Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 68

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 68
Jackie Clay

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

I wish to leave supplies in an out-of-town cabin. How long will they be useable in moderate temperature? Unopened bouillon cubes? Baking powder/soda? Rennet tablets for making cheese? Powdered milk? Corn meal and flour? A lot has been printed about canned goods, frozen foods, MRE’s etc. but I cannot find any timetables about the above meal building blocks. Also, old meat smoking and cheese making calls for “saltpeter” but I cannot find it at the stores. Is it still in use.

All of the above, plus most of your other dry staples, such as beans, lentils, sugar, etc. will stay good nearly indefinitely unless bothered by dampness, insects, or rodents. This also includes canned shortening. If sugar gets hard, try heating it in the oven or placing a piece of dampened washcloth with a “chunk” in a closed jar for awhile. This usually makes it easier to use again.

Saltpeter is the common name for potassium nitrate. It can be found at most drug stores or you can obtain it by visiting your local meat processing place. Not the high-tech factories, but the ones who advertise “game meat processed.” You can also check out the free Sausage Making, Smoking and Meat Curing Supply and Equipment catalog from The Sausage Maker, Inc., 1500 Clinton Street, Bldg. 123, Buffalo, New York 14206 or call 888-490-8525.

I read your article on canning. I have never canned but I want to. My chili has meat products in it. How do I can that? And congrats on your new place; looks like a lot of hard work and great fun. Wish I was there!


First, pick up a recent canning manual or book from your county agent, library, or book seller. Basically, you’ll make a big batch of your favorite chili, then ladle it hot into clean quart jars, allowing an inch of head space, seal and process for 90 minutes in a pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure (adjusting the pressure upward to suit higher altitudes above 1,000 ft.). Follow the directions for a “meat product” and you’ll do great. One warning, though, once you start canning it’s addicting. You’ll love it.

I am canning beets and I want to know whether it’s ok for me to pick and cook the beets one day, then refrigerate them overnight and peel, cut up, and can the beets the next day. I still added the boiling water to cover the beets and pressure canned according to the guidelines, but the directions say to “hot pack” the beets and to go only 2 hours between garden and canner. Does it matter? Hope not, because that is too much work all for one day and besides, those things are too hot to peel right away!!

Kristin Holmes

Yes, you can hold the beets overnight in the fridge. But I would recommend heating them up with a bit of water, covered, until thoroughly heated, then pack into hot jars and fill with boiling water, etc.

Another suggestion is to simply do a small batch of beets every day until done. I’ve had to scale down this way, with my canning, so it’s not such a marathon as it often was when I had eight kids at home. When you “plunge beets into cold water,” hold them there until they cool down to merely hot but not scalding-your-fingers. They’ll still be hot enough to process and your hands will thank you.

I am raising my first flock of chickens (White Rocks). When I went to my feed store I tried to find a commercial feed that wasn’t medicated (antibiotics, etc.). I can’t find any place in my area that sells unmedicated feed. What are my other options for non-commercial/ unmedicated commercial feed?

Ryan Olsen
McCammon, ID

You can use unmedicated duckling starter for starting chicks. This is usually available, although you may have to preorder before your chicks arrive. For older chicks and adults, why not just feed scratch feed. This is unmedicated, and is what we use. Antibiotics have their place, but I really believe that good husbandry practices far outshines stuffing antibiotics into poultry and animals, as a substitute.

I just recently took an interest in making jellies, jams and chutneys. I primarily do this around the holiday season for gifts, however after reading your article on canning, I am concerned that I am not doing this right. I was told by my Mother that all I would need to do is to sterilize the jars and then put my hot mixture into the jars and let them seal, so this is what I have been doing, and they have been sealing. She never indicated to me that I should then put the filled jars back in for more processing time.

Can you tell me how long the jams etc. will be good for by the process I have been doing? I have made many jars already and hope that I can still use these for the holidays at least. My Mom swears that they will keep for years with this process, also. I would appreciate it if you could please shed some light on this.

