Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 81

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 81
Jackie Clay

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

Help! I stored sugar, both white and brown, for the the Y2K and now I have 2 and 10-pound rock hard lumps, instead of usable sugar. Should I just feed the sugar to the goats, or would it hurt them? Gee, I hate to waste all that sugar and money. Is there any saving it?

Donna Beckman
Cascade, MT

Whoa! Save that sugar. Unfortunately, sometimes stored sugar does get hard, due to humidity or other moisture. But all is not lost. For the brown sugar, which I assume is still in plastic bags, wrap two heavy paper bags around the plastic bags and rap the lump a few times with a good hammer. That will break up the, huge lump into smaller lumps. Pour them out into a gallon glass jar. Now take a sheet of paper towel or a wash cloth and wet it, squeezing out all excess moisture. Place this on top of the lumpy sugar and screw down the lid. In a few days the entire jar will be soft and nice again. I use this all the time. An apple, sliced in half, will also work, but I’ve noticed an apple flavor in the brown sugar that is not always appreciated, depending on what you’re using it for. I prefer the damp paper towel or washcloth. (Do not use a washcloth if you use dryer sheets or scented fabric softener, though.)

As for the 10-pound rock sugar, likewise place the sugar sack into two heavy paper bags and roll the top shut. Then take your trusty hammer and whack the lump a few times. White sugar frees up much quicker and better than brown. Now take a rolling pin and work the lumps still in the bag, ’til it is mostly free-flowing. Run the sugar through a sieve catching any remaining lamps. Put those back into the paper sack and roll them a bit more with the rolling pin. Voilà! You’ve saved an entire sack of rock hard sugar and a bunch of money.

By the way, this will also work for rock hard salt, too.


Better late than never! Back in the Jan/Feb (2002) issue of BHM, you answered a reader’s question about processing sugar beets into sugar in the negative, saying, in effect, that it is a factory only process, and can’t be done at home.

Enclosed is a copy of a process to extract sugar from sugar beets at home. As you can see, we got this from R.H. Shumway, the catalog seed people. They sent it on request if you bought sugar beet seeds from them. To be honest, we have never run the process to the point of crystal sugar, although I see no reason why it wouldn’t work.

I always wonder why Shumway is not mentioned more as a supplier by gardening authors. Maybe they’re too down to earth.

Michael E. Rapp
Reading, PA

No, Shumway is definitely not “too down to earth” for me. It’s simply that there are so many good seed companies out there that we can’t mention them all. (Although that might be a good idea.) The reason I don’t buy too many seeds from Shumway is that many of their seeds require a longer growing season than I have. They are a great company, with lots of good old time seeds at reasonable prices.

Now, as to the sugar refining process, I should have said that refining sugar at home is not feasible to most people as it requires much, much “dinking around,” and the end results are not much crystalized sugar for a whole lot of work. My older kids did this one year as a family project. They used sugar beets that they found on the roadside that had dumped off of sugar beet trucks being hauled to the sugar plant. They didn’t get enough crystalized sugar to sweeten a batch of Kool-Aid.

If any readers have lots of sugar beets which are very productive in the garden and lots of time, you can refine sugar at home. But don’t expect it to be like “store sugar.”


I have been enjoying your magazine for some time now and I do not normally write unless I have deep concerns about articles I have read. I guess this is one of those times. “Harvesting the wild greens” at first seemed like a harmless article on an assortment of greens that I might be willing to try. I decided to look up some of the weeds on the Internet (Redroot Pigweed) and come to find out that that particular plant was very toxic and your article made no mention of that. I do hope that the person that wrote the article is still alive. I would think that you would do your homework and check validity of a story before publishing it.

Jason Meyer

Gee Jason, I am certainly very alive, and so is my entire family. And we’ve been eating pigweed for years and years. Among experienced wild foragers, including centuries of Native Americans, pigweed is considered an excellent food source. And very tasty. I do not write about things I research or have just “heard about.” I only write about how our family lives. I do not experiment on my family’s health. Everything we eat is well researched and documented. Let me quote one recent source, Edible and Medicinal Plants of Minnesota and Wisconsin, by noted herbalist and author, Matthew Alfs, M.H. Under the heading of Pigweed (Green Amaranth; Red Amaranth; Rough Pigweed; Redroot Pigweed; Wild Beet) (Amaranthus retroflexus) you will find the following quote follows his description of the various foods pigweed provides (leaves, seeds): “Although pigweed is revered as a wild food, its medicinal applications have been little known. These, however are many and mighty.”

Many survival books speak highly of amaranth or pigweed, including Outdoor Survival Skills by Larry Dean Olsen. And then Native Seeds/SEARCH says the following in their catalog: “All amaranth leaves can be eaten as raw or cooked greens when small, but some are more palatable. Cleaned seeds can be cooked whole as a hot cereal or ground finely in a mill or blender and added to your favorite recipe.”

This does not sound like a “very toxic” plant. One caution, however, is appropriate with pigweed and many other greens including some we grow in our own garden such as spinach. One should not harvest loads of the plant in areas where there is heavy agricultural use, as it will accumulate potentially dangerous amounts of nitrates, in the same way many domestic plants do. Now eating one meal of even this pigweed will likely do no harm, but I certainly would not advise eating bushels of it, nor would I recommend eating a diet solely of pigweed from agricultural lands either. (Many water wells in such land have been contaminated with heavy nitrate deposits as well. One would certainly not advise a wholesale caution on drinking water because of it.)


I would like to keep a couple horses and cows, but have never had large animals before. What do you do when they die? Is there an established way to remove the carcass? Do you just pick a quiet corner of your property and bring in a bulldozer? I have heard vaguely that some people will call canning factories for dog food or some such.

Rose K.
Albuquerque, NM

Death is a fact of life for us all. Fortunately, very few animals die on the farm. Usually one sells an older cow, or a person sells an older horse to buy a younger one before they are beyond use. Of course, some of us old softies keep favorite animals until they die. We just recently lost our old Morgan stallion at age 25. While in many places, you can simply call a rendering plant which renders dead livestock down into fertilizer and soap fat among other things, we feel that our big “pets” deserve better. A friend brought over a backhoe, and in ten minutes dug a nice deep grave for our old friend and that was that. He even put up the wood cross that our son, David, made for the horse that taught him to ride.

Farmers with large acreages and living in areas free of restrictions usually just drag dead livestock out into the woods and let nature take its course. (Assuming that the animal did not die of a disease that could be contagious.)


I have been newly introduced to an old grain"spelt. Because of a wheat allergy, I am finding this grain of great interest. Do you have any ideas on how to grow spelt or any good recipes that come to mind? Thank you for your kindness.

Vince Williams

I’d be cautious in using spelt, as it is an old variety of wheat that was primarily used for livestock feed and it is a bit hard to thresh out effectively. It is grown and used almost like wheat, but it will be coarser when ground as there will often be bits of chaff that do not winnow out when it is cleaned. One of the first grains I helped plant was spelt. I thought they said “smelt” and wondered why anyone would plant fish all over a 40 acre field.

Have you tried some of the alternative flour grains? I use a lot of cornmeal, masa (corn flour), rice flour, amaranth, oat, quinoa, and others for fun, taste, and variety. We like flat breads made of these grains just about as much as we do a nicely browned loaf of fresh wheat bread. And we have no wheat allergies.


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