Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 78

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 78
Jackie Clay

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

I just canned some tomato sauce and forgot to add the salt and lemon juice. I’m not concerned about the salt, but do I need to worry about the lack of lemon juice? I think that the tomatoes are high acid enough, but thought I would ask your opinion. Do I need to add the lemon juice and reprocess them?

Bob Windsor

To be absolutely safe, you should immediately open those jars as soon as you realize you made a mistake. But, if they were my jars, I would just mark them with an “X” in permanent marker and make sure I didn’t use the tomato sauce for a recipe that doesn’t require bringing to a boiling temperature for at least 15 minutes and give the sauce an extra good look and sniff test on opening each jar. While it is possible for low-acid tomato sauce to develop harmful bacteria, the chances of it actually happening are quite low. Now this is just how I would handle your situation, of course.

— Jackie

I need help! I am a single mom of three. I am on assistance and receive food stamps. I cannot work a full time job because I cannot earn enough to make up what they take away in benefits. I receive only $150 per month from my ex-husband. We live in the city, in a dingy rented apartment, and I can see no way to escape. I read your magazine faithfully, and desperately want to escape the pit I’m in. I want to live an independent lifestyle, but I can’t see a way out. Is there some way to escape this trap?

Carrie Rosamond
Denver, CO

Yes you can escape, and you don’t have to marry a millionaire, either. But it will take determination and plenty of hard work. We’ve been plenty poor, too, and have learned a lot. Some of it may help you. First, make the best use of the food you buy with your food stamps. You say you can’t work full time. That may be to your advantage. Work for yourself by cooking and baking from scratch. Not only will your family eat more nutritious and tasty food, but it will cost dramatically less than packaged meals such as turkey pot pies, frozen dinners, Hamburger Helper, etc.

But, you may say, we always have enough food stamps to buy those quick meals. The catch is this: by buying in bulk, on sale, case lots, and fresh produce to can yourself, you can not only “get by,” but you can get ahead. Develop a large pantry, and keep it growing. This will not only help you save money, but will help in the future even if hard times do continue for awhile. Buy your baking supplies during the pre-Thanksgiving sales, tomato sauce when it goes on sale for nine cans for a dollar. Study the supermarket prices. Write them down if you can’t remember them. The stores bank on you not knowing prices. One simple example stood out to me yesterday. We buy Pedigree dog food in a 50-pound sack from Sam’s Club for $14.99. I stopped in a popular chain grocery store after buying my dog food, and noticed that their 44 pound bag was $21.99. Now that’s a whopping $7 more. Human chow is no different. Learn the prices so you know when a sale is really a sale and when it’s just a come-on.

Learn to can food. It is extremely easy and lets you eat well on much less. You can usually find cheap or free jars and even canning equipment. Ask around, especially at senior centers. For clothing, shop yard sales during their last day. Folks often mark merchandise way down, so they don’t have to cart it away. Don’t haggle. Just say something like, “I have a really low, fixed income. I need those jeans, but I can’t pay that for them. Is there any way you could let them go for less?” Often you’ll not only gain your needed clothing, but a friend, as well.

Of course, we shop the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores regularly. Not only do we find great buys, but we have fun, too.

Housing is a real downer. One suggestion is to look for a place to caretake. I would especially look for a place on acreage, where you could grow a nice garden and perhaps have a few chickens. Don’t fall into the trap of getting every animal you and your kids ever wanted. I see so many folks escaping the city trap to fall into the too-many-animals-to-support trap.

To find a place, you could place small ads in local shopping papers in more rural locations near you"or perhaps not so near, if you have an adventurous spirit. A great little newsletter is the Caretakers Gazette, P.O. Box 540, River Falls, WI 54022 for $29 per year (you can check them out at I know $29 is a lot when you’re struggling, but maybe you can find someone, such as the local library, health food co-op, etc., who may be interested in sharing a subscription. Get creative. There are many listings each month for people looking for someone to caretake their home, ranch, or homestead. Some even offer wages.

