Ask Jackie Online by Jackie Clay Published 060527

Ask Jackie Online
By Jackie Clay

May 27, 2006
Jackie Clay

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Soft pickles

The bread and butter pickles I made last year taste great, but the pickles are soft and bendy, not crisp. Where did I go wrong and how can I avoid the problem with this year’s batch? Also, is there any way to re-crisp pickles that have gone wrong?

Docjered1 at

No, once you get soft pickles, that’s it. I’ve reclaimed some by grinding them and making relish out of them. You don’t notice the “soft” so much with relish.

The reason you have soft pickles? Most times it is because you boiled the pickles too long. I had the same trouble for years. Until a champion pickle maker told me to be very careful not to use a recipe that boils the pickles. After all you are talking about cucumbers here, tender and hopefully crispy.

My best bread and butter pickle recipe calls for you to boil the syrup, then add the cukes to the boiled syrup, just bringing it back to a boil. IMMEDIATELY pack your jars and process them in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. This leaves them nice and crisp. No additives, no special treatment. And they are great.


Old canning jars

I am a new subscriber and look forward to reading you every month.

We have hundreds of old style canning jars. (The kind with glass lids and metal wire fasteners to hold the lids down)

I found them in the basement when I married my husband and moved into his country house.

Are these safe to use? My local hardware store carries the rubber seals and can order as many as I need. If they are fine to use, why were they replaced by the newer screw top jars? Also would they be ok in a pressure canner?

I have canned jam and other water bath foods for years but want to buy a pressure canner for my veggies instead of freezing everything. Thanks!

Catsd at

Lucky you! You might not realize it, but you have a small fortune down in your basement, in your glass topped canning jars with the wire bail. You can water bath can in these jars safely, but you should not use them to pressure can. So you can put up pickles, fruit, jams, jellies, preserves in them, as well as using them to store such things as dehydrated foods, spices, baking supplies, etc. They ARE gorgeous on a shelf!

But these jars should not be used in a pressure canner as you will be unable to tell if they are safely sealed. High acid foods may mold or ferment if they don’t seal but low acid foods such as green beans, meat, corn, etc. could possibly have botulism toxins in them and not show signs of spoilage, should the jars not seal.

If you have more jars than you can use, why don’t you sell off the extras and buy something you need for your family or home preservation endeavors…..perhaps that new pressure canner and several cases of jars to start with? You can always find more Mason jars at rummage sales, auctions, the Goodwill or thrift stores in the area. Also ask around; you’ll be amazed at how many neighbors have cases of jars lying about unused and just begging for a new home.


Grape ideas

I’ve recently moved into a home in North Florida. There’s a grapevine in the backyard and everyone says, “Ooh, homemade wine!” I don’t have the first idea how to make wine. I don’t even know what kind of grapes they are yet. And I was wondering about what other things I could do besides wine and jelly? Also, how simple would it be to make grape juice for my kids?


jennifer wren
sugarbear7852 at

As I don’t drink, I’ve never made wine, either. But I’d love to have a grapevine in my backyard! Besides jelly, you can certainly juice the harvest of grapes. It is very easy to do. The very easiest is to pick up a steam juicer. They are available in many gardening catalogs and you can often find one used at the usual places (yard sales, thrift stores and auctions). With one of these, you simply wash your grapes, add a little water to create the necessary steam and place on the stove burner. When done, the juice is strained off through the attached tube.

If you don’t have a juicer, you can simply wash, drain and stem the grapes. Place them in a large kettle with just enough water to keep them from scorching until the juice begins to run; about a cup of water to each gallon of packed grapes. With a potato masher or your bare hands, crush the grapes. Heat them to simmering and mash them again (don’t use your hand now!). Then line a colander with a dampened double layer of cheesecloth and pour in the grapes/juice carefully. Let drain well; don’t press the grape pulp or you’ll end up with cloudy juice. Let the bowl of juice sit overnight in a cool place to settle the sediment. Then ladle out the juice into the large kettle.

Sweeten the juice with honey or sugar to taste, if necessary. Reheat the juice for 5 minutes. Do not boil. Ladle juice into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch of space to the top of the jar. Wipe jar rims clean and place hot, previously simmered lids on jars and screw down ring firmly tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner with the water at least an inch over the tops of the jars for 15 minutes (quarts and pints). If you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult your canning manual for directions on processing longer to suit your altitude, if necessary.

Of course, some grapes make better juice than others, but the chances are very good that your new vine will produce homemade juice to delight your kids!



Jackie, I have a back woods home in the hills of western Virginia. The ticks are so bad this time of year that I don’t even want to go there, what can I do?

Mitchell Parrish
Mitchparrish at

We, too have bad ticks this time of year. Luckily, they are seasonal, only being bad for about five or six weeks! What can we do? Reducing the long grass and brush that we have to go through this time of year helps. Ticks like to climb up on this and leap off on passers-by, looking for a meal. So if you mow your frequently traveled trails, the yard, the area around the barn, etc. it will help. Turning your chickens or guineas out to free range will also help reduce the tick population in the living area. You’d be surprised at how many ticks these birds can pick up every day!

When you go out, tuck your pant legs into your sock tops and spray your pants with a deet repellant if they are really bothering you. I don’t like to use sprays so I usually just pick the little beggars off when I feel them or see them crawling on me.

If you are in an area where there are deer ticks, which are smaller than common wood ticks, be aware that they can carry Lymes Disease. During tick season, always be on the lookout for a very red, bull’s eye shaped tick bite as this can be the signal that you may have been bitten with a disease-carrying tick. With medical treatment early on, it is easily cured. But a lot of people are not observant and miss the bite and become seriously ill before being diagnosed.

Luckily, up here in the north, deer ticks are quite rare, so we only have the inconvenience of tick picking to put up with.


Preparng black walnuts

How do you prepare black walnuts after they are picked from the tree? Do you dry them in the husk or remove the husk first? Do they have to be dried in the oven or cooked? We have several trees but have never harvested the walnuts for eating and we would like to do it this year.


arorke1 at

I don’t pick black walnuts from the tree but wait until they drop on their own. Then I let the husks dry a bit on the nut and pour a bucket or two out on the driveway. After driving back and forth on them for awhile during normal driveway traffic, the husks crush off on their own leaving the nut whole. (I have always had a dirt driveway.)

You can store the nuts whole in the shell until you want to shell them. Wear gloves when you handle fresh black walnuts or your hands will end up stained. I guarantee it! And it doesn’t wash off.

After picking out the nut meats, the easiest is to just nibble them as you want or put them in an airtight jar to store until you want to use them. They are great in cakes, cookies, breads and bars, as well as in ice cream and candies. You are so lucky to have black walnuts. I’m planting a dozen seedlings this spring, but it’ll be 15 years before I probably will get a harvest.


Canning bean dip

Hi Jackie, I was wondering if you had any tips on canning bean dip? I have never canned this before so your advice will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much

Nina from GA
simprfi1999 at

No I have never canned bean dip. But if I did, I would make up a big batch of my recipe, heating it gently but thoroughly. Then I’d pack it into wide mouth pint jars to within half an inch of the top and process it in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure (unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet; consult your canning manual for instructions for increasing your pressure, if necessary) for 80 minutes.


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