Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 66

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 66
Jackie Clay

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

I really enjoy your column. Being a city boy, I’m really worried about picking up some nasty internal parasites from meat"mostly wild game, but also anything purchased from small homesteaders. How can I check out a roast or a side before using it? I would prefer not to “cook well-done into shoe leather.”

Peter Sedler

There really aren’t any guarantees with any meat"or any other food, for that matter"as to what bacteria or parasites lie lurking for the unwary to consume.

But I can tell you that I’ve hunted and fished for all my life, and have never picked up anything from this wild meat, nor have I known anyone who has. I have become sick with food poisoning twice from eating at a popular fast food joint. That tell you anything?

With wild meat use common sense caution; don’t kill any animal that looks or acts sick (rough hair coat, thin, etc.). Immediately after killing the animal, remove the internal organs and cool the meat. Most internal parasites contain themselves in the stomach and other “guts” which, if removed soon after killing the animal, are removed, as well. Use plastic gloves if you are really concerned.

Wild rabbits, feral pigs, and bears sometimes carry trichinosis which can be passed on to man. For this reason, one must be especially careful when hunting/butchering/cooking their meat. But, again, with common sense and cooking the meat thoroughly, not shoe-leather well-done but thoroughly cooked, you will not be in danger.

As for small homestead-raised meat, just look about you when you get your next meal fixings. Are the place and the people living there clean? Are the animals well cared for, bright, and healthy? If so, your meat is probably much safer than that bought at supermarkets. I’ve heard a lot of first-hand horror stories about the way meat is handled in large-scale slaughter houses and packing plants, stuff you don’t want to hear but enough that I can’t enjoy meat I didn’t butcher myself.

Again, for safety, cook all meat until done. Cool, pink, blood-dripping meat can also contain bacteria or parasites unfriendly to your body. Buying it from the store is not safer than using wild or homestead meat.

What should I plant to feed my city family. What’s costly here in town are artichokes, celery, salad, so I’d need to plant those. I only buy carrots when they’re 33¢ a lb., so I don’t grow them. Mind you a fifty-by-fifty yard isn’t that big. Can I space the broccoli closer? Like every inch apart or something.

Anita Sands Hernandez

You can grow a lot on 50 feet by 50 feet. First of all, I’d suggest going to your library or bookstore and picking up a couple of Elliot Coleman’s books. These will encourage you as to the value of “square foot gardening” (gardening in very intensive terms). No, you can’t plant broccoli every inch apart; the plants are large, needing a foot of space to produce. But you’ll be surprised at how many plants you can fit into a space 4 feet by 4 feet, eliminating rows and plant-ing every foot apart, all ways. Sixteen broccoli plants and their productive side shoots will keep you in broccoli all season, leaving lots to dry or freeze for winter.

You’ll learn, with each successive garden, little tricks of how to get more food out of the same space. For instance, trellis everything you can up, getting more plants squeezed into a small area. You can grow pole beans instead of bush beans, trellis such crops as muskmelon and cucumbers up on string nets instead of wasting space letting the vines crawl on the ground. You can intensively replant spaces as they come vacant, due to a crop becoming “finished”. (You can plant short season green beans after your peas are finished and still get enough to can!)

Never let a space go vacant. Plant a few radishes, turnips or greens if a plant is done, dies or seeds fail to germinate in part of a row. Plant long season plants, such as beefsteak tomatoes where you can place a temporary greenhouse over them to protect against fall frosts….this will keep them going for as much as two month longer.

Consider planting edible landscaping. Instead of a hedge of bayberry (non-edible), how about a hedge of raspberries? Instead of maple trees and elm, how about several semi-dwarf fruit trees? Four semi-dwarf fruit trees will provide a family with all the fresh fruit they want, plus plenty to put up for winter. Instead of a flowering crab tree in a corner of the lawn, how about a decorative grape arbor? Three grape vines can produce a lot of grapes, plus the arbor is a lovely shady retreat in the hot summer months.

