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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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Winter’s just around the corner

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 6 Comments »

We had ice on the animals’ watering tanks this morning. Brrrrr.


Will’s been trimming dead trees that hang over the driveway and will cause trouble this winter when we plow snow. Luckily, a lot of it is birch which makes great firewood. Yesterday he cut up a trailer load and this morning while it was still very crisp out, he began stacking it in our wood shed. The dogs must have been cold too because they started picking up wood and following him in the shed! Unasked. But after awhile, Spencer started picking up wood and heading for the house. I opened the door and he dropped it in the woodbox and headed back outside. He repeated this four times, until Will had stopped carrying wood (or Spencer got tired). Who says animals are dumb? They know wood makes fire and fire makes doggies toasty warm when they lie in front of it!



I’m jumping through hoops, trying to get things arranged to get my adopted son, Javid, back to Minnesota from Montana. Because he’s physically handicapped, he is on SSI and MA in Montana. And to come here, they can’t simply transfer his MA. He has to reapply here in Minnesota. After he’s been in the state 24 hrs. Then it takes up to a month (or so) to be approved. Then he has to apply for a CADI waiver so the state will help with his housing/care expenses. That takes another (long) period to wait. And he can’t go into an assisted living apartment until he is approved for both. The only out is to transfer him from the nursing home he’s currently in, recovering from surgery on a pressure sore, to another nursing home in Minnesota. But I had one heck of a time even arranging that! Seems that some nursing homes require $5,000 up front for the first month’s rent in case the person is not approved for state help. $5,000 a month!

However, I think I’ve found a small facility fairly close (25 miles) that hopefully will take him, temporarily, until the paperwork is done. And they have an opening. (Seems like most nursing homes in our area are full!) Whew! All this makes me tired!

We’re trying to get this done so we can get Javid moved here before we have to travel across North Dakota in a blizzard.

Meanwhile, while I’m waiting for phone calls, I’m continuing seeding tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash. (If you’ve ordered seeds recently, which include Hopi Pale Grey squash, I know your order is late but I want to be sure your seeds are dry as they are very “fresh”! I don’t want them to mold.) — Jackie

Q and A: uses for citrus peels, meals in a jar, and immature Hopi Pale Grey squash

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

Uses for citrus peels

Is there any use for citrus peels such as oranges, grapefruit, or lemons? That is other than zest. I have a large family so often have large amounts at a given time. Any animals like them or plants?

Gail Erman
Palisade, Colorado

Sure. I don’t like to waste either. I often cut ½-inch strips of cleaned peel and dehydrate it. Then I whiz it in the blender, reducing the dried peel to a powder. This is great in many recipes. I add a pinch of it to stir frys, to my pies and cakes as a flavor booster, or sprinkle over meat as it cooks. Or you can make you own candied fruit peel for holiday baking. Here’s how:

• Cut off the ends of the fruit with a paring knife. Remove the peel from the fruit, avoiding as much of the flesh as possible.
• Slice the peel into ½-inch-wide strips and place them in a saucepan. Cover the peel with several inches of cold water. Heat the water to a boil and let it cook for 15 minutes.
• Drain the water and rinse the peel in the colander. Return the peel to the saucepan and cover it with water. Boil again for 15 minutes. Repeat the process of rinsing and cooking one more time.
• Drain the water and let the peel cool. Remove any remaining citrus flesh with a spoon.
• Combine 1 cup of water with 2 cups sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the peel slices to the boiling mixture. Reduce the heat to low.
• Stir the peel occasionally. Cook until the liquid absorbs into the peel, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
• Place waxed paper under the wire racks and place them on a countertop. Cool the candied fruit peel on the wire racks. Store the peel in an airtight container in a cool location.

This will last for years! — Jackie

Meals in a jar

Since all the kids are grown I find I have a lot of leftovers since I had four sons, I have trouble cooking for two. I often can leftovers such as beans, soups, stews etc. I was wondering if you have canned other complete meals such as maybe chicken spaghetti, etc. If so can you tell me how to safely do so. I just hate waste! I have canned for years such things as vegetables, fruits, jams, butter, meat, just about everything but complete meals, other than soups, stews etc. And I hate to depend on the freezer.

