins out. Have you heard this?

Lorraine Rezentes
Floyd, Iowa

Ball says that their new sealing compound “performs equally well at room temperature as it does pre-heated in simmering water (180 degrees Fahrenheit). Simply wash lids in hot, soapy water, dry, and set aside until needed.” I haven’t heard anything about heating them causing the sealant to thin and cause poor seals. Nor does Ball mention it. — Jackie

Pruning apple trees with fire blight

Thoroughly enjoy your blog postings with Q & A. Please remind the person pruning apple trees with fire blight to disinfect any/all tools that they use for pruning. We had to do this after each section of a tree. Also, the pruner’s hands, gloves, clothes should be washed and disinfected.


Very good idea, Arleen! Failing to do this may result in spreading the disease. — Jackie

Wine yeast

Is there a way to dehydrate and preserve wine yeast (actually cider yeast) from one year to the next? Each year I buy dry commercial wine yeast for that year’s apple crop, but I’d rather not be dependent on it. During fermentation (using the commercial yeast) I have a large population of the perfect yeast cells; Is there a way to take a sample of them and dry and store them so I can use them next year? Relying on “wild” yeast to do the job is risky and unpredictable.

Jonathan Goodson
Beverly Hills, California

I’m sorry, Jonathan, but we don’t use alcohol and I don’t make wine. Are there any homestead winemakers out there who can answer his question? — Jackie

Canning butter

I recently read in your book “Ask Jackie Pressure Canning” about canning butter. I canned some Amish salted butter in a water bath for 40 minutes and the finished product came out grainy and separated. It was also really soft almost to the point of runny. Any ideas why this happened or how the problem can be corrected. The canned butter also had little to no taste.

Wynn Speck
Sun City, Arizona

When you can butter, you should heat it enough to drive off most of the residual buttermilk in the butter (the liquid), which is watery and will cook away when you slowly heat the butter past melting. Unless kept in a cool location it will not be hard just like butter must be kept cool or it will melt at warm household temperatures. The separation occurs when you don’t heat the butter enough (be careful or it will burn!). Also, as the jars cool after processing, if you gently shake them it will redistribute the leftover buttermilk so it is less apt to separate. I process my butter in a water bath canner for 60 minutes. The grainy texture is like any butter that has melted and re-solidified; it can’t be helped. But canned butter usually tastes great but perhaps the salt in the butter transferred to the buttermilk and the butter had very little salt. Try mixing a bit of salt with the butter to see if it improves the flavor. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: nitrogen purged freezer storage, picking Hopi Pale Grey squash early, and canning salsa mix

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Nitrogen purged freezer storage

Do you know of any one doing nitrogen purged freezer storage?

John Alderman

No, I don’t. I do know of folks who use dry ice to remove the oxygen in long term storage containers but not for freezer storage. — Jackie

Picking Hopi Pale Grey squash early

Our Hopi Pale Grey Squash is growing like crazy, and it has at least a dozen nice big squash on it. This is my first time growing it, or any winter squash for that matter. Everything I read says wait until after the first light frost to pick them. Do I have to wait, or can I pick one now? It’s just I can’t wait to try it, they look so good.

Steve in Wyoming

Sure, Steve, go ahead and pick one. They are great tasting even when softball sized, used as a summer squash. Some of our friends just harvested and ate one of their immature Hopi Pale Greys and said it was the best squash they’d ever tasted! I’m tickled that yours are doing so well. — Jackie

Canning salsa mix

I purchased a salsa mix to add to my tomatoes (Mrs. Wage’s mild) and while the taste was great, I am questioning the processing instructions. The mix contains dehydrated vegetables and spices and for 10 cups of tomatoes, I added 1/2 cup vinegar. The instructions said it could be water bathed but that amount of vinegar didn’t seem to be enough to safely do that. What do you think?

Katherine Jordahl
Fergus Falls, Minnesota

That recipe is one that has been tested and found safe for canning. I don’t use it because I grow all of my own ingredients except for the lemon juice I use. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: goat milk soap and making apple relish with Asian pears

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Goat milk soap

You gave a recipe for Goat’s Milk Soap but for the life of me I can not find it. Would you please direct me?

