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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
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Q and A: storing vacuum sealed food, dents in lids, and canning spaghetti squash

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 1 Comment »

Storing vacuum sealed food

If an item is vacuum sealed with a vacuum sealer machine how long will the food keep? If sealed in vacuum sealed jars how long will they last? Can an oxygen absorber be used in a jar and the food item keep and for how long. I have several half gallon jars and would like to use them to keep food for storage. Will they work for that purpose?

Claudine Norwood
Wagoner, Oklahoma

Yes, your half gallon jars will work for dry food storage. I use many of mine to store home-dehydrated foods, dry foods such as beans, lentils, peas, etc. As oxygen is the enemy of food storage, excluding it from your foods will make it last longer. (However, don’t run out and buy a vacuum sealer if you don’t already have one). If you fill your jars full and just use a clean, solid lid (not necessarily a new lid) and ring, your dry foods will last for decades without vacuum sealing or using an oxygen absorber. I have dehydrated banana chips I did in 1985 and they are perfectly good, as one example.

Storing foods that contain whole germ such as brown rice, whole wheat flour, and home-ground cornmeal is always a short-term thing unless you freeze it. Vacuum sealing or adding an oxygen absorber in these cases will help but only extend the storage time for a year or so. Better to store whole grains such as popcorn for grinding and wheat berries to grind into flour at a later date as whole grains will store indefinitely without extra treatment. Just store in airtight, insect- and rodent-proof containers that will exclude both oxygen and dampness. — Jackie

Dents in lids and storing food

Yesterday, as I was scrounging for half pint jars, my box of pints fell 6 inches or so resulting in 2 of the jars falling into each other and denting the lids significantly. Are these seals going to fail? They are presently in the refrigerator just to be safe. I will cook them Sunday (corn and ham juice with a little ham for green beans).

Where do you store all your canned goods when you are out of room? We only have a small home with no basement. I have added 7 more cases filled with half pints since Sunday, should can the hams I bought before Christmas but haven’t had time yet or space.

Hopefully sold another cookbook for you to the lady in line ahead of me when I bought four more cases of half pints so I could finish the bacon.

Julia Crow
Gardnerville, Nevada

Thanks, Julia! Every book helps our homestead endeavors! Luckily, we now have a basement so there’s always room to store more food. But back in Montana and New Mexico, we had small houses and with no basement. I made a pantry out of our New Mexico back porch, which was heated and made a pantry out of the long hall into our bathroom in Montana. I’ve also stored canned foods in stacks in closets, against walls (with insulation board behind so they wouldn’t freeze in the winter), and, of course, under our beds. Dry foods that freezing won’t hurt were stored in crawl spaces under the house and in outbuildings. Hey, we homestead canners can always find room to stuff a few more jars!

I wouldn’t trust the lids with serious dents as they could fail at some time in the future. You’re wise to refrigerate and use them up relatively quickly. — Jackie

Canning spaghetti squash

Can I can spaghetti squash after I bake it and remove it from the shell? If so, how?

Ann Hazelett
Litchfield Park, Arizona 

Yes, you can. It may get soft after being cooked first then canned. However it will still be fine in a wide variety of recipes. To can it, just spoon it out into the jars. Do NOT pack it down tightly. Leave 1 inch of headspace. Pour boiling water over squash, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 25 minutes (pints) or 30 minutes (quarts). — Jackie

More snow and below-zero temps

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 12 Comments »


As we’re crawling towards spring, we’ve been stuck in a cold arctic spell. Last night it was -18 and today at noon, it warmed up to zero. With a wind. Plus we just got four inches of new snow. So Will and the “boys” set out to plow the driveway.

Hondo used to hate going in the truck. He got sick, drooled, and shook. But Will worked with him all winter, putting him in the truck and only driving around the circle in the yard, parking the truck with Hondo and Spencer in it. And it worked. Just lately, Hondo decided that he loves to ride! Now when Will says “load up boys,” Hondo is the first one to the truck door and the first inside. He sits right up and watches with interest as the snow flies, observing the birds, squirrels, and other wildlife he spots on the driveway. To Spencer, it’s old hat; he’s ridden shotgun in the pickup all his life and has always loved to go. It got so we even had to spell the word “go.” Then he learned to spell. Go figure…

While the boys were plowing, I started soaking my peat pellets so I can get my peppers and petunias planted. I’ve found that when I use hot water to soak them, they swell up faster and the warm, damp pellets encourage very fast germination of the seeds. I cram several pellets into a variety of trays I’ve saved for this purpose, plant two seeds per pellet, then slip the whole works into a plastic shopping bag. The containers then go on the shelves of my cheapo little plastic-covered greenhouse that I’ve got on the side of the wood stove. So they stay nice and warm, out of the way of Mittens; and seedlings pop up very fast.