Plant in containers where there is no “garden space.” Right now, on my front porch, I’ve got five three foot flower boxes filled with asparagus beans, Native American pole beans, cucumbers, and flowers too. The hummingbirds love the flowers and we like the shade and fresh meals. (I’ve run strings and light netting from the boxes up to the roof for the plants to climb on.)

Learn to go wild-food foraging. As a child in Detroit (believe it or not), the family would go on weekend outings, and bring back harvests of black walnuts, butternuts, asparagus, and wild berries. You don’t have to have a huge garden to get by if you garden creatively. Besides these outings are fun. Pack a picnic and a fishing rod.

Learn to can. I know a lot of folks are afraid to try, but when you master it"and canning is easy to do"you can pick up lots of deals if you keep your eyes open and let it be known that you’d like produce to can. I once picked up a pickup load of perfectly good potatoes, headed for the dump, from a large potato grower, cleaning out last year’s bin, readying for the new crop.

You can’t always use a pickup load of potatoes before they go bad, or a bushel of whatever, so canning saves the day. And once you’ve got it canned, it is cooked and will keep nearly forever. And power outages cause no problems with canned goods as they do with a freezer full of food.

I hope I’ve given you food for thought (pun intended). One can always be more self-reliant no matter where you live. And you’ll soon discover that all your homegrown food tasted so much better than store food that your family will scarcely believe it.

Why did you move from Montana to New Mexico? Did the move benefit your husband’s health because he is a diabetic? I too am a diabetic and would like to know the benefits of homegrown and home canned foods.

Rebecca D. Brinkman

We moved to New Mexico to help out my parents, who are in their 80s. We all thought that the warmer, drier climate would help Mom’s crippling arthritis and Dad’s health. When they moved to Michigan, we sold the ranch and moved back up north. (We’re Montana lovers at heart and the dry climate and lack of wilderness was depressing to us all.)

But we truly believe that homesteading is dramatically beneficial to diabetics. First off, you’ll find that you eat more fruits and vegetables; they are constantly available, and they actually taste good. We have a study done which proves that a diet high in beans"dry beans, especially"significantly lowers blood sugar naturally.

You’ll find, too, that by homesteading, the pleasant daily exercise you get will drop that blood sugar. For instance, my husband’s blood sugar was about 120 when we left Montana, with no meds. In New Mexico, he ran a general store, which we bought. There, he got little exercise and much stress. The blood level increased and so did the oral meds. Even on a high dose of the meds, his blood sugar averaged above 200.

When we got settled in back here in Montana, his blood sugar began dropping with no other change in lifestyle. In fact, the doctor cut his oral medication in half. And today, only six months after moving onto our new homestead, his blood sugar is down to between 74 and 110. The food he eats is about the same, largely homegrown and home canned, but there’s less stress and more steady exercise.

One added benefit of home-canned foods is you can add just what you want. The American diet today consists of a lot of fat, salt, and sugar (under the hidden names of honey, sucrose, dextrose, etc.). Even potato chips often have sugar as an ingredient. And when I can at home, I never add things I can’t pronounce. We feel safer, on all counts, when eating what we raise and can. No chemicals or preservatives to cause toxic cocktails for us. (Bob feels that his diabetes was brought about by regular drenching by Agent Orange during his two years in Vietnam which testing by the military has already proven a diabetes/Agent Orange relationship.) What do the chemicals commercially used today in farm fields have as long-term effects that are either not known or unpublished today?

I love the site, but couldn’t find anything about canning with artificial sweetener. After by-pass surgery in November, I am insulin dependent. I love to can and love pickles. Have you ever heard if it is ok to use sweetener? Thanks so much.


You can use artificial sweetener in many canning recipes. Most canning books, such as the Blue Ball Book (Alltrista Corp., Consumer Affairs, 345 South High Street, Muncie, Indiana 47305-2326), often available at your local Wal-Mart, list sugar-free canning recipes. They are also available in many recent canning books. Check out your local library, including inter-library loan.

As my husband, Bob is a diabetic, we have switched from his “favorite” Bread and Butter pickles to more dills, which have no sugar. I cheat and add artificial sweetener to an opened jar of mild dills then put them in the fridge. After a couple of days they are quite sweet, taking the edge off his sweet tooth.

