Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 73

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 73
Jackie Clay

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

I read an article in your July/August issue pertaining to building your own log home. I found the article very interesting and I have a question. I have access to PG&E poles and would like to ask if you know any drawbacks in using these poles for construction of a home. One of my concerns is creasote within the poles.

Leonard Jay, Petaluma, CA

These used power poles make a pretty nice home. In fact, we might be using some to build our new home in the woods if we don’t have enough good straight pine on our new homestead. The usual problem is finding enough poles for the whole house.

No, creasote isn’t usually much of a problem with these used poles. By the time a builder gets hold of them, it’s been many, many years since they were treated with creasote, and the smell has “worn off”.

Then, after you’ve built your home, you will be treating both the inside and outside with a log sealant which will not only protect your logs, but will effectively seal in any remaining odor or chemical fumes. I’d much rather live in a home built of old power poles than a “modern” home built with toxic glues, foam rubber, etc., as most are today.

I was recently in Minnesota after traveling to Upper Michigan to help celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday, and I stopped in to see some old friends. David and Sandy had just finished remodeling their basement into a recreation room and had used edged used power pole slabs for paneling the entire thing. It looked great, and in the confines of a basement, there was absolutely no odor of creasote.

I would cut off any heavily treated butt ends, however. Good luck with your new log home.


My husband and I fell in love with a 40-acre self-sustaining homestead, but there is a LOT of poison oak. We have 6 dogs and other animals. Please tell me if you know of a way to get rid of it as my husband is allergic to it. We have been on the hunt for five years for a place like this.

Terri Brown,

As you found out, there’s not really a perfect homestead. All have something wrong with them. The idea is to find one that has faults that you can live with. When we moved to our homestead, here in Montana, we began waging a war on spotted knapweed, a noxious, aggressive pest. The pastures were purple with it, as was the drive and even woods edges. But by simply pulling as many weeds as we could, every day we could, we’ve knocked it down to only a twisted, dwarfy plant that you really have to search to find.

As your husband is allergic, the bulk of the poison oak removal will fall on you. You can do it by starting in the winter and simply cutting down every poison oak shrub you can, beginning with the house-garden-livestock pen areas first. Wear leather gloves and long sleeves, even on warmish days. Make smallish piles, on top of the stumps, when possible, and burn them when it is safe to do so. Be sure your husband does not stand where he will be in the smoke, as this can trigger an attack in some allergic people.

Be aggressive with your war on weeds, not letting up, even when all of your poison oak seems to be gone. Some will sprout from the stump. You can scorch these tender sprouts with a propane torch, which usually kills the entire plant. Or, as a last resort, you can use Roundup sprayed on the sprouts’ leaves. But I really hate to use chemicals on our place.

Some folks have had luck by using goats on fenced pastures containing poison oak sprouts. One caution: don’t drink the milk until the sprouts have been totally gone for at least a week.

One thought: be sure you have correctly identified your enemy. Take a sample of the leaves to your county agent if you are in doubt. It’s easy to confuse with other shrubby trees. Your problem may turn out to be much less of a problem.


In your Canning 101 article, you mention you make elk stew. My dad bow hunts and I always keep my eyes open for wild game recipes for him. Could you share it with me?

Donna Cashore,

Sure, Donna, there’s not many secrets on the Clay homestead. I make several variations of elk stew, but here’s the one we use the most often. We usually use home canned meat, but you can use fresh meat, as well.

Elk stew with mushrooms

2 lbs. lean cubed stew meat (or 1 quart if home canned)
¼ lb. margarine
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 lb. sliced mushrooms (or 1 pint if home canned)
1 quart beef stock or equivalent
6 medium carrots, scraped and cut (or 1 pint)
8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut (or 1 pint)
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste

Melt the margarine in heavy Dutch oven and brown meat on all sides. Add mushrooms and onions, sauteing until barely browning. Add beef stock, vegetables, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer slowly until everything is very tender, adding water to keep juice covering stew.

