Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 107

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 107
Jackie Clay

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

More natural ways to clean your home

There is so much discussion about food, gardening, etc., but I haven’t seen too much about what are good home cleaning products or personal hygiene. I’d love to hear from you about those topics. From what I’ve been reading, baking soda seems to be the “wonder” product for many things. Any tips?

Valerie Bate
Joplin, Missouri

There are way too many chemicals used in our homes today. We’ve been indoctrinated by advertising to believe we must spray this here to kill germs, that there to kill mold and mildew, still another over there to kill unpleasant scents. We “must” wash our clothes in a cocktail of detergents, bleaches, and fabric softeners, clean our toilets with nasty mixtures that would kill a horse. Drains? Even worse. Gee, what did our grandparents do? (Most of them lived to a ripe old age, too!)

Personally, I would much rather use common sense than chemicals. The drain is getting slow? Simply open the door under the sink and with a bucket underneath the trap of the drain, unscrew it, and dump out the clog of hair and other strange items that found their way in there. Screw it back and there you go.

Most cleaning can be done with simple natural cleansers. Vinegar will clean your windows, the shower, and tub. I use a green scrubbie and warm vinegar. It cleans everything up sparkling clean. Do you need more “clout?” Simply add a little salt to your scrubbie as you scrub the tile. Or use borax. It’ll do the job, too, without making your home glow in the dark.

Baking soda is your natural friend. Not only can you brush (and freshen) your teeth with it, but it acts as a scouring powder for your counter, fridge, and even toilet bowl. And nearly everyone knows that an open box in your refrigerator absorbs odors. I sprinkle some in the cat litter box before I refill it to keep it from advertising the fact that we have a litter box in our bathroom.

You’d be surprised at how clean your clothes get without bleach if you wash them in a wringer washer full of very hot water and a handful of homemade lye soap flakes. I grate a bar into a bowl of boiling water and let it set overnight on the night before wash day. Wash your whites first and progress through the dirties. Then hang them out in the sun. The sun whitens clothes better than bleach and does not cause an environmental impact. (Ever wonder how the old-time Mexican villagers could work hard all day and wear white clothes?) The answer is they were washed with old time lye soap and laid out on the rocks and bushes to dry in the sun.

I hope these have given you food for thought in a world full of chemical “musts.”

" Jackie

Canning black beans

I’m interested in canning black beans. Do you can all beans the same? (Cover dry beans or peas) with cold water and let stand over night in a cool place. Drain. Cover beans or peas with cold water two inches over the beans in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil half an hour. Stir as needed. Dip out beans with slotted spoon and pack into hot canning jar to within an inch of the top. Add 1 tsp. salt to quart jars, ½ tsp. to pints, if desired. Ladle hot cooking liquid into jar to within an inch of the top. Remove any air bubbles with a small spatula or wooden stick. Wipe rim of jar clean. Place hot, previously-simmered lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints 75 minutes, quarts 90 minutes in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, adjust the pressure to your altitude as recommended in your canning manual.)

Also, if I wanted to add onions, green pepper and a little olive oil would that affect the processing time? Thanks for sharing all your great knowledge.

Nancee Quinn
Arlington, Texas

Yes, you can home can all types of dry beans using the same method, as you outlined. I would not advise soaking peas that long before canning them, though; they’ll get mushy. Only soak them for about an hour, then can them up; the canning will finish softening them up. They require a much shorter soaking time than do beans. Some tiny beans, such as tepary beans and lentils, also require a shorter soaking time, due to their size.

Personally, I’d use very little olive oil; when you can, sometimes oil works out under the lid and prevents it from sealing. But that and the onions and peppers and/or spices will not affect the processing time. Enjoy!

" Jackie

Freezing venison

My dad and I recently got three deer and we were wondering how long the meat would be good for if it is kept in the freezer in freezer paper.


Generally, venison will keep about 12 months in the freezer, providing that it is well wrapped to keep oxygen from getting in at the meat. This is what causes “freezer burn” which results in a nasty taste and smell. I would suggest that you closely monitor the meat after 9 months and either use it up before the 12 months or else can it. You can also have it made into sausages of different types or jerky to use it up before it nears the end of the 12 month time. (Some people report that their meat never freezer burns, but personally, I’ve never been that lucky.)

" Jackie

Spicy luncheon loaf

My Grandma says she used to make a venison/pork hock spicy luncheon loaf, but she can’t remember how she did it. She said something about how the “natural gelatin” held it all together. Any ideas what she is talking about? I figure if any one can figure it out, or steer us in the right direction, it’s you.

