Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 64

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 64
Jackie Clay

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

When I was raising my own children and working, I often made tamales and tortillas. I would buy all I needed.

Now I’m disabled and raising some boys again. I can’t remember how to make the maza. I only did it a few times. Buying was easier.
We now grind our own grain again and try to make all. Please send us some recipes to help. We don’t have electricity and even haul our water. Life goes on.
The boys I now have had drug problems plus. I took them without any support which is hard. I was working. The great thing is they can’t buy drugs when we live so very far from everything. They are turning out much better.

Sherry Rhodes,
Ione, WA

We use quite a bit of masa harina de maize (Spanish for corn flour) here at home, both because it is tasty in homemade tortillas and tamales and because it is an economical alternative to wheat or rye flour.

Like most recipes, there are a few variations of corn flour. The one we most often use is dry corn (cow corn, so to speak) boiled in lime water, rinsed, and rubbed with your fingers until all the “skins” are floated away. I use one cup of agricultural lime to one gallon of pure water. Rinse well while rubbing.

I then pat the “hominy,” for this is what it would be if you continued boiling it until puffy, dry on an old towel on a cookie sheet, then place in a single layer on a screen to completely dry.

After dried, the naked corn is finely ground with a grain mill or with a mano and metate (grinding stones) in the traditional way. During this grinding, many traditional folks add dried chilies because this makes the most flavorful tamale dough. I do not usually mix chilies with the masa for corn tortillas.

To make tortillas, use 2 cups of masa, mixed with 1 cup of warm water. Mix well. It will seem a little dry, but you can form a ball. Let stand 15 minutes. Divide into 12 balls, rolling with slightly dampened hands. Using wax paper or plastic wrap, press with tortilla press (I got mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds, Box 300, New Gloucester, ME 04260; current price is $17.98.), or you can use a plate and pie pan as a press. If you make a lot of tortillas, the aluminum press is invaluable…I’ve used mine for years and it is wonderful.

For tamale dough, I do use chilies in the dry masa, then mix 3 cups of masa with 2 cups of warm water, 1 cup of softened lard or shortening, 1 tsp. salt. Beat until fluffy and spread on pre-soaked cornhusks. Then fill with your favorite tamale filling, roll cornhusk jelly-roll fashion and tie the ends securely with pieces of soaked cornhusk. Steam for 45 minutes.

Masa harina de maize is also sometimes made with whole, very finely ground corn (not as good, in my opinion…seems gritty) or even grated fresh corn off the cob (is great, but hard to work with). Quaker makes a ready-ground masa harina if you don’t have time to grind.

Don’t feel “poor” because you don’t have power and haul water. We have power only when we run the generator…usually for my work on the word processor or to wash clothes once a week, and are hauling water from 26 miles away…out of choice. One day, we’ll put down a well, but it isn’t a real high priority as we have plenty of other places to put our money right now on our new “naked” homestead. (No fences, no livestock barn, no garden, only the land and a home…which we are truly grateful for.)

I am looking how to do food preservation. Especially how the early pioneers did it. Can you suggest a place to look.


I’ve tried about every method of food preservation from those of Native Americans to the most modern. And the two that are truly dependable, producing the best tasting and safest storage foods, are plain old home canning and home dehydrating. Other more exotic methods, such as salting or packing in lard result in really yucky tasting food that sometimes goes bad, especially the lard-packed meats.

Any good book on food dehydration (which was used by Native Americans, who taught the pioneers) or home canning will get you started. I use both of these methods on a daily basis, making countless “normal” and tasty meals for my family, and feel that we glow in the dark a little less because of it.

We found Jackie Clay’s article “Jackie’s Tips” (March/April 2000) very helpful and have changed some of our gardening plans for the coming season.
Jackie mentions “pole” and dwarf fruit trees being grown in patio containers, but provides no further information. While we have been able to locate a few (3) varieties of “pole apples” that are intended for containers, we have not had much luck with other fruits.
We have scanned the internet and looked at the local library and garden shops for additional information and have not been able to locate very much. Do you or the author have suggestions of where we can find additional information.
We are very interested in trying and experimenting with the concept, though the cost is a bit prohibitive without first obtaining some helpful info & hints.
What varieties work best? Or will any dwarf tree work? What fruits and varieties will give the best crop when grown in a patio container? Are there some special considerations we need to apply in our selection of trees? Are there special care and pruning needs?
We have purchased 160 acres with the nearest “community” being some 47 miles away. We are anxiously working towards making our dream of moving onto the land and becoming self-sufficient a reality, but the move is still several years off.
We are currently apartment dwellers and “city-dependent,” though we have taken to gardening the area behind the business we live above. We have tried and are adding hanging baskets of strawberries, patio “top-hat” blue berries, and planter boxes of herbs & other edibles. We are experimenting with different strawberries to find which work best in containers with the climate of Utah’s Wasatch Front’s benches. We are greatly enjoying the experience of and the feeling of being more self-sufficient than we were 4 years ago! And your Backwoods Home Magazine has helped tremendously in creating that feeling!
Any help that can be provided on the varieties, places to find, care and pruning, and production quality/
quantity of “small fruits” and fruit trees for patio containers would be greatly appreciated!