When done, add flour to small bowl and enough water to make a smooth paste. Then add enough water to make the paste thin enough to pour. Pour into stew, while gently stirring. Heat enough to thicken the gravy and serve. We like it with fresh, fluffy home made biscuits. Good eating.


What about canning meat? This would be game as well as domestic meat. What’s a good book on canning.

John Smith,

Sure, John, you can home can meat. I can all types of wild game, from elk to trout, as well as beef, poultry, etc. You can check out my article, Canning 101 in back issues of BHM. It covers meat as well as most everything one would can. A good, cheap book on canning is the Ball Blue Book, available wherever canning supplies are sold, even Wal-Mart. For a more extensive book (get a fairly recent one), check out your library, including the interlibrary loan. Look through a couple, and then order one that appeals to you from a nearby bookstore.


I’ve lived in the rural south most of my adult life. I’m 38. I’ve long wanted to homestead, but since the death of my husband a few years ago, that dream went out the window, especially since I have no experience. Anyway, there’s a possibility of moving to interior Alaska to join an established individual there. Can you offer any advice to a wilderness novice and “hothouse orchid” on how to get through the first year, especially regarding the cold? Not to mention life without indoor plumbing?

Vicky Patton,

I feel real bad that you’ve given up your homestead dream because of the death of your husband. Not only can you do it by yourself, despite your lack of “experience,” but it will help heal the pain of losing a loved one.

You don’t have to start with the whole tamale. You can simply start with a small piece of land, a small garden and a few chickens. Read Dorothy Ainsworth’s article in the September/October 2001 issue of BHM on her three hens. Learn to can a few easy things, such as tomatoes, pickles, fruit, jams and jellies. Then move up to “harder” foods, as your confidence increases. Likewise, in a year or two, you may want to try a dairy goat and a pig to raise to butcher.

Being a self-reliant homesteader doesn’t have to mean doing everything; it’s a dream, a goal to work toward to satisfy your soul. It means something different to everyone.

If you decide to go to Alaska, great. But be sure you save enough money to do something different if your arrangement with the established individual doesn’t work out. Some just don’t, even in the city. It won’t help if you feel trapped in a situation that doesn’t suit your needs.

When we talk about Alaska or northern Minnesota, the first thing everyone says is “How can you take the cold?” It really isn’t that bad, if you dress for it. (You can always put more or better clothes on in cold weather….you run out of things to take off when it’s over 100 degrees in the shade.)

I love the cold and snow, being snowed in for long periods of time. It gives me time to do my best baking and cooking, as there’s just plain more time in the winter.

And don’t just stay in because it’s snowy and cold. There’s so much to do out there. I mush dogs on a dogsled, run a snowmobile, snowshoe, feed the birds, study animal tracks, feed the moose (yes I know they’re a pain, sometimes), make snow caves and much more. And on days that it’s just plain too cold to be out, I work on a novel, read, do puzzles, can meat hanging (frozen) in the woodshed from hunting, write letters I’ve been putting off, try new recipes and a whole lot more. “Cabin Fever” is not a joke. Folks get depressed when they see winter as only a dark, cold, miserable time. I look on it as a time of rest and enjoyment.

As for the “no plumbing” living, it’s really not that bad. You keep a path shoveled to the outhouse. Leave the lid up or the seat will frost up. In really cold weather, carry a foam doughnut inside and out and it’ll be more comfy on the throne. At night, use a bucket for tinkles and dump it in the outhouse every morning, rinsing the bucket with water or snow to prevent potty smell in the cabin.

Water is usually dipped from a lake, creek or river in the summer. In the winter, snow may be melted or a hole can be chopped in a body of water (don’t fall in). We used to bathe in a washtub on the kitchen floor quite effectively. Water was heated on the wood cookstove in a canning kettle. About six inches was poured in the washtub and we’d climb in. Our son, David, was young and could fit in the tub like a bathtub. We stood in the tub and dipped water over ourselves with a saucepan, washing all necessary parts with a washcloth. Rinsing was accomplished in the same manner. Worked good and used only a five gallon bucket of water.