They say it’s supposed to be 40° F or even higher, come Sunday. And let me say we’re REALLY looking forward to that! — Jackie

Q and A: rendering pig fat, canning mulberries, and source for weed-free hay

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Rendering pig fat

Could you give me a rough idea of how many pounds of pig fat I will need to render down in order to end up with a dozen pint jars of lard? I check your blog each morning to see what’s going on in your part of the country; and to see what advice to others I may be able to use.

Vala Johnson
Harlem, Montana

You’re going to need roughly 14 pounds of fat to render down to a dozen pints of lard. I’m glad to hear you visit the blog often and I hope you’ve gleaned a lot of information from others. — Jackie

Canning mulberries

This coming year I am wanting to can mulberries for making pies at a later date but I have not been able to find any info on doing this, if it can be canned, what pressure and for how long?

William Fisher
Grinnell, Iowa

You don’t need to pressure can any berries, including mulberries since they are acidic enough to process in a water bath canner. You can just water bath them under the directions used for blackberries and raspberries, which is 10 minutes for pints or 15 minutes for quarts. I’d suggest using a medium syrup, poured over the raw berries in the jar, near boiling. Be sure to count your water bath time from the time the kettle comes back to a full boil after putting your filled jars in. — Jackie

Source for weed-free hay

Do you have any advice about finding a local source for weed-free hay?

Jonathan F.
Somerville, Tennessee

If you don’t know any local farmers, why not put an ad in your nearest Craigslist like “wanted to buy, weed-free, chemical-free hay for my garden.” Or put up some cards at feed mills or livestock yards. I’m sure you can find some pretty easily that way.

If you are using it for mulch in your garden, also be sure it is immature hay with no hay seeds present. I once “planted” a great crop of timothy in my garden by using hay for mulch that had already gone to seed. — Jackie

It’s pepper plantin’ time!

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Yesterday I went down to the basement to retrieve our pepper seeds from the big plastic tote that holds 1/3 of our seeds. (Do you see some obsessive behavior there?) We’ve got seeds in ice cream buckets, jars, and tins, too! But it’s sort of a security thing. As long as we have seeds, we’ll never go hungry.

When I came upstairs, I found Hondo sitting on Spencer. He’s the sittingest dog I’ve ever seen. He just plops his butt down on anything handy, especially if it’s Spencer. Nice and soft, I guess.

I dug through my peppers and, oh, how hard it is to decide on which ones we’ll grow this year. Each year we try a few different varieties to see if we can find some new “favorites” or ones that produce very well for us. And because the big hoop houses are all set to get their plastic cover, we’ll be able to get ‘em growing faster this year. I think we’ll be taking our one small hoop house out to the new garden plot on the new forty and perhaps grow some different muskmelons. We’re planting Prescott Fond Blanc in the garden hoop house and I want to try a new pretty muskmelon in the little hoop house. We’ll see what spring brings.

One thing we’ve learned is to be flexible. That way if the weather doesn’t cooperate we don’t feel all depressed and “shot down.”

Today the sun is shining brightly and our new batteries are charging well. It’s 25 degrees and it feels SO good! Spring is coming. — Jackie

Q and A: canning on a ceramic top stove and testing a used canner

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

Canning on a ceramic top stove

I have been canning for a couple years now and I keep coming up with a few questions that I can’t find answers to. First, I can on a ceramic, flat top stove. One of the burners is supposedly designed to be extra large for canning. I have used it without much problem for canning, although I know that it is not the ideal stove. Because of the cycling on and off of the stove, I am constantly adjusting the temperature. I have a difficult time keeping my pressure at 11 pounds (dial gauge canner and less than 1000 feet above sea level). My canner always wants to easily go up to 15 pounds pressure and seems to be able to maintain 15 pounds pressure without any problem. I have seen an old recipe for canning green beans that gives a time for canning at 15 pounds pressure. That time is less than the recommended time for canning green beans at 10 lbs pressure. Can I pressure can at 15lbs pressure for less time? If so, do you have a resource to recommend for times for various items? If I can’t reduce the time, is there anything wrong with canning items at 15 pounds pressure when the recommendation is 10?

Secondly, after I finished canning chicken broth this morning, I realized that one of the jars didn’t seal (I do seem to have a difficult time with that). So, I wanted to reprocess it. I know I can’t use the same lid again, but is it necessary to heat the broth up again or can I just leave the broth in the same jar, wipe rim off, replace the lid, stick the cool jar in a cool canner and process?

Rebecca Whisonant
Chester, South Carolina

Have you tried other burners to see if one of them might give you the 11 pounds you need? If so and that didn’t help, I think I’d just go ahead and can at 15 pounds pressure but for the entire required time, as there really isn’t much reliable information on canning at higher than required pressure for shorter times. But I really would try to find a sweet burner so you can process at 11 pounds as 15 pounds may tend to overcook some foods such as carrots or potatoes.