Amanda Modin
Bend, Oregon

That recipe is on page 78 of the Sept/October 2014 issue of BHM (Issue #149). If you can’t find it, let me know and I’ll reprint it. — Jackie

Making apple relish with Asian pears

I make your Apple Relish every year. Have you ever, or do you think I could use Asian Pears in it instead of the Apples? As an aside, I bought the Punta Bunda Tomato seeds from you and I have NEVER had such high yields of sauce tomatoes! Yikes! Perhaps a warning, of “High…really high yield” should go onto the label! Yummmmm

Darla Reardon
Deming, Washington

Yep, that’s one reason we always grow Punta Bandas! I make tons of different sauces and it sure cuts down on the work as they’re so meaty.

Yes, you can substitute Asian pears for the apples in the Apple Relish recipe with no problems. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: larger canning jars and canning tomato sauce

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Larger canning jars

Have you/your readers noticed that the new canning jars are larger? I had to purchase new quart jars, Mason brand, and 7 jars would not fit in my pressure or water bath canner. I measured and they are almost 1/2 inch wider around than my older jars! YIKES! I need to go yard selling to get more jars.

Marcia Lambert
Clay City, Indiana

I haven’t bought new jars this year. Have any more of you folks out there noticed this? — Jackie

Canning tomato sauce

I canned your Tomato sauce recipe from your canning book page 83 with recommended spice which taste great. But in the process I forgot the lemon juice. Do I need to open the jars and reprocess or just use those up first? If it makes a difference with acidity I grow my own Amish paste.

Julie Marsh
Kingsville, Missouri

Well Julie, here we get into the gray area of canning. Experts regard pH levels of 4.6 or below to be high acid foods, including most tomatoes. A pH of 4.7 or above is considered low acid and you really need to add an acidifier such as citric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar to tomato recipes to be sure of safety. The “average” pH of Amish paste tomatoes is classified at 4.68, which should be safe for water bath processing. Then again, the pH of tomatoes can be affected by such things as growing conditions, weather, and ripeness (less ripe are lower in pH). Generations of folks have canned Amish paste tomatoes using the water bath method with no problems. BUT to be absolutely sure of safety, you can dump your jars into a kettle, reheat it to boiling, then ladle it into jars and add the lemon juice. Use new lids and re-process in a boiling water bath for the same time as if you were making fresh sauce (pints 35 min, quarts 40 minutes at 10 pounds pressure). — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Hey everyone, there was a mistake in the photo in the recent nut article

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

We made a mistake in the current issue, Issue No. 149, September/October 2014. In the article titled “Nut trees on your homestead,” we inadvertently put in the wrong photo over the caption that reads “Chestnuts grow inside groups of prickly burrs which split open, revealing shiny, flattish nuts when they become ripe.” We put a photo of a horse chestnut, which is poisonous. Horse chestnuts are so bitter that it would be hard to accidentally eat them, but they are poisonous. We should have put a photo of an edible American chestnut. We apologize for the error. Please share this with any BHM subscribers that you know.


Because we were concerned, we contacted some folks who know about poisons and such.

According to an Oregon Health Services University toxicologist, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea are the most common symptoms of eating the seed. But, it is so bitter that it is intolerable to eat so it is very rare for someone to ingest a large amount.

Also, the person we spoke to at Oregon Poison Control said the seed is very bitter; it is highly unlikely that someone would swallow it. Minimal cases are reported, as it is a well-known plant. On the off-chance that someone did eat it, the seed will not kill them. One or two seeds may only cause gastroenteritis, and larger amounts cause mouth irritation. Ingestion of large quantities (or repeated ingestion of small quantities) can cause bigger systemic problems, particularly in children.


But the Bill Bean tomato in this photo is no mistake! We have several that will weigh in at three pounds or more. WOW! One plant has more than 20 tomatoes on it that weigh at least a pound or more each. Now that’s productive. And for such a huge tomato, it is very meaty and makes Brandywine cringe in shame.

Yesterday we hosted a gathering of the combined Chisholm and Hibbing garden clubs. We toured our gardens, orchard, and berry patch and spent more than 3 hours showing people what we grow and varieties that do well for us here, and explaining how our homestead works. It was fun and very well attended. The interest in heirloom, open pollinated crops was exciting.