My sister housesat for several families during her college years, enabling her to live in a really nice home instead of student ghettos. You might give it serious consideration. By caretaking, you could save some of your assistance and child support toward a down payment for a modest little place of your own out in the country.

In most places, you can find an older mobile home or a real fixer-upper for $35,000 or less on a small acreage. If you could save up a small down payment, your house payment would be less than the rent for many unsavory apartments. You could check out Rural Property Bulletin, a small monthly advertising magazine, with hundreds of rural listings for small acreage, small town bargains and more. Their address is P.O.Box 608, Valentine, NE 69201 or It is $16 a year or $3 for a sample issue. You might also consider placing an advertisement for caretaking or buying, when the time gets right.

One thing I better mention. Do not"and I repeat do not"fall for those work-at-home or mail-envelopes-to-get-rich scams. That is all they are. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Save your money for something worthwhile. There are hundreds of ways to earn money from home, such as a lawn maintenance small business, home cleaning, running chores for the older folks in your neighborhood, and more. You won’t make thousands of dollars a week, but you will earn a decent living. Perhaps your older children might enjoy helping out. Especially if they know you will be buying a small flock of chickens or a dairy goat with the money.

Does all of this sound like hard work? It is. But if you’re truly sick of the city and will do anything legal and moral to make a better life, you can do it. Good luck.

— Jackie

I am one of your fans. I read your department first in every issue. So, now, of course, I am writing to disagree. In issue #75, you said that venison won’t stay good in a freezer more than a year. I have moose and caribou in my freezer labeled “98”, “99”, and “00”, and it’s in perfect shape. I have never understood how people get freezer burn. I have had my freezer since 1966 and it wasn’t new then. It has been moved 18 times, once dropped in a swamp, and it goes merrily on. When I think about living without electricity, I don’t know what I would do without my freezer. On another subject. I have seen letters written to you asking about homesteading. You always say homesteads are only available in Alaska, and only to Alaskans. First of all, I must mention that residency is required to keep the land out of the hands of speculators. Anyway, there is always state land available over the counter. The boroughs also dispose of land by sealed bid, out-cry auction and drawings. If by homesteading, they mean free land, there ain’t no such animal and never was. The federal homesteads, which were still going on when I came here, made it necessary to have money for improvements, living on while developing the land and to pay taxes. In other words, you had to have a source of income. There is no free land. You get what you work for.

Evalyn L. Preblich
Anchorage, AK

Glad to have you read my stuff, Evalyn. And I’m real glad your freezer does so well for you. To tell the truth, I’ve never had such luck, nor my friends, neighbors, family or even people I’ve talked to here and there. After one year, the pork and venison, and usually chicken, fish, and beef, taste “off” from freezer burn. I used a freezer extensively for 10 years, and usually managed to use up almost all of the meat yearly. That which was left over usually was not real tasty. I had meat processed at local locker plants, as well as that which I cut and wrapped myself. No dice. I hope other readers have the kind of luck you do. That’d be great.

I really prefer to can my meat. It’s “instant” meals and never goes bad, even years and years later. Yep.

By “homestead” land, readers do mean “free” land"yours to own by living on and developing. And, like you say, there just “ain’t no such animal.” It gets confusing because some folks advertise, saying they have information on how to get “homestead” land from the government. It is misleading advertising. The reason homestead land appeals to so many is that folks think their sweat equity can get them the homestead of their dreams, when cash is light in the pocket.

Then there are those like us, who would like to live right smack in the middle of the wilderness, with no developed land within a hundred miles. This is not available with any of the government sales in Alaska. You have other private land right next door. Probably never any neighbors, but with our luck, some jerks would move in on both sides of us.

