Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 70

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 70
Jackie Clay

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

I have spent thousands of dollars and wasted 20 years of my life running around looking for wilderness areas. North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota & Mississippi, so far. I need some help to pinpoint an area that would be the best place for homesteading. I found those states too civilized but maybe I was wrong to count them out.

Desperate to live my dream I had when I was 18 and now I’m 39. I have had so much stress moving around and still hearing planes, seeing people, etc.

Carol Anderson

I really sympathize with you a whole lot, Carol. I see myself at 54 where you are at 39. We have lived in very remote areas, but we long for wilderness, and it is so very hard to find in today’s world. Even in Alaska’s interior, you still find people and hear planes in the bush. That’s why we tried to go to the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia. (See BHM’s September/October 2000 issue for the whole gruesome story.) So I consider myself an expert on finding wilderness.

So, for a start, you’ve got to ask yourself how “wilderness” do you want? If you don’t have heavy livestock and can really live self-reliantly, with very few trips to town, you can pick up remote Alaskan interior smaller pieces of fly-in only land for less than $30,000. These are usually on lakes or rivers, part of state sales, i.e. subdivisions. But very few people live on their land because the only way in and out is via float plane.

We found one such property and were very seriously considering it. Our horses were the reason we decided against it, as the only way we could get them in was riding them 30 miles on winter ice and snow from a small town to the homestead. Then there was hay"at $5 or more a bale, and we would need 20 tons to overwinter them. Not to mention hauling it so far via snowmachine. So we faced reality. We could not have horses there. But we are horsemen, having had horses for a lifetime.

We got a quote from an air service in Fairbanks for a fly-in, drop us off, fly back and pick us up in a week to look at the land. The cost was $800. So you see, you wouldn’t be able to get “out” very often unless you have more money than we do. Also a small float plane can seldom carry over 500 pounds of gear, and only a small plane could land on our ½-mile lake. Without the horses, we could have done it; we get along with “light,” and are used to snowmobiling for miles in the winter. But so very few people are happy that isolated. Cabin fever is a standard Alaskan joke.

Remember that wilderness is just that because it has no public access or very poor or seasonal access. Where there are decent roads, there is no wilderness.

Okay, maybe your wilderness is less “wild?” Sometimes even being able to “get out” via ATV or 4×4 truck makes the difference. There are some places in Alaska that are wilderness, but you can still access the highway via a vehicle. The problem here is that many are in more “built up subdivisions, where some people do live year-around.

As most Alaskan land is either state, federal, or tribal, much of the privately owned land is state sales"larger tracts that have been subdivided for sales.

You can sometimes luck out and find someone’s old homestead that is remote and isolated for sale. But such private Alaskan land is not cheap.

There are a few wilderness pieces of land scattered through southwestern Montana. These are patented mining claims, usually in the mountains, and are sometimes surrounded by Forest Service land. Unfortunately the government and rich investors have bought up much of the “nicest” land. But there still are a few out there. With our horses again, we need more than 20 acres, which is the “average” size of these claims.

If you only have one (or no) horses, this would not be a problem. These claims typically are on a small stream, usually in fairly high country. You have to be careful, as some are really polluted from mining and some are all rocky, steep mountainside"totally unavailable for any type of homesteading.

Remember that the mountains in Montana are rough to homestead (it can snow 12 months out of the year), but it can be done. We are doing it.

There is some good wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. This is where we plan on moving when we sell here, on our quest for wilderness. I lived in northeastern Minnesota for 17 years and explored much wilderness, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), during that time.

This wilderness area is an hour or more north of Duluth and runs clear to the Canadian border. A big chunk is Federal land"Superior National Forest and the BWCAW mentioned above. But there is private land, isolated in among state and federally-owned land.

I guarantee this wilderness is as “wild” as much of Alaska. But it is about as cold and snowy, too. Now, I lived in Minnesota, so I really don’t care about the cold and snow. But it’s a whole different ballgame than, say Mississippi and the Carolinas.