Bill Cartwright
McMillan, Michigan

I haven’t heard of venison/pork hock spicy luncheon loaf, but it sounds like she might have made it like you would headcheese. So here’s what I would try and see if it comes close. In a small amount of water, simmer your venison and pork hocks till they are cooked. Pick the meat off the bones and either chop finely or grind, as you prefer. Add seasonings. You might try salt, black pepper, sage, and red pepper. Some people like cinnamon and coriander, too. It depends on your personal spice preferences. Other people might want onion and garlic powder.

Anyway, spice it to taste. Cool the broth and skim off the natural gelatin. Warm this up and mix well with the meat. Pack it down well in a bread pan, then cover and refrigerate. Slice when thoroughly chilled, as you need it. See if this is what Grandma used to make. I’ll bet you’ll like it.

" Jackie

Canned meat recipes

I read with great interest your latest article on pressure canning of meats.

I have pressure canned all my life, but never tried pressure canning meats because I have no recipes for using canned meat.

Can you publish some of your best recipes?

Bruce Clark
Interlaken, New York

You know, Bruce, I really don’t use many “recipes.” I’m a throw this and that together kind of person. I’ve cooked for so long that I’ve figured out how to get things to taste like I want and just do it. It drives my mother crazy. At 91, she’s always used exact recipes and cringes every time I grab a handful of this or a pinch of that. Home canned meats are so easy to do and easier to use in so many ways. Basically, you use canned meat like you would any pre-cooked meat. For instance, if you want beef stew, you just dump out a pint of canned stewing beef, a quart of tomato sauce, a pint of carrot slices, a half pint of chopped celery, a half pint of mushrooms, dice two large potatoes and one onion, then simmer with whatever spices you may want.

Or maybe you want barbecue beef on a bun. Take your canned stewing beef or pieces of canned beef roast and drain off the liquid into a saucepan. With a fork, shred the meat, removing any fat or gristle. (I can mine without it so it’s easy to use.) Dump the meat into the saucepan with the broth and add your favorite barbecue sauce of the day to taste, then simmer for 10 minutes or longer to absorb most of the liquid; you want it thick. Pile on a bun and you’ve got dinner.

Chicken? Lay a bed of pre-cooked wild rice in a baking dish. Drain a pint of canned chicken breasts onto the rice and lay the breasts neatly on it. Open a half-pint of chopped celery and sprinkle that over the chicken breasts. Add some chopped water chestnuts and grated carrot. Top with a basic poultry dressing. Cover and bake for 20 minutes.

Want a roast beef dinner? Simply open your quart of canned roast beef chunks. Arrange in a roasting pan. Add potatoes, carrots, onions, and spices. Pour the broth from the meat over the contents. Cover and roast at 350° F until the potatoes are done; add more water if necessary.

By now you get the picture. Home canned meat is so very easy to use. It makes “instant” meals that taste like you’ve worked for hours. That’s a good thing.

" Jackie

Does frozen rhubarb become poisonous rhubarb?

On another site a question was asked about poisonous rhubarb.

They were told that if rhubarb froze that it became poisonous. I live in South Dakota and everything freezes here. Can you clear this up for me.

Every year we have a freeze after things come up and I freeze rhubarb for use later. So what is your take on it?

Leona Martel
Stratford, South Dakota

No, Leona, frozen rhubarb is not poisonous. It’s the leaves and roots, frozen or otherwise. Thousands of people freeze rhubarb in one form or another to eat during the winter. No problem. You just do not want to make a salad from the leaves or you’ll have the worst case of the “trots” you ever had in your life. Enjoy your rhubarb. I do mine, and we live in northern Minnesota, which is not exactly known for its palm trees and balmy winters. My rhubarb is just poking up and we’re looking forward to enjoying it this year.

" Jackie

Cat manure as fertilizer

I’ve heard and read several times that cat manure should not be used in the garden, but all I remember is that it relates to a bacteria or virus that we don’t want around our food.

Do you have any more details? In other words, are there safe places to use cat manure, such as flower beds (where the flowers are only decoration, we don’t eat anything from there) or around fruit trees (where the edible part is far from the ground and cat manure)?

We have two cats, who do a quite reliable job of producing several pounds of manure per week. If there’s any way to safely use this, rather than just sending it to the landfill, I’d be interested in knowing about it. Does composting it help make it safe to use at all?

Aaron Neal
Fort Worth, Texas

You don’t want to use cat manure around any food you will use fresh (such as lettuce, carrots, or spinach) or anywhere you might get in contact with it while gardening. Remember you’ll be pulling weeds and setting out plants, too. So we don’t want to use it in our flower beds either. You could use it under your fruit trees or ornamentals, as long as you do not work the soil with your hands. Not only can cats carry parasites that can infect humans, but also toxoplasmosis, which can cause a lot of serious problems for people.

Unfortunately, composting is not safe enough to trust for this use.

" Jackie

Baking with nut butter

When you bake with nut butter, do you substitute an equal amount of nut butter for butter or oil?