— Jackie

I wish I knew half as much as you do. I, like you, love to cook, but most people think cooking from scratch is hard and time-consuming. It does take more time, but cooking is enjoyable. Can you give me a list of some good homesteading books and cookbooks? I’m disabled, but I want to get a job to start saving to buy a homestead. I want to grow and produce as much as I can instead of buying it. I don’t know how to do much, but I’m willing to learn. Can you tell me some of the old-fashioned ways of keeping food cool without electricity? Is using a wood cookstove hard? How about raising livestock? I haven’t done that, either.

Billy Stuart
Florence, MO

Go for it, Billy! My second oldest son, Javid (Yep, Javid. He’s from India) is paralyzed from the waist down and has very little use of his left hand but he enjoyed homesteading and even pitched in to help get fruit and vegetables ready to can. He held ears of corn under his chin to shuck them and even today, at 30, he laughs when I tease him about store corn not being as good as “chin corn.”

You are as disabled as you let people tell you you are. Of course some things are hard for some people, but there are always ways of working around them. In a wheelchair, Javid could still work in the raised beds in our greenhouse.

Cooking on a wood kitchen range is very easy. It does take a couple of days to get used to. For instance, it usually takes about 15 minutes to get the oven heated up to 350° for baking, so you need to allow for that. I just start firing up the stove when the bread’s done rising the first time. No trick to it, just training yourself to a different way. One tip: if the oven begins to bake poorly, there’s soot build up around it. It needs scraping out with the little stiff wire and tin oven cleaner, above, at the sides, and below. I love my wood range, as its top has just the right spot to do what you need, from a quick heat for frying to a slow heat to simmer a stew all day.

Raising livestock is not difficult and it is very rewarding. I would read up and start small, perhaps with half a dozen chickens or a trio of rabbits. After you get the hang of it, you might expand to a dairy goat or a feeder pig to raise for pork.

The most important factor for success in any livestock is housing, including fencing. If animals are warm and dry in the winter and cool and dry in the summer, they will do well. Add adequate good feed and available drinking water and the livestock will thrive.

My grandmother kept her food cool with an icebox, with ice being delivered every few days by the ice man, bringing large, dripping blocks of ice. But today, unless you have your own ice house, and a place to cut ice, the icebox is an expensive way to keep food cool. We have had good luck by running a plastic water line from our spring in and through an insulated box with a top on it. The water is about 40° and food keeps quite well this way. The old-timers carried this a step further by building an insulated stone or block spring house with a cement trough, through which spring water flowed constantly. Otherwise, you can plan not to have foods that need refrigeration. By cooking only small meals, with no leftovers, using only fresh, dehydrated and home canned foods for these meals, you can dramatically reduce the need to keep food cold.

As for a list of books, check out what BHM has to offer in the bookstore. There are many more that are available and not advertised in the magazine for lack of space. I also like Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living for a wealth of homesteading information. Countryside Magazine also has a bookshelf with many very good homesteading books available. Countryside is also a great magazine which I find useful to our lifestyle (second only, of course, to Backwoods Home Magazine). Their address is W11564 Hwy. 64, Withee WI 54498-9323.

We read a lot in our house and have learned to do much of what we “know” from reading good information. See, I’m not so smart, after all. I wish you the best with your homestead life.

— Jackie

How can I can persimmons? I know they freeze well, but I want a longer shelf life, maintaining their color. Have you ever used a steam canner and can you give me information on using one?

Elaine Berry
Visalia, CA

Persimmons are really better dried, looking like slices of dried fig, or eaten fresh. But you can home can them, if you’d like. Simply mash the very ripe persimmons and run them through a sieve, if you have a variety with seeds. Fill half-pint or pint jars with the pulp to within half an inch of the rim. Wipe the rim clean and put a hot, previously boiled lid on the jar. Screw down the ring firmly tight and process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath canner. A steam canner is not a safe way to can, as there is a possibility of the temperature not being even throughout the canner, jars, and food. A water bath canner is the safe way to process high acid foods. And it’s cheaper, too.

