Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 86

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 86
Jackie Clay

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

Water seeping into canning jars

I am trying to can shrimp pickle. The main concern is that there should be no water content in the bottle. But when I put it in the pressure cooker water leaked into the bottles. I pressure cooked for about 20 minutes. I do not have a very big pressure cooker. It holds only three pint size bottles. Please let me know what mistake I am making.


Sorry you are having such trouble. My first suggestion is to go out and buy a larger pressure canner. The so-called “pressure cooker/canners” just don’t do a good job of canning. A new moderate-sized pressure canner will cost about $110. But if you can’t afford that, you can usually pick up a good used one at a yard sale, estate sale, flea market, or thrift store for less than $25. One of mine cost just $5, and came with the instruction manual and all equipment such as jar lifter and funnel.

Are you using canning jars? Some folks get into trouble like yours by using bottles which previously held such things as tartar sauce or horseradish. These do not take a two-piece canning lid and are not adequate for home canning.

Finally, make sure you have followed the basic pressure canning steps. These may vary a little bit, but are pretty standard. Always check your recipe for exact directions and make sure your recipe came from a canning book, manual, or other reliable source.

The basic pressure canning steps are:

1. Place food in clean canning jar, leaving the required head room (empty space at the top of the jar). This is typically one inch.

2. Wipe the rim of the jar clean with a damp cloth.

3. Place a hot, previously boiled lid on the jar and screw down the ring firmly tight.

4. Place the jars on rack in a canner which has about one inch of water in it to create steam. This may vary with your own canner, but there should never be excessive water in the canner. Lock the lid on tightly.

5. Turn on the heat with the petcock(s) open.

6. Exhaust steam forcefully for several minutes. Again check your own canner’s directions.

7. Close the petcock(s) and allow pressure to build to that needed to process the food (typically 10 pounds unless you live at an altitude higher than 1,000 feet, then check your canning book).

8. Hold the pressure at this reading for the entire time you must process the food.

9. When this time is up, turn off the heat and wait for the pressure to drop to zero.

10. Carefully open the petcock(s) and allow any steam to escape.

11. Open the canner and remove the jars to a dry folded towel in a draft free area to cool. Do not touch the jars until they are cool.

12. Check for complete seal by feeling with one finger for a tight indentation in the center of each lid. There should be absolutely no give.

I’ve been canning all my life and have never had water seep into a jar. So I’m confident that if you give these hints a try, you’ll soon be smiling over your newly canned food.


Can you make your own MREs? Vegetable oils?

I wonder if it would be possible to make your own MRE-type meals at home? If so, how? I ask because they would be easier to carry than jars when out hiking, camping, or hunting. In the military, our MREs had pasta, meat, and cheese, which I understand need to be pressure canned.

Would it be possible to make your own peanut or vegetable oil on your homestead? If so, how and could you can it? If not, how long would this homemade oil keep?

Travis M. Milburn
Ontario, Oregon

No, you really can’t make Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) at home. We don’t have the available supplies and equipment. But my question is why would anyone want to make them? Around here, we call them “Meals Rotten To Eat.” I guess we’re really spoiled, but they are simply pretty tasteless and one wonders what’s really in them.

We choose more natural alternatives, as we spend a lot of time out in the woods. No, I don’t haul jars along if I have to carry them, either. Instead, we use a lot of home dehydrated foods, supplemented with TVPs (textured vegetable protein which comes in beef, bacon, ham, sausage, chicken, and taco flavors) and freshly caught fish, small game, or sometimes freeze-dried meat. As with everything else, we try to do as much as we can “homemade.” You can’t home make TVPs or freeze-dried meat, but a little goes a very long way. On long camping trips, we usually start out with a few zip-lock bags full of frozen meat, including bacon. Wrapped tightly for insulation, they barely start to thaw out in two days’ time and will keep for several days in all but extreme summer heat. Everything we take is boneless and trimmed down to include no waste. We eat like royalty the first few days, then depend on the luck of nature to fill out our next days eats.

Some examples of meals from dry and dehydrated foods include spaghetti with meat and mushroom sauce, blueberry pancakes, Spanish rice with taco TVPs for flavoring, turkey a la king, wild rice with spiced chicken broth, fried fish with hash browns, scones with raisins or dried apples. None of my meals takes more than one pan to make, nor does it take longer than 15 minutes to prepare. I’m out of the kitchen.