Shelia Magness
Star City, Arkansas

Sure, I can up lots of “whole” meals. I call them my meals-in-a-jar. You can get a lot of ideas in my book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food. Some things that don’t can up well are pasta and rice dishes as they are generally too thick for safe canning. I often can up cabbage rolls, tamales, stuffed green peppers, and a whole lot more, just to have the convenience of having a whole lot of different meals-in-jars ready for when I need a quick, tasty, nutritious meal ready on little notice. — Jackie

Immature Hopi Pale Grey squash

Your Hopi Pale Grey Squash seeds grew well and I am harvesting now. I picked the two large mature ones before our first frost, but (surprisingly) ended up with 6 more that are smallish and still tinged w/green. Will they continue to ripen off the vine? Are the seeds of these greenish ones viable? We don’t have any animals to feed them to. Is there anything else the small green ones are good for? I’m thinking I’ll just let the grand kids carve them like pumpkins. Thanks for all your sage advise,

J. in Nevada

I’m glad your Hopi Pale Greys did so well. The smaller ones are a bit immature but will still store and eat well. The seeds may or may not be viable. If they are fat, they probably are fine. Usually the immature ones will be flat and softer. We’ve stored the immature ones for over a year and they still tasted great. Even the real little ones can be used as you’d use any summer squash. You can even slice them and make fake apple pie from them using any apple pie recipe! — Jackie

Q and A: new lids and making jelly

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 3 Comments »

New lids

I would like your opinion on the new lids. On the back of the new lids both Ball and Kerr on the box of lids and the new cases of jars with lids state that the lids are now only good for one year. I know as a canner of many years the old lids lasted years. The new type lids are thinner and have less gasket and I have had them buckle when using. I am not a new canner but have been canning over thirty years and have never had that happen before I water bath and pressure can. I will now be only using Tattler lids as I feel that they are the only lids I can trust for long term. I know that there are a lot of new canners just starting out and they are not aware of the change.

Sherry Obermann
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Yep, I’ve noticed that too. Bad move for the company, in my opinion. I’m sure it was to save money on their part. Have you noticed that on the boxes of new jars that it says food is “best” used within a year? I’m not going to toss my year-old food to be “safe!” I do feel that the new lids will hold a seal MUCH longer than a year but if the company can get you to toss your year-old food and buy new lids when you can another year’s worth of food, they’re selling more lids and that’s where they make a bigger profit. Sort of like the freshness dates on canned store foods; it’s simply a marketing ploy. One caution, though: On the company’s website, it advised again against boiling the new lids as this thins down the sealing compound and may cause seal failures. So if you do heat your lids like I still do, DON’T boil them. — Jackie

Making jelly

I have questions about making jelly. I’ve always made jam, except a batch of crabapple jelly 30 years ago or so. I looked at all the pulp it took out, and the little bit of juice, and being really cheap, I just stuck with jam after that. Does your juicer give you a lot more jelly? What do you do with the pulp? I know it would be a great treat for the animals. But I have recently heard of remainder jam, where the pulp is used to make a small batch of jam. Have you ever made it? I have grandkids who have fallen in love with my blueberry jam, and I made quite a bit this year. Next year I was thinking of jelly and jam, jelly just because it’s so pretty, lol. Gotta admit, those blueberries are awfully good – they make a slice of toast into dessert!

Barb Mundorff
Youngstown, Ohio

YES! My Mehu Liisa gives me about five times more juice from the same amount of fruit that I used to get using the cooking down/jelly bag method. That’s HUGE as I’m cheap too. With crab apple and apples, I often extract two quarts of juice from each batch, then run the remainder of the pulp through my Victorio tomato strainer and harvest great, thick applesauce from the apples. You can do the same with plums or other fruit, but of course with plums you have to remove the pits first or use a sieve to smush the meat through. With blueberries, I only make jam as it’s such a waste to extract the juice and toss the remainder! Same with most other small fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. — Jackie

Q and A: fruitcake, Ezekiel bread, and dehydrating tomatoes

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 4 Comments »

Fruitcake and Ezekiel bread

We are seeking “the best” MOST NUTRITIOUS FRUIT CAKE RECIPES for fruit cake that can be stored along with other “prepper” food supplies that have the greatest food value. We are non-drinkers but have no concerns about using rum or wine or other beverages in the cakes or in other baking goods. Finally, we seek your thoughts regarding Ezekiel Bread, especially in regard to food preppering.

James & Frances Wyatt
Cleveland, Tennessee

Although I don’t regard fruitcake as a “most nutritious” prepper food, here’s my favorite recipe that will store long term without soaking in rum periodically.