Bottom line: always listen to your mother. Seriously, she is right. However, as some people in the past have put up big batches of jams, jellies, preserves, etc., and the batch has cooled down some while the entire batch was put into jars, the result was that some jars did not seal properly. Some jars molded and fermented so canning companies and the home economists now often recommend processing smaller batches and processing many recipes with a water bath canner for a short time to ensure the jars seal well and that the food remains hot enough to kill any molds and bacteria that could damage the food in storage.

Follow your recipe and if you are happy with it, keep up the good work. Some of my recipes require only filling hot, sterilized jars with a high-acid food (jam, pickle, jelly, etc.) and sealing with a hot lid and ring. Others advise a hot water bath processing time (often only five or ten minutes) to ensure sealing. I follow the recipe. It’s usually when you improvise by doubling a recipe or otherwise altering it that you find yourself in trouble.

I have unprocessed jars of relish, jelly, etc. that are 10 or more years old, and still of excellent quality.

I have a question on the canning process. My sister-in-law and I are questioning when it’s necessary to “can” (i.e.: hot water bath or pressure can) all foods? We have seen some books say that jars can be placed upside down for a time or just skip the hot water bath process altogether, the jars will still seal. If the food is already cooked, is the hot water bath or pressure canning necessary?

Carol Maciej Weber

While there are a few high-acid foods that will be okay and seal when the foods (jams, pickles, jellies, etc.) are put hot into hot sterilized jars in small batches (see answer to previous letter), most foods require some type of processing to be safe. Just because the food has been cooked, it is not heated hot enough to have killed bacteria and molds which can make food spoil.

Generally speaking, for your foods to be safe and to seal dependably, follow the directions of a good, fairly recent canning book and don’t wing it too much. All low acid foods, such as meats, vegetables, and mixes thereof, must be pressure canned to be safe to store and then later eat.

I’m a 50 plus city gal wanting to move to acres on the land and live simply, naturally, electricity-free, including solar panels-free. My challenge"the money to get there & where to go. Also, I want to contact people like myself, who are in process or are already there. I would love to know your story, how you live.

Polly Tango
Metairie, LA

I’ll tell you a bit about us and how we live, to let you know what is possible, if you want it bad enough. First off, when you decide to live a self-reliant lifestyle on the land, you must have a long hard talk with yourself about your own needs, expectations, and abilities. It’s easy to fall into dreaming about wants that are far above our needs and abilities, especially financial abilities. For us, finances are the hardest, as we can find many, many gorgeous remote pieces of the wilderness we long for, at prices we cannot be tempted into, no matter how we can justify paying more than we can afford in the long run.

The only way most folks can afford to get that backwoods home of their dreams is to creep into it, a few dollars at a time. The best way by far is to get out of debt, any way you can. An excellent article by Darlene Campbell was in the last issue of BHM (January/February 2001). We can all cut back on our expenses, get out of debt, if we want to bad enough. Yeah, I know, poor people can’t save money; poor people can’t have dreams. Oh yes we can.

We’ve been hungry in our lives, and there were times we’ve had creditors hounding us day and night. But we always had “The Dream.” Read everything you can on getting out of debt and try some of the hints yourself. The more you work at it, the better you’ll become. And the easier it will be on you, as you see yourself getting closer to the dream.

As for how we live, we are very comfortable without electricity. We have a buried water tank above our house, where right now we haul water from town, 200 gallons at a time, and dump it in. We plan on drilling a well in the near future, having a submersible pump with a water line running to the buried tank. With this setup, water is gravity fed to our home plumbing, including toilet and hot water tank, giving us acceptable water pressure for free. It is nice to have a flush toilet and easy hot water for baths and dish washing. Our hot water tank, as well as two household lights, are propane, as is our refrigerator. The fridge is a bit small, but does its job very well at low cost.

Basically, we heat our home with a wood stove in the living room and a wood-burning kitchen range (which really heats the house entirely most days). But we also have much solar gain in the winter due to huge south-facing windows. There is also a backup propane wall furnace, which requires no electricity.