Caroline Worsham

When I’ve baked with nut butter I haven’t substituted exactly the same amount of nut butter for the oil or butter in the recipe because nut butter isn’t quite as oily. I use more like 1/3 oil or butter and 2/3 nut butter. You’ll have to experiment, as not all nut butters are the same.

" Jackie

Pure tomato seeds

Because of rampant deer herds in our area, our garden has to be fenced and we are limited to a small area. I almost always save seed from year to year without worrying about the purity of the seeds. This year I have a couple of varieties of tomatoes that I want to remain pure. How would I go about doing this, as I will not be able to plant them far enough from the others to keep them from cross-pollinating?

Lisa Nourse
Wedderburn, Oregon

Although to raise totally “pure” tomato seed, you have to separate the varieties by ¼ mile (to be really pure), most of the time we can just separate them by a block of taller crops and a workable distance. For instance, I’ve saved seeds from my own open pollinated version of Early Cascade Hybrid tomatoes, bred back to a standard, by having several plants separated by the other tomatoes by growing a row of pole beans between them, then a row of cucumbers, trellised on a fence. These come very true each year.

But if you want absolutely pure seed, make a screen house over each plant and only open it long enough to shake the branches when they are flowering to ensure pollination. Don’t let any insects in or they may carry pollen from neighboring plants.

Another idea is to only grow one variety of tomato (or other vegetable) a year and save seeds from that one. Then there isn’t all the worry about cross-pollination or the work of screening the plants. For instance, I only grow one C. maxima squash every year, which is my nearly extinct Hopi Pale Grey squash, so the seed remains pure. I do not want to have that cross, as it’s so rare. But I grow many other types of squash of different species. They do not cross with the C. maximas.

" Jackie

Drying, parching, and grinding corn

Having read a number of your articles, and being a regular reader of your Ask Jackie column, I have become aware that you raise corn, in part, for milling fresh corn meal, and I suspect for parching and making dried (or cracked) corn, polenta, and other corn products for baking and cooking. My questions are:

1. What varieties of corn do you use for making: Corn meal-Blue, white, or yellow? Flint or dent? Dried corn"such as that sold by COPES out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania? Sweet, white, or yellow corn? Flint or dent? Parched corn-White, yellow or Indian? Flint or dent?

2. By what method or tool do you remove dried corn kernels from the cob?

3. Once removed, what further processing, if any (such as roasting or the like), do you do before milling corn into meal or coarse grinding for polenta?

4. How do you make COPES type dried corn?

5. How do you make parched corn and how do you use it?

Sam Learned
Morganton, North Carolina

Good questions, Sam. I really love corn and corn products, especially the Native American corns. I make corn meal from any colored corn, but like to use a flint or flint/dent corn for cornmeal. I especially like cornmeal made from Santo Domingo Blue, a rare ancient huge-eared corn, Hopi Chinmark, which is white, orange and yellow striped, and Cherokee White Flour corns.

I’m not familiar with COPES. For dried corn, I use a sweet corn, cut off the cob fresh, then dehydrated. The same with parched corn. Any corn will make good parched corn, but sweet corn makes really tasty parched corn we like to eat like a snack. This is a dent corn.

To remove the dried kernels from the cob, I just twist two ears together and the kernels rub each other off the cob with little effort. I work over a large mixing bowl to catch the wild kernels that pop off, then winnow the batch in a stiff wind, pouring from one bowl to another to remove any chaff that has fallen in with the kernels.

I do not do anything else to the corn before grinding it. If I am making masa harina (hominy corn flour), I first make the corn into hominy, using sweet limewater (not the fruit!) as a hot soak, then drying the hominy to grind for the masa.

If you are having trouble with maize moths in your pantry, freeze the cornmeal before you store it to kill any possible eggs harbored in the meal.

To make dehydrated corn, cut sweet corn off the cob at its height of ripeness; don’t wait too long or it will get starchy. Blanch for 2 minutes, then drain. Place in a single layer in a dehydrator or on a cookie sheet in your oven with only the pilot light on and the door cracked to dry. Stir once in a while to prevent sticking. The corn is done when it is very dry and brittle. Store in a glass airtight jar. If the slightest bit of condensation appears, re-dry or it will mold.

To make parched corn, simply make a big batch of sweet corn on the cob. Boil or roast till done. Eat all you want for a meal, then when it is cool, cut it off the cob. Place on a single layer in your dehydrator or on a cookie sheet in the oven, as above. It is done when very dry, like the fresh sweet corn.

I use parched corn in soups and stews, and also casseroles; it has a sweet nutty taste. We also like it as a snack, just eaten out of hand. It is a good trail food as it fills you up and leaves you satisfied with a sweet taste in your mouth.

