Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 104

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 104
Jackie Clay

To Ask Jackie a question, please Click Here to visit her blog.

Removing skins from tomatoes necessary?

Love your articles and all the great advice you hand out every month. I have a question regarding canning tomatoes. Why do you have to blanch them to take the skins off before canning them or making any sauces? It would seem to me that you could run them through the blender and put a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice in each quart jar before processing and everything should be ok. Also do you have a recipe for tomato soup that tastes like what you can buy in the store?

Dave Kleis
Kennewick, Washington

Yes, you could do that, Dave, but the sauces or tomato puree won’t be as nicely colored (it is kind of pinkish) or smooth if you don’t skin and peel them. It would also take a long time to can those tomatoes if you put them in the blender, a few at a time. However if you’d like to ready them for canning this way, there’s nothing to stop you. It’s safe as well as tasty.

When I make tomato soup, I melt 2 Tbsp. margarine in a large sauce pan. Then I add 2 Tbsp. flour, working the two together into a paste. Add 1 pint of tomato puree. Warm up 2 cups whole milk. Do not boil and do not scorch! Add to hot tomato mixture and stir very thorougly. Add 1 Tbsp. sugar or more to taste. This is very close to the store “cream of tomato” soups. You may also add 1 cup chicken broth in place of a cup of milk; or vary the spices, adding onion powder or a bit of basil if desired.

" Jackie

Using manure as fertilizer

I recently read an article in USA Today discussing the recent E. coli outbreaks with the spinach. The company that harvests the spinach stated that they don’t use any type of animal manure for fertilizer, grow near animals farms, nor do they allow any types of small mammals near the fields for fear of E. coli. They even lay small traps for rodent size animals and blare noise to scare the birds away.

My question is, why is it that small home growers and farms use cow, horse, and chicken manure for fertilizer, and not fear E. coli? Or, should we be fearful of this killer and not use manure? I always thought manure was an excellent source of fertilizer. I just compost using my household kitchen scraps, but would like to add manure to my composter over the winter for my garden next spring. We have several local horse farms in our surrounding neighborhood. Would it be safe to add manure, or should I just stick to my small garden composter, full of yard waste and organic food scraps? Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Andrea Del Gardo
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Okay, yes, E. coli is dangerous. To a point. It is a normal intestinal bacteria, common in most mammals, including you and me. The problem is when it gets where it doesn’t belong, like in your food. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen commercial food processing plants up close and personal. Even clean ones are dirty to my standards. And this is where E. coli in your spinach or lettuce can come from.

I always use rotted homestead manure as the main ingredient of my compost pile. This is a mixture of horse, goat, cow (when I have one), chicken and poultry manures, along with straw and rotted hay. Of course my kitchen scraps, weeds, and other organic materials also join the manure in the pile. This compost pile is actively mixed and watered to keep it cooking during warm weather. This “cooking” or heat that is generated during the decomposition effectively kills any harmful bacteria present.

I never put uncomposted manure on areas where my leafy green vegetables are grown, just to be safe. You don’t want poopy mud splashing up on your lettuce. I also mulch these areas to help prevent any mud from splashing on them, both for sanitation and to keep grit and sand from ending up in my salads.

Millions of small farmers and homesteaders as well as home gardeners have used manure in their compost piles for centuries. You are lucky to have a source so close. Use this farmers’ gold in your compost pile and enjoy the bounty.

" Jackie

Using laundry water in the garden

I am wondering about the possibility of recycling our used laundry water for use in watering our garden. I use homemade laundry soap containing Fels-Naptha soap, borax, and washing soda, and use vinegar as my softener. Currently, our laundry water comes right out of a pipe in the side of our house, to which we have attached a length of downspout to move it away from the house. It seems to be such a waste to just let this water continue to run out onto my perfectly green and healthy backyard when I could be using it in the garden. If I shouldn’t use it in the garden, do you have any recipes for more “garden friendly” homemade laundry soaps that I could use instead to allow us to recycle the water?

Regina Ylvisaker
Brooklyn, Wisconsin

It is not considered safe to use raw home laundry gray water in a vegetable garden, for fear that unprocessed E. coli from minute amounts of fecal material present in childrens’ underwear or diapers might infect your foods that are eaten raw. Leafy green vegetables are the most susceptible. For the same reason, it is also not considered safe to use gray water from showers and baths for the vegetable garden. However, there is absolutely no reason you can’t use your gray water to water your fruit and nut trees, bramble crops, or flower beds. They would happily accept any of this water you will divert to them.