Expect minus 35°"sometimes lower temperatures"every winter. And expect snow, lots of it, from October until May. It doesn’t melt and go away in midwinter; it just stacks up until the dreaded (yet longed for) breakup. Then MUD MUD MUD.

In the spring and summer, the mosquitoes are as infamous as in Alaska. (Some call ‘em the state bird.)

But, like I said, I got used to the drawbacks and have grown to appreciate them. After all, it’s what has kept that area wilderness. If it was all perfect, it would be wall-to-wall with people because of the gorgeous scenery, rivers, lakes, and wildlife.

There is also some pretty remote land in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Idaho, and, I’ve heard, northern Maine. Check state maps. If you see roads, you won’t find wilderness. And if there’s a major city within 100 miles, it won’t be there, either. I know of no true wilderness in the states (except Minnesota) in which you’ve lived.

The problem with living in a wilderness area is that one must have some type of income. It will not be wilderness if you can commute to work. Others have the same idea, and there goes the wilderness. Luckily I write for a living. I can do it anywhere. There are few “jobs” as flexible, but there are a few.

You can homestead nearly anywhere, although some areas are challenging. (I’d skip permafrost areas in Alaska.) But the easier it is to homestead, the less wild a place will be. That’s why we’ve always been in challenging areas, I guess.

I hope you find your dream. It’s out there somewhere. But avoid “government land” & “homestead land” scams like the plague.

A few helps may be:

Remote Property, Inc., P.O. Box 10-3195, Anchorage, AK 99510-3195. Web:, $3 per year for a color sales flyer.

Robert Fox Realty, 815 Sixth Ave, Fairbanks, AK 99701. Web:

Vicki Wenz at Cobblestone Realty, P.O. Box 365, Grand Marias, MN 55604. Web:

Rural Property Bulletin, P.O. Box 608, Valentine, NE 69201. Web:, Sample copy $3.

Montana Land Magazine, 1-800-347-0898, Web:, $20 a year, published quarterly.

I am looking for a recipe for refrigerator pickles. They have vinegar, sugar, mustard seed? They aren’t canned. Can you help?

Lori H.

Sure, Lori. There are all kinds of refrigerator pickle recipes. Here are a couple for you to try.

Fresh cucumber delight

3 qts. sliced cucumbers
¼ oz. mustard seed
½ lb. non-iodized salt
½ oz. celery seed
9 pints water
½ oz. black pepper
1 lb. brown sugar
1 qt. vinegar

Slice fresh medium-small cukes into thin slices. Place immediately into a solution of ½ pound of salt and 9 pints of water. Let stand overnight. Next morning, drain, pack into jars, and cover with a cold, sweet liquid made up from the remaining ingredients. Seal tightly and store in the refrigerator. This recipe makes 3 quarts.

Lazy housewife pickles

4 qts. small cucumbers
1 cup dry mustard
1 cup sugar
1 cup salt
1 gal. vinegar

Wash the cucumbers, then pack them in glass jars. Mix the mustard, sugar, and salt together, then add the vinegar slowly, stirring well. Pour this over the pickles and seal the jars. Let the jars stand for at least a week in the refrigerator before using. The brine is not heated. Makes 4 quarts.

We live in a mobile home on leased land and we cannot plant a garden or have a compost pile. I got the book Squarefoot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. One section talks about gardening in boxes made of 1x6s with bottoms and raised off the ground. This sounds great for our situation, but my questions to you are:

Can I grow potatoes in these boxes? Are all purchased bags of compost that you get at the garden store organic? I’m real new at gardening and have been a subscriber for about a year.

Kim Howe, Toms River, NJ

Mel’s book is real encouraging to folks like you with limited garden space. If you make your boxes for potatoes 18 inches deep, they’ll do fine for potatoes.

This will allow you to plant the seed potato on 14 inches of soil, then hill the plant up (cover it gently with soil) twice, as it grows. This will give you many more potatoes than if you simply plant the seed potato and let it grow.