" Jackie

Preserving squash, eggplant, and potatoes

My husband and I have an organic garden and we can and freeze what we can. We have a question about how to can, freeze, etc. squash, zucchini and eggplant? Also, what’s the best way to keep potatoes?

Canning winter squash is no problem. And you can freeze shredded zucchini to use in mixed recipes or baking. But I’ve never been real happy with either zucchini or eggplant frozen. Neither cans up too well, either.

I can up winter squash in two ways, in chunks and pureed to use in pies and baked dishes. To can up chunks, simply cut the squash into pieces, then into slices about an inch thick. Remove the seeds and rind. I place them in a roasting pan and put it in the oven at 350° F and just heat it enough to make it good and hot. Do not cook it. Pack hot into hot jars and fill to within ½ inch of the top with boiling water. If desired, for taste, you can also add a tsp. of salt to each quart. Process in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure (unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude; check your canning manual for directions), for 90 minutes (quarts) or 75 minutes for pints.

When I puree the squash, I cut the squash in half and remove the seeds, then place the squash on a baking sheet and bake at 350° F until soft. Scoop the hot squash out of the rind and press through a food mill or whiz in a blender until it is string-free and smooth. Pack hot into hot canning jars to within ½ inch of the top. You may add 1 tsp. salt for taste, if desired. Process for the same time as above. One note, however: Experts now frown on home canning pureed squash and pumpkin as home canners in the past have not taken enough care to pack very hot squash and pumpkin puree into hot jars and process at once. Because the puree is more dense than pieces, it does take more time for the heat to sufficiently penetrate to the center of the jar. Therefore, some people could run into trouble by working too slowly or not reheating the puree before packing it into hot jars and let the food get cooled down. And the canning process conceivably would not protect the food from possible bacterial growth during storage.

To avoid this, I always make sure my puree is boiling hot when I put it into the hot jars and I make smaller batches, working quickly to ensure that the puree remains very hot. But just be advised that canning these purees is no longer an accepted way of processing.

I use my puree for “pumpkin” pies (which most pumpkin pies in the store use), baked goods, such as breads, and in baked dishes. If you dump a quart of puree into a greased casserole dish, sprinkle the top with brown sugar and cinnamon and grate a little lemon on top, then bake it; you’ll have “squash haters” fighting over seconds.

To freeze grated zucchini, choose only small, tender squash or peel and seed larger squash. Grate with a coarse blade, then blanch for 4 minutes in boiling water. Drain and squeeze all the moisture out you can with two clean kitchen towels. Pack tightly into freezer boxes. To use, barely thaw and use in zucchini breads, stews, or fried patties.

You may do eggplant this way, but peel and slice young eggplant ½ an inch thick, then blanch in a gallon of boiling water with 3 Tbsp. of Fruit Fresh, ascorbic acid, or ½ cup of lemon juice added to keep the white color. Blanch for 4 minutes. Drain, then pack into freezer boxes. If you plan on frying them, separate the layers with wax paper or else pre-freeze them in single layers on a cookie sheet, then pack them so they will separate when you want to use them. Just barely thaw them before using; too much thawing and they will get weepy and mushy.

The best way to keep potatoes is in a cool (45-50 degrees), very dark area. Often a dark, cool corner of your basement will work well. If your basement is too warm, consider insulating and partitioning off the furthest corner from the heat. It should have some air flow so it doesn’t get too humid, but you want it to remain cool and dark. If it gets too cold, the potatoes will get black spots and rot. Too warm and they will not keep as long. If it is not dark, they will begin to sprout way too soon.

It’s a good idea to dig them, then rinse the dirt off, sort for damaged potatoes, then leave for a few days out on a protected (not in direct sunlight or they’ll go green!) area of your yard. This cures the skins and heals slight cuts and dings from digging. Some folks skip the rinsing, but I like to do it and feel I’m rinsing off some bacteria and fungus that may cling to the dirt, causing early rotting.

In milder climates, some folks keep their potatoes in a barrel, ¾ buried in the ground, covered by a layer of straw bales. This will not work in a really cold climate; they’ll freeze and rot. But it does work well for those in more temperate climates. It keeps them dark and cool. If you are not sure about your location, you might try storing a few pounds of potatoes this way and see if it will work for you. The barrel is dug in on a slant so the top is at an angle and accessible when you shovel off any snow and move the straw bales. Remember to replace the straw and the insulating snow when you’re done.

" Jackie

Flour as fertilizer

I have some old whole wheat flour. Can I spread it on my lawn and use as a fertilizer?

Marty Daniels
Bloomington, Indiana

No, I wouldn’t advise spreading old whole wheat flour on your lawn. Sure it would be fertilizer, but it will make this nasty, white, pasty film on your grass that is a long time in rinsing off with watering and rain. Instead, why don’t you work it into your garden or flower beds. Old flour does make good fertilizer (or pig or chicken food), but it takes awhile to break down when exposed to the sun and air.