Our dry food pack is small, but includes spices, dehydrated eggs, flour, cornmeal, rice, sugar, baking powder, and salt, along with a variety of lightweight home-dehydrated foods from potatoes to fruits and vegetables. We much prefer to eat this way rather than use the MREs.

On short, day trips, we carry homemade jerky, a dense fried corn cake, and a very filling batch of cookies which contain oatmeal, honey, brown sugar, eggs, dried fruit, and nuts. We eat a big breakfast before going out and eat again when we get home. The snacks carry us through the day nicely (along with any natural foods we glean during our day’s travels). Don’t discount the value of trail nibbles such as cattail shoots, berries, and the like. And on fishing trips, we often include a shore lunch of very fresh fish fillets, fried on the spot. Who needs more to eat than golden crisp fish?

Yes, you can make peanut and other nut oils as well as sunflower oil at home. But be advised that it is very labor intensive for what you get. Basically it is an easy process. Native Americans used it for centuries. You grind the nut meats. Then you add them to a pot of water and simmer them to release the oil. After the water has cooled, you can skim the oil from the surface of the water much as you skim cream from milk.

Oil does not homecan very well. If any oil gets between the lid and the jar, the seal will not form. You can refrigerate the oil or even freeze it in an airtight jar (leave expansion room). If left at room temperature it usually goes rancid in about a week as it contains no preservatives.

It is because it is so labor intensive that ancient peoples, including our ancestors, used fats such as butter and lard for most of their cooking needs.


Canning chicken a la king

I am new to canning. I would like to can some turkey a la king made with cream of mushroom soup and veggies. If I put milk in it, is it safe to eat? I am using a pressure canner. I thought it might go bad with milk in it.

Dave Roberts

No, putting milk in your turkey a la king won’t make it go bad. But the end result of any milk gravy type foods is that the milk appears curdled in the finished product. It tastes okay, but looks yucky. Because of this, I omit the milk, using a broth/flour gravy, then add milk when I heat up the jar of food. Here is one recipe that works well for me.

Turkey a la king:

5 pounds bone-in turkey
3 qts. water
4 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 qt. turkey broth or chicken soup base equivalent
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 chopped red bell peppers
1 chopped green pepper
2 tsp. black pepper

Cut the turkey into pieces. Place in large pot with 3 quarts water and cook until tender. Cool, remove meat from bones and cut into small pieces. Dissolve flour and salt in a little of the cold broth to make a paste and add to the remainder of the quart of broth which has been heated. Cook until slightly thickened, stirring to keep free of lumps. Add mushrooms, peppers, and black pepper. Heat to boiling and fill clean canning jars to within one inch of the top of the jar. Wipe jar rim clean with damp cloth. Place hot, previously boiled lid on and screw down ring firmly tight. Process in pressure canner for 90 minutes at 10 pounds unless your altitude requires more pressure. (See your canning manual for directions.)

When you heat this up, it will be thick, and you may now add milk to your taste. Good eating. This is one of my favorite ways to get rid of excess holiday turkey.


Preserving red peppers

This year in our garden, we added red peppers. They did extremely well and now I’m not sure what to do with them. After picking them, we tied them up and hung them in a window. Now what do I do with them? I know I would like to crush some but am not sure how to do that. Do they need to be baked?


Good for you, Stritty. Having lots of hot peppers is NEVER a problem. If they are totally dry, I’d take them out of the window and store them in a large glass jar as they do tend to get dusty and lose their color. As for using them, just dust ‘em off and crush them with your hand. If you are sensitive to hot things, you better wear rubber gloves and be careful that the dust doesn’t get into your eyes. The crushed peppers can also be stored in an airtight glass jar, indefinitely. They never seem to lose their potency.

As for uses, toss a bit into chili, stews, rice dishes, pizza, spaghetti, tacos, beans, eggs, etc., etc. Go easy until you decide on your taste for HOT. Like everything else, homegrown is usually tastier….and, in this case, hotter.


Processing horseradish into a tasty condiment

How do you go about processing horseradish roots into a tasty condiment?

Fred Gregersen

It’s really pretty easy to turn dirty looking gnarly horseradish roots into a condiment that will make your taste buds sit up and take notice. (And your sinuses run like a fire hose!)