But the key to our home’s easy heating is the fact that it is well insulated. It seems basic, but folks seem to cut costs on insulation when building, then pay for it for the rest of their lives.

As we are eight miles from a road, electricity or phone lines, we have a cell phone for my work and general communication. A bag phone is a bit clumsy, but allows us access.

We have a huge garden, and I can grow much of our family’s food. We also buy bulk staples directly from growers when possible (wheat, rye, rolled oats, etc.). We also have a family cow and a small flock of chickens for our dairy products and eggs. One cow, two dairy goats and a small flock of chickens allow more self-reliance than a herd of cattle, 50 goats and two hundred chickens. A person can more readily feed one cow, two goats and a dozen chickens than larger numbers, even growing most of the feed at home.

We try to keep our bills down by not going to town much. We’ve found out that most trips to WalMart end up in a $50 plus check having been written. Ouch! And we consider ourselves careful spenders. So, staying out of town is our best protection.

We have a gas generator, but that is only run about twice a week so that I can work on my word processor and do the laundry (very old wringer washer). While it is on, our son David gets to watch a video or two. Otherwise, our entertainment consists of reading, doing puzzles, crafts and building small projects by lantern light. We also have learned to work for entertainment. When one learns to get much enjoyment and fulfillment out of work well done, you’d be surprised at how much less need there is for fun. We play around a whole lot while doing something so mundane as weeding the garden.

We’ve found that it’s best to buy a cheaper place that you can pay for or at least pay for in a few years, rather than one you can barely afford, then strain to pay for, for the rest of your life. We paid cash for our mountain home. It’s a small cabin with few amenities. But we live relatively comfortably on a very small income, as we have few or no bills.

We’ve found that keeping those bills very low is the key to comfortable living"not a big, fancy home. But you’ll always need some source of cash to pay for those things you can’t make, grow or trade for: doctor bills, vehicle repairs, parts, etc. Unless you’re very experienced and used to living off the land in a primitive lifestyle, you’ll always need some source of cash.

Being able to pay cash for your place is the best way to keep your ability to turn part-time work, crafts, small animal raising, etc. into needed cash to support your lifestyle. You must keep your income high enough to provide for both lifestyle and emergencies or your dream can become a nightmare. I’m not being a doomsayer, here, just speaking from experience.

How can a poor person afford to get on the land with a limited savings? Lower your sights. Buy less land, but be picky about what you need. Twenty good acres is better than a hundred poor acres. Buy a fixer-upper, or even a decent mobile home until you can build better. (I’ve seen several livable mobiles sold for less than $1000. Much less in a few cases. True, they weren’t pretty, but with work and imagination they were fixed up very nice.) I’ve lived in homes that were about to be condemned, but were on 40 acres of good land. I fixed homes that were scary: rats in the walls and basements full of floating dead things. We had to paint, hang wall paper, set rat traps, have junk hauled off (including 14 junk vehicles), burn rotted shacks, build fences, and hack gardens out of jungles of weeds. But it was cheap and everyone has to live somewhere. Such places can be bought not only cheaply, but with very good terms in many cases. But you have to look for them.

Start where you can afford. Maybe you’ll love what you create and stay there the rest of your life. Or maybe you’ll gain experience, as well as equity, then move on to something better in a few years. But the point is that you’ll be doing and not just dreaming. Good luck.

I have two questions for you. I have never tried canning before and this year for Christmas I’m thinking of making up baskets with a variety of stuff in them. One of the items will be my home made pesto which I would like to can, but I am worried that the heat used in canning will discolor and ruin the flavor of the delicate sauce. So is there any way to can pesto without this happening, or any other way to can that does not involve heat?

The other question is about the pressure cooker, is that needed or can you just put a rack in a big stock pot and follow the instructions? Like I said I’ve never done this before and apologize if my questions sound rather idiotic.

Stephanie Payne

Pesto is best fresh but I’m sure you could can it, though you’d have to experiment as to retain the flavor and appearance. And to can it you will have to use a pressure canner, i.e., use high heat.