" Jackie

Natural bug repellent

Absolutely love your column! You seem to always be a wealth of knowledge and I pray that you can help me with this one!

When I was a kid my dad made a tick and chigger repellent that actually worked and you didn’t have to worry about the side effects of DEET!

I don’t know what was in it as he passed away before I could get the formula from him. I think it may have had castor oil in it as a base. It was pale yellow in color and had the texture of silly putty or maybe a little thinner and it tasted absolutely disgusting! But, I never had ticks, chiggers and sure don’t remember digging at sceeter bites much either! I sure do hope you know the formula or can find it. I have looked everywhere and asked just about everybody I know.

Robert Smith
Garfield, Arkansas

I sure wish I could help you, especially after the sweet compliments. But I don’t have a clue. If anyone knows, please let us know. For one, I could sure use such a sure-fire insect repellent.

" Jackie

Cleaning Wallo’Waters

I took your suggestion and bought Wallo’Waters for my tomatoes this year and am very happy with them. Now do you have a good way of cleaning them for storage?

Linda Fisher
Klamath, California

Do you want the truth? I simply dump the water out, let them dry in the garden on a nice sunny day, then fold them up and put them in a banana box. Mine have lasted for up to 20 years. If you want cleaner Walls, soak them in mild detergent water, such as in a washtub outdoors, then rinse, dry, and store. You cannot get “pristine” Wallo’ Waters but it doesn’t bother them at all. Aren’t they great?

" Jackie

Making cracklin’

I’m a first time cracklin’ maker and they are not turning out. I don’t think the lard is too hot"about 450 degrees, but every time I try to make them it seems like I’m burning the skins before they are fully cooked. Plus the skins are not getting crispy. Should the lard be a little cooler? I need help. Maybe it’s because I’m from California; I don’t have that southern skill in my cooking genes.

Derek Rogers
Sacramento, California

Here’s how most folks make cracklings: Cut your lard into strips. Place into an iron kettle with just a little water on the bottom. Slowly heat the lard. Do not make the heat too hot; you only want to melt it at first. I put mine in a roasting pan in the oven because it doesn’t scorch as quickly as on a stovetop. Stir frequently on the stovetop. (One reason I like the oven.) The fat starts out at a fairly cool temperature, but as it liquefies, it heats up. Do not let it get over 250° F or it may well scorch.

Early in the lard-rendering process, the cracklings float, but as they heat more, they’ll sink to the bottom. Here they are easier to scorch. So scoop them out before they sink to be safe. Do this after they form bubbles in them, then drain on a paper towel. If you want them crispier, finish them off on a cookie sheet in your oven on low heat until they are crisp, yet not scorched.

Heating them to 450° F is way too hot. No wonder your cracklings are burning.

" Jackie

Groundhog trouble

I have been a huge fan of yours for years. HELP!

Yesterday I had a beautiful bed of lettuce and nice looking cabbages about to make heads and now… all I have is stems. I happened to look out the kitchen window this morning and saw a groundhog scurrying away from the garden. I have to believe he is the culprit. I would rather not kill him. Is there anything to repel him? If he doesn’t leave my garden alone, he and I will tangle! And he won’t like the outcome.

Ruthie Ledford
Rocky Face, Georgia

You’ve got four choices here"One: You can feed the woodchuck your garden. Two: You can bury chicken wire or hardware cloth 18” in the ground, fencing it 3 feet high and keep him out. Three: You can give him a permanent treatment with a .22. Four: You can buy a live trap and relocate him. (Make sure it’s a “him” or that if she has babies they are old enough to live without Mom.) I was forced to live trap red squirrels here this spring. One morning I counted 8 fighting over my bird feeder when the birds sat around looking sad because the squirrels certainly wouldn’t share the sunflower seed. I trapped 22 squirrels before breeding season. These were driven 2 or more miles away and released in the woods, far from human habitation. I didn’t want to make my problem someone else’s.

" Jackie

Spices for pickles

First, I have to thank you for being so generous with your extensive knowledge of traditional and lower-tech ways of doing things.

My question is about pickles. I’ve been reading a lot of pickle recipes lately and they all seem to use similar spices (dill, mustard powder, etc.). I’d like to experiment, but wonder if other spices could cause problems in the pickling process"or maybe they are guaranteed to taste bad. Any advice?

Kyoto, Japan

Have at it, Charles! Experiment away. Just make sure to use the right amount of vegetables, salt, sugar, and vinegar, which are your pickling bases. The spices are just for flavoring and you can add or leave out what you want. Well, within reason, that is! When you make a new pickle, only make a few jars, to start. Then let them mellow a few weeks and open them to see what you’ve created. Some will be great, others so-so, but you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

" Jackie

Corn that is good for both people and animals

Do you know of a variety of corn (open-pollinated) that is good for both human consumption at the milk stage and animal feed at the mature stage?