One interesting method is to use a barrel or garbage can with a few drainage holes in the bottom. Fill it to 14 inches with good compost or soil and plant your seed potato. As it grows, add more soil, keeping it covered as it grows.

Pretty soon, the plant will be at the top of the container and will mature. Keep it well cared for and when it finally matures and the vine dies down, you can dump out a whole lot of big potatoes from just one seed potato. (I’ve even heard of some folks using heavy duty plastic garbage bags with this method.)

Remember that you can grow up in containers. With indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, vining squash, and even melons, etc., you can encourage (by gently tying vines) the plants to climb high trellises made of sticks, strings, or even chicken wire or livestock fencing. (One tomato plant, planted in a five-gallon bucket on a sunny porch, can be trellised to grow 10 feet high and produce a bushel of tomatoes.)

I have been trying to find a good tortilla recipe and instructions for handmade tortillas. Could you tell me how to do it? I really hate that all my cookbooks and on-line recipes start with “go to the store and buy them.”

Steve Strong

I’d love to teach you how to make tortillas. In fact, we’ll do both flour tortillas and corn, as they are two very different flat breads that do much to expand your meal menus. Both are very easy to make and only take a few minutes. Besides, homemade tortillas are much better (surprise!) than store-bought. We even take it a step further and make our own masas (wheat and corn flour) from homegrown grains. (See previous columns in BHM.)

Corn tortillas

2 cups masa harina de maize (corn flour, not cornmeal)
1 cup (more or less) water

In a medium-sized bowl, mix enough water into the masa harina to make a very stiff dough. Add water slowly, mixing well with a fork. The dough will seem a bit dry, but will form a ball easily when worked by hand. You don’t want any dry flour left, but don’t want a wet dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

Dampen your hands and pinch off a large walnut sized ball, and work it into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Using either a tortilla press, lined on both pads with waxed paper, or plastic, or a pie plate and cutting board with waxed paper on the board and under the pie plate, sandwich a slightly flattened ball of dough between waxed paper and press flat. I’ve found that when using the tortilla press you need to turn the pressed tortilla around a half turn and press again to get a uniform thickness.

Some folks cut each tortilla into a perfect circle, using a bowl as a cookie cutter. But I don’t mind irregular edges on the tortillas and dispense with the extra work.

Use a griddle or cast iron frying pan with no grease and heat it to a medium heat. Gently bake each tortilla about 30 seconds until edges seem dry, then gently turn and bake until it puffs slightly. Store in covered dish and use soon. This recipe makes a dozen tortillas.

To make taco shells, heat ¼-inch of grease in heavy frying pan. Fry each baked tortilla until limp. With tongs, gently fold tortilla in half and continue frying, holding the edges apart. Cook 1½ minutes longer, turning once, until crisp. Drain on a paper towel.

To soften tortillas to fill, heat 2 Tbsp. grease in a small frying pan. Holding a baked tortilla with tongs, dip each one in oil till limp. Drain on paper towel. Repeat, adding oil, when necessary. Fill.

Hint: I often add spices, such as chili powders, garlic, and onion to the masa harina before adding the water for different flavors. We like them this way.

Flour tortillas

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. shortening
½ to ¾ cups quite warm water

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Cut in the shortening well. Add warm water until the mixture forms a medium dough. Add more water, if needed, but don’t let it get to a sticky dough. It needs to be able to be handled well. Let rest for 15 minutes; it rises some.

Divide the dough in half, then in halves again, eventually forming 12 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each into a ball, then roll out into a 7-inch round. Again, some folks trim them into a perfect circle. We prefer the appearance of irregular tortillas; they have character.

I pat each tortilla a bit with my hands and lay it on an ungreased griddle over a medium heat. Bake about 1½ minutes on each side, until lightly speckled brown. Hold hot under clean tea towel; serve or fill.

I hope you’ll enjoy these tortillas as much as we do.

