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Ask Jackie headline

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Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Jackie Clay

Denver Self Reliance Expo

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016


The Denver Self-Reliance Expo is this Friday and Saturday. I’ll be speaking about gardening and canning. Dave and Ilene Duffy, Don Childers and his wife, and Jeff Yago will also be there. Stop by the Backwoods Home booth and say hi! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: pressure canner or cooker and thick preserves

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Pressure canner or cooker

We bought an electric pressure cooker/canner (Power) with the understanding we could use it for canning vegetables. Now online we are being told not to use it. Please help us out. Can we use it for canning or not. If not, why?

Don Kendrick

Sorry, but electric pressure cookers are not meant to can food even though the manufacturer indicates they are. They just aren’t exact enough to maintain correct processing pressure throughout the time required for canning; they tend to go up and down a little….too much for safe canning. It’s necessary to buy a pressure canner (which can also be used to pressure cook many foods). Not only are they safer but they are also much larger than the electric pressure cookers, allowing you to do more foods at once. If you can afford an All American, that’s the best but a Presto, which is much cheaper, will certainly do the job for you. — Jackie

Thick preserves

I canned 14 half pints of homemade strawberry preserves yesterday. Opened one jar this morning to have with breakfast and it is too thick to spread on bread. Can my preserve be saved? If so how. I’ve made it many times in the past 5 years and this is the first time it’s come out too thick.

Leticia Ausbern
Chino Valley, Arizona

When jams and preserves are too thick, a quick “fix” is to just put the jar in a small saucepan, on top of a used old jar lid, then fill the pan up most of the way on the jar. Heat the preserves and they’ll soften so you can spoon them on your toast. Or if you let it soften more, you can pour it over waffles or pancakes. Don’t despair, goof-ups like this happen to us all. But, luckily, they’re mostly all edible! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: pressure canning and canning pickled asparagus

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Pressure canning

I was canning the other day in my pressure canner and after the processing time was done and the pressure had dropped all the way, I forgot the jars in the canner for about an hour. I didn’t hear them pinging when I took them out. Is this food safe to eat? Also, is it bad to sometimes exhaust the steam for slightly more than 10 minutes? I sometimes start the timer a little late.

Jennifer Owens
Middlefield, Ohio

If the jars you left in your canner sealed, I’d mark an X on the top or something and store them toward the front of your canning on the shelf. Use them first, as in my experience jars left too long in the canner after processing sometimes have seals that release in storage. The X will remind you to double-check these jars for seal, appearance, and smell before use. If they’re sealed, they should be fine.

It’s okay to exhaust your canner longer than 10 minutes but don’t let it go on and on as you may lose too much water due to escaping steam. You don’t want your canner to exhaust to the point that it’s dry inside. A couple of minutes won’t hurt a thing. — Jackie

Canning pickled asparagus

I have a recipe for marinated asparagus that I would like to can as pickled asparagus. It calls for ½ cup sugar, ½ cup vinegar, ½ cup water and 1½ Tbsp. lemon juice. Would this can safely in a water bath canner? Would I proceed as if I were canning the asparagus? I’ll be starting with frozen asparagus. What headspace would you recommend and what amount of time?

I’m learning that you can pickle about anything and it’s a good way to use extras.

Carol Bandy
Hightown, Virginia

While this sounds great, I wouldn’t can it. With the addition of the water, it might not be quite acidic enough to water bath and if you pressure canned it, the asparagus would get mushy, especially having been pre-frozen. I’d make a batch up fresh and keep it in the fridge instead. Pickling is a great way to put up lots of foods. I’m getting ready to make some mustard bean pickles as my Provider beans are kicking off with huge production, as always! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: shelf life of apple juice and Canada Crookneck seeds

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Shelf life of apple juice

If using a Mehu-Liisa to extract apple juice, is draining the hot liquid into a properly cleaned and heated jar with a two piece canning lid all that is needed? What is the shelf life?

Ron in Missouri

It is still recommended that you process the juice in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes to ensure a safe, long-lasting seal. Once canned, the juice will stay good indefinitely. — Jackie

Canada Crookneck seeds

I was wondering where you got your Canada crookneck squash seeds, and if you will be having these seeds available in your seed catalog?

Margaret Ringham
Westbrook, Minnesota

I got my Canada Crookneck seeds from a friend in northern Minnesota. Yes, we’ll be offering these seeds in our seed listing which we’re putting together as soon as we have harvested and dried enough seeds to begin selling. Keep an eye on the blog. — Jackie

Jackie Clay

So far we’ve had a great fruit harvest

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Besides harvesting many wild pin cherries and chokecherries, the wild plums are coming on like mad. Not to mention our own tame fruit. We’ve been especially thrilled with our Hansen’s Bush Cherries. The fruit is large, almost the size of wild plums, meaty and tasty. And it makes the BEST jam and jelly ever! Yum. We’re planting several cherry pits in a tire full of dirt so they’ll chill and overwinter outside, to come up next spring. We’ve done that in the past and nearly every pit sprouted. We’d like a whole lot more of these bushes around our homestead. (We’ve been planting them in clearings here and there around the place, making “wild” bushes out of them.)


Burgess sells them very inexpensively but they call them Western Sand Cherries. Other catalogs call them different things. But look for Prunus besseyi, the scientific name, if unsure.

Our grapes really took off this summer. We have ten different varieties and some are bearing this year. Our Valiant is leading the pack with ripe, tasty bunches of beautiful grapes. I wanted to make a grape arbor for them out of stock panels this spring but that never got done. Oh well, maybe next spring?