4 cups walnuts
2 bags mixed candied fruit
1 lb. pitted, chopped dates
1 cup raisins
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
6 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1½ Tbsp vanilla

Combine nuts and fruits. Sift dry ingredients. Add to fruit mixture and mix well. Beat eggs, orange juice and vanilla. Add to mixture. Turn into waxed paper and greased 9″x13″ pan. Bake on low center rack of oven at 275 degrees for 2 hours or until done. Cool 30 minutes. Remove from pan onto cake rack. Cool. Cut into equal sized bars, about 3 inches wide by the width of the pan. Wrap with plastic wrap then aluminum foil. Store in a cool, dark place. This stores for months for us (it doesn’t last longer as we really love it!) and I’m sure it’d store for years.

As for the Ezekiel bread, it is very nutritious and would be easily baked from ingredients in your long-term storage pantry. It does not store well, unfrozen, though. Have you tried it? We like it but have talked to a lot of folks who find it way too dense for their liking. So if you haven’t baked any, why not try a few loaves to see if it appeals to your taste. — Jackie

Dehydrating tomatoes

We are getting tons of tomatoes and I am dehydrating them … but something is going wrong. I sliced them about 1/2 thick per the directions, loaded up the trays (6) and have been running the dehydrator but some have white fuzz on them. Of course I am tossing them, but do you have any ideas on what could be going wrong before I do another set? I have a round bottom-fan dehydrator. Maybe I should ask for an Excalibur for Christmas.


I think you’re slicing the tomatoes too thick. I slice mine about 1/4 inch thick and have much better luck. That white fuzz is mold. And maybe if you only load four trays, you will dry them faster as some dehydrators don’t like to be loaded so heavily with such wet produce as tomatoes. Good luck with getting the Excalibur … I haven’t gotten mine yet! — Jackie

So much for our nice weather

Monday, October 6th, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

After a gorgeous Indian summer, we’re into north country fall rains and the four letter word: SNOW. Yuck! I vote to cancel winter this year — anybody with me? We’re still harvesting; this time it’s cabbages and carrots. Yesterday we got a surprise visit from my oldest son, Bill, and the grandkids. How fun! The kids got to pick out pumpkins from our huge pile in the new barn and then got to pull carrots to take home from our three long rows of HUGE carrots. I never saw such excited kids! I am sure they’d have pulled every one if they had time. We had fun, tossing the tops and split carrots over the fence to the goats, who enjoy harvest time a lot, too.



We had a couple of days of not-so-fun homesteading. Will had been hauling logs out of the woods and had left the woods gate open as the horses and donkeys were shut out of that field. Unfortunately, they got the wire down and got into the field and OUT of the open gate!
The horses came back home during the night but the donkeys got turned around and went the other way, ending up in the neighbor’s woods two miles away as the crow flies. We hunted and tracked while it rained and snowed. We ended up soaked and freezing after hours of donkey-hunting. Then the next morning, we found them and Will ended up leading one while the other one (that we couldn’t catch) followed with me on the four wheeler kind of driving them … three miles through the woods and swamp, then down the road to our driveway home. Boy, were we tired! Homesteading isn’t always all fun, but then there’s always tomorrow.


Today Will’s back at work on the barn’s stonework as it’s starting to get real cold and he wants to get the concrete work finished before it gets too cold to work on it. — Jackie

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

Friday, October 3rd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | No Comments »

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

Q and A: chicks not going in coop and squash and pumpkins crossing

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Chicks not going in coop

We finally had our Mottled Java hen hatch a chick! After being broody and sitting for 3+ weeks. We usually get chicks and raise them in a series of enlarging pens and heat lamps, graduating to the small covered fenced in yard with old dog house for housing, inside the bigger chicken yard. The Mama Hen is being a very good mother, very protective, has the fear of God into the rest of the flock, keeps chick under cover when any danger is near (mainly us). The only problem is she can’t get the chick to go into the Hen house at night,so they end up sleeping under the Hen house.

We have a large fenced in area for the chicken yard but have always made sure they are inside at night, as we are on an rural acreage- sure there are predators out at night. We did try one night and forcibly put her in and then had to catch the chick. Very traumatic for them both. What do you think? Chick is only 4 days old now, I am hoping she can coax it into the hen house as it gets a little older.