First, dig your root, preferably after a good frost, as the cold improves the flavor. Then carefully pare off the small roots and dirty skin. You can grate the root, but this really gets my eyes and nose running. So I put a cup of ice water in my 20 year old blender and drop pieces of root in. After putting the top securely in place, I whiz it for a few seconds, until it is as fine as I like. Now let me caution you; don’t be looking down in the blender when you take the top off. The fumes are really rank!!! I open mine outside, holding it downwind.

Drain it well through a fine sieve and place in a bowl. You can now mix it with your choice of ingredients, from a dash of salt and vinegar or mayonnaise. Or you can add tomato sauce and vinegar for your own superb seafood sauce. You can also use it in spicy pickles. If you dare!

Actually, horseradish root is one of our favorite home grown condiments and one of the easiest to grow. It can be invasive and rowdy, so be careful where you put it. This is one of my favorite attributes for a plant. I do best with invasive plants, rather than fussy.


Preparing black walnuts

Could you tell me a little more about how to prepare, including cracking open and eating black walnuts?

Matt Leonard

Black walnuts are one of my favorite nuts. There is nothing to compare to their sweet, unique flavor. A little goes a long way in baked goods. They are totally easy to harvest. Just find a black walnut tree and look for the round green balls underneath in the late fall. As time passes, these green balls (the husks) turn brown, then black. Now these husks will stain your hands so that no amount of washing will get them clean. I know, because as a child I spent lots of time husking them by hand, then trying to explain how my hands got so black.

An easier way, by far, is to simply gather them with gloves on, then pour them out in your driveway. After a few days of driving back and forth on them, the husks will be all off, leaving the dark, naked nuts lying there for you to pick up. (I’d suggest letting them dry a few days, as they will still stain your hands if they are damp.

We used to just crack them by standing them on end on a piece of iron and tapping them with a hammer. They would crack open, but you still had to dig out most of the meats by a nut pick and perspiration. We did always have plenty of nut meats for baking, however.

An easier way is to use a hydraulic nutcracker, as advertised in many gardening catalogs. They have a long lever and work by pressure. This pops the nut apart much nicer, resulting in larger chunks of nut meat and not so much perspiration.

Black walnuts can be used fresh in many recipes calling for nuts. A few of our favorites are cookies, bars, cakes, and fruitcake.

Any extra nut meats can either be frozen in an airtight jar or canned, if you have enough to make it feasible. I would only can in half pint or smaller jars, as you don’t want any of these precious treats to go rancid. To can them, simply spread them out on a cookie tin and place in the oven to toast on very low heat. Stir occasionally until dry but not browned. Keep hot for packing into sterilized hot, dry canning jars. Fill jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom. Place hot, previously boiled, dry lid on jar and screw down lid firmly tight. Pressure can for 10 minutes at 5 pounds pressure. Or you may water bath process them in boiling water well below the top of the jars for 20 minutes.


Canning pizza sauce

I was wondering if you have a recipe for canning pizza sauce?

Linda Moffett

Sure thing, Linda. Often, though, I just mass-can thick tomato sauce, then when I want a pizza for dinner, I add my spices then. This is a labor saver for me during the rush of canning season; I just bake tons and tons of tomato sauce in huge pots, all at once. But here’s a pizza sauce you’ll enjoy. Please feel free to tailor the spices to fit your preferences. It doesn’t affect the canning process at all.

Pizza sauce:

10 pounds tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, mashed
2 tsp. rubbed oregano
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. basil
3 cups chopped onions
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. salt
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. chili paste (or ground red pepper)

Peel the tomatoes and remove stems. Chop. I run mine through a Victorio Food Mill, which does everything in one process, including mashing the chopped onions. This is a really handy homestead tool. If you don’t have one available, simmer the chopped onions and tomatoes for about 20 minutes along with the other ingredients in a large pot. Then run the sauce through a sieve or food mill. Return to the pot and simmer, stirring frequently to avoid scorching the bottom and cook down till about half the volume.

If you are not sure your tomatoes are acidic, add 1 tsp. of lemon juice to each pint jar of sauce.

Pour hot into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head room. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a damp cloth. Place hot, previously boiled lids on the jars and screw down the rings firmly-tight. Process pints 35 minutes in boiling water bath. This makes about three pints of pizza sauce. You can certainly double or triple these amounts for serious canning. Just make sure you stir the final puree, as it does tend to scorch as it gets thick.