Sorry, but you should bring your broth up to boiling, then pack the chicken and broth back in the jar and process as if it were the first trip through the canner. — Jackie

Testing a used canner

I recently purchased a beautiful vintage Windsor A Montgomery Ward Canner #8. The problem is it only fits 3½ quarts instead of the recommended 4. I did a trial run and it works great! It took about 23 minutes on high to start to vent (I usually don’t vent on high but I wanted see how long it would take at that temp). I tested it for 15 minutes and the pressure maintained with the gauge and the weight I had put on (I added an all American vent and weight like I’ve done to my 2 larger gasketless canners). The weight jiggled like normal 3-4x/min at 10lbs. Once I turned off the heat it took about 23 minutes to reach zero. Apparently the recommendations are because a smaller canner would come up to pressure too fast for heat to penetrate, but this canner appears to come up and cool down like a larger canner. I only tested canning water for 15 minutes and it didn’t seem fast. Would like to use this one when I just want to can small amounts. Let me know what you think.

Michelle Neal
Buffalo, New York

Although I can not, obviously, say for sure, but I think you’ve got the canner all set to go. My All American takes about 25 minutes to exhaust and about that long to cool down, depending on how full it is and if it’s a cooler raw-packed load instead of a hot-packed load of jars.

You do know, don’t you, that you can process as little as one half-pint in a larger canner? It isn’t as economical, but it sure can be done. I often do not fill my canner but just process what is ready to go at the time. — Jackie

Q and A: wide mouth jars and buckboard bacon

Friday, February 27th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

Wide-mouth jars

I have been using wide mouth jars almost exclusively because they are easy to fill/wash. It occurred to me today as I started a batch of strawberry star fruit jam that there may be a reason for the 2 sizes. Am I to use them as I wish for anything I am canning? I know wide mouth jars are a little more expensive for some mysterious reason … is that the only difference?

Judith Almand
Brandon, Florida

Yes, you can use either wide mouth jars or regular jars, as you choose for any canning. The wide mouth jars are easier to fill with certain foods like larger pieces of meat and they are also easier to get some foods out of after processing and storing them. Of course the lids of the regular jars are a lot cheaper so this is why I use more of them than the wide mouth lids. But as the Tattler lids are becoming easy to find, that’s not such an issue anymore. — Jackie

Buckboard bacon

I want to can buckboard bacon, made from the BHM article in an older issue. I assume I pressure can it at 10 PDS for 75 minutes for a pint and 90 minutes for a quart. Also no liquid. My question,do I need to cook it first? If I don’t cook it, is it edible from the jar when done canning or does it need to be cooked after?

Karen Armstrong
Watkins Glen, New York
No, you don’t need to cook it first as canning at 10 pounds pressure for 75 minutes (pints) will cook it in the canner. — Jackie

We delivered four quarters of beef

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

Our beef is starting to sell well and we’ve been delivering, all the way down to Duluth with some 90 miles away! And in the morning we do it again with the second four quarters. Yep, back to Duluth, but also two deliveries closer to home.

People are really happy to get naturally-raised beef with no hormones or antibiotics and from animals that have lived on pasture and good care.

We got home to find our cat, Mittens, stretched out on the sofa, having a siesta in the sunshine. (It was 7 degrees out, so the sun felt good!) Mittens DOES live a rough life, doesn’t she?

I’m having fun signing copies of my newest book, Summer of the Eagles. Requests are coming in from all over the country and it’s neat that so many different people are reading it. Not just “Western” fans. But, hey, it has something for everyone … even romance. — Jackie

It “warmed” up so Will got the old tractor started

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 by Jackie Clay | 2 Comments »

On Saturday we were hauling hay to the horses and cattle. On the very last big round bale, the Oliver ran out of fuel ten feet short of the gate into the training ring. Luckily, the cattle did have some hay left, they were just getting more. We had to wait until we went to town to get diesel fuel.

After getting fuel, Will filled up the tractor and primed the injectors. Then he gave it a shot of starting fluid and cranked it over. But because it was still below zero, no dice.

He waited instead of grinding the battery down since it was supposed to warm up. Once it warmed up a little he put the propane heater under the tractor for an hour or so, then repeated the sequence. It fired up and before I could get down the hill, Will had delivered the bale of hay and parked the tractor in its spot by the storage barn. Now when I say “warmed up,” that means that it was above zero today — ten degrees to be exact. But with a 30 mph wind, it was still COLD. Only the dogs like the weather.

We’ve got another weasel hanging around. Yesterday I saw his tracks coming from the orchard to the side of the chicken coop, around to the door where he stood with his feet up on the door sill. We’re hoping he’s thinking about MICE, as there is no better mouser in the world, not even Mittens. But after having my purebred rabbits and pheasants wiped out entirely by a weasel in one night years ago, it gives me the shivers. I’m glad we shut the birds in every night!

I’m waiting for my petunia seeds to come in the mail so I can get them started. They stay small so long and this year I want to get my hanging baskets planted with petunias early enough that when I set them out they’re flowering nicely.

Peppers go in tomorrow! Springtime when it’s 20 below! It’s a start, anyway. It’s sure nice that the days are getting so much longer. Darkness can get depressing. Even a couple more hours of daylight is SO welcome. — Jackie



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