Here is a recipe for using artificial sweetener. (Don’t add Nutrasweet, as when it boils it loses “sweet”.)

Sweet cuke slices

10 pounds medium cukes
1 cup salt
2¼ qts. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. Sucaryl solution
½ cup mixed pickle spices

Wash and slice cukes ¼-inch thick. Mix cukes with salt and enough ice water to barely cover. Let sit overnight, covered. In morning, drain and rinse with cold water. Combine vinegar, liquid Sucaryl and spices. Boil 1 minute. Add cukes and bring to full boil. Immediately pack cukes into clean, hot, sterile jars to within 1 inch of top. Fill jars with hot, spiced vinegar to within ½ inch of top. Wipe rim and seal. Makes about 12 pints.

I have been a suburban dweller for all of my short life and finally have moved to the country. One of my main challenges is trying to figure out how to move huge grape vines. A large underbrush is killing them slowly and to get rid of the brush we are having the area flattened so I can begin gardening. The problem is that I wish to save these vines in the process. Will this be possible? If so how?


It can be hard to transplant large grapes, especially if they are being stressed by crowding out by brush. If they were mine, I’d choose a few vines that were in good shape and hand clear the brush out from around them. Then apply a heavy mulch of 10 inches of leaves or straw, fertilize, then prune them back rather severely to strengthen the root system. Watch the area well and pull/chop out any of the offending brush that pops up through the mulch.

You’ll have to be quite aggressive at first, but you’ll slowly gain ground. If this seems impossible, you might try to move a vine or two by pruning severely, then making sure you dig deeply around the root system, ball it with burlap, and immediately move to a “clean” spot, previously prepared by double digging. Make sure to plant the root ball as deeply as it was in its previous spot. Water well, then mulch.

You can also start new vines from the huge old ones by selecting a branch, drawing it down to the earth, and burying a length with at least two or three leaf buds beyond the buried portion. This is called layering and works quite well on most grapes. In a short time new roots will sprout into the soil and you may sever the branch from the mother plant and prune the excess branch length to a strong but convenient size. Replant immediately.

I’m hoping you can help me, since Backwoods Home seems to be one of the few places where I’ve found anything about canning. I’m growing tomatoes, cilantro and jalepeños in my backyard. I’ve planted this stuff for salsa in my garden, and have no recipe to follow!

Eric Kiefer
Pittsburgh, PA

Salsa is like a marriage, no two are alike. I’ll enclose a basic recipe, but you’ll have to taste it while it’s fresh and adjust the cilantro and spices to your liking. The only thing that is “a must” is the processing time. I used to process my salsas in a hot water bath canner, but now use a pressure canner, as it is possible to use too many low-acid veggies, such as onions and peppers, for the hot water bath canner. A pressure canner provides needed safety, just in case.


40 medium tomatoes
5 cups finely chopped onions
4 cups finely chopped celery
2 cups finely chopped jalepeños (may use other peppers, to taste)
½ cup lemon or lime juice
½ cup finely chopped cilantro
5 Tbsp. salt

To peel tomatoes, dip in boiling water a few at a time for 30 seconds, plunge into cold water, then slip the skins off. Chop the veggies fine, add other ingredients in large pot. Bring to boil. You may add sugar to taste, if desired. Pour into hot jars, seal. Process pints 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. (Adjust the pressure, if needed, due to altitude.)

I have a simple way of making noodles with simply eggs and flour…they come out thick like dumplings! My problem is my new pressure cooker canning guide says not to can anything with flour in it. It says flour makes sterilization difficult. Why is this? I have bought chicken noodles soup in the store. Any information or insight would be greatly appreciated.

George Heintz

Every day I hear of things I’ve done for years…and even my Grandma did successfully for years, that “you can’t do.” I know companies are trying to be extra safe and keep people from harming themselves, but that’s a new one for me.

I can egg noodles in chicken broth, with pieces of chicken quite often. They are also good with beef and carrots. I especially like them, as you have “instant” meals that actually taste good.