— Jackie

I really liked your articles on building log homes. I wondered if you could write an article or tell me how to build vertical log homes and their advantages and disadvantages compared to horizontal log homes?

Jack English, Jr.
Topeka, KS

Glad you liked the articles. We really love working with logs and wood, in general. I am in the process of doing an article on vertical log building, but I’ll give you some information here. Keep a look out in a future issue of BHM.

There are many advantages to building with vertical logs. First, a single person can build quite a large home alone, with no mechanical help. The logs are only eight feet long, or less, depending on the style of house. Most folks use a log of about eight inches in diameter, so the weight is not excessive, compared to a 1,000 pound, 40-foot log in a horizontal log home.

Another plus is that there is much less settling in a vertical log home than in the horizontal home. Also, by using short logs, you can take advantage of less-than-straight trees, discarding crooked sections. Some species of trees, such as smaller ponderosa pine often taper quite rapidly, making finding enough perfect trees for a horizontal log home difficult. With the shorter logs in a vertical home, this too is overcome.

But, like any other construction, there are a few drawbacks. First of all, the overall look of the finished home is not as popular as a horizontal log home. I won’t say as “attractive,” as I’ve seen many very beautiful vertical log homes. But others feel that the “only” log home is a horizontally-built one.

It does take a little more fussing to get the logs together, with no air leakage between in a vertical log home. With a horizontal log home, the sheer weight of the logs tends to compress insulating material, and even the pressure from one log to the next forms a seal. Vertical logs must be fastened together by a spline of plywood, or better yet, two splines, with an air space between them for added insulation. Just nailing them up and chinking the crack does not often suffice to keep the interior warm during cold weather.

There is a book, which I haven’t seen yet, but intend to order, on vertical log building. It also includes plans. It is available from Alaskan Cabins, HC1 Box 6107X, Palmer, AK 99645. The price is $15.

I would certainly consider a vertical log home, if it seems to suit your needs, ability, and soul. Good luck, and keep an eye on BHM for more details on construction.

— Jackie

I have a dilemma. I purchased a brand new cast iron cook pot to make soups and stews. I followed the manufacturer’s directions exactly for seasoning. I then went ahead and made the beef stew. To my surprise, it was awful. It took the taste of the iron. Out the stew went. Again, I made stew after seasoning it once more and again it tasted like iron and made me very sick. I got no help from the company. Help!

Carol Womelsdorf
Oakville, CT

Bummer, Carol. Cooking with new iron can be challenging. First of all, are you, by chance, using a beef stew recipe with tomatoes or tomato sauce? That’d be my guess. The acid of tomatoes causes new iron to shed its taste badly into the stew. I’ve had absolutely no luck cooking any recipe with tomato products in a newer cast iron pot. Instead, I’d suggest trying a small beef roast or other roasted meat or poultry, along with potatoes, carrots, and onions, seasoned to your taste. Slowly oven roast, with the lid on, until perfectly tender. Add the vegetables during the last hour of cooking. After a time or two, give a stew a try again, only pick a recipe without tomatoes. I’ll bet it’ll be much better.

Breaking in new cast iron is trying, at times, but the end result is wonderful. Some of my Dutch ovens and frying pans are between fifty and a hundred years old, and better now than they were brand new. You can’t say that about any other cookware.

— Jackie

I used to be able to purchase dehydrated pre-cooked dried beans from Indian Harvest. But they no longer sell them. I made my own red beans and rice mixes and they were wonderful. The pre-cooked beans and dried veggies would cook in the 30 minutes it took for the rice to cook. I was also able to make some really good dried soup mixes, which taste a whole lot better than the packaged kind sold in the grocery stores!

How would you go about making dehydrated pre-cooked dried beans yourself? Have you? I’m thinking that if I cooked the beans, drained them and then put them in my dehydrator, I could probably make my own. Should I put salt or sugar on them to help preserve them, or just do them plain?