Today while Will is hauling round bales of hay home from the fields I’m starting to harvest seeds from some of our earliest maturing tomatoes. Bill Bean, which we had previously figured was a 100 day tomato, came in at just over 75 days this year! We always save seeds from the earliest maturing fruits to “encourage” the varieties to become earlier producing. So I have several bowls lined up on the counter ready to receive tons of tomato seeds from many different varieties of tomatoes. Some are old favorites such as Punta Banda, Early Firefall, and Cherokee Purple but a lot are new to us. We’re especially excited about Alpine, a smaller “regular” tomato that is hugely productive and early; Indigo Beauty, a mid-sized gorgeous tomato with a purple top and orange lower half; Glacier, another very productive smaller tomato; and Mule Team, which is a red, round quite early flavorful addition to our garden. What fun!

Just a note: We still have many slots left for our Sept 12-14th Homestead Seminar. I’m not sure what’s happened, but there hasn’t been a lot of response to this potentially great harvest seminar. If you’re interested in coming, let us know. (We may have to quit offering seminars due to lack of response.) — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: flu tonic and storing dehydrated foods

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Flu tonic

I have a recipe that I call my “flu/cold tonic.” I am wondering if it can be canned for longer storage.
Juice of 6 fresh lemons
1 bulb garlic
2 tsp. ginger powder
2 Tbsp. honey
3 cups pineapple juice
¼ tsp cayenne powder
Blend all ingredients thoroughly and store in a glass jar. Take 1 cup 4 times a day until the symptoms are resolved.

Shellie Gades
Evansville, Minnesota

Sorry, but as it’s a mixed recipe (citrus and garlic), I really can’t say for sure. What you might do is to can up all of the juices together then add the spices, garlic, and honey at a later date. Sounds like a good cold remedy to me! — Jackie

Storing freeze dried and dehydrated foods

I recently ordered the Meals in a Jar book by Stephanie Petersen and the stated shelf life for some of the recipes are as little as 5 years… I was hoping they would last longer. How long do you think meals in a jar made up with freeze dried ingredients prepared properly with a oxygen absorber should last? Thank you so much for any thoughts!

Crystal Misiak
Millboro, Virginia

Most freeze dried and dehydrated foods will last for decades if stored properly — out of direct light, sealed well in airtight containers, and kept relatively cool (the cooler, the longer they’ll last). Mixed recipes should last equally long unless they contain ingredients such as nuts or whole grain flours that go rancid fairly rapidly. I would expect the mixes to last much longer than five years but not having seen the recipes I can’t say with absolute certainty. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: cover cropping and making soap

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Cover cropping

Most of my vegetables are growing in 4×10 foot raised beds. I have been reading about the benefits of cover cropping after harvest and over winter and would like to know if this can be done in raised beds. If so, please explain how to do it and the best plants for my area which is the southwest.
Christi Newhall
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cover cropping not only reduces the weed population in your garden or raised beds but it also adds green manure which can be tilled under or dug in to enrich the soil. It also holds snow in the area. A whole lot of old-time farmers call snow “white manure” as the minerals it contains enrich the soil. A real easy cover crop is oats. You can plant them now in Santa Fe and they’ll still be several inches tall when the snows/freeze hits. Oats will take a few frosts but will kill out over winter. In the spring, simply dig them into your beds and they will have choked out a lot of tiny germinating weeds from the fall but will add tilth and green manure to your beds.

Making soap

Thank you for giving us your basic goat milk and honey soap recipe in the current issue. There is one concern I’ve had that has kept me from making my own goat milk soap. I know you have a conure in your house too and I am worried about toxic fumes around my pet bird (sun conure.) If I mix the lye and water outdoors and wait for it to come to the proper temperature will there be any problem with toxic fumes upon bringing it back indoors to add to the other ingredients? Or would I have to complete the entire process outdoors? Thank you for your wonderful advice.

Mary Hartsock
Lancaster, Kentucky

While I wouldn’t make soap in the same room with our birds, there isn’t much of a problem if the birds are in another room, far from the soap-making. Put the bird in a bedroom and close the door or locate its cage in a room far from the kitchen where most of us make soap. I’ve never had a problem using these simple precautions. I’d go ahead and make your soap inside. It’s a lot easier! — Jackie



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