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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

Q and A: cover cropping and making soap

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

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

Q and A: canning corn and canning meat

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Canning corn

I need to know how to can corn without a pressure cooker. I pickle corn all the time but I want to do both.

Betty Fields
Busy, Kentucky

Sorry, Betty, but because corn is a low-acid food you must use a pressure canner to safely can it. You can make corn relish or corn salsa using a boiling water bath canner because you use vinegar which increases the acidity. Maybe this is the year you bite the bullet and pick up a pressure canner and a copy of my book Growing and Canning Your Own Food and learn how very easy and fun it is to use that pressure canner. I promise it’s totally safe! — Jackie

Canning meat

In a Amish cookbook it says to can meatballs I can boil for 3 hours after putting in jars and filling with water. I was wondering if you have or would try this Jackie? I am wanting to can a bunch of deer meat.

Myla Dawes
Oakley, Kansas

Ouch! I have several Amish cookbooks too and always wince when the recipes give instructions for canning meats and vegetables in a boiling water bath for lengthy periods of time. It’s the “old-fashioned” way of canning but it does NOT kill botulism toxins. Only canning in a pressure canner raises the temperature of the food hot enough for this. Period. No length of boiling will do it. You MUST use a pressure canner to can that venison. Maybe this would be a good time to learn to pressure can. It is VERY easy and totally safe if you follow basic, simple instructions. — Jackie

Q and A: canning with flour, apple trees with fire blight, and dehydrated zucchini

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 7 Comments »

Canning with flour and apple trees with fire blight

I made your mustard beans the other day, but am wondering about the flour in it. I am assuming it’s safe to can, but am wondering what makes it safe? Is it the amount of sugar/vinegar?
Also, our 23 year old apple trees have fire blight. It is impossible to get all of it pruned from them as they are so large. Is this a lost cause? We trimmed as much as we could, but I still see some in the upper branches. Should we just cull them?
Liz Wheeler
Miles City, Montana

The thing with recipes with added flour is that most of them make a recipe that is too thick to safely can. The mustard bean pickles have plenty of vinegar and sugar but the small amount of flour doesn’t make the “sauce” too thick, more like honey mustard dipping sauce, not like very thick gravy.

I’d try to give those trees a chance by taking off the top of the tree. You can use a chainsaw and whack off the entire top branches that show fireblight infection. In commercial orchards, many use a tree topping machine mounted on a hydraulic arm of a tractor; sort of like a brush hog to give all of the trees a periodic flat-top, making the trees spread out and be easier to pick. So don’t be afraid to be a bit drastic in your pruning. It just may save those trees. Be sure to burn the affected branches so you don’t spread the disease by leaving them lying around. — Jackie

Dehydrated zucchini

While answering another reader’s question, you mentioned that you use sliced, dehydrated zucchini in many recipes. I’d love to know how you use it. You may have mentioned this in your cookbook, but I’ve loaned it to a friend and can’t check right now.

Lisa Smith
Sunbury, Pennsylvania

I toss a handful or two into my potatoes au gratin and scalloped potatoes. I also use it as an ingredient in mixed casseroles, stews, and soups to name a few. You can also rehydrate it and drain, then toss into a batch of fried potatoes and onions about halfway through cooking. The dehydrated zucchini is VERY versatile! — Jackie

Q and A: splitting tomatoes and sourdough bread

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Splitting tomatoes

Should you pull green tomatoes after a heavy rain to keep them from splitting?

Kelly Craven
Kernersville, North Carolina

I don’t do this but if you’re having trouble with your almost ripe green tomatoes splitting, you could sure do this to avoid it. Don’t pull all your green tomatoes, however. Just the ones that are large and starting to show blushing color. — Jackie

Sourdough bread

I want to start making sourdough bread for my husband that loves it. I have your Pantry cookbook, and have read the whole section. I have a few questions though. The Grandma Eddy’s sourdough starter that is on page 127 does not have any liquid listed. It says 1 pkg. dry yeast, 1/2 tsp. sugar, 2 cups flour. Is there suppose to be a liquid for a binding agent? I have read so many posts in the forums and online about how to make good sourdough that it is overwhelming! It is better to try and get an established starter from someone else to use? Once I have a starter, are all recipes interchangeable when they call for so much of the starter? Is there a good guide anywhere that gives step by step instructions on maintaining the starter and making the bread? It is so hard now a days for younger folks as we no longer have grandparents or great grandparents around to teach us how to do these things or guide us. Thanks for any help on this you can give.

That recipe was an OOPs. There should have been 2 cups lukewarm water added to that recipe. (In the next printing that will be corrected.) Yes, once you have a starter, it is pretty much interchangeable with any recipe. A cup of starter is a cup of starter, no matter what starter or what recipe. Above the recipes, there is a bit about keeping the starter going. It’s really easy and is not rocket science. But you’ll have to monkey around until you get the hang of it. It is a skill, just like baking bread or making pies. But it is easy so don’t be afraid to try. There are recipes in the Pantry Cookbook for sourdough bread, pancakes, biscuits, and English muffins (pgs 128-129) to get you started. — Jackie

Finally, the rains came

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 11 Comments »

After a period of prolonged drought, we are finally getting some rain. It’s tough for some of our neighbors who still are haying but boy was the ground getting dry. Our poor corn/pumpkin patch way out in the new forty was getting pretty stressed but it perked up and is setting ears and pumpkins. It’s strange to compare the growth out there, where our tallest corn is about five feet tall (Painted Mountain) and the Glass Gem popcorn in the berry patch which is now topping eight feet and growing taller every day. Of course the Glass Gem was planted in VERY fertile ground and did receive watering. I’m sure that helped.