As to your second question, you can use a stock pot or any other large container as a hot water bath canner. My grandmother used to use her copper boiler to can peaches and other fruits in. You do need to keep the jars off the bottom of the container or they will break. A wire rack works great. You have to have a big enough container or pot to allow the water to maintain a rolling boil an inch or more over the jars and a top is necessary to quickly bring the water to a rolling boil, and keep it there for processing.

All low-acid foods, such as vegetables, meat and poultry, and any mixes (soups, stews, etc.) must be pressure canned using a pressure canner, not a pressure cooker, which is not large enough, nor intended for canning.

I live with my husband and our four children on 2.5 acres here in St. Augustine, Florida. I have learned to garden, grow herbs, make wonderful salves and now I am learning to make soap. We had wonderful land around us, but now the owners have sold and we have neighbors. I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong. I am a friendly person, but I wanted to live in the country. Now the land around us is building up. Not only in our backyard but all around.

My husband and I want so much to leave and begin a homesteading life. We want out of the rat race. We both work to make ends just barely meet and we are tired of it.

We raised wonderful Rhode Island Red chickens for our own eggs until recently when someone came and stole all 50 of them including our rooster. Can you even imagine that. Now we have to wait until the spring to get more biddies.

Anyway, my husband is 52 and I am 47. We want to move but are so afraid. How do we make a living? Where do we even begin. We are not professional people. My husband builds, he is a fantastic carpenter. I simply clean an office building at night so I can homeschool my children in the day. We have thought of selling our property, paying off our debts and taking what is left and finding some mountains to live in.

Can you possibly give us a clue as to where to start. How do we find where there is land to buy. We have no idea as to where to begin. Fed up with city life!


You are far from alone. There are thousands of folks in the same boat as you.

While it’s only sane to wonder where the money’ll come from when you move from the city, don’t get stalled forever worrying about it. You might not want to move to the wilderness, but there are a lot of small-town rural areas where a nice place can still be bought cheaply. A good carpenter always has a job, no matter where he goes. As he fixes up his new home, folks seem to always come up and ask if he could build a deck, fix a bedroom, roof a shed or whatever. You might have to make mention to your new neighbors that he is a great carpenter and is interested in finding odd jobs locally. But once he’s done some work for locals, you’ll find he is as busy as he wants to be.

As for yourself, there are lots of jobs in rural areas for Moms who want to raise their kids at home. One decent job is cleaning homes of elderly and shut-in neighbors. Not only is it a good way to get to know your new neighbors, but you instantly become a friend. Included in this job can also be mowing lawns, taking care of gardens, shopping, taking folks to the doctor, etc. You’ll find you also do a lot of freebies, but you will always feel good about what you do.

Market gardening is a good way to make extra spending money for your new homestead. I’ve done it and it’s always kept us going through tough times. A small farm stand or selling produce at a Farmers’ Market gives you an instant market for any crafts or homecrafted goodies you produce.

If you are creative, you can always find ways to make steady money. But you do have to work at it constantly. Money will not fall into your lap.

As for finding a place; sit down and write down a list of four states you’d consider moving to. Perhaps you have relatives in one, have lived in another and liked it. Perhaps you’ve read about folks living there and it sounded interesting. Get a map out and write to Chambers of Commerce in small towns in the least populated areas of that state. Then write or call realtors in those areas.

A few suggestions are states that are not popular: Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, Alaska. If a state has terrific weather, wonderful growing seasons and soil, great job opportunities, it will not have cheap rural land.

Write down a list of your requirements; drinking water, the minimum number of acres, the most you can pay, terms you must have, etc. Will you accept bare land or must you have a home? (Be very accepting of extreme but solid fixer-uppers to keep your cost way down. It’s always best to pay cash or at least a good down payment on any homestead.)

When you finally find a likely place, check it out in person, paying extra attention to your new neighbors, if any. That junkyard front yard down the road probably won’t change; those rude children living next door will probably only get more obnoxious when they know you better.