Most wilderness novices are afraid of wild animals, mostly due to the many movies using a “savage,” well trained, Bart the bear. In truth, wild animals are very, very seldom ever a problem to folks living in the wild. We have lived in the bush for many, many years and have never had a wild animal bother us a bit. They are shy and rarely seen. And they won’t break the door down to eat you for dinner. Hollywood only. I’m a lot more afraid of people than I am animals.

Moose can be dangerous. A cow moose traveling with a calf is very protective and a bull moose during fall rut can be aggressive. But use common sense; we’ve not been trampled by a moose yet and we feed them in the winter.

Another thing that Hollywood portrays is people getting deathly sick in the wilderness, with no help. In reality, we have always been much healthier in the wilderness, going all winter without so much as a sniffle. The only time we seem to get sick is when we go to town and are exposed to other folks’ germs. Take a small bag of routine cold/flu meds with you, as well as any prescription drugs you need.

Whatever you decide to do, do it with a can-do attitude, because you can do it. I know a whole lot of single ladies out there who homestead alone and are happy in their lives. One is an 88-year youngster in the mountains of Wyoming. Go for it. Maybe you’ll find a new man in your life somewhere along the way, too. Things happen. Good luck.


Do you know whether it is possible to process sugar beet at home (preferably in a simple chemical-free way), to produce sugar? I have found plenty of articles on maple sugar, but we don’t have the right kind of maple tree in England.

Sarah Hogan,

Unfortunately, it is a factory-only process to get sugar from sugar beets, and a process that makes me try to use less sugar all the time. Have you ever thought of raising bees for honey, instead of using sugar? Most recipes are very adaptable to using honey over sugar. Bees are quite easy to raise (I’ve only been stung twice while keeping bees. And I was working them without being “suited up” because they were so gentle.) A single hive would give you more than enough honey for a whole year. Besides, bees are very interesting to study.


I’m looking for an old recipe. It’s called Virginia Chunk Sweet Pickles. My mom made them for years, then I made them for years and now my daughter wants to make them and I have lost the recipe. We always put green food color in them to make them bright green. Nice at Christmas time.

Arlene Parkhurst,

Not only have I heard of Virginia Chunk Sweet Pickles, but I have jars of them on my pantry shelves right now. They’re good, crispy pickles, alright. Here’s the recipe:

Virginia chunk sweet pickles:

Use seventy-five 4 to 5 inch long cukes, or 2 gallons of smaller ones. Make a brine using 2 cups salt to one gallon of water. Boil the brine and pour it over cucumbers while it’s still boiling hot. Weight down with a dish to keep the pickles under the brine. Let them stand one week, removing the scum daily. Then drain off the liquid and cut the cukes into chunks. For the next three mornings make a boiling solution of one gallon water and one tablespoon powdered alum and pour this over the drained pickles. (Make a fresh hot bath each morning.) On the fourth morning, drain and discard alum water. Heat 6 cups vinegar, 5 cups sugar, 1/3 cup pickling spice and 1 Tbsp. celery seed to boiling and pour over pickles. On the fifth morning drain this liquid off into a sauce pan and add 2 more cups of sugar to it, heat again to boiling and pour back over the pickles. On the sixth morning drain the liquid, add 1 more cup of sugar to it, heat it again to boiling, pack the pickles into sterilized jars and fill to within ½ inch of the top with the boiling liquid. Put on the caps and screw the bands firmly tight. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Yield: 18 pts.

Don’t cheat and add all the sugar at once, or your pickles will shrivel.


I can’t believe how much trouble I am having canning green beans. I know it can’t be that hard but I can’t seem to accomplish it. What am I doing wrong? I snap them into short pieces and put them in cold jars. I put on new lids with rings and put them in a canning kettle with water just up to the rings. I boiled them for at least an hour (last year I tried it without success and assumed it was too short a boiling time). I am getting frustrated because I have done it successfully before.