Joan Long Dixon

I have dehydrated pre-cooked dried beans of several types, primarily to carry on long canoe trips. This was a wing-it experiment, as I couldn’t find a recipe in any of my books. And I am not suggesting you follow my experiences. I’m only telling you what I’ve done.

I completely cooked my beans, using minimal seasonings; no sugar, no salt. When tender, I drained them and immediately spread them out on my dehydrator trays in a single layer. When they were completely dry and crispy, I removed them and placed them in air-tight jars. They kept well and tasted great when used out of zip-lock baggies on the trips. Be sure to closely inspect any dehydrated food for signs of mold before using, boil for at least 15 minutes to kill any possible bacteria and sniff before eating. It’s only common sense.

— Jackie

I was wondering how you can liver? I have a lot of frozen beef and pork liver that my family isn’t about to eat. I want to can it up to use for the animals, if need be, and wondered if I should cut it up small first, or leave in larger pieces. I have a lot of experience canning, and have all the equipment. I have canned meat before, but never liver. Just wondering how you would do it.


I would slice the raw, thawed liver into 1-inch pieces and pack into jars, to within one inch of the top. Add no salt or liquid. Wipe the top of the jar clean and place a hot, previously boiled lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints for 1 hour and 15 minutes, quarts for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at 10 pounds pressure. Adjust pressure, if necessary, according to altitude; check your canning manual. You must use a pressure canner. You could, if you wish, dice the liver instead of slicing it. Cats or small dogs would be able to eat it easier. But bigger dogs will just wolf down such a delectable treat!

Be sure you allow your canner to exhaust adequately, giving the meat time to warm up, before you close off your petcocks or steam vents. Otherwise it will not process long enough to kill harmful bacteria. Ten minutes of exhausting forceful steam is generally adequate.

— Jackie

I’ve misplaced the issue of BHM with your advice on canning dry beans. I followed your instructions last year and we’ve had wonderful meals all winter thanks to you. Could you please remind me of the recipe? Also, do you can black-eyed peas with the same instructions?

I’ve followed your column for about three years now, and love to hear about your son, David. My daughter, Olivia, is about to turn five. Since you live out in the beautiful wilds of the world, do you homeschool? What advice do you have for the beginner?

Carmen Black

Glad you enjoyed canned dried beans. They sure are a labor saver, aren’t they? And no worries about getting older beans tender! Here’s the recipe. And yes, you can do any type of dried beans or peas this way.

Any type of dry bean or pea: Wash beans, soak in cold water overnight. Boil beans 15 minutes. Pack gently in jars to within 2 inches of top. Add 1 tsp. salt to each quart jar. Fill jar to within 1 inch of top with precooking liquid. Wipe jar rim clean, place hot, previously boiled lid on jar and screw down ring firmly tight. Process pints and quarts for one hour at 10 pounds pressure. Adjust pressure, if necessary, according to altitude. See canning manual. (You can also precook the beans in a seasoned tomato juice, which makes the beans similar to store-bought “pork & beans.”)

We began homeschooling David, but life got crazy for awhile, so we put him into our little public school down in the valley. There are seven children in the entire school, so he still gets plenty of one on one, as there are two teachers. I would sure encourage you to homeschool. We are 100% in favor of it for many, many reasons. And for heaven’s sake don’t fall for that “they won’t be socialized” crap. You’ll never find a friendlier, more polite, kind child than David….or most homeschooled children.

Talk to other homeschooling parents in your area. There are often small support groups who get together to provide not only support, but materials and field trips for their children.

Do be sure to follow the “legalities” in your area. Most homeschooling problems that we’ve seen came from parents who simply ignored the law and homeschooled. Sometimes you have to file an “intent to homeschool” form with your local school district. Ask and comply. It’s cheap insurance for avoiding future hassles.

Read homeschooling books and publications. You can either follow a formal curriculum or be more flexible and make your own to fit the situation. You’ll find that homeschooling is much less formal than “regular” school which is only one of the benefits for parent/teacher and child.

— Jackie

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