I’d like to grow something that we can eat fresh and that will work for the animals as well, and I certainly don’t have enough land to keep two varieties separated enough to keep them pure.

Donal Parks
Olney, Maryland

Most of the old Native American and traditional American farm corns are very good eaten in the milk stage (for us) and dry well for animals. As kids, we used to sneak into the cornfield next to the ranch I worked on and pick a few ears of corn to roast on the ground. I think it was the best corn I’ve ever eaten. No one ever told me it was “cow corn.” You can find many, many choices in the Shumways or Native Seeds/SEARCH catalogs. Choose a variety that says “roasting ears and livestock feed.” We’ve grown a lot of Cherokee White Flour, Hopi Chinmark, and Hopi Blue corn for dual purposes. If you want “sweeter” corn, try using True Gold or Country Gentleman; both are open pollinated sweet corns that have a large enough ear to use dried for stock feed.

" Jackie

Old dried beans

Jackie, I just found your site and I love it. My question is, I have a lot of dried beans (pintos) in my food storage and they are old, and will not soften up to eat. What can I do with the beans or is there any way they can be used as food?

Gail Robertson

I’ve had pretty good luck with those old beans by soaking them in boiling water overnight (pour boiling water on the dry beans, then let sit overnight in a cool place), then rinsing, using fresh water, boiling them for an hour, and packing them into canning jars to within an inch of the top, pouring the water on to within an inch of the top, adding ½ tsp. salt to pints, 1 tsp. to quarts, then pressure canning them at 10 pounds pressure for 75 minutes for pints or 90 minutes for quarts. (If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning manual for directions on adjusting your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary.)

The pre-soaking, boiling, and pressure canning seems to help a great deal. If they still seem tough, pulse through a blender before you use them to make kind of a bean mash; it’s good in most recipes calling for pintos, including refried beans.

Another way to use them is to make bean flour out of them. Run them through your flour mill or meat grinder to chop them fine, then whiz them in your blender to make bean flour. You can use this in a variety of recipes. It thickens gravies and makes dandy refried beans when you add boiling water and simmer with spices in a pot on the back of the wood stove or in the oven. I’m sure a slow cooker would work too.

" Jackie

Rose geranium essential oil for tick repellent

I was catching up on reading and have a comment on your tick advice from the April 11 issue. One natural deterrent for ticks is rose geranium essential oil. Add 10 to 25 drops to 2 tablespoons of vegetable or nut oil, shake together in a glass jar to mix. Dab a drop or two on clothing or skin before going out. This has a shelf life of about 6 months. For pets with collars, a drop or two of the essential oil directly on the collar once a week does the same thing.

Now for the question. We will be building a house on the top of the ridge that runs across our property. We’re planning on taking up canning as we get our gardens up and running. The top of the ridge is at 1003 feet elevation. If I set up canning in the basement it will be below 1000 feet. In the first floor kitchen it will be above 1000 feet. With it being right on the line, do I need to use the higher pressure when canning?

Jason M. Waldo
Sweetwater, Tennessee

Wow! As soon as I get to a town where I can buy rose geranium essential oil, I will certainly give your remedy a healthy try. I’m up for about anything!

I, personally, wouldn’t worry a bit about canning at a higher pressure because you are right on the line of 1,000 feet. In the old days, the increase began at 2,000 feet. A foot or two won’t make a difference. Enjoy your new homestead!

" Jackie

Storing tomatoes in oil

Let me start by saying that my wife and I are a young couple and both enjoy your column. My questions are regarding tomatoes, and specifically “Roma” type paste tomatoes. Provided the blight doesn’t get us this year we would like to dry tomatoes and store them in garlic/herb olive oil. Can this be done, if so do I need to put heat to it in a standard water bath technique? Or, can they just be filled to the top, and sealed?

This will be our first year trying to preserve tomatoes and I would like to waste little or none if possible.

A side question… We came upon a 40# bucket of Sorghum Syrup thinking it was honey. What’s it good for?

Ben and Kirsten
Sedro-Woolley, Washington

In many countries, dried tomatoes are put up in oil routinely. No, they are not processed in any way; the dried tomatoes are just well covered in the olive oil. Personally, I dehydrate the tomatoes and store them in an airtight jar. Then, a jar at a time, I soak them in oil to rehydrate them and also get seasoned oil through the process. This ensures that you don’t end up with a jar or two of tomatoes that have popped out of the oil and gone moldy.