Don’t buy land near a building-up-quick subdivision. Those have a way of spreading to include the land in front of your home.

Any new move is scary. A major move is even more so, but don’t let that keep you in the rat race. Folks get out every day. You can do it. But the decision is often the hardest part. Take the leap of faith and live the life you really want.

How can I find a co-op in my area? How can I find where to get bulk grain at a reasonable price? Also where can I get recipes for cooking grain?

Freida Huse
Aurora, MO

You can usually find a co-op in your area by looking in the yellow pages under grocery or health food stores. If this doesn’t work, go to a couple of health food stores and simply ask around. If there isn’t a co-op, you might consider joining with a few friends to start your own small-scale co-op.

As for buying bulk grain at a reasonable price, you might ask around at feed mills for farmers in the area who would sell small amounts of grain, such as wheat or rye. In this way you not only get local, fresh grain, but support farmers who are your neighbors. I often buy rolled oats and molasses by the gallon at a local feed mill. This is much cheaper than buying from other places.

There are many books on cooking with grains and other bulk foods, and as you buy your first hand grain mill, you’ll find the incentive to produce and use your own flours. Two good books are Cooking with Home Storage by Peggy Layton and Making the Best of Basics by James Stevens.

I have a big yard for southern California, ¾ acre, and the property has lots of stuff I did not plant, but now that I have settled in and have a semblance of control, I love it here. I have two lemon trees and want to preserve the lemons for when they are not producing. I can squeeze the juice and preserve it by freezing, but how can I make lemon zest from the skins? So many recipes call for lemon zest and it kills me to buy it when I do not have fresh lemon to grate. Do I need to preserve it in any way? I can grate and freeze spoonfuls, but I would prefer to dry it so my freezer is not full of little baggies. My kids think I am weird enough, without bags of lemon rind falling out on the floor. Also, is there a way to preserve grapefruit juice? I have a lot of grapefruit on the tree and can only eat and drink so much. I have found that they can stay on the tree for a long time, but when the flowers are blooming no one will go near the tree because of the bees. Could the juice be frozen? Thanks!

Jane Soloway

My favorite way of preserving lemon is to dehydrate whole lemons, seeds removed, and the lemon cut into slices. Use any home dehydrator or even cookie sheets in an oven with only the pilot light. I have even used cookie sheets in my good old wood kitchen range with only a mild fire and the oven door left open.

After the slices seem to be drying well, turn them over once. Then put them through a blender, a few at a time, or grate them finely. Return this lemon “flour” to the dehydrator or a cookie sheet and continue drying, “fluffing,” and separating the flour even more as it dries. Then store in glass jars with a screw-down lid. Use this as lemon zest in most recipes. I add a teaspoonful to stir-fries and many other recipes.

For recipes that are uncooked and require lemon zest, freeze fresh lemon zest first in ice cube trays, then dump zest cubes into a zip-lock baggie and keep frozen until needed. This lessens the baggie mess in the freezer and gives single serving (okay, a few more than single serving, maybe) cubes and allows the rest to remain frozen for freshness. I think if you will combine the dehydration with the freezing methods, you’ll be able to preserve enough lemon zest for all your needs.

As for the grapefruit juice, you can easily can it. Squeeze the juice, then pour into sterilized canning jars to within ½ inch of the top. To prevent discoloration during storage, you can add ½ tsp crystalline ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for each quart of juice. Put on caps that have been boiled and screw ring down firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. This will also work for lemon juice should you want to can some for off season use. I would can lemon juice in half pints for more economical usage.

Can you please tell me how to make pomegranate jelly?