Mary Stoneberg,

I really hate to see folks have trouble home canning. I want everyone to be successful, and I can get you started down the right trail. I can understand why your beans didn’t turn out. First, you must can low acid foods, such as vegetables and meat with a pressure canner. You cannot safely use a water bath canner for green beans.

A basic how-to for green been canning goes like this:

Snap your beans into a clean jar. Put your lids into a small saucepan and bring to a boil; remove from heat and keep in water. Put a tea kettle full of water on to boil. Fill quart jars to within 1 inch of the top with green beans and add 1 tsp. of salt, if desired, per quart (half as much salt for pints). Add 2 inches of water to your canner and put on the stove. Fill the jars to within 1 inch of top with the boiling water. Wipe the rims of jars and place the lids in place, screwing rings down firmly-tight. Place the jars in the rack inside the canner and tighten the canner’s lid down firmly. Exhaust steam for 10 minutes to remove air from the canner. Shut the petcock(s) and let the pressure build to 10 lbs. (or higher, depending on altitude above 1,000 ft.; see your canning manual). When the gauge reads the correct pressure, begin timing and adjust the heat to keep the pressure constant. Maintain this pressure for 20 minutes for pints and 25 for quarts. When the time is up, turn off the heat and let gauge return to zero with no help from you. Then open the petcock to bleed off any remaining steam. Carefully open the canner and, using jar lifters, remove the jars. Place the jars on a dry folded towel to cool. The jars will seal as they cool, ping, ping, ping.

My best advice to all home canners is to buy a canning manual, such as the Ball Blue Book, available where canning supplies are sold, and read up before canning each type of food. I’ve been canning for 30 some years, and haul it out every time…just in case I’ve forgotten something.


I have just made horseradish for the first time and it’s hot. They say that to keep your horseradish hot you have to keep it cold. If so, how do you get the vacuum seal if you don’t heat it like in canning. The storebougbt stuff has a vacuum seal and can be hot depending on the brand. Do you know how it is done?

Neal Pomfret, Ajax, Ontario

I’ve not had much trouble keeping horseradish hot when processing; it’s either good and hot, or it’s not. Here’s how I put it up. I think you’ll like it this way.

Grate your horseradish root finely. Measure the result and measure enough vinegar into a saucepan to equal to half the horseradish. Add ½ teaspoon of salt to each cup of vinegar. Have sterilized jars, held hot, and boiled lids ready. You will need your water bath canner full enough to cover your jars, plus 1 inch. This needs to be hot and ready, as well.

Boil your vinegar-salt solution, then add horseradish and bring back to a boil. Dip the horseradish out quickly and fill jars to within ½ inch of the top, wipe the rim, place a lid on and screw the ring down firmly tight. Place filled jars in a water bath canner and process for 15 minutes at a rolling boil, counting from the time your canner first comes to a full boil.


I would like to know what the shelf life is of home canned food. We have canned for some time, and our food is kept in a cool, dark, dry place.

Patrick Widner, Bristol, VA

Well, Pat, you’ve hit on the very reason I home can! Your food will last nearly forever! Despite what consumer protection police say, canned food is not just good for a year. I’ve got 23 year old pie cherries, canned on my pantry shelves; moose stew that is 11 years old, potatoes that are 12 years old, etc, etc. And they all look and taste perfectly fine. I’m sure they may have lost a bit of vitamins, but when combined with all the other fresh food we eat and the fact that it was home grown and put up quickly with no chemicals, we certainly don’t worry about that.

Some fruits will soften a bit or lose color, but this does not affect their use in cobblers, pies and other cooking. And they are more than edible.

You sure can’t say that when freezing food. We only freeze food to keep large quantities while I am canning. For instance, we’ll hang an elk (dressed and skinned, covered with old clean sheets) frozen in a tree, cutting off a quarter with a chainsaw (vegetable oil in oiler!), to thaw so I can home can it. That’s it, for us, period. Once my food is in a jar, it won’t freezer burn or spoil because of power outages.


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