" Jackie

Wheat not germinating

Jackie, I live in the Mississippi delta. I planted wheat October 14. As of yet the field is not completely covered; should I assume that the seed has rotted? We got a lot of rain a few days after I planted and I’m sure this pushed the seed further in the soil. Should I just flood this field and kill the wheat that is there?

Lou Favi

You don’t say how much of your field has not germinated. Or how much wheat is involved. If it is a big field and a lot has not come up, I’d suggest replanting it. However, if it is a smaller portion, you could simply replant the areas that didn’t germinate. You would probably have to harvest the wheat at different times, but I’ve done this and had the later planted crop catch up to the earlier seeding, allowing both to be thrashed at the same time.

" Jackie

Losing seal on jams during transport

I am a long time jam maker. I have never had this problem before.

I try taking jam over the Sierra Nevada Mountains from San Jose, California, to Reno, Nevada, and I am losing seal on half my jars. It happens when we go over the high mountain passes. Would pressure canning help? But would it ruin my jam? I have never pressure canned before, but would consider it if my jam could travel to my grandson!

Linda Kiel
Cupertino, California

Are you water bath processing your jams or just sealing them when they are hot? If they are water bath processed for 10 minutes (unless a recipe calls for longer), they should not come unsealed. I’ve hauled my pantry full of home canned foods, including many jams, jellies, and preserves over plenty of very high mountain passes, often four or five at one trip and never had a bit of trouble with them coming unsealed. My guess is that they are sealed by the older method of pouring boiling jam into hot sterilized jars and then having the lid and ring tightened down. These will seal. But sometimes, not well enough to endure stress. No, I wouldn’t advise pressure canning them; jams and jellies often get tough when you do this.

" Jackie

Making butter

We are really into self-reliant living now that we’re retired and just bought a Jersey heifer. She’s expecting in the spring and we want to make our own butter. Can you please give me a quick lesson on making butter from the Jersey milk?

Gloria Lucius
Hardy, Arkansas

Lucky you! There is absolutely nothing better tasting than Jersey butter. It is so rich and naturally golden. After your heifer has calved and is done producing colostrum (her first milk, rich in antibodies for her calf), gather two gallons (or even a gallon) of fresh milk. Allow it to cool after straining it. The cream will rise heavily to the top of the milk. With a cup or ladle, carefully scoop off the cream, being careful not to disturb the thinner milk below it. You can put this cream into your blender, a bowl (if you will be using your mixer), or churn. Don’t fill it more than half full. As you churn your butter, the butter is first whipped cream and will double the amount of cream in the container.

Let the cream stand in the container for an hour at normal room temperature of about 72 degrees. The cream seems to churn best between 50 and 60 degrees. DO NOT let it get sour. Some folks like butter from sour cream, but I’m not one of them.

Gently and steadily churn your cream. In a blender, you only want to get to the whipped cream stage; more and the butter will be blended back into the buttermilk. When using the blender, dump the whipped cream out into a bowl when it is very stiff, then continue beating with a mixer until the butter comes.

In a churn, you’ll notice first the thicker whipped cream. Then, seemingly all at once, the butter begins to come. You’ll see little granules of butter floating in the whipped cream, which suddenly gets thinner. These will also begin to coat the sides of the churn jar. Keep churning. Soon the butter will magically appear as the little granules clump together, totally separating from the buttermilk.

At this point, open the churn and pour the buttermilk off and refill the churn with cold water to wash the butter. Gently churn a few minutes more, then pour off the water. Repeat. Some people prefer to rinse the butter just as it is coming to get a more thorough rinsing. This is done when the granules are about the size of wheat or a small pea. After it has been rinsed, pour off the water and dump the butter into a bowl.

Most people add about a teaspoonful of salt to a pound of butter; this depends on taste alone and is not necessary.

With a large spoon, work the butter thoroughly, working out any traces of remaining water or buttermilk. It will make an off flavor in the butter if left in it. Squeeze and work the lump of butter, while pouring off any dribbles of liquid that form in the bowl.

That’s it. I usually store my butter in a small covered crock or a pint wide mouthed canning jar with a lid on it. Butter takes on tastes and odors from the refrigerator like you wouldn’t believe, so it is important to keep it in an airtight container, in a cool place.