Our “forty” corn patch was an experiment, mostly to see if the deer would eat it all down when it was a few inches tall. They didn’t. (But they did mow down the potatoes out there, regardless of the hot wire, peanut butter on aluminum foil.) We already have a huge compost pile of rotted manure ready to dump on the corn/pumpkin ground as soon as we harvest what we can this fall. As the ground is white clay with some manure worked in, I’m sure tons more manure will make a drastic improvement for next year. We homesteaders are always planning on “next year!” I’m real interested to find out if A, we get some Apache Giant squash and B, if the seed from our middle plant which shows pretty variegated leaves will breed true and its babies will have variegated yellow and green leaves as well. That would be cool!


God was busy planting sunflowers here and there all over our gardens and in my flower beds this spring. (I’m sure He had help from some little birds carrying seed from our bird feeders.) Those bright, happy sunflowers sure cheer up the place. We have them in our squash patches, flower beds, and even in our big garden. Some have big heads and some have multiple smaller heads. But all are sure pretty! — Jackie

You never know when someone’s watching you

Monday, August 18th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »


Back here in the big woods, you’re never alone. If you stop and hold still, you’ll most always find one of the “neighbors” watching you. In this case, it was a barred owl. He was perched in a poplar tree on the edge of the woods. And he was checking me out to see what I was up to. He decided I was pretty boring and finally flew off to another tree deeper in the woods. He was waiting for dark, hoping to swoop down on some small rodent out in the open. He saw me instead and was pretty disgusted.

We’ve been haying like mad and are almost caught up now. I just spent six hours on the tractor, raking hay while Will baled another field. He finished before I did and started baling “my” field way behind me. He cut the field three days ago but we had a rain shower and had to let it dry out an extra day before raking it. It was nice and dry today. One more small field and we’re done with our first cutting. We should get a second cutting off of two small fields to finish up before fall. Whew!


Yesterday we moved the cattle from the big pasture to the east pasture that has been ungrazed since last fall. The grass and clover is better than belly high and the cattle were pretty thrilled to be “driven” through the gate to eat it. This morning they were all lying down chewing their cuds, just about hidden in the grass. Cow heaven! — Jackie

Q and A: making ketchup, peach trees, and bread and butter pickles

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Making ketchup

In your book, “Growing and Canning Your Own Food,” the Ketchup recipe on page 114 calls for 1 gallon chopped, peeled and cored tomatoes. I can not find out anywhere how many tomatoes I need, approximately. I want to make a 1/4 size batch to make sure my family likes it before canning up a bunch, so in reducing that it calls for 1/4 of a gallon or one quart. Do I need to just get tomatoes, and start chopping them until I get a quart of tomatoes plus the liquid from them? Can I use previously home canned whole tomatoes in their own juice? If so, how do I measure them for the ketchup recipe?


I’d just guesstimate. Now I just toss tomatoes into my Victorio strainer and measure the purée that comes out. No seeds/no skins/no extra work! Yes, you can use home canned tomatoes, canned in their own juice. But I’d run them through a meat grinder to chop them; you’ll have to press them through a sieve to remove the seeds though. Some folks use a blender and blend seeds and all but I’ve tried that and find that it does change the taste a bit. Using home canned tomatoes, you already have a measured quart. The amount of seeds is so tiny that it doesn’t matter. — Jackie

Peach trees

Why do my peach trees have lacy leaves and the fruit has brown spots and what looks like sap oozing?

Patricia Nelson
Sesser, Illinois

I think you have a two-fold problem. Several insects and caterpillars eat fruit tree leaves, leaving them skeletonized, such as bean beetles, army worms, and tarnished plant bugs. Although this leaves the tree stressed, it usually does no lasting harm. But I’m pretty sure your fruit is being damaged from within by plum curculio larvae. The adult plum curculio is a small snout-nosed beetle about 1/4 inch long. The female cuts a crescent-shaped wound in developing fruit and lays eggs inside the flap. This wound turns black and is quite small. The larvae hatch and begin eating the fruit. You will notice tiny blobs of “sap” oozing from the fruit in several places. The “worms” ruin the fruit and often it will drop off, immature. You can achieve at least partial control by practicing good sanitation methods. These include picking up and destroying fruit that drops early, as well as removing or cleaning up overwintering sites. Keeping the area around the trees well mowed also helps.

