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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
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Q and A: canning pumpkin and canning cheese

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Canning pumpkin

My question is about canning pumpkin. I know we are supposed to cube the pumpkin. When filling up the jars with the pumpkin can I add the spices that I would normally use to make pumpkin butter or pumpkin pie? Then when I open the jars I could blend the mixture, and be a little ahead of the game.

Coos Bay, Oregon

I tried that, Joyce, but found sometimes the spices got too strong that way. It takes me 2 minutes to measure and dump spices into pie filling so it really didn’t save me that much fussing around and I always get the spices right by adding them later after opening a jar of pumpkin. — Jackie

Canning cheese

When you can your cheddar cheese, how do you get it out of the jar? Cut in half, spoon it out or what?

Kaye Winn

I put the jar into a saucepan full of boiling water for a few minutes. Then I open the jar and run a thin knife around the outside of the cheese and dump the jar upside down on a plate or cutting board. It usually slides right out, like Jello does. — Jackie

Can the French Chevre cheese you made be preserved somehow?

Wanda Devers

Well, I would think so as cream cheese can be successfully canned. But we all ate it on crackers on Easter. Then my son, Bill, asked for some hot pepper rings and tried them on the cheese on his cracker. Oh YES! So we started eating it that way. I’ve got about a pound of plain cheese left in the fridge and it keeps for at least a week, covered in the fridge. I’m going to use it in a cheesecake and I’m sure we’ll finish up the rest with hot pepper rings on crackers for snacks. What a wonderful find! — Jackie

We had a busy but blessed Easter

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

I made plans to do all my cleaning/baking/pre-cooking on the Saturday before Easter but you know how plans go… We had company all day Saturday! Company that we really enjoyed. But boy, did that ever set me behind for Easter. But I got up early Sunday and got ‘er kind of done — enough anyway. Our guests were: my sister Sue from near Duluth, Javid from Orr, David, and Bill and his family from Kerrick. We had an all-homegrown feast of baked ham, garlic-whipped mashed potatoes (with sour cream and cream cheese, of course), carrots, green beans, rolls, etc. I even had some sweetened French soft cheese set out that we enjoyed with hot pepper rings and crackers. So nobody left the table hungry.

Easter was complicated as David had to arrive early so he and I could drive to Orr to pick up Javid. Since Javid he is disabled, he needs to be lifted from his wheelchair to the car and back out again at home. (Will’s back is better but not painless yet.) Then David had to work so I had to fix his dinner first so he could eat and run. The rest popped in about noon and I re-heated dinner for them. Hey, it all worked out great. We all took a walk down to the barn to show everyone how nicely the new barn is coming and to visit the cows and horses. Javid enjoyed visiting with Ladyhawk, our Friesian mare. She absolutely loved him and bent over to lip his jacket and face. And of course granddaughter, Ava, had a great visit with the cows, horses, and her favorite, Spencer. Our grandson, Mason, brought the radio-controlled helicopter we’d given him for Christmas and he amazed us all by flying it around inside the house. Wow — Our own drone!

Now it’s back at it again. I’m going to take the meat off the ham bone and add navy beans and can up a big batch of baked beans. Then the bone will be added to more beans for another batch of bean soup. Love those quick, meals in a jar! — Jackie

We have a spell of warmer weather

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

I just made a big batch of soft French Chevre cheese from some outdated milk I was given by a local store (instead of them pouring it down the drain). It was simple to make and I finished it up in minutes, adding a bit of powdered sugar to some of it to make an awesome lightly-sweetened veggie and cracker dip. Wow, is that good! All it took was three drops of liquid rennet diluted in 1/3 cup of cool water, then 2 Tbsp. of that, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, and 2 gallons of milk brought up to 80 degrees and held at a warm temp overnight. I poured the curds into a cloth-lined colander to drain. How easy is that?

Meanwhile back on the farm, our friends’ teenage son James came over to clean out our goat barn for us. Will and I drove the tractor to the door, then James forked the manure out into the bucket. I carried a few loads to a squash isolation patch, then another load to another patch. Will carried loads out to our orchard, dropping one by each fruit tree to later scatter around them for fertilizer and mulch. (The chickens think it’s just wonderful and they’re already fighting over choice piles.)


You should see Hondo in the mornings. Will starts to get dressed for outside chores and he goes nuts. He gets in Will’s face and barks at him to hurry. If he doesn’t (or moves too slow) Hondo grabs his arms, his pants, or shirt sleeve and pulls on him like Lassie trying to get Timmy to follow her. Hondo REALLY likes being a homestead dog!

Happy Easter to you all! — Jackie

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

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

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

Tomato time!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

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

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

Monday, March 30th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

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

Busy, busy, busy

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

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

I saw our first robin today!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 18 Comments »

First of all, I’m sure you’re wondering how I came out with my stress test. I passed. It seems like I got a case of walking pneumonia out of my last nasty cough-cold and that was what was causing my chest pains and shortness of breath. (The doctor looked at the first X-ray but didn’t see the light consolidation that was already fading, but the radiologist spotted it.) Anyway, I’m feeling better and so is Will. Come on, spring!

Every time Will has a hamburger, Spencer, Hondo, and Mittens crowd around for bits of the bun (and maybe a little meat). So I just had to post a picture of them. I think it’s so cute!

Today has been busy. I’m starting our first tomatoes, canning hamburger, and had to run to town this morning. But while I was in town, I saw a robin, our very first. I even backed up to make sure! Luckily, there was no traffic in town. Yesterday I saw three geese at home and Will also saw a pair of swans.

Will also split up a truckload of firewood from some logs that didn’t make the cut for lumber. Now all we have to do is to stack it inside the storage building. — Jackie



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