Living a simpler life

I have been reading your articles online for awhile now and have learned a ton. I have noticed that you like hot peppers. Just wanted to give you an idea I use often in my garden. We grow many different types of hot peppers and tomatoes. I dehydrate many of the peppers and some of the tomatoes, along with garlic cloves, sometimes even using the green tomatoes. After dehydrating once, I then put everything in the blender and grind as best as I can, then place the mixture on a cookie sheet and dry for a day or two in the oven with just the pilot on and then blend again into a fine spice. This is an excellent spice that has a spicy flavor with a deep garlic and tomato taste to it.

I also wanted to know if you could give me some advice. I’m 24 and my boyfriend is 28. We both want to live a simple life but are not sure what to do or when to start making investments into having a future in the simple life. We recently bought a house with a couple acres of land and are fixing it up. We would like to be farther out in the country than we are and are not sure if we would ever be able to do it and raise kids on just his income. Could you tell me if there is a light at the end of our short young tunnel.

Jessica Brandt

Great idea with your spice mix, Jessica. I WILL try it. Now I dry the onions, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers separately, then mix them later, as I need them. But the idea of a pre-mixed spice sounds great! I can’t wait to give it a taste. If you’re lucky, you learn something new each and every day of your life.

As to your question about the feasibility of living a good, simple life, the answer is a most definite YES! And it’s a question I sure wish more young people would ask. It shows thought and respect for life. Yes, you can raise a family well on one income. Providing you, as the mother, are not ashamed (as is too common in society today) to be a housewife. This title is often laughed at, with the insinuation that the woman of the family should “be out there working” to help the family. But let’s consider what happens if she is. Her children are usually raised by day care centers from nearly birth, imprinted on by strangers. She and her husband are so tired after a weeks’ work that they have little energy for gardening or other homestead endeavors. They may live in the country, but are still in the rat race.

On the other hand, if the woman is enthusiastic about a good simple life, she can contribute vastly much more than if she were working. First and most important, she is home to raise her children in the way she and her husband have chosen….not have them raised in the have-more society.

She can daily tend and plant the garden (with her children as they are old enough to toddle with her). Yes, her husband can help, but she is there to daily nurture the family food supply. And with the garden, she can plant flowers to enrich the family’s soul.

Even on an acre or two, a young family can raise most of their own food. If they are willing to do a bit of old fashioned work, and have learned to ENJOY working to provide the family with the fruits of their labor. This is the singularly most important lesson we all must learn. And many never do. If you don’t learn to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from seeing the result of your good, honest work, it becomes drudgery and seems to pull you down. To me, little is more satisfying than to walk together as a family in the dusk and survey all you have accomplished today, or this week or this year. The smile comes from your soul.

You don’t have to live in the wilderness or be in some remote area to enjoy this. And your first homestead won’t necessarily be your permanent home. (It’s usually more of a process as you move upward in life.) It’s good to start small and learn one thing at a time, rather than getting overwhelmed by too much, too soon. Even on an acre or less, you can learn to garden, raise a few fruit trees, have chickens for eggs and meat, maybe a dairy goat or two for wonderful milk and your own cheese, ice cream, yogurt and other dairy products, a few rabbits for meat and to just enjoy.

Then, later on, you can learn to put up your produce, into wonderful, nutritious meals, made with your own hands, out of ingredients that you personally grew. And you may want a larger homestead, perhaps twenty acres, so you can do even more. Or you may want to sell your first established homestead, after you have fixed it up nicely, and take the profit to pay cash for a piece of bare ground or another fixer-upper on more land. The possibilities are as endless as our dreams.

A few hints from this old grandma: Get out of debt and stay out of debt. Pay off any credit cards and loans. Pay more on the principal of your mortgage than you are required. Even paying an extra $50 a month on a house payment will take years off your debt and save you huge amounts of interest. Actually live simply. Drive a reliable used vehicle and repair it as needed. Stay away from the “must haves” like the plague. To do this, avoid people who buy, BUY, BUY; they’ll suck you into their mind set.

Instead choose your friends from like-minded folk. Folk who shop the yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores, instead of the Mall.

Buy your big-ticket items out of savings for that purpose; don’t impulse buy, but give it plenty of thought and planning.

When cooking, stay away from any pre-processed foods. You can make much better for a tenth the price with your own foods.

And never give up. I guarantee things won’t always run smoothly. Nobody’s life does. But keep pushing on forward toward your dreams and things will work out. Good luck!


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