Make your favorite chicken (or beef) soup recipe, then add dried noodles to hot mixture. Simmer just until limp. Pack into clean, hot quart jars. Wipe rims and seal. Process 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. Adjust pressure, if needed, for altitude.

My grandmother canned stewed tomatoes with macaroni for my grandpa. It was his absolute favorite meal.

I currently live on 3 acres, mostly wooded, in northern R.I. with my wife and children. I have had a dream of getting out of the rat race and building a wilderness homestead. So for the past five years I have been shifting gears toward that dream one step at a time. I started with a garden, then started heating our home with wood I cut on our land. After that I started canning and my latest achievement has been raising our Rhode Island Red laying hens. What do you think about raising a couple of goats on a mostly wooded lot. I have heard stories of oak shoots being poisonous for goats. Is this true. Any info would be great. Thanks for helping our dream stay alive.

Jim V.

Great going, Jim! Sure, I’d have goats…pretty near anywhere. Yes, oak sprouts, in quantity, can be toxic to goats. This usually happens when the goats have little else to eat. You’ll have to use a little caution and common sense. Fence off an acre that is relatively clear. If there is no native pasture, dig up the clear areas and scatter some clover/bromegrass pasture seed, just as if you were planting a lawn. While you wait for it to establish, build your goat barn and feeders. A good book on dairy goats is Raising Goats the Modern Way, by J.D. Belanger (Storey).

Then you are ready to shop for goats. When you have made your choice, bring ’em home and feed them well on hay, inside. Then as you turn them out, monitor them, to make sure they don’t gobble those oak sprouts. They are not going to drop dead from a mouth full or two, but a steady diet is not a good idea. Always make sure they have hay available. Most of the goats I’ve seen who had trouble from overeating oak sprouts and leaves had nothing else available to eat.

Should you run into trouble, usually begun with diarrhea, or should you really worry about the oak toxin, you can still have goats. Just “dry-lot” them. That is, keep them in a pen with no oak and feed them hay and garden scraps. They’ll do fine and repay your family a thousand times over.

I’ve been cruising the net and came across an article by you about canning. You mention chokecherry jelly. I’d sure like to have that recipe. My last batch came out as syrup. (Still good, but too thin). Can you help?

Richard & Georgia Trathen

Sometimes my jelly comes out too thin, too. I get into a hurry and mess up. We still love it, as I use it on pancakes, as syrup"gourmet syrup. So, with jelly, there is no failure. Okay, you say, I want jelly that jells. The most often-made mistakes are making too large a batch at one time (my usual reason for failing to jell) or not following the recipe exactly. This is a must-do for jellies and jams.

Chokecherry jelly

5 cups juice
1 package Slim Set Fruit Pectin
3 cups sugar

Extract the juice by adding ½ cup of water to 4 pounds black, ripe chokecherries. I squash the cherries by hand while heating them slowly on stove. Simmer while stirring constantly (or they’ll scorch). Place a colander in large bowl or pot. Spread a clean piece of sheet or three layers of cheesecloth, dampened, in a colander and carefully pour in the hot cherries and juice. Carefully gather and tie up top to make a “bag” and hang this on strong string and let it drip into a bowl overnight. After the dripping stops, squeeze the bag gently. Measure the juice. You may add ½ c water (no more) to get the exact measure. I use apple juice, instead of the water.

Add the juice and one package of pectin to the juice in an 8-quart saucepan or pot and stir well. Heat on high, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to full boil. Stir in the sugar and mix well. Bring this to a full rolling boil while stirring and boil exactly one minute while still stirring constantly. Then remove it from the heat and skim off foam, if desired. Fill hot, sterilized jars quickly. Wipe off the rims and seal. Process immediately in hot water bath, which covers entire jars, for 5 minutes, longer for altitudes above 1,000 feet. Check your canning book for directions.

Remove and set the jars on dry folded towel until they’re cold. This recipe works reliably for me. The lower-sugar recipe leaves the jelly with a more cherry-taste than with the extra cup of sugar.

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