I am a Peace Corps volunteer working in Africa. One of the things we are trying to teach is local food preservation. We teach solar vegetable drying and canning jams and chutneys by putting the hot foods directly into sterilized jars. (Out here, professional and pressure canning devices are unavailable.) However, I am having trouble finding a recipe for preserving pumpkin that can be used in this environment. Do you know of any recipes that don’t require a pressure canner? Also do you have any advice on jerking meats using a solar dryer? (Humidity is not a problem out here).

Zachary Maichuk
U.S. Peace Corps, Africa

One of my favorite ways of preserving pumpkin fits in well with your food dehydration program. I simply peel the pumpkin slices, removing the strings and seeds, then cut slices about ¼ inch thick and lay them out on the dehydrator screen or tray. They dry nicely in about a day, in the sun, having been turned once.

The slices can be easily rehydrated in hot water, broth, or milk and cooked up. Or you can grind the dry slices, then rehydrate to use as a smoother pumpkin in recipes such as puddings, pies, or mashed pumpkin. The only way you are able to can pumpkin safely without a pressure canner is putting it up as pumpkin preserves or butter. The method is in a previous BHM Ask Jackie column.

Have you canned tomatoes? They and other fruits can be canned, using a simple hot water bath. This is any container that will hold enough boiling water to completely cover the jars with an inch of rolling-boiling water. The container needs to have something (rack, wire or even folded cloth) on the bottom to keep the jar bottoms off the very hot container bottom.

Any jerky recipe will work well in a solar dryer. Tips are: use tender cuts, remove all fat and bone, and slice diagonally or you will have tougher jerky. Slice the meat thick. For taste we like to marinate it several hours in a spice, vinegar, brown sugar mixture first, but this is optional. Keep insects away from the drying meat, using either a thin cloth or even smoke. Turn the meat strips halfway through drying process for even drying. For long-term preservation, the jerky must be quite hard. Soft jerky sold in stores is convenient to eat but will go moldy or rancid fairly quickly, and should be refrigerated. This is probably not an option in your neck of the woods.

My wife and I are looking into buying a recreation property and have found that it is much cheaper to buy in eastern Washington than western Washington, where we live. The only thing is my wife doesn’t really like it over there because it is so dry. So I got to thinking and I decided the answer is to build a water tower. Can you tell me how to find the plans for one? Thanks.

Scott Christiani, Everett, WA

I really don’t think a water tower will help the problem. Now if you said, “My wife and I really love it over there in eastern Washington, but we need a way to store water and have water pressure without much energy spent,” we’d discuss the water tower idea further. Could you reach a happy medium on the property? Say buy less land in eastern Washington or come farther, into Idaho, where it’s greener? I’ve been in eastern Washington and it is, well, pretty darned dry.

When we went down to northern New Mexico to help out my parents, we thought we’d be okay in such a remote area, and having a good well for plenty of water. Not so. We all missed green and, even with watering the garden and lawn, we northerners just plain missed it.

I hope you can both find land that each of you truly loves.

I received the first five anthology books. I skimmed them all quickly and read the first one cover to cover. I was hoping that you had an article on making vinegar, not just flavoring vinegars with herbs. I did find a paragraph that says vinegar is made like sourdough or yogurt; use a little of the old to make a fresh batch. I need more instructions than that. Also, can white distilled vinegar be made at home? And from what?

D. J. Clark, Adrian, MI

Vinegar is fairly easy to make at home. The trick is getting the acidity right. As far as taste, it matters little. But for pickling, you need vinegar with a 5% or 6% acidity.

White distilled vinegar is made by distillation of alcoholic spirits from corn, rye and barley malt. It begins with mashing of the grains and adding water. Yeast is added, causing fermentation, which changes the sugars into alcohol.

The alcohol is extracted by boiling the mash. The alcohol vaporizes and the vapor is forced into cool water, in which it condenses. Oxygen transforms the alcohol into vinegar. To make distilled vinegar, one must be able to first make alcohol, an art in itself.