Jacki Clayton

I have never made pomegranate jelly, but I wouldn’t be afraid to give it a try. If you want to give it a shot, I’d suggest using 5 pints of pomegranate seeds, raw. Add to ½ cup water and bring to simmer. Mash seeds gently and simmer for 10 minutes. Line bowl with 3 layers of damp cheesecloth and pour mashed pomegranate seeds and juice. Gather the cheesecloth, making a bag and hang over bowl by stout string over night. In the morning, gently squeeze the bag to get more juice. In large saucepan, add 4 cups juice and 1 envelope of SureJell. Measure 6 cups of sugar into another bowl and set aside till later. Have ready several ½ pint jars, as well as lids and rings, that have been sterilized by boiling in water. Bring the juice and pectin to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar after juice comes to a rolling boil that can not be stirred down. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Ladle quickly into hot waiting jars to within 1/8 inch of top. Wipe jar rims with damp cloth and place lids on jars. Quickly tighten rings firmly tight. Invert jars for five minutes, then turn upright and place in water bath canner for 10 minutes of processing time (time starts when water bath canner reaches rolling boil). Be sure to have very hot water in water bath canner before the jelly is ladled into jars. Remove from canner and allow jars to stand at room temperature until cooled. Check seals, then wash jars before storing.

I can’t guarantee this recipe, but I sure wouldn’t be afraid to try it. The worst thing that would happen would be that it wouldn’t jell, and you’d end up with pomegranate syrup, which sounds great over homemade vanilla ice cream. And the best that could happen is that it would turn out great the first time and you have a new family heirloom recipe.

However, I do guarantee that the food product would keep and be very edible. I’ve had to invent recipes for many jams and jellies made from wild fruits, especially since there are few “real” recipes available for them. It’s really a lot of fun to experiment a bit with jams and jellies.

I have an inquiring mind, and it wants to know “How the hell do you use a kerosene or oil lamp without it smoking up the whole house?” What shape (if any) does the wick need to be trimmed in and how much wick sticking up out of the lamp is too much?

Jewellann Friend ,
Palmer, TX

We use four kerosene lamps every day, and I sure wouldn’t put up with smoking lamps. Pewwie! The first in line is to make sure the lamps are not smoking when they are lit. This usually results in a smoky house and lamp chimneys that blacken up in a day or two. To make sure they are not smoking, light the wick at a rather low level"only a little of the wick sticking up out of the burner. As it lights, slowly turn the wick up until it gives a good light, but doesn’t smoke. This is fine tuning, so go slowly.

If the lamp smokes no matter what you do, you’ve either got poor kerosene or lamp oil. (Lamp oil is expensive, but not really better than kerosene, in our opinion.) Or you’ve got bad wicks. We buy our wicks from a local hardware store catering to Hutterites and folks living off grid. They are good wicks, as opposed to cheap WalMart wicks. We tried the cheap wicks and guess what? Smoking lamps big time. Lehman’s Catalog, advertised here in BHM, is an excellent source for off grid folks. Their merchandise is reliable.

Be sure the lamp is full when you light it. Some folks have trouble when the wick is not in the kerosene. This results in smoking and poor light, as it’s actually the wick that is burning, not the kerosene. In a pinch, we’ve even folded a paper towel, cut it in thirds, stapling it to keep the shape and used that as a wick. It’s cheap and burns better than a cheap store wick.

When it’s time for lights out, blow the lamp out. It smokes less than turning the wick down to extinguish the flame.

Another hint is to buy an Aladdin or Petromax lamp. The Aladdin smokes less and provides more light per quart of kerosene than does a regular wick lamp. The Petromax is a Coleman-type, multi-fuel burning lamp which uses mantles like a regular Coleman. It also burns much brighter than a regular kerosene lamp when using kerosene as a fuel. Unfortunately, both are a little pricey.

As for the shape of the wick, I usually cut mine straight across, then cut the “ears” off either side, making the wick shaped like a hump. Straight across works too. I’ve tried other cuts, but found they were more work for less light produced. If the wick burns well, then seems to lose its brightness, it’s time to trim it, removing the charcoal that has formed on the wick edge. This generally must only be done every few weeks to keep a bright flame.

Read More Ask Jackie

Read Articles by Jackie Clay

Read Ask Jackie Online

Comments regarding this article may be addressed to Comments may appear online in “Feedback” or in the “Letters” section of Backwoods Home Magazine. Although every email is read, busy schedules generally do not permit a personal response to each one.

Comments are closed.