Sheila Greenhaw
Springfield, Oregon

Can you reach the hen and chick under the coop? If so, you might try gently picking them both up after dark and putting them in the coop. After a couple of days they should be at home together in the coop each night and go there on their own. If not, I’d probably gamble that they would go inside on their own after the chick is older. (Do they have to go up a ramp to the coop door? That may be the problem and when the chick feathers out a bit, it will probably be more inclined to go up the ramp as it feels safer when it can fly somewhat.) — Jackie

Squash and pumpkins crossing

Wondering two things; one is my pumpkin patch… I planted pie pumpkins from my seeds harvested last year. I also had a plant come up later that I kept, which may have come from a butternut squash seed that made it to the garden, but I am not sure. The fruit that came up this year were half pie pumpkins, and half pumpkin/squash cross looking things. They are shaped like a large patty squash, pale in color, but with bright orange meat. Some also look like your gray squash, but I did not plant the seeds this time. What do I have growing in the garden?

Two: May I purchase seeds from your Winter Luxury pumpkins, and the Canada Crookneck Squash, if they will grow in Middle Tennessee?

Chris Hickman
Brush Creek, Tennessee

You have just got hybrid squash/pumpkins. All squash and pumpkins of the same species will readily cross even if planted many yards apart as they are pollinated by insects. Did you perhaps plant patty pan squash last year? Or did a neighbor several blocks away? That is probably what happened, giving you the strange squash along with your pie pumpkins. For most gardeners this isn’t a problem as the resultant fruit is still very edible (but the patty pan types may not store well).
If you want to save seed however, you must pay careful attention to what species you pick out and grow. For instance, our Hopi Pale Grey squash are Curcubita maximas, Canada Crooknecks are C. moschata and Winter Luxuries are C. pepo. So you can safely grow all three in your garden with no crossing. (Be aware that there still could be some inadvertent crossing by insects traveling up to a mile to pollinate.) Again, not a huge problem. Just save seeds from your most perfect fruit; you may have some crossing but it generally isn’t much.

Yes, you can grow these varieties in middle Tennessee or just about anywhere in the country, including the north as they are fairly short season crops. We harvested in about 90 days from direct seeding. — Jackie

Q and A: water loss in jars and off-grid dehydrating

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 by Jackie Clay | 5 Comments »

Water loss in jars

This is my first year of pressure canning, ever, and I have a question regarding water loss from the canning jars. When I pressure canned green beans the water loss was minimal. When pressure canning beets the jars lost quite a bit of water during the canning process. There is at least 1/2 a jar of water or more left but I wanted to make sure they were still safe to eat with water not covering all the food. I followed the process exactly per your canning book and the pressure canner instruction manual and the jars have all sealed perfectly. I also used Tattler canning lids if that makes a difference, following their newest instructions exactly. Is it possible that the beets absorbed that much more water than the green beans did? Would it be better to fill the jars of starchy foods only 3/4 full and add more water to allow for more water absorption by the food? I would appreciate any tips you could give me.

Teresa Liechti
Milbank, South Dakota

First of all, the loss of liquid from your jars does not mean the food is no longer safe to eat. It will be fine. Here are a few causes of liquid loss during processing: Food packed too tightly or jars packed too full, pressure fluctuated during processing, jars not taken out of the canner until canner is cool (not pressure returned to zero) or “hurrying’ the return to zero at the end of processing by bumping the weight or petcock. It does not matter that you used Tattler lids. It is possible that the beets absorbed more water but that isn’t common. Always follow the processing directions, including adding water or liquid to cover the food where needed. Just keep at it. You’ll work out your problems and so far they’re minor. Congratulations on beginning to pressure can! Like everything, the more you do it the better you’ll become. — Jackie

Off-grid dehydrating

You mentioned the other day that you had two dehydrators going. How do you run them when off grid?

Natchitoches, Louisiana

I start them when we’re planning on having the generator on for awhile, usually when I’m washing clothes or Will is using power tools. It’s amazing that in just a couple of hours, the food dries down a whole lot. Then I set the dehydrators on a table on our enclosed back porch, where it’s real warm (South side of house) and continue to dry down. The next time we have the generator on, I plug them back in. Usually a couple of times like that and the food is crispy dry. I can run one dehydrator from our battery bank, full time. But when I use two I have to switch them around or it sucks our batteries out of power. — Jackie



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