Apple cider vinegar is much easier. Simply open a jug of fresh cider, pour off a pint and add a little “mother” (the whitish clump of bacteria that forms on the surface of natural vinegar) from a previous batch. Then let it set at about 70 degrees for about a month. Sniff the jug, then taste a bit. You’ll know when it’s done. To use it in pickling, you must test the acidity, as vinegar needs to be at 5-6% acidity. You can get an acid testing kit through wine-makers companies.

You can keep saving the “mother,” from one batch to the next, much as you save a favorite sourdough starter.

You can also make vinegar from peaches, grapes, or most any fruit by first making pure juice, much as cider is made from ground and pressed apples, then fermenting it.

Prior to our move to the USA about 20 years ago, we were ardent drinkers of ginger beer. At one time, we actually made our own. However during our move we lost the recipe.

Can you find a brewing recipe for me?

Harland Zipprich

It just so happens that I have an old recipe in my files for making ginger beer. And I’ll be happy to share it with you.

Ginger beer

4 oz. dried ginger root
1 gal. water
Juice from 1 med lemon
1 packet active dry yeast
½ lb. sugar

Pound or grind the ginger root, then boil it in ½ gallon of water for 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. Mix lemon juice and packet of dry yeast in a cup of warm water and add to the ginger root water. Pour in remaining water and let mixture sit for 24 hours. Strain out the root bits and stir in the sugar well. Bottle in sterilized glass bottles and place in refrigerator. Don’t store at room temperature or bottles may explode. Makes ten 12-ounce bottles.

I’m not sure if you have any information or might even have already covered this but I have not found addresses for getting information for buying land like you did over the Internet. Information I mean from Arizona, Utah, which are the areas I am most interested in first. How do I go about finding these people in the remote areas. Can you help?

Judy Edens

Well Judy, check out the web site for Rural Property Bulletin for your first question. I’d advise closely checking out a state map of each state you’re interested in. Then either write, call, or e-mail the Chambers of Commerce in the areas that seem to interest you the most. Ask for the names of local realtors who handle remote properties. Then contact them and ask what remote properties that fit your needs (be specific) they have available in your price range.

Be especially sure to check out available water in Arizona and Utah, as many remote privately owned areas are in very arid areas where the water table is down a thousand feet or more. One can not hope to live without dependable and relatively cheap water.

Regarding your reader’s question in issue 68 on pomegranate jelly: I’ve done it for several years and after the first batch didn’t jell, I contacted the Certo people, who suggested doubling the pectin to 2 packages instead of one. Also I add 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice to the mix.

Incidentally, pomegranates benefit from frost before harvesting. My kids in high school commented when we first harvested and processed them, “You mean there really is something to do with them besides throwing them at other kids?”

Mary Fuller, Datil, NM

Thanks, Mary, for your tips on pomegranate jelly. We all appreciate it.

I was just reading an article you wrote on seed saving and would be happy if I was able to find the Hopi Pale Grey Squash. I, too, save seeds but do not have these. Can you tell me where I can get some seeds?


I’d send you some, but I accidently crossed mine with a giant pumpkin and am in the process of weeding out the pumpkin strain. (About 1 “squash” on two vines looks like an orange pumpkin.) Oh well, they taste good, and in a few years I’ll have ‘em back pretty pure. I only save seeds from squash that look like Hopi Pale Greys. One interesting note is that many Native American varieties are freely crossed. Varieties become “pure” when it is the only kind grown in quite a distance. That’s why many Indian vegetables are so varied and pretty. (Yellow and orange muskmelons, red and yellow watermelons, and different sizes, colors, and shapes of squash from the same vines.)

We really do love the Hopi Pale Grey Squash, as it is such a good keeper, lasting more than all winter, when simply stored under the bed. And it tastes fruity and sweet, not stringy at all. It makes great “pumpkin” pies too.

You can find seeds through Abundant Life Seed Foundation, P.O. Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368. They have a great catalog of open pollinated vegetables, herbs, and more.