Chemical controls should be applied immediately after the flower petals fall to control the first generation. Three sprays (the first in mid-June and the second at the end of June and the third in early July) will control the second generation adults. You can use chemical controls such as Carbaryl, (Sevin) or malathion. Insecticides may be used individually, or can often be found in premixed home orchard spray products, such as Bonide Fruit Tree Spray. When using Carbaryl or malathion, wait 3 or 7 days, respectively, between spray application and harvest. Permethrin (Bonide Eight Vegetable Fruit & Flower Concentrate, Bonide Eight Insect Control Yard & Garden Ready-to-Spray and Bonide Borer-Miner Killer Concentrate) or esfenvalerate (Ortho Bug-B-Gon MAX Garden & Landscape Insect Killer Ready-to-Use) may also be used to control plum curculio, but do not apply these products within 14 days of harvest. Repeated use of carbaryl, permethrin or esfenvalerate may increase problems later in the season with scale or mite outbreaks.

A less toxic mixture of neem oil and pyrethrins, such as in Green Light Fruit Tree Spray, is labeled for plum curculio control. It also works quite well for leaf eating insects that are damaging your tree’s leaves.

As with all pesticides, read and follow all label directions and precautions. — Jackie

Bread and butter pickles

I made bread and butter pickles today, using the recipe from the Ball Blue Book. The recipe only used 3 cups of vinegar, and I did not have enough liquid to cover 7 pints, the yield of this recipe. I made another full batch of the liquid and heated it, and finished the rest of my jars. Will these last few jars have too much spice? What is the proper procedure for making extra liquid for pickles? I don’t know why the Ball Blue Book recipe would be so short of liquid.

Catherine Reiber
Missoula, Montana

Usually, the added sugar increases the amount of vinegar and when the pickles are packed in the jars, the juice along with the pickling syrup will be adequate. BUT, as you found out, this doesn’t always happen. I usually make a double batch of pickling brine, just in case. If it’s not needed for that batch, I simply refrigerate and reheat it for the next batch. Don’t re-use brine that you’ve added cucumbers and other vegetables to, however, as the water or “juice” in them may dilute the pickling brine/syrup. I doubt that your second batch will have too much spice. — Jackie

Q and A: Southern blight and Elderberry pie

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

Southern blight

I just wanted to give you an update on the tomato plants that I grew from your seeds. All of them germinated and grew nicely until our wet summer has given my garden a bad case of the Southern blight. It killed all of my beans and tomatoes but the Mexican tommy toes (Punta Banda) were the last to succumb to the disease. I was able to get one picking off of all of the varieties but many pickings off of the tommy toes. So I believe we can say that the Punta Bandas are resistant to Southern blight. Thankfully my grandparents tomatoes are doing well so I am going to have enough in the pantry for the winter, though just barely. Now for the question, if you could only plant two or three paste tomatoes varieties which ones would you plant. I have only had my farm for one year so my garden area is small but expanding, so I can only plant 30 tomato plants. I have tried many different varieties but was wondering what your favorites were.

Staci Hill
Murfreesboro, Arkansas

Is your soil well drained? Often folks mistake plants dying from wet roots for Southern blight. With Southern blight, you will have plants that suddenly wilt and die. On examination, you’ll find white mats of fungus at soil level and lesions on the plant stems right at soil level. It does affect both tomatoes and beans. (To help prevent it, pull and burn any affected plants then lay a sheet of clear plastic over the area and weight it down with boards or rocks. Leave in place for about 6 weeks. This will “cook” the disease spores and usually does the trick for next year’s crop.) Punta Banda is pretty free of early blight too. And it’s a very productive tomato. In fact, it is one of our very favorite paste tomatoes although it doesn’t look like a paste tomato, being round, not oblong. It is very meaty and its small size makes it perfect to pick and toss into our Victorio tomato strainer, which removes the seeds and skins. The purée requires much less cooking down than many other paste tomato purée. Another of our favorites is San Marzano and also the hybrid Super Marzano, developed from it. — Jackie

Elderberry pie

I’ve made elderberry jam for two days now. Need your recipe for elderberry pie, please. Looked through your books and anthologies, can’t find it. Do you use your canned elderberries for the pie?

Draza Knezevich
Miramonte, California

Here’s one recipe for elderberry pie that’s very easy. Use fresh elderberries.

pastry for a 2-crust pie
1 quart ripe elderberries
1 cup sugar
a little flour

Wash and drain the berries. Stir sugar well into fruit and turn into a pie pan lined with crust. Sprinkle a little flour over the filling to absorb juice, and cover with an upper crust. Bake for 40 minutes (400° F for 15 minutes; 375° F until done). Serve cold with a little sugar sifted over top or with whipped cream..

To make an elderberry pie with canned elderberries, drain and reserve 1 cup juice. Make a paste in a saucepan using 3 Tbsp. cornstarch, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, and reserved juice, a little added at a time until all has been used. Add 1 cup sugar (a little less if you canned the elderberries in a heavy syrup). Stir well and slowly bring to a boil and cook until thick. Remove from heat and add elderberries. Pour into a pie crust and top with the top crust. Bake at 375° F until done.

When baking an elderberry pie, it’s a good idea to put the pie tin on a cookie sheet as it will sometimes bubble over, making a mess of your oven, — Jackie



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