Wow! A 40# bucket of sorghum syrup! You don’t find that every day. You can use this stout sweetener over pancakes and waffles, in baked goods, and even over ice cream. Some people need to acquire a taste for it; it tastes like a cross between molasses and brown sugar. It stores well in covered containers in a dry dark place. After you open the big bucket, you might want to ladle out syrup into gallon jars for ease of use. In a big bucket, we never seem to want to deal with that much of one thing.

" Jackie

Prairie turnips

With all that you do, you must sleep only 4 hours a night! A busy woman you are! In the Great Plains, wherever you can find virgin prairie you’ll find a plant called many names" Indian Breadroot, Prairie Turnips, or other more native names. These were a basic staple for the Plains Indians. Since my cabin is surrounded by several sections (640 acres each) of mostly virgin prairie, these are found in abundance. However, I don’t know when is the optimum time to dig them, and I can’t quite figure out the method of digging used by the Indian women who used a pointed stick. Can you shed any light on these two queries please? Two more years of toil punching a clock, and we (my wife and I) can rest and nest in the cabin, establish a garden, and can veggies like Mom used to do…

One more thing…can one make ice cream out of goats milk? Or isn’t there enough cream in it?

Bernie Arcand
Ray, North Dakota

Most Indians dug Indian turnips in the summer, before they got woody. They are most easily dug following a rainy spell, when the ground is softer. You’d be surprised at the difference this makes. The digging stick was usually a hardwood stick, a little larger in diameter than your finger, sharpened to a slanted point on the “business end.” You grab the leaves, shove the digging stick down next to the plant, and lever it out of the ground, pulling as you lever the digging stick. Sometimes having a hand-sized round rock handy to smack the digging stick well into the earth helps. But don’t drive it in too deep or you’ll go through a lot of sticks because of breakage.

You bet you can make ice cream out of goat milk. You can separate the cream, but I usually just make my ice cream out of the whole milk and nobody has ever complained yet.

" Jackie

Flour storage

We have been working at increasing the amount of basics in our food storage and need some help with flour storage. We live in the south so insects are a common problem that we try to keep in mind. Right now most plastic food grade containers are out of our budget but we have been able to come across quite a few free canning jars from old-timers that are no longer canning. It seems to me that we could put the flour in canning jars and heat the jars in the oven to get the heat needed for the lids to seal. Would this work?

Stephanie Arnold
Corning, Arkansas

Yes, you can do that. You really don’t need the lids to seal, but the gentle heating would destroy any insect eggs present in the flour so you don’t end up with “bugs” in your jars. Freezing works well, too. Just make sure to store your flour in airtight containers because pantry moths can get in the tiniest crack.

" Jackie

All about mulberries

The neighbor has a mulberry tree/bush that overhangs my fence that produces a heavy abundance of berries every year. Instead of walking on them as I mow, and watching the birds do their thing on the side of the house I would like to make some jam, jelly, or preserves out of them.

Are mulberries desirable to eat since I can’t find out too much about them? When are they ripe enough to pick for harvesting in the Midwest?

Is there any good way to collect them like shaking a branch with a tarp underneath?

I’ve seen co-workers use super glue to seal up dry finger cracking. I’m sure this works, but is there anything better they could use that is less toxic?

Kevin Carey
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Yes! Mulberries are good to eat. I’ve eaten bushels of them since childhood. They are ripe when they are soft, usually when they get dark purple or black. Yes, they are great, eaten fresh; not as flavorful as blackberries, but good enough for me to make a pig out of myself on occasion. You can make mulberry pie, wine, preserves, jam, jelly, and cobblers. Use them just as you would blackberries. Just pick the stem out of them before you use them; it kind of stays with them on picking.

Yes, you could shake them out of the tree, but first you’d better talk nicely to your neighbor. Some neighborhood feuds start over overhanging fruit tree branches.

Fingers crack because they are too dry, usually from repeated wet/cold or wet/dry applications. Better to treat the cause than the effect. Using a lanolin-based hand cream or a vitamin A & D ointment usually cures most hand and foot cracks. My Grandpa made a poplar bud salve by simmering spring-swollen poplar buds in warm, liquid lard, then straining out the buds. I’ve used this salve for years on cuts and cracks, especially teat and udder chapping and cracks and it really works wonders; smells nice, too.

" Jackie

Moles eating corn seeds

Can you please give us any hints on what can be used to keep the moles from eating the corn seeds that we plant in the ground? Every year it is the same thing. We have tried all the remedies that we know of and the little varmints continue to invade our garden and strip our corn rows before it has a chance to sprout.

Louise Timberlake
Mt. Carmel, Illinois

We had moles and pocket gophers on one of our homesteads and know what you mean. What pests! We cured our problem with a vigorous combination of trapping (not live!) and opening the burrows and dumping very used cat litter down them. It took a couple of weeks but we got them totally gone. I was so desperate at first that when I saw a pocket gopher sticking out of a hole, I ran for the .30.30 Winchester and let him have it. “Mom,” my son said, “wasn’t that a little over-kill?” Yes, but after watching so much destruction in our gardens, it was oh, so satisfying!