Jackie, here is my recipe for kale soup. If you try it, I’m sure you and your family will love it. In the meantime, can you tell me how to can it?

Kale soup

pork bones to make stock (optional)
3 quarts water (or other stock"vegetable stocks go great in this)
2 lbs. chourico, sliced into ½” pieces (other types of sausage, such as linguisa, kielbasa, etc, work too, but I like chourico best)
1 large red onion, chopped
6-8 medium red potatoes, unpeeled, and cut into 1-1½” cubes
¼ cup parsley, chopped
8 cloves garlic
1½-2 lbs. kale, stems and all, cut into manageable bite-size pieces"use the real curly type of kale, not decorative. (1 bunch of kale is about ½ lb.)
2 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, with the liquid
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
fresh ground black pepper, to taste (I start out with about ½ tsp.)

Put pork bones in the water and simmer for about an hour. Remove and discard the bones and add more water to the stock to make three quarts of liquid. (If you don’t make the stock, just start with the 3 qts. water or other stock.) Add all the other ingredients to the stock (or water) and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a slow boil until the potatoes and kale stems are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

This is one of those soups that, if it’s possible, should be made a day ahead and, when it’s done, put into the refrigerator overnight and served reheated the next day, as all of the flavors will have married by then.

John Silveira, Brookings, OR

I’ll tell you how to can it. And I’ll bet you’ll like it as well as day-old, as the flavors will really blend well during storage, after processing.

First, make your stock, as usual. Remove the bones and then add all ingredients but the potatoes and kale. Simmer briefly, then add the kale. Simmer again, just until the kale is limp"no longer. Add the potatoes and mix. Dip out the soup, being careful to get a good mix of ingredients in each jar, and fill quart jars to within 1 inch of the top. Wipe the rim with a damp cloth. Place previously boiled new lids on jars and screw rings down on them tightly, but without undue force. Place jars in warmed canner. (The canner will have an inch of water under the inner basket.)

Tighten the lid, leaving the exhaust petcocks open. Turn on heat and wait until steam has exhausted well. The steam should exit the petcocks in a strong, vigorous, steady stream, not little spurts. When this is happening, shut petcocks and wait for the pressure to build up.

As you are relatively close to sea level, you will be processing your soup at 10 pounds pressure. And you will hold it at 10 pounds for 90 minutes. (Remember to adjust the pressure accordingly, should you can this soup above 1,000 ft altitude above sea level.)

After 90 minutes, turn off heat and allow pressure to return to zero. Then, carefully open the petcocks to release any remaining steam. Open the canner lid, letting the steam rise away from your face. Then remove the jars with a jar lifter and place on a dry, folded towel to cool out of any drafts. When they are cool, you may wash them in warm, soapy water and remove the rings. Your kale soup is ready to store till you need it some wintery day.

We butchered a beef and took it to the butcher where he let it hang 23 days. Now the hamburger tastes bad. Could it be that it was hung too long and the fat got a foul taste?

Diane Grover

I just had a good discussion about your problem with our butcher, Steve, at the Cascade Meat Market.

Steve’s been in the packing business for years and is like a surgeon with his meat. None better. We never let our meat hang longer than 14 days, but Steve says that under good, regulated, cold locker conditions, 21 days is okay. But any less than ideal conditions and 23 days would be just too long. If there is any outside rancid fat that is not removed, leaving even a small piece of it to be ground in with the lean meat when making hamburger can ruin the taste of the whole batch. While the hamburger would still be “edible” if cooked well, you will probably have to season it very well to eat it. This is why Third World countries eat so much highly seasoned meat; it covers the slightly “bad” taste in nearly spoiled meat, which occurs because of lack of refrigeration.

Another source of nasty tasting hamburger is freezer burn. You didn’t say how old your hamburger was. If it is over a year old, regardless of how well wrapped, it will develop freezer burn and be pretty disgusting to eat. This is one reason I can most of our meat.

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.