The orchard really took a hit with last winter’s record-breaking cold spell; 90 days of subzero weather for a high, in a row! We had a lot of branches that winter-killed and even a tree or two. But amazingly, our Frostbite survived untouched (hey, it’s the name!) and has a good crop of tasty apples. Also, our Prairie Magic and Trailman crab (which tastes wonderful) are heavily loaded. Other trees vary from one or two apples to none. But if they live it’s a miracle. We’ve heavily pruned the dead wood and the extra young branches off the trees in order to put more strength into the roots and help re-shape the trees. Hopefully, they’ll recover and go on to grow nicely next spring. — 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

Spring is finally here

Thursday, April 24th, 2014


Although we’re scheduled for more snow, the ground is pretty much thawed and it feels like spring. And FINALLY our water line from the well is thawed out. Hooray! We’re definitely doing some work to prevent that from happening again even though it was the coldest winter in all Minnesota history.

I’ve been continuing transplanting, now working on my Pink Wave petunias while my late tomatoes continue growing. And in the garden, our cherry trees have swelling buds and the rhubarb is popping up out of the ground with cone-shaped red noses and small crinkled green leaves. It feels SO good! Yesterday I cleaned out one of my front flower beds, digging a few clumps of nettles and grass so at least we’ll start with a clean bed. I also planted several packs of sweet peas. It seems like I always wait until too late and they don’t do so well, becoming overwhelmed by peonies and delphiniums as the weather warms. (Sweet peas should be planted as soon as you can work the soil.) A few years back I had magnificent sweet peas all over the yard, on the pallet fence, across the front of the house, and here and there, climbing on wire and strings. WOW! I want that again.


I’m simmering up ham to can (again) and the pantry will be fatter soon.

Will’s busy repairing our big field disc so when the ground is ready he can disc up our new hay-field-to-be in preparation for seeding it in. We’re also planting a few acres in sweet corn, pumpkins, and squash so he’ll be discing that up too. Then there’s the hay fields we rent that need parts plowed (weather and rain permitting), fertilized, and re-planted. Always so much to do, come real spring.

Yesterday I spoke at the Northern Minnesota Hospital Auxiliary meeting in the city of Virginia, Minnesota. My subject was gardening and that was very well received by a packed auditorium. Of course, there were dozens and dozens of questions following my presentation. I’m tickled that so many folks are once again turning to gardening, some after years of abstinence. It seems like people all over are sick of food from Mexico, China, Brazil, and other foreign countries that still use very toxic agricultural chemicals. These chemicals are perfectly legal there but are banned in the U.S., where they are still made and then sold out of the country.

We ordered a few fruit trees from Fedco and St. Lawrence Nurseries so will soon be planting. I’ll try a shovel in the orchard this afternoon and see how that goes. Sigh. I wish I were twins! — Jackie

Jackie Clay

Q and A: planting early trees and saving tomato seeds

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Planting early trees

I was excited to get the e-mail that my new Apple Trees will be shipping this week until I realized that there is no way all of our snow will be gone before they arrive. I ordered bare root trees from Fed-Co. Can you give me some advice on how to keep them healthy until I can get them in the ground?

Justin Dinger
Barnum, Minnesota

I got the same e-mail about ours! This has happened before and the first time I about had a panic attack. But I opened the package and checked the root packing; it was moist. So I re-wrapped the plastic and put the trees back in the box and set them in our unheated basement in the dark. Two weeks later, the snow was gone and I was able to plant my trees. If you have any dirt in your garden showing up and unfrozen, you can dig a shallow trench and set the trees’ roots in it, piling the dirt back over the roots. This is called “heeling” them in and will also keep them in good shape until you can plant them. I know our snow and frost is going fast so yours must be on the way, too. Hang in there! — Jackie

Saving tomato seeds

Does your Victorio strainer work to separate out tomato seeds when you’re saving those seeds to grow? The pictures in the ads always show a hopper full of raw tomatoes, does it really work with raw or do they have to be cooked? (I had decided to start my own seed company about a week before you announced yours. Talk about timing! But last fall it took so much time to chop tomatoes by hand to extract the seeds. Since I’m expanding the garden this year, I’m hoping there’s an easier way.)
Also, there’s a tomato variety that I’ve been growing from cuttings taken off an indoor plant. It’s a great variety, amazingly drought-resistant, but because it was a volunteer I have no idea if it’s a hybrid, or even what the name of it might have been. How many generations of seed should I grow out before I can tell if it’s a hybrid or not. (Or, if it was a hybrid, when is it sufficiently “de-hybridized” to be safe selling the seed?)

Melanie Rehbein
Fitchburg, Wisconsin

The Victorio strainer does separate seeds and peels from raw tomatoes but I’m not sure if they are damaged so they might not germinate. I’m going to try some this year so ask again in the fall. I’ve heard that some seed savers use a blender to whiz whole tomatoes and then ferment the juice/slop/seeds (which are not supposed to be damaged. That sounds radical but maybe that would work, as well. I will also try that and let you know. For now, I cut my tomatoes in quarters and use my thumb to “milk” out the seeds and gel into a bowl. It really goes pretty fast that way.

Usually after 4-5 generations, even if you started out with a hybrid, selecting true-to-type plants/tomatoes each time you save seed, you will end up with a pretty much stabilized variety you can then name. I would mention that there could be off types and to advise folks to rogue out them if they intend to save seed. Hey, it happens… Good luck with your seed business! — Jackie


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