" Jackie

Butternut squash seeds

I’m having a hard time getting butternut squash seeds in the local stores but am wondering if I buy one for eating from the grocery store can I plant the seeds in my garden upon opening or do I have to dry them first?

Niki Young
Ritzville, Washington

No, you wouldn’t have to dry the seeds of a butternut squash before planting them. But if the squash you buy is a hybrid, the squash you grow might not be the exact squash as the one you bought. It’s funny you can’t find butternut squash seeds (Often sold as Waltham Butternut) in the stores. It’s a very commonly grown squash. You’ll find it offered in almost all of the seed catalogs.

" Jackie

Small potatoes

We are having trouble growing potatoes. The tops die very early and the yield is very small in both size and amounts. What is needed to stop this?

Margo and Richard Clark
Hermon, Maine

Are you using certified seed potatoes? Sometimes store potatoes are treated with an anti-sprouting chemical that really retards their ability to reproduce themselves. The sprouts they do make are not viable and they do not produce a good crop of potatoes.

Make sure your potatoes are hilled as they grow, fertilized at least once during the summer, when they are blooming. I use rotted compost. And make sure that the new, growing plants receive enough water. After all, potatoes are largely water in content. If you already do all these things, you may have a potato disease at work. In this case, till up totally new ground or plant under straw, on the tilled ground, and see if this doesn’t give you a good crop of potatoes.

" Jackie

Canning meat and morels

I read your article on canning meat and was wondering about some of the things you have done. I have canned food since I was helping my mom in early ’60s. I can deer meat and beef. I have never put beef stock in jars of meat. I fill jar with meat and place 1 bouillion cube in a pint jar and place it in canner. It always makes its own juice and fat rises to top, which I remove when I open jar. I have never browned the meat either. I have always been happy with the results. Also I have 2000 canning jars and don’t use mayo jars. I have purchased these used (for $1 a doz.) or gotten for free all of these. Most people don’t want to mess with canning any more, especially city folks. It’s just easier to go to McyD’s. Do you have a recipe for canning morels? I tried to freeze them once and they were not edible afterwards. If you do could you please let me know?

Rick Jahn
Bedford, Indiana

Hey, if you like the results, do it that way. I did for years and years until I tried browning the meat and adding the juice. The fat rises to the top of that too, so you can remove it if you want. I find that the meat is more tender, less stringy, and more tasty. So I’ve pretty much switched unless I have a huge amount of meat to can. Be sure that if you put your meat up raw that you preheat the meat in open jars. This is called exhausting the meat but is really warming it up before you seal the jars. Without this, you can get in trouble by not having the center of big chunks of meat hot enough during processing, which in effect, cuts down the actual time your meat is processing.

Yes, morels are easy to can and taste great. First you soak the fresh picked mushrooms in cold, salted water to drive out any bugs. Then drain them and pat them dry with towels. Trim off any tough stems. Leave the small ones whole and slice the large ones to suit you. Simmer mushrooms in water for 5 minutes. Fill to within ½ inch of the top of the jar, using only pints and half-pints. Add salt to taste, if you wish. Fill with boiling mushroom broth to within ½ inch of the top of the jar. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 45 minutes unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude, if necessary; check your canning manual for directions.

" Jackie

Stacking canned goods

In the May/June 2007 issue (Issue #105) you did an article on canning meat. I too have been canning about as long as you. However, I noticed in the pictures that you stack some of your canned goods. Is this really okay? It sure would save space but I read in a canning book years ago that by stacking the jars it could interfere with the seal. Like for some reason the seal comes undone but because of being stacked it might not show the seal is bad. Any truth to this? Also, I do a lot of cooking with cast iron. I have a cast iron griddle that fits over two burners. Sometimes I only need to use half the griddle. Will it crack if I only turn on one burner and cook on half the griddle? Would like to see you do an article on cast iron cooking"indoors and out.

Penny U’Ren
Fennimore, Wisconsin

I’ve never had a problem with a failed seal due to stacking my jars. I only stack smaller jars on top of larger ones, and never heavy ones on the top. To be absolutely safe, slip a sheet of thin plywood or masonite on top of the bottom layer; this puts pressure only on the rims of the jars, not the center. Any jars that I’ve had with a failed seal showed they were failed; the lid was loose, the food was nasty and smelled bad, regardless of where they were stored.

Yes, I’m planning a cast iron cooking article in the near future; keep watching future issues! No. You won’t crack your griddle if you only use one end. Your griddle can be cracked by dropping it on the floor, or maybe on your husband’s head, but not using only one end.

" Jackie

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