Good luck to you. Butter making is fun and real easy. You’ll love it.

" Jackie

Recipe for V8 juice

I really appreciate all of the help that so many others and I get from your column each time we open an issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. I have learned so much from you and I look forward to learning even more. Thank you once again for telling me how to make vinegar in the Sept/Oct. issue.

Okay now to my next question. Do you have a recipe to make V8 juice? I would like to know what all the vegetables they use are, and how I would go about canning it.

Zeldon Linn
Umatilla, Oregon

Be glad to help you Zeldon. Here’s a recipe that I like.

Homesteader’s V8:

22 lbs. tomatoes
2 qt. celery, chopped
2 beets, chopped
¾ cup carrots, chopped
¾ cup onions, chopped
¾ cup green pepper, chopped
¼ cup chopped parsley
bottled lemon juice
salt (optional)

Remove core and blossom ends of tomatoes. Cut into quarters or smaller. Chop all vegetables. Add tomatoes and vegetables in a large kettle. Slowly bring to a simmer and simmer 20 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Mash the vegetables as they begin to soften. Run the puree through a food mill to remove skins and seeds. Stir in salt to taste if desired. Heat juice 5 minutes to simmering; do not boil. Ladle hot juice into hot jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Add 1 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice to pint jars, and 2 Tbsp. to quart jars. Process pints for 35 minutes in a boiling water bath and quarts for 40 minutes.

" Jackie

Leaving sauces out at room temperature

I buy Worchester sauce by the gallon and refill the smaller glass bottles that I have when empty. For years I never refrigerated either and temps in the house could get up to 90 degrees and never had a problem with spoilage. Recently I saw that it did say to refrigerate after opening. A friend of mine would buy pickles in a 5 gallon bucket never refrigerated them, didn’t store them at 70 degrees (more like 60’s) but still. Is there a way to tell if something really needs to be refrigerated? I’d think some things like Italian Salad dressing that is basically oil & vinegar should be ok at room temperature. What’s a good rule of thumb?

Richard Orlando
Windsor, Connecticut

I’ve always gone by the ingredients. If the main ingredients are vinegar and sugar, I figure it’ll keep unrefrigerated. But if it has vegetables, eggs or meats in it, I’m leery of keeping them out. Old fashioned mayonnaise is a prime example, having eggs in it. We all know the stories about food poisoning from leaving potato salad and the like out at room temperature.

Like most things, though, I try to err on the side of caution.

" Jackie

Homemade mincemeat

I recently made mincemeat using a recipe from the Ball Blue Book. I followed the directions exactly but had a problem when I processed the batch.

I used a Presto 8-quart pressure canner at what I assume was 10 lbs. pressure (this model only has a weight with one setting and no gauge).

I left the proper headspace (1-inch) and processed for the time indicated. When I opened the canner, I saw that a lot of the jar content had escaped the jar. Additionally, as the jars cooled, the contents were about half the original amount. To make matters worse, the jars did not seal and I had to freeze them.

What did I do wrong?

Max Thames
Union Springs, New York

Some things that can cause this to happen are: packing the food too tightly in the jars, often over-filling the jar (leaving ½ inch instead of 1 inch of headspace, for instance); varying the amount of heat under the canner; or not waiting long enough before opening the canner. With a weight control, gently bump it with a spoon. When no steam escapes, remove it and open the kettle. This loss of food from the jars often happens when someone “hurries” the cooling down period too much, sometimes by opening the petcock too soon or even by pouring cold water over the canner. This is a real NO NO. This happens, but it is not a frequent occurrence in canning, so don’t let it discourage you.

" Jackie

Using vinegar in a canner

In regards to using vinegar in the water of a pressure canner to keep the jars clean (Issue #103), vinegar does work well in the water. However, if your canner is aluminum, it will pit the metal if left to stand any length of time. I found this out the hard way. Now I use rainwater when available, or even melt some snow down. Distilled water works well but isn’t free.

I started rinsing out my canner with baking soda water after using the vinegar method, and this also seems to have stopped any further damage.

Cheryl Olson
Bowler, Wisconsin

Great idea, Cheryl. I just don’t worry about having a coating on my jars, as I always wash them off in hot soapy water before I put them on my pantry shelves anyway. I’m also a lazy canner.

" Jackie

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