C&E Reynolds

So far, only apples and crabapples have been created in “pole” form. Stark Brothers has several of these, as well as a container “really dwarf” peach. We have had one of these in Northern Minnesota (in an unheated greenhouse), and it bore ½ bushel of terrific peaches.

We have had luck with container figs as well. You can probably also raise any of the dwarf (not semi-dwarf) fruits, pruning to maintain a short profile, in a large container. You can move ’em with an appliance dolly.

You can also raise grapes in a container; should you move, simply whack ’em off severely and go. The vines will regrow in their new home.

Don’t stop with fruits for containers. We’ve tried indeterminate tomatoes in large pots that reached 12 feet high on strings tied to the eaves, cukes on string nets, string beans planted in boxes and strung up all over the place (decorative as well as productive), Alderman peas the same way climbing six feet tall. As you experiment, you’ll gasp at just how much food you can produce as city-dwellers. (You might shop around for a vacant lot nearby to “rent” for a share of the food you produce. A friend did this and latched onto half an acre at no financial cost and made great friends with an elderly lady, to boot.)

I greatly enjoyed Jackie Clay’s article on “Hard Core Homesteading.” But I am wondering how, and where, llamas can fit into the picture. I have heard that llamas are better to raise than cows because they take less space and are also “browsers” like goats and deer. Can llamas be used for milk, like cows? Perhaps Jackie could do some research on the subject and let us know. I would be interested to see an article on the subject.

Cara Ebner,
Tucson, AZ

I truly love llamas, and am a former llama owner. They are neat, friendly, intelligent animals with wonderful wool. They make great sheep guardians and low-impact pack animals. But they are really not much of a dairy animal. First of all, their teats are only about an inch and a half long, making them a “treat” to milk. I’ve done it for newborn crias (baby llamas), and wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, why don’t you consider dairy goats. They take much less space and feed than a llama and are low impact animals.

As a hardcore homesteader, an animal must “pay for itself” or be classified as a pet. If you can afford a pet, great. I’ve got some, myself. (We even had a crippled turkey vulture for three years who insisted on the best brand of dog food.) Llamas make great pets, plus you can use the wool if you hand spin and they will carry your burdens on pack trips. But they just don’t make the grade, with me, as a dairy animal.

Love your helpful insights! How about this question. I’ve got a thousand gallon water tank, and was planning on catching my rain run-off from our trailer, then irrigating my garden with it. I’ve done this at other places with great success. Then I started to think"could I use this water to wash clothes with? How about dishes or for use in the shower? Our place has an old well that only yields ½ gal per minute. We have to have water hauled to our place at $40 a month. Got any suggestions?
Garnett Rope

Yep, Garnett, I’ve got a few ideas. And your situation is similar to ours, right now, as we haul water in a 200 gallon poly tank from Cascade, which is 26 miles from our new Montana homestead. (You might consider buying such a tank if you have a trailer or pickup, as we carry it with us a lot, and whenever we must go to town, we haul back water as an “afterthought” to avoid trips only to get water.)

We, too, will be catching our roof water in barrels to irrigate part of our garden with. We also use our bath water to water our berry bushes, fruit trees, and flower beds to save every bit we can. (You shouldn’t use bath water on vegetables.)

Sure you can wash clothes in rain water; it’s what most of our grandparents used. Makes ’em really soft, too. As an extra safety precaution, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to wash baby clothes in it, unless it was boiled first.

The shower would be okay too, provided the water was reasonably pure; you might consider a basic in-line filter. And as with the clothes, you might not want your small baby to shower in roof run-off. (But as you know, from toddler on up, those kiddies are exposed to more E. coli at your local fast-food playland than they might get from an occasional bird doo-doo on the roof.)

Dishes? I think I’d draw the line there. I’m frugal, but those few gallons of dish water might better come from the well or town, as there are a few organisms that might harm you should you ingest them, but which most likely would be no problem at all with the other uses.

Do be sure your trailer roof is not coated with asbestos roof coating, as some older, repaired trailer roofs are, as you can pick up asbestos particles from run-off water. If it is, you might consider placing another frame roof over it with, say, a metal roof. This could add extra insulation between roofs and give safe catch water for you to use.

I’d consider revamping your well. Many low-producing wells are really not that bad; the pipe may be leaking in the casing, the leathers on the foot valve may be worn out, the well may only need to be deepened a few feet, or the screen on the point may be plugged with debris or minerals. Give serious consideration to this, as a good home well would solve a lot of headaches. Talk to a willing local well person with a creative bent. One I knew forced a gallon of vinegar down a low-producing well pipe with air pressure, then began pumping. In an hour the vinegar ate out the mineral deposit on the screen of the point and the well went from a gallon a minute to ten!

Good luck; water is indeed precious!

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